Guest column: Maintaining strong newspaper operations

It makes me a little sad a connection to the past has been forever severed, but I can’t help but be hopeful about the ambition the change suggests, writes Randy Stapilus.

The newspaper at Nampa changed its name last week, from the Idaho Press-Tribune to the Idaho Press.

Usually, business name changes like this resonate little with me. This one did, for one small reason a little sad, and another larger reason decidedly cheerful.

A few weeks from now will mark 42 years since I first went to work at a daily newspaper. That happened, in the summer of 1976, at the Caldwell paper, called the News Tribune. Some years earlier it had been a fully independent newspaper. By the time I arrived it was closely linked by ownership and otherwise to the Idaho Free Press at Nampa, where the printing press, most of the business offices and the larger share of the staff at the two papers were located. But it still had its own masthead, its own identity, and a substantial office with news, advertising, circulation and other staff in downtown Caldwell. (My job there was to cover county government, courts, local schools and sundry other areas.)

Tightly tied as it was to Nampa, the local News-Tribune did help give Caldwell a specific local identity, and it had a high profile in the community. Its merger into the larger Nampa operation – into what was re-named the Idaho Press-Tribune – and closure of the Caldwell office, in the early 80s, seemed like a diminishment at Caldwell, where the downtown was struggling. At the same time, the result was a larger unified operation.

Back then, I thought the Nampa and Caldwell papers should make a play for the western part of Ada County, picking up more circulation and expanding news and advertising operations in the fast-growing suburban areas. There wasn’t a lot of interest then, maybe in part because growth in the 80s was mostly slower, and the Idaho Statesman at Boise, with much larger regional staff operations, seemed to have a clear hold on the area.

Bringing us to the changes happening now, signified by the dropping of “Tribune” from the newspaper’s name. That change saddens me a bit, cutting the last tie to the old Caldwell paper.

But it’s also an indicator of greater breadth and more ambition. And that’s an encouraging thing.

The owners of the Nampa newspaper have in recent years swept up local news operations in Meridian, Emmett and Kuna, and have been pressing into the western Ada County area. The paper now offers home delivery across Ada County, which it never did before. It has expanded its news gathering in Boise, most notably hiring the veteran (and excellent) state government reporter Betsy Russell away from the Spokane Spokesman-Review. All of that expansion is in part justified because the Idaho Press’ owners also own the papers in Idaho Falls, Pocatello and Rexburg, so the costs of state-level coverage can be shared.

But the local expansion has some larger significance.

It comes at a time when newspapers all over the country are retracting and retrenching, becoming shadows of their former selves. Here we have a case – rare but not unheard of in these days – of expansion and growth, and more news rather than less for local readers.

This isn’t inevitable. Other newspapers in Idaho are still maintaining strong news operations. Believe it or not, there’s still a demand for news outside Washington and New York. And a need.

But how that need is filled, is shifting.


Randy Stapilus, a former Idaho newspaper reporter and editor, blogs at www.ridenbaugh.com. He can be reached at stapilus@ridenbaugh.com. A book of his Idaho columns from the past decade, “Crossing the Snake,” is available at www.ridenbaughpress.com/crossing.


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