This month, “10 Questions” checks in with Chris Dickey, owner and publisher of the weekly Gunnison Country Times, the newspaper of record for both the city and county of Gunnison in southwest Colorado. Besides the flagship weekly, Gunnison Country Publications also produces a variety of specialty pubs.
Dickey lives in Gunnison with his wife Kirsten, children Spencer, 13, and Madeline, 15, plus a high-energy Border Collie named Molly and an insanely affectionate cat, Rudy. Here’s his take on newspaper life in an area of the state renowned for both summer and winter outdoor activities:
Q1 – Where did you grow up, and what were you interested in during those years?
I grew up on a family homestead south of Colorado Springs, the youngest of five siblings.
I attended a lot of my brothers’ and sisters’ athletic events when I was young. I wrote my first sports story – recounting a great high school basketball game between powerhouses (at the time) Florence and Manitou Springs – when I was in the fourth grade.
Q2 – As far as education, you earned your bachelor of arts in business and journalism from 1989-1993 at Western State Colorado University in Gunnison. How did you decide on your major/minor, and were you first interested in one aspect of journalism in particular?
I certainly didn’t attend college with a clear intention of what I was going to study. That definitely evolved. I took a newswriting course my freshman year to fulfill a general education requirement and before I knew it was on staff at the campus newspaper, The Top o’ the World.
I also grew up in a family restaurant business, Juniper Valley Ranch Dining Room. My first job was packing dishes at the restaurant when I was probably 8. So I had a job, a savings account and things that I’d purchased with my own money from a very early age. I guess the business degree came naturally.
Q3 – How did you get your start in journalism?
About a month before college graduation a former Top o’ the World colleague stopped by the office and let me know he’d just quit a reporting job at the Ute Pass Courier in Woodland Park.
He said they were desperate to get it filled quickly. I applied and was attending my first county commissioner meeting the week after commencement.
Q4 – You’ve run Gunnison Country Publications since 2002. How did that come about?
I actually did a little freelance work for the Times when I was in college. I was hired on as a full-time reporter there after I’d logged two years in Woodland Park. I had a couple other stints – starting a tiny independent newspaper in Gunnison called the Telegraph, working for Merle Baranczyk at the Salida Mountain Mail, and taking a couple years off from newspapering when I worked admissions at Western.
Former Times owner and Telluride Daily Planet founder Mike Ritchey lured me back into journalism (it wasn’t very hard to do) in January 2002 and sold the paper to me a few years later.
Q5 – You have a staff of seven at the Gunnison Country Times, including yourself. How do you manage to cover such a large area, and with so many outdoor activities, in addition to the usual city and county coverage? How varied is your coverage, and what are the challenges?
No secret. Just hard work and prioritization. We can’t cover everything so we focus our staff energies on what we believe is most important to our readers and do the best job we can to provide excellent coverage there.
At the same time, we work hard to have an interactive relationship with the community. So we actively solicit contributions – photos, tips, letters, announcements, etc. – that really help broaden the variety of our content.
Q6 – Looking at just your specialty publications, are these seasonal, and are the topics and marketing plans steady or do they change often?
We produce at least eight niche publications annually, ranging from a glossy lifestyle magazine to a high school “Grad Tab.” They all have specific shelf lives. The editorial focus and the advertising focus of these publications are always being tweaked, but the underlying themes remain pretty consistent.
Q7 – As 2016 president of the board of directors for the Gunnison Country Chamber of Commerce, what were your main concerns for the economic prosperity of the area?
Working together. We’re a very small organization so as a single entity our impact is pretty limited. But getting local businesses communicating and collaborating with each other and the big players in our economy – the university, the tourism officials, local governments – is where the chamber can make a big impact.
Q8 – Can you name your top three mentors, in or out of journalism, and how they influenced you?
I’ve been fortunate to have many more than three, but:
J.W. Campbell, former public relations and sports information director for Western, taught me to love language and the craft of writing.
Ruth Zirkle, my editor at the Ute Pass Courier, was uncompromising in her pursuit of having the newspaper be a force for good in the community. She was also the best photographer I’ve ever known, back in the day when we developed our own film.
Mike Ritchey taught me that generosity is a key to success, in business and in life.
Q9 – The website UltraSignUp.com lists results for you for 36 races. Can you give us more details on what kinds of races, how often, and how you got started?
I’ve been kind of a jock my whole life. Was a gym rat as a kid. Actually played basketball at Western for a couple of years.
And once life started to cut into my mountain biking playtime too much, I turned to trail running and never looked back. I absolutely love it, especially long, adventurous outings in the backcountry.
I’ve done too many trail marathons to count, lots of 50Ks and 50-milers, and I’ve successfully completed two out of three 100-milers I’ve attempted. This summer I hope to make it three out of four at the Cascade Crest 100 in Washington.
Q10 – Neat desk, office and email, or not, and what would we see there?
I’m not a neat freak, but find that I’m more productive when things are organized.
I’ve got a film canister from my darkroom days, a tiny Ganesh that was a gift from a CPA intern and two tennis balls that were used by Roger Federer in the U.S. Open (a gift from a former Times colleague who works for ESPN).