On May 26, 1983, forty years ago this week, The Newspaper, a brash upstart weekly that gave The Park Record a run for its money, published its final edition.
Cheeky, glib, and irreverent, it was famous for its double-entendre headlines, its off-the-wall columns, its “interviews” with dogs and potholes, and its April Fools issues. It was staffed by a group of young newcomers whose common bonds were a love of skiing and a dearth of journalism experience. For the better part of a decade, The Newspaper gave Parkites an alternative view of the universe.
New arrivals, lured to Park City after the opening of Treasure Mountains (now Park City Mountain Resort) in 1963, often found they had little in common with the staid old Park Record. (In July 1971, for example, the 91-year-old paper ran a photo of six shaggy-haired residents with this caption: “Believe it or not, only two of these citizens … are girls.”)
In 1973 the new arrivals included Steve Dering, a University of Maryland economics graduate whose eclectic resume included waiting tables and working as a systems analyst for the National Security Agency. Dering heard that a couple of guys were thinking about starting a competing newspaper and went to see the would-be publishers, Don Prescott and Jan Peterson.
“I needed a job,” Dering recalled in a 2005 interview. “I’d been here for two months and I was about out of money. So I told them I was the editor of my high-school paper and I wrote sports for my college paper.”
“Was that true?” he was asked.
“No,” he said.
He still got a job as the reporter, answering to editor Kerry Bolton. But it involved more than just researching and writing stories. It included laying out the paper at the printer in Roy (near Ogden), waiting for it to be printed, then driving home with the finished product.
“Then I had to deliver it,” Dering said. “And inevitably it would be noon when I got to The Cozy [Tavern], which was the big miners’ hangout. And you could hear the din of conversation … until I walked in with the newspaper. And [then] you could hear a pin drop. And every time: ‘Goddamn hippie newspaper.’”
That paper was the Park City Coalition. It lasted a little more than a year.
“So then Prescott ran out of money,” Dering said. “I mean, we literally had to go around to the [newspaper] coin boxes and collect the coins to pay the vendors.”
When the Coalition folded, one of those left holding the bag was the printer, J. Howard Stahle. In an attempt to recoup some of his losses, Stahle considered buying the Coalition, but Dering persuaded him to start a new paper instead. It was the summer of 1975.
“I was [to be] the editor and part owner,” Dering said. “I was 25 percent and Howard was 75 percent.”
Searching for help with the new publication, Dering approached Greg Schirf, who had hitchhiked from Milwaukee to Park City in the spring of 1974. By 1975 he was building houses for his older brother, contractor Skip Schirf.
Greg remembers that he was on the roof of a new house when Dering drove up and offered him a job as a reporter/photographer. “And I was, like, ‘Yeah!’ And I … took my construction belt off and dropped it right there on the job and climbed down the ladder and said, ‘I’m outta here.’”
“True story,” Dering said.
For the new publication, they chose the most generic name possible, Dering said, “because there were two papers [in town] and if someone said, ‘We’ll go out and get the newspaper [the choice would be simple].’ Anyway, that’s how it became The Newspaper.”
The first issue hit the stands in September 1975.
That November, city voters elected a new mayor and three new members to the city council. In a four-person race for mayor, the winner was Leon Uriarte with 376 votes. Among the new council members was Steve Dering.
Already on the city council was Jan Wilking, whom Dering had met while covering the city for the Coalition. Wilking, a native of Casper, Wyoming, and a Montana State graduate in architecture, had moved to Park City in 1970.
On March 31, 1976, The Newspaper ran a front-page article revealing that Wilking had plans to build a 17-story shopping/greyhound-racing complex on King Road above Park City’s Old Town.
It wasn’t quite April First, but it was close enough. Interspersed with legitimate news items in that issue were other articles of questionable provenance. One announced that Howard Hughes was staying in town. In another, Schirf interviewed a group of aliens from outer space. In a third, the paper reported that Utah was bracing for an invasion of killer armadillos. Thus began The Newspaper’s annual April Fools tradition.
That summer Dering approached Howard Stahle, the printer, about selling his 75-percent interest in The Newspaper to Wilking, Schirf, and Hank Louis, a 25-year-old USC graduate who had recently moved to Park City from Costa Rica. Stahle sold his interest for about $15,000. Wilking was to serve as the paper’s business manager and Louis signed up to write a stream-of-consciousness column, “Hankerings.”
“That summer that we took over the paper, we had sold lots of ads [on credit],” Wilking recalled. “And everyone would say, ‘Don’t worry, because in winter we’ll pay you.’ And so people owed us a lot of money.”
“Well, that was the year it didn’t snow until January,” he went on. “No one could pay us.”
What little money they collected went to pay Schirf and the office staff, leaving the other owners to depend on “trade-outs” with their cash-strapped advertisers.
“I didn’t have any money,” Dering said. “I had to eat out every night, because we had a trade-out at all the restaurants. … But we couldn’t trade out for gas and we couldn’t trade out for groceries.”
With snowmaking still in its infancy, skiers were staring at bare ground. Then, on Sunday, Jan. 2, 1977, it finally started to snow. By Jan. 5 enough had fallen for the Park City Resort to open some of its upper slopes to skiers. It was, of course, front-page news that week.
The Park Record reported the event in an effusive 540-word article. But The Newspaper told the story in a very different way. That week, other than the masthead, its front page contained only two words. In huge block letters floating in an ocean of white space it said, “GONE SKIING.”
Of course, having Wilking and Dering on the city council worked to The Newspaper’s advantage. Among other stories, it helped them to scoop The Park Record on the plans for a new local ski resort to be known as Deer Valley, Schirf told me.
It was onto this scene that another newcomer, Bettina Moench, stumbled during the summer of 1977. She was working for a landscaping company, laying sod and mowing lawns, when she spotted an ad for a typesetter in The Newspaper classifieds.
At that time, typesetting involved using special equipment to input stories and headlines onto photo-sensitive paper, which then had to be developed. “I thought it was typing, and I could type really well,” she recalled in 2005. She said Wilking gave her the job, handed her a manual for the typesetting machine, told her to practice for awhile, and left town for the weekend.
“Being the dutiful person that I am – that doesn’t want to disappoint – I spent the whole weekend completely screwing up,” she said.
Nevertheless, that job opened a new world for Moench. She started taking journalism classes at the University of Utah and soon began to write her own articles.
By this time, Greg Schirf and Hank Louis were no longer writing for the paper and had sold their shares to Dering and Wilking. (Schirf later started Utah’s first microbrewery, Wasatch Brewery. Louis became a highly respected local architect whose designs include the Wasatch Brew Pub on Main Street.)
Then, on December 13, 1979, The Newspaper announced Dering would be leaving to join Deer Valley as its first marketing director and Moench would become the new editor.
“The change from editor Dering to editor Moench will mean a new look for The Newspaper,” reporter Conrad Elliott wrote. “But considering the history of the weekly and that Moench learned her craft from her predecessor, the paper will undoubtedly retain a portion of Dering’s character for some time to come.”
Elliott was right. There were changes. Gone, for instance, were the interviews with dogs and potholes. But the paper kept many other Dering innovations including the annual April Fools issue.
In July 1980, KPCW exploded onto the scene, turning local news gathering on its head. The two weekly papers suddenly found themselves scrambling to provide readers with nuanced “second-day” coverage of news stories that KPCW had already broken.
In December 1981 Moench announced that she was stepping down after two years as editor. “I think about The Newspaper as being the singularly most fabulous job I ever had and absolutely the hardest job I’ve ever had,” she said later. Full disclosure: By that time I was a member of the editorial staff and moved into the editor’s chair.
About 16 months later, on a Sunday in the spring of 1983, diligent readers of the Salt Lake Tribune found a small UPI story on page 20A announcing the demise of a Park City institution.
“PARK CITY (UPI) – The Park Record, Utah’s oldest continuously published weekly newspaper, will print its final edition on May 26,” the story began.
No, this wasn’t a rewrite of a Newspaper April Fools joke. But there is a story behind it, of course.
The competing newspapers were facing an economic reality. The one surviving silver mine was on its last legs. Skiing supported the town for maybe six months of the year. Main Street was riddled with empty lots. In the 1980 census, Park City had a population of 2,839. Could the town support both papers?
“We were making money, but it was extremely difficult and extremely marginal,” Park Record publisher Dick Buys told me in 2005.
The UPI story continued: “The 103-year-old Park Record and The Park City Newspaper have announced plans to merge and will print their first [joint] edition on June 2. The new newspaper will be called The News Record. … Park City Publishing Company, owner of The Park City Newspaper, will be the majority stockholder in the new company.”
Wilking, with input from his staff, initially settled on the name “News Record” to reflect the contribution of each paper. “This is a merger of the Park Record’s history and its relationship with older Park City, and the Park City Newspaper’s orientation to the new members of the community,” he told UPI.
However, Wilking and his staff didn’t anticipate people sounding the The Park Record’s death knell. Ultimately they elected to keep the traditional name, which meant the end of the line for The Newspaper. But they abandoned the Park Record’s tabloid format in favor of The Newspaper’s larger broadsheet pages. Visually, the new Park Record looked more like the old Newspaper.
If you remember, 1983 was the year of the flooding in downtown Salt Lake City, when sandbags turned State Street sidewalks into the banks of an improvised river. There was also flooding in Park City that year, particularly along Daly Avenue, where Poison Creek jumped its banks, washing into nearby homes. That coincided with the June 2 issue, giving the staff plenty to write about.
Much more water has gone down Poison Creek since then. Two of the members listed in the 1983 “staff box” – Teri Orr and Nan Chalat Noaker – went on to serve terms as editor. A third, Rick Brough, went on to a career at KPCW. In December 1984 the paper’s offices moved from 419 Main Street to Prospector Square. And the paper has gone through several ownership changes in the past 40 years.
But that’s another story.