Passing the torch in fight for free speech

By on January 6, 2015

Jackson Hole, Wyoming – It was early one morning in November 2002 and Judd was listening to KSGT while shaving his head when he heard the news of the merger between the Jackson Hole News and the Jackson Hole Guide. He emerged from the bathroom, head crowned with shaving cream, and said, “This is it, now is your chance to have a newspaper.”

At the time, Judd was playing music for a living and also driving cab on Sunday nights and I was program director for the Art Association. I was no stranger to publishing – I had founded and was the one-woman publishing team of the Valley Horse Journal (a bi-monthly horse publication) and had created and published Splash magazine for the Art Association. We were both news junkies and loved talk radio.

That morning KSGT was reporting on big news. Somehow, for decades our small mountain town had supported two beefy weekly papers and their respective dailies and now there would be only one. Eighteen days after the announcement of the merger the first issue of Planet Jackson Hole hit the streets. We had picked up the laid off staff from the merger and an impressive roster of advertisers who knew that a one-newspaper town was not a good idea. Eighteen days and $5,000 in seed money to create a business from scratch are not recommended, but like many marriages and other adventurous endeavors, the Planet may never have come to life if we had been prudent and practical. But for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, we didn’t look too closely before we leapt into owning a newspaper.

The first issue, despite its typos and other naive mistakes, is still one of our best. Ed Bushnell questioned the controversial results of a study on possible downwind radiation emissions from the Idaho National Laboratory and Melissa Davidson interviewed locals who were living with cancer. The cover of our first issue was a beautiful portrait of Rod Dornan, who later succumbed to his cancer.

But the love didn’t last long. Only weeks later we were reviled by pretty much everyone over the age of 40 for putting a pot leaf on the cover with the headline, “Does Jackson’s bowl runneth over?” There are people who still boycott the paper because of that eye-popping cover by the late James Todd.

Since then we have interviewed a lot of great people and covered some big stories. Some highlights that come to mind are: Ed Bushnell’s interview with Lander-based white supremacist Matt Hale; Bushnell’s interview with ski film icon Warren Miller, who threatened to sue us for depicting him on the cover as God in Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam; the issue in which Gil Brady covered the premiere of Brokeback Mountain, which also included Matt Testa’s coveted (and rare) interview with Annie Proulx that landed us on Drudge Report three times in two weeks; the video of local protesters kicking the head off an effigy of Dick Cheney (that also was linked on Drudge Report); or the multiple times we interviewed Sen. Alan Simpson, who was edited for profanity more than anyone we’ve interviewed, save for Aaron Wallis.

Speaking of Aaron Wallis, he gave us a few sleepless nights after he called the local art fair a craft fair. I remember Ben Cannon’s Reporter’s Notebook on the spate of suicides in Teton Valley. Readers hated him for drawing attention to a tragic trend in the close-knit community. Jake Nichols tossed in a few doozies too, like the tell-all interview with Street Fox’s Christie Lawton, or his controversial two-part investigation on trapping and alleged coyote killer, Jamie Olson. Who can forget Robyn Vincent’s satirical Flipside about how GTNP was going to introduce bull sharks into Jackson Lake. Yeah, we caught hell from the Park Service over that. There are so many highlights it’s impossible to recount them all.

I also recall the tragedies reported as breaking news, including the deaths of many locals – often friends – who had died in violent accidents. There were so many avalanches, car wrecks and accidents in the mountains, as well as murders and suicides. Hearing the stories unfold on the police scanner late into the night as the life-flight choppers buzz over town was heart wrenching and oddly voyeuristic, but something a newspaper has to do.

We have been praised and hated. We have made money and lost money. We have proudly provided a source of income and creative expression to dozens of quirky and talented employees. We have served our community as a source for news, opinion and commerce. We have hit some home runs, and we have screwed some things up. We are proud to have brought to our little town a spicy alternative voice. We haven’t been afraid to let our commentators speak their minds, and we haven’t been afraid to cover tough stories. We got sued. We fought back and won.

Amid the fun, and ridiculousness, and induction into the Hall of Fame of Embarrassing Mistakes, something important happened at the Planet: We fought for free speech. All of us have an inalienable right to speak our minds in the public sphere. This not only serves us as individuals, but makes our community better. We discovered over the years that this was our true passion, and knowing that we were working for something important made the hard times and struggles worth it.

Now we are passing the baton to Copperfield Publishing, the folks that bring you the irreverent Salt Lake City Weekly. They understand what an alternative paper is all about. They are fellow travelers in the fight for freedom of speech, and they have tons of experience and expertise in how to make a good paper. We are confident that with their leadership the Planet will continue to thrive and serve our community.

We want thank all the incredible people that helped make the paper what it is, especially long timers Jeana Haarman, Roxanne McGrath, Jen Tillotson, Jake Nichols, Bill Fogarty, Aaron Davis, Denise Daigh, Brian Siegfried, Grandma (Jean Webber), Mike Bressler and Robyn Vincent. You’re the bomb. And of course we want to thank all of our readers for letting us serve you. We will join you all in avidly reading and enjoying the next chapters in the world of Planet Jackson Hole.

– Gratefully, Mary and Judd Grossman

About Mary Grossman

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