This issue, “10 Questions” checks in with Aaron Storms, publisher and managing editor of The Weekly Register-Call – a community newspaper based in Black Hawk and serving Gilpin County from Central City to Nederland.
Touting itself as Colorado’s oldest weekly, the newspaper dates back to 1862. The Miners’ Register (or Daily Miners’ Register) became the Central City Register (also daily) in 1868, then the Register-Call after a merger in the 1870s. Aaron and co-owner/co-publisher David Spellman took over in July 2004. Aaron and his wife Robin live in Black Hawk. Three of their grown children and their young families live in the Denver area, with one errant daughter living in Dallas with her family.
1 – Where did you grow up and how did you wind up in Colorado?
I was born in Lamar, Colo., but grew up in Kansas. I graduated from college in Oklahoma, moved to Houston and worked in advertising/publishing for 17 years, then moved to the hills for a little peace and quiet.
2 – You attended the University of Oklahoma, 1977-1979. What did you study and what was your transition into the workforce?
I have a bachelor’s degree in art from OU, specifically in Advertising Art. While a senior, I worked as a night manager for a pizza restaurant and obtained an intern position with the University Publications in-house ad agency, where I learned the practical and business side of graphic design, illustration and publishing. Continuing there after graduation with a full-time position, I also started freelancing as the art director for a horse-racing magazine published in Norman, Okla.
When our magazine was acquired by a larger corporation, I interviewed at the Oklahoma City PBS station as a digital graphic designer, and at the Cowboy Hall of Fame. I was offered both positions, but chose the print medium as it was more familiar to me and I didn’t think at the time there was much of a career opportunity as a designer in television. Could have been a whole different career path had I chosen the Cray supercomputer job instead! After a year of designing and publishing their nice art showcase magazine Persimmon Hill, I left and moved to Houston in the Katy area as the closest advertising center versus New York or LA.
Working at a small graphic-design studio, we did a lot of work for Exxon, software companies, and offshore oil and gas companies. After 10 years, I started my own graphic design studio and focused on publishing trade magazines, as well as more print for some of my longtime customers. I was involved with the Houston ad, illustrator and publishing clubs, and through those contacts was asked to be a design instructor at the Art Institute of Houston, and Houston Community College. While teaching night classes there, I became involved in 3-D CAD and animation and hired some students to start offering that to my existing clients as well for video and training.
After turning 40, my wife and I decided to move to the mountains of Colorado for a change of pace.
3 – Your website references The Weekly Register-Call/Gilpin County News.
What are the differences between the two newspapers, and when did the latter begin?
When I first moved to our mountain house near Black Hawk, I continued to work with some of my Houston clients via email and websites, but after a year or two was starting to name the chipmunks and needing interaction with humans. I contracted with a Denver staffing agency and enjoyed working contract for a few different companies in telecommunication and training. At one company, one of my co-workers knew the owner of a local four-wheel drive company, so when my contract was up I interviewed with High Country 4x4 and was hired as the business development manager.
Since I live in the mountains, I’ve had a variety of Jeeps, and turned my interest in building Jeeps and off-roading into a fun job and selling four-wheel drive lifts to dealers on new trucks and Jeeps. Unfortunately, whenever there was a significant model change, the computers changed and the chips to retune a new vehicle were delayed for a few months, so the reduction in income was enough I needed to find another gig. I worked for GE on a mortgage software development team for a year, then looked for something else when that contract finished.
I started freelancing at the local newspaper in Central City and set them up with digital publishing, as their press was going to cut them off if they didn’t convert from using the old layout boards and waxing galley type. After setup was complete, they asked me to do some reporting and writing, which l did for a few months but it didn’t pay enough to live on and support a family, and they were pretty self-focused and antagonistic to the City of Black Hawk.
I submitted an offer to buy the paper from the publisher, Bill Russell Jr., but he wanted a million for the old WRC and holdings. So I left there and started my own newspaper, the Gilpin County News, and pitched the legal notice business to the Black Hawk Council. They liked the idea, and even though I had already filed all the necessary paperwork, we hadn’t been in business for a full year yet, so the city assigned another small newspaper to me that they had acquired in a lawsuit so that I could start publishing their legal notices right away. They also bought subscriptions for all their departments and for the 75 city residents, so that helped get things going.
I published the GCN newspaper for five years, then when Russell passed away, his estate found my offer to buy in his safe, along with another offer from Black Hawk Mayor David Spellman. Since I was a relative newcomer to the community, they contacted David first. He called me immediately and we decided to do a partnership right then on the phone, versus publishing two papers for the same community. And we’ve been doing that since July 2004, and overall have never missed a week’s publication since 1862.
4 – In July you’ll celebrate 13 years with The Weekly Register-Call. How did the formation of Storman Media, LLC with your co-owner David Spellman come about and does it involve other business?
When we formed the partnership in July 2004, that’s when we created the company name. Currently we have no plans to develop this into anything more, but the option is open. We’ve been contacted about acquiring other small newspapers as well, though I really don’t have time to expand.
5 – Your newspaper staff includes you and David, a copy editor/circulation manager, a webmaster, a wildlife photographer, three reporters and a bunch of columnists. Do you seek out contributors in what is likely a pretty close-knit community?
We try to cover all the local events and meetings we can, but everyone works freelance from their own home offices and we buy what stories and photos that we think would be of interest to our readers. We do accept other content from state agencies and freelance contributors, but we don’t have much of a budget and trade ads when possible for stories and photos when not from our regular reporters.
My wife answers the phone during the week, and is also our circulation manager, who handles the distribution of papers to the post offices and retail outlets. We both do the late-night labeling of the newspapers each Wednesday night for distribution on Thursdays. When my kids were living at home we would press them into service with helping to proofread, and whenever we have guests, we invite them to participate in the labeling fun.
6 – You also do LNP Customer Management for Level 3 Communications (a wholesale VoIP phone service provider based in Denver/Broomfield), where you’ve worked for more than 13 years. Prior to that, you worked as an instructional designer for Avaya (business communications systems) for a couple of years. How do you juggle your Level 3 work with running a weekly newspaper? And do they each satisfy an intellectual or productivity need?
Working with customers at Level 3, the developing and writing process as an instructional designer – with some of the most intelligent people I know – plus delivering internal and external training checks off a lot of boxes of interest for me. And it’s a nice quiet commute over the mountain pass through Golden Gate Canyon State Park to and from Broomfield. I spend about half my day troubleshooting telecommunications issues, so it’s fun as a kind of CSI of telecom. Level 3 has allowed me to work four 10s, so that gives me a full day to design and lay out the digital edition of the WRC, and when finished I upload my high-res PDF file to my press, Signature Offset in Broomfield.
7 – In 2015, you went to see your new grandson in Abu Dhabi (born in Dubai), and wound up publishing two editions of your newspaper from there. How did it go, and did you include “local” content?
Since we publish digitally, it was a seamless transition to publish from Abu Dhabi from my laptop – it’s a truly modern city with all construction done since 1975, so internet service was excellent. I downloaded the typical stories and photos from my reporters, ads from advertisers, and did add a little local content with a few photos of Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
8 – Can you name your top three mentors, in or out of journalism, and how they influenced you?
This is tough – probably my design instructors at the University of Oklahoma, specifically a product designer, Mr. Hinkle, and an ad agency director from New York whose name escapes me. For real-world experience, I couldn’t have received any better start than from Bill Williams, the art director for the University Publications team.
9 – Facebook postings show your interest in off-road Jeeping and motorcycling. How long have you been doing these adventures?
Having fun off-road started when I was a kid I guess with bikes and hunting in rural Kansas. As I grew older and obtained a learner’s permit at age 14, that started the motorized passion with cars, motorcycles … and then girls. When moving to Colorado, we had to have a four-wheel drive other than our Suburban, so a Jeep was the natural choice for myself and for each of our four kids – we’ve had a dozen Jeeps of different types over the years, and still have a few. Now that I’m a little older and wiser, the big old Gold Wing is a safer and easier ride on the roads and body than the motocross bikes, so the small bikes have gone to new homes.
10 – Neat email, desk or office, or not, and what would we see there?
Both – I like a neatly organized work area to start the day with, but by the day’s end there are countless sticky notes and notes in my notebooks. I’ve found that I don’t like an office behind closed doors, and prefer to work in an open environment where I can interact with my team or family. If needing to write and concentrate, I slip on the headphones and with Pandora I can create an audio wall to be present in the physical sense, but miles away with writing.