Dear friends

by Greg Hanscom

HEADING WEST

The High Country News board of directors joined the staff in Paonia in May for the spring business meeting. Some of the more lively — and frank — discussion came when small groups of board and staff members took turns riffing on what they think of the paper, and how it needs to improve.

One of the main topics of discussion was the stories that go into each issue of HCN. Assistant Editor Laura Paskus said she wants to see more investigative stories in the paper. Board member Mark Harvey of Aspen, Colo., said he wants HCN to be "the magazine for the best thinkers and writers in the West." Staff and board talked about the need to make HCN more readable and lively. Marc Sani, a board member from Dana Point, Calif., was the most blunt: "I find HCN to be a tough read," he said. "We have a young staff that writes like old people."

Felix Magowan, a board member from Boulder, Colo., complained that "We’re still looking in the rearview mirror," rather than covering emerging issues such as tourism. "The Old West is not totally dead," responded Caroline Byrd, another board member, from Missoula, Mont. "We need the whole picture, not just New West issues." Board president Bill Mitchell, who hails from Vashon Island, Wash., said we shouldn’t be so focused on environmental issues: "The social and economic fabric is also fundamentally important."

Board member Andy Wiessner of Vail, Colo., said he wants the paper to be "sexy, fast and easy to read." Intern Patrick Farrell said we could appeal to younger readers by making the paper a little more ironic and tongue-in-cheek, a la The Daily Show on Comedy Central. When several people raised concerns about "dumbing down" the paper, Mitchell wondered if we should divide our efforts, using the paper to attract older readers while pushing younger ones to the Web site.

Overall, the staff came away feeling like we have our work cut out for us — but also that we’re headed in the right direction. We’ll continue to improve the quality and breadth of the paper, while reaching out to more smart, active and solution-minded people. As always, your thoughts on any of these issues are welcome.

THANKS

This was the final board meeting for longtime board member Maggie Coon, who works for The Nature Conservancy in Seattle, Wash. As board president, Maggie led HCN through a tough time of transition and the first new-publisher hire in 20 years. She also played a central role in the "Spreading the News" campaign, which brought in roughly $1.2 million for our "new media" projects. Thank you, Maggie, for everything. We wish you the best.

Thanks also to Michael Soulé, widely known as "the father of conservation biology," who continues to inspire conservationists to dream big. Michael spoke during our board meeting lunch hour. One of his latest ideas: "Pleistocene re-wilding," a fancy name for bringing in big animals, such as giant tortoises, camels — even African elephants — whose relatives roamed this continent not all that long ago.

We raise a frothy mug to New Belgium Brewery, which provided the fine ale for our potluck dinner in the Paonia town park, and to all those who attended the get-together.

And finally, thanks to subscriber Sama Blackwell, a pilot-to-be, who took photographer Kevin Moloney along on one of her recent training flights (along with a licensed pilot, of course) to get the photos of exurbia from the air that accompany this issue’s cover story.

© High Country News