This issue of “10 Questions” checks in with Barbara Hardt, publisher of The Mountain-Ear in Nederland. “Celebrating 40 years in print,” this community weekly located west of Boulder and just eight miles east of the Continental Divide, strives to cover a core market small in size but big in personality. Today, the town that began as a gold-mining-era trading post in 1874 has developed into a unique mountain gateway to a variety of recreational pursuits in both wilderness areas and national parks.
Hardt lives in Gilpin County with her husband Doug Armitage, son Matthew Mills, daughter Allison Hardt-Zeman and son Hayden Hardt-Zeman. Doug owns Brightwood Music in Nederland. Matthew is a machine operator at Dillon Design and is getting ready to head out to the Navy, with plans of becoming a Navy Seal. Allison is an incoming ninth-grader at Nederland High School and Hayden is an incoming sixth-grader at Nederland Middle School. Barbara’s daughter Alexandra Mills lives in Cheyenne, Wyo., where she is a volunteer firefighter and lives with her boyfriend Brandon Brain, who is a diesel mechanic. Barbara and family have two rescue horses, one dog, two cats, seven chickens and two leopard geckos.
Going on 11 years with The Mountain-Ear – and having worked in every department – Hardt has led the newspaper to multiple press awards and just this year the prestigious Innovation Award from Colorado Press Association. Here’s her take on her newspaper and more:
Q1 – Are you a Nederland native, and what kind of a kid were you … interests, hobbies?
I have lived in the peak to peak region since 1986. I moved here from Thousand Oaks, Calif. I was actually born in Dover, N.J., and my family moved to Thousand Oaks when I was an infant.
I was a quiet and introverted child. I liked reading and writing. I won awards for reading more pages than other students in school. I had a difficult year when I lost my identical twin sister in 1984 and really got into horseback riding as a way to deal with my grief. I was lucky to have parents who supported all my hobbies and helped me through all of the difficult times.
I moved here in ninth grade when my dad was transferred with IBM. I didn’t like Nederland at first. I moved from a very large school to a very small school and it seemed like everyone had been in school together since kindergarten. It changed quickly as I made new friends, and I feel like I have really embraced life in the peak to peak in the 31 years I have been here. I finished school through Boulder Valley School District in 1990.
I have always been very involved in horses and love anything related to horses. I recently rescued two horses from a ranch in Wyoming and am enjoying sharing my passion with my kids. My daughter Allison Hardt-Zeman is also an avid horsewoman. I am very involved in music in our community. All four of my children play music.
Q2 – You’ve attended three Front Range community colleges, earning an associate’s degree in sociology. You also have studied in the areas of computer-aided drafting, paralegal and criminology. What was/is your career plan, including working at a newspaper?
Right now I am focused on selling the paper so I can spend time with my kids before they graduate. I also want to spend time with my husband, who has had some medical issues in the last year. I plan to continue working hard to grow the newspaper and stay involved in community news, even when it sells.
I would love to continue in some capacity at the paper if the next owner will have me. I would also love to go back to school for my bachelor’s degree in sociology, with a focus on helping families. I don’t see that happening in the next four years, which is when my daughter will graduate high school. My youngest son will graduate high school in seven years.
Q3 – Kay Turnbaugh started The Mountain-Ear in 1976, later selling it to Gilpin County resident Lora Rambo. You started working there and bought it the next year. What prompted you to want to own a newspaper?
I started at the newspaper in classifieds Oct. 31, 2006. In 2007, the owner at that time wanted to sell it and I thought it would be a great fit for me because I loved my job, and I also loved the community covered by The Mountain-Ear. I was eager to learn all the aspects of print journalism and have been very happy with my decision.
Honestly, I wanted to save the paper from being bought by a larger company. I have always felt The Mountain-Ear is an integral part of the community and wanted to continue it in the same capacity it filled for the previous 30 years.
Q4 – At the recent Colorado Press Association annual convention, the Newspaper Innovation Award for 2016 went to “Barbara Hardt and The Mountain-Ear.” The award honors a “news organization that has significantly improved its business model in one or multiple areas to reflect changes in audience, revenue streams, content dissemination and other applicable areas of change within the industry.”
At its core, it means you figured out how to “foster and promote innovation.” What did you change in editorial, advertising, circulation, social media and community involvement, and what will you work on next?
The paper has really changed the target of what we are providing for news. We try to cover so much more by having contributions from community members on a weekly basis. We cover a lot of music and art, school news, sports, more local government news than ever before. We also focus more on events that may not be covered in other, larger daily publications. We provide news relevant to fifth-graders and 90-year-old grandparents. We try to keep it fresh and interesting.
To increase revenue, I have taken on more of the weekly work to allow the paper to grow. More revenue means more pages and more color. That brings in new subscribers and advertisers. We have changed our advertising focus to include a lot of packages that are better at featuring a business and do not grow stale in print media. It is important to brand a business, but then change the ads regularly to reflect some slight difference in what is being offered by the business.
It’s also important to include all our local advertisers in the equation of what makes the paper work. We have many that have been with us since before I bought the paper, and many new advertisers in the last 10 years. Each has a unique store or venue that promotes weekly specials, monthly events, music and more in the peak to peak region.
We have a huge social media presence with regular updates and sharing on multiple news outlets. I work with a lot of local organizations to make sure they are getting coverage and also to share local perspective directly from community members. The needs of our community change all the time. We have to keep up with it by continually growing, listening to our readers and providing them what is important in their news world.
Q5 – You cover the “Peak to Peak” region of Colorado, defined sometimes by a 55-mile scenic drive from Estes Park south – through Nederland among other municipalities– to Black Hawk and Central City. What is your definition of Peak to Peak coverage?
We cover the area roughly between Allenspark and Central City. We have occasional stories from outside that area as well, and we reach down the canyons into Jamestown, Gold Hill, Coal Creek, Rollinsville, Pinecliffe, Golden Gate Canyon and more.
We try to offer a diverse paper each week that includes a little bit from several areas. The community involvement is integral in this. I also attend many events in person each week, which gives me ideas for new stories and what people are looking for.
Q6 – According to an ad on the CPA website, your newspaper is currently for sale, perhaps the only Colorado newspaper for sale at this time. The ad mentions a niche market, excellent web presence and social media, and “wonderful opportunity for expansion in the region.” Can you expand on that and also tell us (considering in the past you’ve indicated you’d rather not sell to a large corporation) who would be your ideal buyer?
The peak to peak has a very close community with so many amazing community events. We have wonderful schools and an amazing rec center and community center. Our community is expanding with new houses and businesses coming in regularly. A salesperson reaching out to new businesses would find so many new opportunities available across the peak to peak. The ability to cover more events, bring in more subscribers and advertisers is constantly growing. There are no limits here. We are the only weekly publication that covers this entire region.
My ideal buyer would be someone who understands local news, the importance of community and is part of the greater peak to peak community. Someone who lives in-state and already has a feel for how to cover every aspect of small-town life. I believe a graphic designer or journalist would find it a perfect fit, although anyone with any interest in running a paper could certainly learn the ropes. I did!
Q7 – John Scarffe has been your business partner in ownership of The Mountain-Ear since 2014. You’ve been the newspaper’s editor, publisher and worked in every department – sales & marketing, graphic design & layout, social media, web design, circulation – and done whatever else needed to be done. Besides being publisher, from what single job or department did you get the most satisfaction?
I have to say the best part of the paper for me is learning and completing the graphic design. I did not have any formal training when I had to learn layout in less than a week. I was fortunate to have a designer who worked with me and taught me the ropes.
I feel like there is a never-ending possibility for improvement in this area and continue to read 14 small-town Colorado papers weekly. It gives me ideas of layout as well as how to cover small-town news in an ever-changing environment.
Q8 – In addition to your work at The Mountain-Ear, you also help organize community events, work as a property manager and in marketing & sales for a local music store, and volunteer for the Peak to Peak Healthy Communities Project (PPHCP). How do you juggle all that, and how do these varied interests complement each other?
People ask me how I manage my time and I reply, “I am a professional time juggler.” I am very good at compartmentalizing each job. I am firm in the hours I am available for each and make sure I am realistic on what is required for each.
I work a specific number of hours at my property management job, and I’m fortunate to be in the shopping center daily so people can find me and I can deal with issues as they come up, even in off-hours.
Right now, I am in the process of breaking off a separate nonprofit from the standing nonprofit of PPHCP. I want to focus more on music and horses and less on administrative work. This year I am only focused on two projects, which cuts down the needed time until right before an event.
My husband owns the music store in Nederland, and I work out of there every day except Tuesdays, when I work at home on deadline for the paper. I have learned a lot at the music store in the past seven years and am fortunate to have very musical kids who also help out with the store. I provide marketing for the store, which, amazingly, is done only through The Mountain-Ear and online through our website and social media. We have customers from many other states who drive in for repairs and to purchase new instruments, which we have custom-made for us. We carry a lot of unique instruments that also bring people in from all over the place.
I would say all aspects of my life complement each other because each part is entwined with the others. My nonprofit life feeds into my property management life, which feeds into the newspaper life, which feeds into the music life. And overall, every part of my life is surrounded by family, friends, music, news, and is based on helping others to find the same.
Q9 – Neat desk and office or not, and what would we see there?
Neat desk because I need to be able to focus, deal with tenants, deal with customers, update the website, work on design and answer phones at any given time. I go through all paperwork once a day and find what requires immediate attention. Otherwise it’s all filed in separate folders waiting for my next scheduled time at each individual job.
Q10 – What advice would you like to offer to the next generation in journalism?
Stick with it. Learn all aspects of journalism, from selling ads to publishing a paper, because print media is still very relevant and very much alive. The best place to be in print media is a newspaper with a real community focus and covering local news. It’s amazing to be part of such a community!