Richard McCord is responsible for the maiden voyage of the Starship Reporter, but what, or more importantly, who came next? For four decades, SFR has been a vivid part of the local fourth estate, produced by a team of writers and editors who believe in the power and significance of a free press. Many are still making journalism tracks across New Mexico and the nation.
Hope Aldrich bought the paper from McCord and co-publisher Laurel Knowles in 1988, but Aldrich was no stranger to the weekly beast. She came to Santa Fe after years of reporting in New York City and was a staff writer at SFR from 1978 to 1981. She then worked for China Daily just before coming back to the City Different.
“The Reporter has always meant a great deal to me,” she’s quoted saying in the April 6, 1988, edition, which detailed her purchased of the paper. “I deeply respect it and I am overjoyed to return to the city of Santa Fe.”
Aldrich brought the first computers to SFR and moved its offices from Guadalupe Street to Montezuma Avenue, then later to the current location at 132 E. Marcy St. Today, Aldrich lives back East to be close to her three grandchildren.
Among those on her staff who are still kicking around the Land of Enchantment is M.E. Sprengelmeyer, a writer who experienced his 15 minutes of fame in 2009 when the Rocky Mountain News folded and he lost his gig as a Washington, D.C. bureau reporter. Sprengelmeyer didn’t wallow. He just kept living the dream, purchasing the Guadalupe County Communicator with what the New York Times called “a Tom Sawyer business plan.” Just this month, he used profits from the paper to make the final payment on a five-year loan he took out to buy it. He’ll tell anyone who asks, “the future of print is print.”
“If it doesn’t lose its focus on being intensely responsive to its local readership, print can still maintain its relevance in face of the Internet and TV and radio and text messaging and social media,” he explains. “None of those outlets can do what a local printed newspaper can do,” he continues, adding that newspapers matter as community institutions where readers can walk in the front door and let ’er rip.
Sprengelmeyer points to another name media gawkers might recognize: Josh Kurtz, now the editor of Environment & Energy Daily in D.C. Kurtz, who’s now been in Maryland and on the federal scene for two decades, was also formerly managing editor at Roll Call.
Robert Mayer served two stints as the paper’s editor, first for a few years immediately after Aldrich bought SFR. He then left to work on a book and returned to the job from 1993 until 1997. He still lives in Santa Fe and is still writing books—now up to an even dozen of them.
Although it’s hard for him to pin down a favorite story, Mayer loves to talk about how a document carelessly left on the glass in a copy store led to the report of a developer who wanted to grow the town of Pecos with commercial real estate and who turned out to be a wanted man in Greece. He oversaw the newsroom for the arrival of Debbie Jaramillo as mayor and proudly displays just one framed cover in his Southside home office, the one that published the day after her election with the headline: “Hang on, it’s Debbie!”
“I loved her attitude,” he says of Jaramillo. “She’d say what ever she wanted to. She was not a politician, which made great copy.”
Mayer’s exit came with new ownership for the weekly, when Oregon newspapermen Mark Zusman and Richard Meeker bought the operation from Aldrich, joining their City of Roses Newspaper Co.
“Richard and my goals for SFR are no different now than they were then; we are both evangelical about our belief in the importance of journalism that builds community and that speaks truth to power,” Zusman says. “We have come to realize that this pursuit has no finish line but that the pilgrimage itself has its own rewards. It is even more rewarding given that we get to ply our craft in a place like Santa Fe, where residents care deeply about their community. That may sound like a cliché, but there are many cities where you could not say the same.”
If there’s one name that’s been synonymous with SFR in recent memory, it’s Julia Goldberg.
Goldberg came to the paper after graduating from St. John’s College and working as a reporter at The Rio Grande Sun. She was first an intern here, then a reporter before taking the reins as editor in 2000. She oversaw development of the paper’s first website and proudly proclaims that she “invented our first listicle,” a feature called 7 Days that still appears in these pages every week.
“The owners of the Reporter are investigative journalists and those values are still in place, but the packaging has evolved to be more dynamic,” she says. “The challenge was to keep serving people who had read the Reporter in the ’70s and try to be a paper that fit the time we were in.”
Now host of a weekly radio show on KVSF, Goldberg is also training future journalists as a Santa Fe University of Art and Design faculty member.
“What I’m really enjoying is that I am able to focus on the process and foster a love of nonfiction in another generation,” she says. “Today’s students are in an environment where journalism has been heavily derided and diluted, and they don’t know its value necessarily. I passionately keep making the case for why storytelling and narrative is important and that journalism is more than BuzzFeed.”
Goldberg supervised Dan Frosch, who clawed his way up the proverbial journalism ladder to become a Denver-based regional stringer for NYT that now works for the Wall Street Journal.
And who can forget Dave Maass? This feisty reporter who was on staff from 2007 to 2009 is now a media relations coordinator and investigative researcher at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a Bay Area-based nonprofit that works on “defending civil liberties in the digital world” through advocacy against illegal surveillance and supports free speech online. Previous to this transition, he worked as a staff writer at San Diego CityBeat.
Maass remembers looking through dusty bound volumes of SFR’s “ancient issues,” he says, “and noting how the fierce belief in news dominated the pages back then. It was different, a lot less F-bombs, they put news on the front page, but the core was still there. I was proud to be a part of that legacy, and I’m proud to have contributed to what SFR will become over the next 40. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t sometimes dream of returning to SFR.”
Alexa Schirtzinger also moved up the ranks from staff writer to editor. The former Taos Ski Valley instructor and whitewater rafting guide left SFR after about four years to attend the yearlong John S. Knight Journalism Fellowship at Stanford University. Earlier this month, she started a new job as senior manager of content for Salesforce, a San Francisco-based tech firm that specializes in customer relationship management.
Schirtzinger says she learned a ton during the fellowship, including ways that media like SFR need to shift to a model of “courting our users.”
“Before I was like, ‘if the quality is good enough, you put the paper on the street and people will read it,’ and I don’t think that any more. I think a key role of journalism organization is to market the content and get it to the right people at the right time,” she says.
During her tenure, SFR’s coverage of what came to be known as “Emailgate”—a scandal where stolen emails to and from the Gov. Susana Martinez made the case the administration was attempting to conduct the public’s business in private—helped to change the statewide conversations about transparency.
“I think the Reporter has a really bright future and I’m excited to see where it goes,” she says. “It’s super exciting to be a media organization in such a disruptive environment. And the opportunities are really huge.”
Schirtzinger also brought Enrique Limón to SFR. A fresh face from San Diego CityBeat, Limón earned the USC Annenberg/Getty Arts Journalism Program fellowship in 2012. Now deputy editor, Limón is a driving force behind SFR’s special issues, including this anniversary one, and our social media presence.
That brings us to the present. It’s been nearly a year since publisher Jeff Norris took over for Andy Dudzik and hired me as editor. After a decade at the daily paper across the street where I covered local government, I’m proud to be part of an aggressive, thoughtful, creative and energetic team that also includes staff writers Joey Peters and Justin Horwath, art director Anson Stevens-Bollen, copy editor Emily Zak and a small but dedicated task force of freelancers and interns. Here’s to 40 more years and all the characters they might usher in!