The Jackson Hole News and The Jackson Hole Guide went nose to nose for three decades, chasing the same news, selling ads to the same people and wondering every week if they would beat the competition.
The Cold War lasted longer, but the end of the Jackson newspaper war wasn’t any less surprising when the two longtime competitors announced in November 2002 that it was all over, that the two papers would become one, the Jackson Hole News&Guide. At the time of the merger the News was 32, the Guide was 50.
It was good for the papers, good for Jackson, each paper said in its last independent issue. Times had changed, the publishers said, and if Jackson was to continue to have good journalism it would have to settle for a bit less of it — at least in the competitive aspect.
“The merger was consummated because the families that own the News and the Guide believe strongly in the local ownership of community newspapers,” News publisher Mike Sellett said in a front page announcement. “At a time when giant newspaper chains are gobbling up community newspapers at an alarming rate, we believe this merger will ensure that this newspaper will continue to be owned and published by people who live in this valley.”
Guide owner and publisher Liz McCabe, the widow of longtime publisher Fred, acknowledged in her own announcement that the end of the newspaper war “may surprise many of you since the Guide and the News have been adversaries for years.”
And she noted the advantage of having two similar products in a small market: “For 30 years competition has been good for both papers. We’ve thoroughly covered Jackson Hole, and through that work we’ve won hundreds of awards.”
But she had the same fear expressed by Sellett and agreed that it made sense for the two papers to join forces.
“This merger prevents either newspaper from being swallowed up by a syndicate,” McCabe wrote. “Both Mike and I feel that this should never happen.”
Today’s News&Guide owner and publisher, Kevin Olson, was new in the Jackson newspaper business at the time, but remembers that feeling.
“Jackson is a unique community” and the two independent newspapers offered “a strong attraction for buyers to come in and swoop them up,” Olson said recently. “But Mike and Fred McCabe were adamant that local ownership and local operators bring the community the best journalism.”
Olson was working for the Orange County (California) Register in 2001 when a friend of his and Sellett’s brought them together, knowing that after nearly 30 years Sellett was looking for an associate publisher. Olson drove to Los Angeles International Airport that summer and he and Sellett, who was waiting for a plane, “talked for a couple of hours,” Olson said. Olson and his family were in Jackson by September for the new job.
Olson had been at work at The News less than a year when a feeler from the Guide — Editor Tom Dewell, a former News employee, and Al Renneisen, the Guide co-publisher who was married to Julie, the daughter of Fred McCabe from an earlier marriage — brought the two papers together with a friendly trip to the links.
“It all hatched from that golf game,” Olson said.
Both papers were award winners, had long traditions, had supporters among business people who bought the ads and people who thought of themselves as “Guide readers” or “News readers.”
But both had owners who were anticipating the end of their active involvement and wanted to preserve what they had. And while The News seemed to have the upper hand on the business side, The Guide had things to offer.
“It was each party bringing value to the new business,” Olson said. “Both papers had strengths, in staff and in business and public support. The merger took the best of both in business practices and people.”
But while the merger answered some questions and solved some problems, it was only the start of making the News&Guide that exists today, Olson said. The merger happened at a time when the newspaper business — and in a wider sense all of journalism and publishing — was facing big changes. A huge part of that was internet competition, both from other professional operations and also from social media. A lot of papers died; most survivors cut back.
Olson said the strong Jackson economy and the citizenry’s engagement in public affairs have played a big part in the success of the paper and its related businesses. While many big market papers have suffered, more than 5,000 newspapers survive in communities with populations less than 50,000; and, in Jackson, surveys show that 70 percent of adults read the News&Guide.
PHOTO GALLERY: Printing operations at the News&Guide
Take a look behind the scenes of printing operations at the Jackson Hole News&Guide, and see this week's paper for a special retrospective on newspapering in Jackson Hole. The Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum will also be hosting a Beers and Banter event on the subject tonight from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
There have been alterations to improve business, starting after the merger of the papers and continuing after Olson formed Teton Media Works and bought the operation in 2012. The News&Guide improved its website, now award-winning itself, and added to its magazine lineup, complementing its longtime Jackson Hole magazine with Teton Family, A Grand Wedding and Teton Home and Living, since renamed Range. The paper publishes a variety of annual special issues, including Hole Health, Peak Pets, Valley Volunteers, Jackson Hole Woman, the Headwaters environmental magazine, Business Focus, the Home Resource Guide, the Jackson Hole Compass magazine and the Jackson Hole Rodeo Roundup. Teton Media Works also owns Orijin, a marketing operation that shares space in its Maple Way building.
But the focus, Olson said, remains newspaper publishing, the Jackson Hole News&Guide and the 40-year-old, six-day-a-week Jackson Hole Daily, which provides local, national and world news between the weekly’s Wednesday editions. In a business with more than 60 employees, the combined News&Guide and Daily newsroom has more than 28 people, the largest in Wyoming.
“We’re still investing in news,” Olson said. “We’re bucking the trend in an era when many media companies are slashing staff and decreasing their ability to cover their communities. ... Quality news and quality journalism is what people expect and we continue to focus on providing it.
“We are the bedrock for consistency and accuracy for information in this community, and we take that expectation seriously.”
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