Park Record editor readies to lede new life
Nan Chalat Noaker to step down after 21 years
September 1, 2017
Forty years after her byline first appeared in a Park City publication, Nan Chalat Noaker is retiring as editor of The Park Record. On Oct. 6, Noaker will pack up decades of memorabilia and turn the reins over to Bubba Brown.
In the paper's 137-year history, only the legendary Sam Raddon served longer as editor. During Noaker's 21 years in the editorial department's corner office, The Park Record has earned numerous awards for its editorial content including six "General Excellence" awards — representing the best overall newspaper in its circulation group — from the Utah Press Association. Noaker has guided the staff through a series of major changes including the move to add an extra edition each week and the transition to digital technology.
A gifted writer, Noaker has always taken great pride in the newspaper's opinion pages. Her editorials have been informative and insightful without being overbearing.
"Her writing style gave her the ability to softly make a strong point," publisher Andy Bernhard said Monday, "and there's something about her ability to do that, I think, that the community appreciated and responded to."
Noaker has used her platform as the newspaper's editor "in a very positive way for the community," Bernhard said. "She's championed the Peace House, she's championed [low-income] housing, she's championed public transportation, she's championed social services and [the] Hispanic community."
"I think her values have served the paper and the community very well," he said. "I have an incredible amount of respect for her and I will look back on our relationship very fondly."
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Noaker, who will turn 66 next month, was 26 when she wrote her first story for The Newspaper, a brash upstart Park City weekly that competed head-to-head with The Park Record. From 1979 to 1981 she was the editor of Focus, a lifestyle section that was carried by four area weekly newspapers.
At that time the newspapers were produced using typewriters, phototypesetting machines and paste-up boards. She remembers developing rolls of film in the bathroom of The Park Record, then located in a rickety wooden building in the 300 block of Main Street.
"The bathroom was an absolutely teensy little cubicle with a little teeny porcelain sink and holes in the walls where the wind would come through," she said in an Aug. 24 interview.
Noaker later returned to The Newspaper, which merged with The Park Record in 1983. She recalled a heated discussion in The Newspaper office over what to call the new joint publication.
"The Newspaper people really wanted to have their brand, that rebellious brand, on the masthead, because we had been competing so fiercely with The Park Record," she said. "They were the old fogies and all that stuff; we were the cool kids on the block. But I think it was Tina Lewis and some other people in the community [who] prevailed on [publisher] Jan [Wilking] to keep The Park Record's name, because The Park Record had been established in 1880 and it was … part of the town's heritage."
In 1985 Noaker left the paper to take a job with the local radio station. "I spent five years as news director for KPCW under Blair Feulner and I learned a lot from Blair," she said.
A talented photographer who had a one-woman exhibit at the Kimball Art Center, Noaker left the radio station in 1990 to work as a portrait photographer and freelance photojournalist. Three years later she rejoined The Park Record staff and was named interim editor when Sena Flanders left the paper in 1996.
It was at that time, she said, that The Park Record was making the transition from one edition a week to two.
"I stumbled and struggled and made a bunch of mistakes, which just made me mad and made me want the job so I could fix that," she said with a laugh. "So then I formally applied for it [in the] spring of 1996."
At that time the Internet was starting to nibble at the edges of the traditional print monolith. At first, Noaker said, she was too busy adjusting to her new role as editor to pay much attention.
"I'm pretty sure we had just a tiny [Internet] presence in 1996, and for a couple of years it just wasn't on my radar," she said. But since then she has embraced the new technology.
"I don't know why," she said. "I absolutely found it thrilling."
She can tell you how the paper's page views have grown, how many Twitter followers the paper now has, how she loves to use online video, and how she is trying to stay ahead of the social media curve in order to ensure the paper's future.
"It's still pretty amazing [to me]. And very complicated, and financially very tenuous for all of us, 'cause there are so many different platforms and places where people get their news."
The rise of the Internet has also turned the newspaper into a 24/7 operation — sometimes intruding on the evening meal in the Noaker household. She said it never would have worked out without the support of her husband, Tom.
"He has put up with so much: [my] turning the [police] scanner on in the middle of dinner because I've heard a siren or I saw something on the Web, or on the news. I watch the news and if they mention something happened in Park City, immediately I go into work mode."
Their son, Dylan, was about a year old when she became editor, she said. "[Tom] has been Mr. Mom for most of Dylan's life. And they have a beautiful relationship as a result of that. I mean, it's really, really special. But I got to, in a little way, have my cake and eat it too — to be a mom and have this incredible job."
Among her favorite Park Record stories, Noaker points to the time a Latino couple walked into the office with a handwritten note. Their son needed heart surgery and they wanted to buy a small ad to appeal for donations.
"Instead, we did a full-blown story with a photo. And right after the paper came out, someone drove through the [bank's] drive-in window, an anonymous person, and paid for the whole amount of the surgery. That partnership between the paper … combined with generosity of the community — it's a beautiful thing. It has been so gratifying."
Noaker also had a front-row seat when Utah made a bid for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games. "To have been part of all the debates … and watching how hard so many people worked to land the bid, which was almost an outlandish undertaking for our little town, and then to see it come off so successfully — I think it changed my opinion of what people can do when they put their minds to it."
Another "real perk" of her job, she said, has been covering the Sundance Film Festival, especially the documentaries. "I've see such inspiring work, and every year those films remind me about journalism and free speech and people who are making huge differences." She said she has already talked to Brown about being part of the paper's Sundance team in 2018.
Noaker has also taken great pleasure in the success of former Park Record writers who are rising stars in journalism. Among them: Josh Chin, who is now working in the Wall Street Journal's Beijing Bureau; Anna Bloom, who is now "a bigwig" at Facebook; and Sara Tabin, a former intern who is now working for the student newspaper at Yale.
"One of the first and best lessons you taught me was to always be looking for new ways to tell stories," Chin told her in a Facebook post. "It's hard to think of anyone who had such a huge impact on my life in such a short period of time."
Among those who will miss competing with Noaker is her close friend and arch-rival, Leslie Thatcher, KPCW's news director for the past 22 years.
"While she's not going anywhere, it won't be the same," Thatcher said. "She won't be there in the corner office penning her always thoughtful and sometimes ferocious editorials. Nor will her office any longer be a stop on my way home, where we would spend a few minutes and speculate what we really think is going on. … Given how creative she is, I'm sure we'll get to see some impressive blog soon — resplendent with her uplifting words and stunning photography."
The Park Record is planning a public reception for Noaker Oct. 5, from 5-7 p.m. The location will be announced soon.
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