Sunday in the Park
It is rather like the ex-Presidents’ club. There are only a few other living people who understand what it means to wear the mantle of that much responsibility. In this case, in Park City. I think there are only two of us left who live in Utah, and another one living out of state. We have shared the weekly and daily burden to “get it right.” The time-honored wrestling with the publisher about the public’s need to know vs their right to know. The friends you lost because you had to run the story regardless of the subjects in it.
Being the editor of a weekly paper in small town is both an enormous honor and a lonely place to live.
And now, Nan joins our ranks with the longest run of us all. Two-plus decades of every single week deciding what belongs on the front page and what deserves to be editorialized and what is simply unfortunate and not news.
Nan Chalat arrived in town before I did, in the 70’s. She had a degree from Brown and a camera she knew how to use. She wrote for The Newspaper and sometimes for the Park Record as a feature writer. I came to town in ’79 and started a column with the Park Record. In 1987 I became editor of the Park Record, after David Hampshire left to work in the corporate world. Yes, there had been a nine-month palette cleanser between us but that only served as a reminder that hiring someone who didn’t or hadn’t lived in the Park City area wouldn’t work for that job in this town.
I received a grant to write a book based on a murder connected to domestic violence I had covered in town, and in the summer of 1994 I left on a three month sabbatical. I hired Nan to fill in as a reporter. Sena Taylor (from the Taylors, of Moab, who have run the Moab Times Independent for nearly 100 years) took over my slot in my absence. When I returned I knew it was time for me to leave as editor for good. I resigned that same week and Sena became editor for a couple of years, and then left to return to Moab. And Nan was named editor.
We had moved from actual typewriters just then to those small boxy computers. We still had our layout boards requiring blocks of wax to melt to attach the copy to the page before it was driven in all kinds of weather to the printer in Murray.
Nan came on as editor in the late 90’s – before the Olympics, 9/11, the St. Regis, or Montage. When there were three great resorts for one great town, or whatever that Chamber ad said. The amount of growth inside the town and just beyond the city limits was unprecedented – not since the mining camp days during the other ’90’s – when 10,000 people were thought to have lived up in the Silver Lake area.
Nan has stayed there in that same corner office with the spectacular view of the mountains and the city that David and Sena and I all inhabited. An office with the weight only other editors can fully understand. What should be on the front page? Above the fold, under the fold? How do you report a small town murder, arson, suicide? How much do you put in those front page stories? When are you explaining? When are you inciting?
And when your reporter gets a scoop, a real story with solid facts that is also a revelation to the community – how to do you protect your writers without reserve so they can continue to dig in uncomfortable places and succeed at award-winning journalism? Under Nan’s leadership and guidance, the Park Record has continued to be one of the most award-winning small papers in the intermountain West.
There is no ceremony when you take the job – no swearing in – just the start of being sworn at. The start of the weight of your constant snap decisions about the stories you run. The photos you chose and of course the typos you try to avoid. Especially in the headlines.
The money in journalism is very much like working for a non-profit. There was always something unbalanced and noble about not taking the job for the money, but for the honor of being part of a fine tradition, since the first reporter had the First Amendment to wrap up in.
Most people end up in the paper twice – birth and death. And many avoid appearing any time in between. Others live for the limelight: the headline, the photo. A good editor lives for exposing wrongdoing, celebrating (in our case) small town living, from football games to new church leaders. And to making certain that social justice issues always live in the pages. Knowing the burden of exercising good judgment: when you get the up-close shot of the accident, maybe an award-winning shot, and then you see the heart-breaking face of the local that is too painful, too naked and you destroy the photo.
What Nan did (with publisher Andy Bernhard’s support) was to guide the paper and therefore this community thru two decades of enormous leadership changes all over town and sadness and success and unparalleled growth and births and deaths and school bond elections. The stuff you could miss without a dedicated paper to report on it all. Nan cares passionately for the town and its institutions and individuals. She has retired from this job to create a new path with her photography and writing skills. She can define her days and nights now without a police scanner as part of the surround sound system in her head. I wish for her all kinds of adventures without deadlines – starting this very Sunday in the Park.
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
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