Peterson: Back in the high life again (column)
“People are way too nice here.”
My wife has said this to me repeatedly since we moved back to the mountains a little more than a month ago after eight years in a strange, faraway land known as South Florida.
There was the friendly state trooper who pulled over on I-70 to give us some washer fluid after we ran out on the way down Vail Pass in the middle of a snowstorm; and there was the nice mom, a former Vail Mountain School teacher, who gave me a lift to a gas station when, like an idiot, I ran out of gas in a parking lot in Avon.
Those good Samaritans are just two standout examples in what has been a charming return to my beloved home state and to the newspaper where I landed my first job out of college nearly 16 years ago.
It’s certainly a lot different than the greeting we got in Fort Lauderdale more than eight years ago after leaving the mountains around Aspen for the beach and promptly had two bikes stolen, then our car. The police found our sweet little silver Subaru Outback (with the Colorado plates still on it) trashed out in a seedy part of Miami with a crack pipe rammed into an air conditioner vent.
It’s true what they say about South Florida — it’s a sunny place with shady people.
That’s why my wife and I wanted so badly to move back to Colorado, and the mountains, to raise our two young children. So far, it’s everything we hoped it would be. From the teachers and principal in our kids’ new school, the baristas and servers, lifties and bus drivers to all the people who’ve emailed well wishes or stopped by to meet the new editor, we couldn’t feel more welcomed.
As the new captain of this publishing outfit, I’ve spent a lot of time in my first month on the job meeting with community members and local officials to find out what the Vail Daily is doing well and where we are falling short.
There have been so many positives. People rely on us to shape the conversation in this valley, to keep them informed, to keep local government officials honest and, more than anything else, to capture the essence of this remarkable place.
It’s an important job that we take very seriously. And, for the most part, people say we’re doing a great job. A recent readership survey, the first in 11 years, shows just how much the Vail Daily is the exception to the rule when it comes to legacy news operations in today’s volatile media ecosystem. Across the board, our satisfaction scores for our three main audiences — locals, second homeowners and visitors — are outstanding. Also, our reach and saturation in the Vail Valley couldn’t be stronger.
People in this valley love this funky, local news operation, with all of its unique quirks. They love picking up the paper every morning for local news, local opinions, #VailLive, Town Talk and sports, or checking out our Facebook and Instagram pages to see what’s buzzing in the valley.
We’ve certainly made some strides in the short time I’ve been here. We’ve shifted our entire reporting staff to our web-based publishing system so that we can post news — whether it’s Mikaela Shiffrin claiming another podium or Avon’s council members voting to relocate the Hahnewald barn — within minutes of a story breaking. We’re beefing up our online posts with social media elements and visuals. And we’re putting out newsier papers every single day.
That said, there have been some valid criticisms — though, true to form with the vibe of this valley, they have been presented to me in the kindest way possible.
The one I’ve heard the most is that there are too many typos in the paper. It has been an ongoing issue at the Vail Daily, but it certainly came to a head last week when, on the same day, we had a headline stating that Gypsum was “ordered to pay biomass owners $109M” and a page 2 story on Vail local Sarah Schleper skiing at the world championships in Are, Switzerland — not Sweden.
Sweden or Switzerland? One-hundred and nine million dollars? Really?
These production mistakes are regrettable. They’re embarrassing. As an organization whose currency is its credibility, those errors undermine the community’s trust in the Vail Daily.
We absolutely have to do better.
Jeremy Rietmann, the town manager in Gypsum, was being overly nice when he told me on the phone last Thursday that one wrong character in that morning’s headline — an ‘M’ instead of a ‘K’ — would create some serious PR headaches for him.
We printed corrections in the next day’s paper, but more importantly, I told Jeremy that we would work to improve our copy-editing and production processes to ensure a mistake like that never happens again. That work is ongoing, and it’s a promise I’m also making here to the community.
The Vail Daily is a great local news operation. It’s a place I wanted to come back to after eight years working for CBSSports.com following five years at The Aspen Times as well as freelancing work with The New York Times.
I’m proud of the great work we’re doing, but I’m also going to push each and every day to make our coverage of the valley more robust, our storytelling more vibrant and our editing processes sharper.
It’s what you, our loyal readers, deserve. It’s great to be back.
Vail Daily Editor Nate Peterson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org