High Country News gets an overhaul

The magazine refreshes its brand and frequency as we plunge into the future.


Paul Larmer, Greg Hanscom and Cindy Wehling celebrate the launch of our last redesign in 2003.
HCN file photo

“On the Road to 50” is an ongoing series of the publisher's notes to our readers, as he travels the region and plans for our 50th anniversary – through community gatherings, individual meetings, and other listening sessions.

I came to High Country News as an unpaid intern in 1984 and got my first taste of journalism under the tough-love tutelage of Ed and Betsy Marston, the husband-and-wife publisher-editor team who had just inherited the organization from a disbanding staff in Lander, Wyoming. Eight years later, in the fall of 1992, I returned to HCN as an underpaid assistant editor, young family in tow.

Over the next decade, I had the great fortune to edit, report and write (and rewrite!) stories from across the West. In 2002, I became the executive director of High Country News. One of our first goals was to turn the 16-page, black-and-white “paper,” as we called it, into the magazine it had always wanted to be. We wanted great stories, yes, but also full-color printing that more fully captured the nuances of this multi-hued landscape. With the guidance of Art Director Cindy Wehling, then-Editor Greg Hanscom and a plucky consultant, we embarked on a major redesign, producing the first-ever color edition of the magazine in May of 2003.

Over the years, we have tweaked the magazine, but we haven’t done another major overhaul … until now. A few weeks ago, we completed a half-year branding and design sprint with our consulting partners at Atlantic 57. The first tangible result of this will be the very next issue in your mailbox. I won’t give away too much, but suffice it to say that I think you will really, really like it!

I hope, too, that you will enjoy the new annual publishing cycle of 16 issues a year — 12 monthly issues plus four special issues. Our decision to change the frequency was based on a 2017 reader survey and hundreds of one-on-one conversations. Many of you said that copies of HCN were piling up on your coffee tables unread, lost amid all the other reading matter you received. Others said you just wanted good journalism, no matter how often it came. We heard you, and in the new design we’re doubling down on our HCN-style “deep dives.” Each issue will be larger, with more of the features, analysis, imagery and perspective you expect. Your annual subscription fee will remain unchanged, and HCN’s carbon footprint will be reduced.

The refreshed magazine reflects our continuing commitment to print in the digital age. We firmly believe that, as long as humans have opposable thumbs, there is a place for a physical product you can hold, fold, rip up or stuff in your backpack.  The slower publishing cycle is also a nod toward quality: It will allow our dispersed editorial team to spend more time on the ground finding and reporting stories that illuminate all the complexities of the West — the kind of journalism you won’t find anywhere else. If you have any questions about your subscription, please feel free to contact our customer service department at 800-905-1155 or [email protected], or go to our website: hcne.ws/schedule. We look forward to hearing your feedback in the new year.

AS HIGH COUNTRY NEWS PLUNGES BOLDLY into the future, we are also honoring our first 50 years. With the help of former HCN intern Josh Garret-Davis, we have produced an exhibit — “High Country News: Chronicler of the West” — that will be on display at the Autry Museum for the American West in Los Angeles from Dec. 17 to Feb. 6. Josh is a curator at the museum, and his team, working closely with HCN’s multi-talented Laura Dixon, has done a wonderful job presenting the history, not only of the magazine, but of the West itself as it has grappled with five decades of environmental, social and economic challenges. You can join Editor-in-Chief Brian Calvert, Associate Editor Tristan Ahtone and me at a public program at the museum on Jan. 29. Details are available at hcn.org/50-years. And if you would like the exhibit to come to your community in 2020, please contact Laura Dixon at [email protected].

ON A BLUSTERY DAY IN EARLY OCTOBER, I joined more than 100 people at the Old Gallery in Allenspark, Colorado, to celebrate the life of longtime conservationist David Robertson, who died September 21 at the age of 85. The timber-framed building, which sits at 8,500-feet in elevation, was the perfect setting to remember David, who, with his surviving spouse, Jan, spent most of his life climbing, skiing and caring about mountains. A geologist-turned-computer programmer who moved to Boulder, Colorado, in 1963, David served as the conservation chair for the Colorado Mountain Club and on the boards of Western Resource Advocates and the Alaska Conservation Foundation. He was an avid outdoorsman, and in 1969 made the first ski crossing of the Juneau Icefields, from Juneau to Skagway. His passion for Alaska every time he told a story about an adventure there, his eyes would sparkle was contagious, and, through his encouragement, HCN started covering conservation battles in the state in the early 2000s.  We will miss David

Paul Larmer is executive director/publisher of High Country NewsEmail him at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor.

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