About Utah: Small-town papers alive and well in Utah

Published: Sunday, Dec. 2 2012 10:55 p.m. MST

Bill Boyle is publisher and editor of the 97-year-old San Juan Record, headquartered in Monticello.

Lee Benson

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MONTICELLO, San Juan County — While there are days, production Mondays usually, when he might fantasize about its demise, Bill Boyle, editor and publisher of the San Juan Record, is proud to say the paper's popularity is as strong as ever.

Eighteen years ago, when he left his job as a banker in Seattle and moved back to his hometown to buy its weekly newspaper, the print circulation was about 2,000.

Eighteen years later, it's still about 2,000, plus 400 online subscribers.

That doesn't mean there aren't headaches. Costs have gone up over the years while revenue — the classified ad line has shrunk a bit — has gone down, but in the Internet Age that is leveling big-city newspapers right and left, the small-town weeklies are hanging in there.

"It's tough to stand alone anymore," says Boyle, who also runs a travel/tourism business and a bookstore to make ends meet, "but it's no tsunami like the dailies. The Record is still as relevant as ever."

Helping prove the point was a book released nationally a year ago: "Emus Loose in Egnar: Big Stories from Small Towns," written by NPR's Judy Muller.

Muller crisscrossed the "blue roads" of the country, visiting weeklies from coast to coast. When she was finished, she wrote, "This just in: journalism is not dead. It is alive and kicking in small towns all across America thanks to the editors of weekly newspapers who, for very little money and a fair amount of aggravation, keep on telling it like it is."

One of those editors she profiled was Bill Boyle of the San Juan Record.

Muller praised Boyle's diligence as an editor and detailed the delicate balance he had to walk as a reporter and community member when the Indian artifacts bust decimated San Juan County three years ago.

"Boyle's world is not an isolated one, even though he works in relative isolation," she wrote. "It is a world familiar to thousands of small-town editors who grapple with the 'I have to live here, too' dilemma."

Although for guys like Boyle, it might be better phrased as "I get to live here, too."

Now 50, he returned to Monticello when he was barely in his 30s and he and his wife were just getting started on their family. They didn't have to come. They wanted to come.

Boyle was working for the bank in Seattle at the time. He'd left Monticello after high school to go to college, first at Snow, then BYU, and then Stanford for an MBA.

His business career was on the rise when one day his mother called and told him the Record was for sale. Not just that week's issue. The entire paper.

The owner, Joyce Martin, wanted out.

Years earlier, Boyle had written sports articles for Martin's Record when he was a student at Monticello High School. The articles got him two things: an A in his journalism class and a newspaper addiction.

"When you're ready to retire, I'll buy the paper," he'd told Martin as a teenager.

Well, now she was ready to retire.

So Boyle took the requisite pay cut and came back to the place where his great grandfather, George Adams, was the town's first mayor — and he's never left.

At first, back before the Internet complicated everything, he could concentrate just on running the paper. Now he wears many more hats. But if the economic realities for newspapers have changed, even for weeklies, the content and popularity of the San Juan Record hasn't.

"The paper is still the community gathering spot," he says. "People still look for it in their mailbox. They still want the local flavor, they want to disagree. Where else are you going to read about a controlled burn that goes out of control? I don't think that will end up in the Wall Street Journal."

And out here in the country, away from Craigslist and eBay, people still advertise their real estate and job openings in the classifieds.

"That's our advantage," Boyle says, "no one else gives a dang about southeastern Utah, but we do."

So life continues, unabated, in the quiet rural towns where newspapers are killing as many trees as they ever did.

Bill Boyle is a proud owner, publisher and editor of one of these newspapers.

Well, other than Mondays.

"Monday is our production day; I'll give it away free that day," Boyle says. "But by Thursday, it's back up to market value."

Lee Benson's About Utah column runs Monday and Friday. Email: benson@desnews.com

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