This issue of “10 Questions” checks in with Beecher Threatt, co-publisher of the weekly Ouray County Plaindealer (a newspaper dating back to 1877) along with her husband, Alan Todd. They bought the Plaindealer and Ridgway Sun in September 2010, merging the Sun into the Plaindealer in 2011 – today the official newspaper of the City of Ouray, Ouray County and the Town of Ridgway. They also publish the Mountain Scene Shopper. The couple enjoy living outside Ridgway with their dog, Buster. They have two sons, one a flight instructor in Utah, and one at Fort Lewis College in Durango. Here’s her account of her newspaper and careers:
1 – Where were you born, where did you grow up, and what kind of kid were you?
I was born in an Air Force hospital in Lake Charles, La. My father was a reporter for the base newspaper. He put a story and photo of my mother and me on the front page and I still have the entire paper. We lived in several small towns as my father changed newspapers. We settled back in Lake Charles, where I was a pretty nerdy kid – debate team, honor society, valedictorian, etc.
2 – You earned your B.A. in history at Rice University, and your J.D. at the University of Houston Law Center. What was your interest in history, and in pursuing a law degree what career path or goal did you have in mind?
History was just a way to get to law school. I didn’t have a career path in mind as far as the type of lawyer I would be. I don’t remember what my plan was, if I had one. I did what I thought others wanted me to do. I probably should have gone to journalism school, but back then I didn’t think for myself. That’s why I have told my children they need to think about what they will be happy doing all day long.
3 – You started out as a legislative aide in the Texas House of Representatives in 1981, then worked for a state agency and practiced law as a partner in an Austin, Texas, firm from 1982-1991. You were an adjunct professor of law at the University of Texas Law School, and executive director of a legal nonprofit from 1991-1996. Where did you become interested in journalism?
My interest in journalism stems from my father’s career. He was an editor at the Lake Charles American Press. He taught me how to write a lede at an early age and in my house everyone read newspapers. I married a newspaper advertising guy and wrote a column in the late 1990s. I’ve learned a lot by osmosis and self-education.
4 – You came to Colorado in 1997, got your license to practice law here, and got a job with Killian and Associates in Grand Junction as a research and writing attorney, where you lived for a year, then moved back to Texas in 1998 and worked remotely for Killian until 2004. In Texas, you were a columnist for the Longview News-Journal for the next four years, and an adjunct professor at Kilgore College from 2007-2010. How did the moves back and forth from Texas to Colorado happen, and how did you wind up staying here?
My husband worked for Cox Newspapers in Austin. In 1997 he transferred to become classified manager for the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. A year later the Longview News-Journal publisher lured him back to Texas as advertising director. When Cox sold the Longview paper to a New York equity company in 2008, we revisited our idea of buying a paper in Colorado. We had met with David Mullings, owner of the Plaindealer and the Sun, a few years before and liked the Ouray County area, where we had vacationed often.
5 – You and Alan are co-publishers of the Ouray County Plaindealer and the Mountain Scene Shopper as part of 550 Publishing, Inc. How did you start the company, and does it involve other business?
We started it with our savings just to buy the papers. It doesn’t involve any other businesses. It’s named for the U.S. highway that runs from Ridgway to Ouray, the two municipalities in Ouray County.
6 – You were elected to the Colorado Press Association board of directors in February 2014, and are now secretary of the board. What accomplishments of the board since then make you proud, and what are you looking forward to working on in 2017?
Hiring an executive director was the first major decision I was involved in. I think we should be very proud of having the wisdom to hire Jerry Raehal. Jerry has made the board look good by improving our financial picture, and he significantly improved the convention. Restructuring of membership and dues was major, and although I opposed allowing online papers in, I’m proud that our board was able to get that project done. Lisa Schlichtman and Vincent Laboy were instrumental in that. For 2017, my goal is getting the legislative committee more active and making a long term plan for it.
7 – Your newspapers have been frequent CPA award winners. What is your philosophy on hiring and on encouraging your staff to excel?
It’s difficult to find good employees in our remote and sparsely populated area. (The county has about 4,500 people.) We advertise for candidates, but it’s difficult and expensive just to get them here for a face-to-face. Our two reporters must also be staff photographers and layout artists. We look for smart people who understand the challenges of living here and are self-motivated to excel. We just provide the vehicle and the opportunity to learn.
8 – Would you name your top three mentors and how they influenced you?
Miss Whitten: my high school senior English teacher struck terror in all of us. She gave me a sound education in writing, grammar, punctuation and getting things right. English teachers in lower grades gave us the foundation but she raised us to a higher level.
Buddy Threatt: my dad was a daily newspaper news editor. His idea of quality time was teaching me to write ledes with who, what, why, where and when.
Vi Threatt: I credit my mother with instilling common sense and logical thinking in me.
9 – You still work part-time for Texas Lawyers for Children – aptly referenced as “TLC” – in Dallas as a senior research attorney. Can you tell us about that work, and its rewards?
I’ve been a contractor for TLC since 1999. TLC has an online database free to Texas attorneys (representing the state, parents and children) and judges who work on the civil side in child protection law, mostly regarding removals from parents and termination of parental rights. I prepare summaries of recent appellate opinions for uploading to the site. Then I code each opinion with search words so users can find what they want quickly. Texas has 14 courts of appeals and a supreme court, so there is a lot to do. I also gather social science and medical articles that attorneys and judges will find useful. Rewards come when attorneys and judges write to us or tell us in person how useful our site is to them.
10 – Do you have a neat office, desk, email, and what would we find there?
My office and desk are usually neat-ish. On my desk are a “to do” stack, our latest newspaper and shopper, plenty of scratch paper and note pads (I still don’t think of word processing software first when I need to make a list or note), day planner, laptop and large monitor. I also have my Lance Berkman bobblehead and a Native American pine straw container that belonged to my grandmother. Email is organized but I find myself searching it all the time. So, maybe too organized?