Citing a lack of profitability and a problematic geographic distance, the Boulder-based owner of the Silverton Standard & the Miner has donated the newspaper to the local historical society.
The Standard (circulation 1,000) was handed over by Thirteenth Street Media Inc.'s Randy Miller to the San Juan County Historical Society, which founded a committee to oversee the enterprise. Thirteenth Street still owns several regional newspapers, including the Telluride Daily Planet.
"Silverton is not a place of chains," said Standard editor and publisher Mark Esper. "We don't have chain stores, chain restaurants, chain-anything."
Fairport, N.Y.-based GateHouse Media purchased the Western Slope's oldest newspaper in 2005 and quickly began looking for a buyer. The Standard was sold to Miller in 2008. It soon became apparent that Silverton's advertising dollars were concentrated to the south, in Durango, and Telluride's business ties to the north, toward Montrose.
Miller sought out several buyers and even considered closing the paper, until Standard editor and publisher Mark Esper suggested the historical society take the reins.
The Standard publishes once a week on Thursdays. Esper and Gina Carmack, the business, advertising and publishing manager, make up the paper's entire staff.
Doing more with less has lately been the standard of the Standard, the first incarnation of which was founded in 1875.
Since Esper took over two years ago, circulation has risen 11 percent and the paper has won 20 Colorado Press Association awards, including "best small weekly" for news in 2007 and "best small weekly" for photography and design in 2008.
And with nearly every Silverton (population 591) resident already reading the paper, through subscriptions and distribution points around town, and about 400 out-of-state subscribers, Esper said the paper is not in the clear yet.
"Advertising revenue, as everywhere, is dwindling, so we do need to work on that," he said.
The historical society will take a hands-off approach to management of the paper, said Bev Rich, chairwoman of the society.
The Standard office will still be located at the old county hospital building on Snowden Street in Silverton.
With ownership now "back home," Rich said the paper can be more competitive. She called the switch an end to Thirteenth Street's brief period of absentee ownership, but said she was grateful to Miller for donating rather than attempting to sell the paper.
"We consider ourselves trustees," she said.
The Standard still will need to cover publishing expenses, but the paper will maintain total editorial control, Rich said. Esper said a recession and a changing media landscape are going to continue to present challenges to the small paper.
"It's still going to be difficult to make it, but it was so important for Silverton to keep its newspaper."