'All good things must come to an end.' The Four Corners Free Press prints its last issue
After nearly 20 years of keeping Montezuma County informed, the final issue of the Four Corners Free Press recently hit newsstands across Montezuma County. The regional newspaper covered politics, environmental issues, and more for southwest Coloradans and residents of the Four Corners region.
Gail Binkley, the editor and co-founder of the Free Press, talks about the newspaper and its last issue.
This interview transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Chris Clements (KSJD Radio): how did the Free Press come to be? I mean, what's the story there?
Gail Binkley, Four Corners Free Press: Some of us who had at one point worked at The Cortez Journal decided we would just like to do our own thing. I think it's a dream of a lot of journalists just to do their own paper and be in charge. And so we did that. Initially, the paper was owned by Wendy Mimiaga and myself. And she handled the business and ad side and I did the editorial side. I'd envisioned that because we live in a region, and we travel and recreate and get medical care around this region, I just thought it would be nice to have a publication that covered the Four Corners.
Clements: If you could tell me about any of those early editions of the Four Corners Free Press, I'm curious to hear about those.
Binkley: We wrote about, initially, some issues with the Four Corners Monument because we were starting out to be the Four Corners Free Press. Some of it was about – there was some dispute over where the line should be drawn. Like, where is the actual Four Corners? And then there were also discussions about management which, and I think some disagreements between them, the Navajo, the Diné, and the Utes over how it would be managed. And there was a whole plan to revamp it, which has gone through. Because at the time, when we started this paper, it was pretty rudimentary down there.
Clements: What were some of the major stories that you and others covered during your tenure at the publication?
Binkley: We covered quite a few stories. Just off the top of my head, one of the ones that we covered for a long time was a major dispute in Salt Lake. Excuse me, San Juan County, Utah. The reason I'm saying Salt Lake is because I wound up traveling to Salt Lake to cover the trial of a county commissioner in San Juan County, Utah, who had led an ATV trail ride into land that was supposed to be closed motorized vehicles. He was doing it as a protest and was tried for that and it went on for a long time. There was a big media frenzy over there.
Clements: It's a real blow to the community that you folks are shutting down, but obviously (newspapers closing down) isn't a unique trend to southwest Colorado. So why did you ultimately decide to end the Free Press?
Binkley: I've been talking about it for some time. It's just that ever since the pandemic, all the advertising revenues haven't been what they used to be before the pandemic. A lot of businesses had an economic crunch during the pandemic, and following that, they had advertised with us. And then they didn't. We just had a few loyal advertisers that were supporting us, and the revenues just didn’t compensate. We certainly are not unique in this position. You know, there's a lot of discussions about how to keep journalism going. And there's the nonprofit route, which some (outlets) are doing, there's the online route. Both of those would have been a major change for us, and we just weren't really able to get that going.
In this final issue, as it turned out, we had 12 writers write columns for us. They're all over the place. Some are personal; some are more political. We have the main story (which) is just about the county's budget problems and concerns about how they're going to affect the Montezuma County Sheriff's Office, which is a big deal.
Clements: Do you intend to retire from reporting and editing as well?
Binkley: No, I like to keep busy. As you probably know, I have written a fiction book, and I'm probably going to do some more fiction. And I guess there are people that want me to do some editing for them. And I'm interested in doing some journalism freelance.
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