Taking the 'High' Road in the West

By Fox, Walter | Editor & Publisher, April 1, 2005 | Go to article overview

Taking the 'High' Road in the West


Fox, Walter, Editor & Publisher


An environmentally conscious American newspaper that would seem to defy all of the normal patterns of circulation, advertising, and frequency of publication is celebrating its 35th year of operation in 2005. The High Country News, a biweekly published in Paonia, Colorado, targets an 11-state area west of the Rocky Mountains. Describing itself as "the paper for people who care about the West," HCN offers news, analysis and commentary on water, public lands, wildlife, grazing, logging, mining, wilderness, growth, politics, and other topics of interest to the region.

Founded in Lander, Wyo., in 1970 by Tom Bell, an educator and rancher- turned-environmentalist, the paper now has a circulation of more than 24,000 -- while maintaining a 15% advertising cap -- and is reportedly read widely by members of Congress who want to keep abreast of environmental issues.

Since it does not rely primarily on advertising for support, HCN is free to take stands on issues that mainstream dailies might avoid. Consequently, it has become an outspoken advocate for wildlife conservation, environmental protection, intelligent land use, and wilderness preservation. Publisher Paul Larmer noted, however, that the paper's primary goal is to present readers with a "balanced picture" so that they can make up their own minds.

By way of illustration, Larmer, who was an editor at HCN for 10 years, pointed out that one of the paper's stories he's most proud of was published in 1996 when President Bill Clinton created the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument from 1.9 million acres of public lands in Utah. While the new monument elicited unanimous praise from environmentalists, many local residents were hostile to the designation, fearing that it would deny them grazing rights and eliminate the "multiple-use" ethic that governs public lands.

Convinced that these complaints should be heard, Larmer went to Utah, interviewed local people who had, in his words, "strong feelings" on the issue and incorporated their views into the paper's story. …

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