Back to future for The Trail
The plan is still pending, but we cant wait. Were turning The Vail Trail, slowly, putting our backs into it. Were aiming to go back to the future a big bet, as one informal adviser who read the plan has remarked.A Westword for the Vail Valley has its place, Im convinced. Its just not named The Vail Trail. The original paper in Vail has pretty much proven this through two ownerships, slipping slowly, steadily, inexorably from the newsweekly that peaked around 100 pages during the high seasons when I came here a little over seven years ago now.It shrunk to a sliver of that as a hip, young alternative publication aiming to scare the grownups, not to mention the advertisers.Meantime, our population has soared, business across the board has boomed. The economic ground could not be more fertile for newspapering. The Daily has more or less kept pace, still enjoying readership through the roof. In theory anyway, youd think the story would be the same for the Trail. But that didnt happen. Why?To me, The Trail became a suburban boomer acting ghetto. An old-school skier trying to throw moves in the terrain park. A truly stale fish with a do rag, pants hiked up at the waist, wrinkles around the eyes. It couldnt help but come across as posing. Then when the shackles came off, things got really scary neither hip nor what the longtime base of readers loved in the first place. Few of those precious young readers. And the stalwarts finally gave up on the gal. This was not because the stories were bad, far from it. Many were quite good, actually. Its just that, well, maybe size 12 doesnt work with stilettos no matter how snazzy. Alternative never really fit The Vail Trail. Forgive me for slipping into marketing speak, but thats just not the Trail brand. Dont blame the news staffs from either the Knox era or ours. They did great work for the wrong audience. Growing wings on a pig wont make it fly, miraculous as the effort might be.I have great respect for the abilities of the Trails editor when I arrived, David O. Williams. Delighted as I was as a competitor to see the Trail lose some identity while the Daily found its feet, I found him formidable in the great chase for news stories. Likewise, the Trail crew led by Tamara Miller turned out a lot of great stuff over the past year that pretty much went hidden. Miller, now opinion and projects editor at the Daily, writer Caramie Schnell and photographer Dominique Taylor will strengthen the Daily with an audience the paper already has but underserves. As for the Trail, two administrations have pretty much proven that the brand (sorry) is not, well, hip. At least not in the alternative way. Its place is more NPR, with a thick vein of old school ski vibe. Thats boomer, not Gen X, Y or whatever comes next.Boomer may be passe to the kids, but it still makes for the biggest, baddest, wealthiest niche. And its one thats still growing like a weed in our valley. The peak still looms five years away. Ive squawked for years now that the Trail seems so determined to run off its rich audience. Great while the Trail competed with us; not so great when she became our riddle to solve.Seems I was loudmouthed and obnoxious enough about my views that finally, I was told, OK, youre so smart. Here, its yours now.Of course, thats a gross overstatement. The Trails crossroads came with lots of feedback and discussion, changes in how were organized, and looking to the future with a sharp eye out for how we can be a better, stronger news organization.The alternative audience reads the you-know-what out of the Dailys Arts & Entertainment section. We have a 94-percent readership among the demographic coveted by the Trail of yore the 18- to 34-year-olds. We can make it a lot harder for competitors by amplifying that strength with what the Trail was perfecting of late.So, its a big bet and all, channeling Newsweek, Time and the still-robust Aspen Times Weekly. Reshaping the Trail as a newsweekly aimed at the large share of people with big investments in this community makes sense.Actually, I think we have the opposite challenge as we did when going alt with the Trail. The execution before was pretty good for the wrong plan for the name that Vails tony original newspaper built over the decades. Now, the plan fits the brand. The big challenge lies in the execution. Gulp.Managing Editor Don Rogers can be reached at 748-2920, or firstname.lastname@example.org.