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Video: Colorado town saves local newspaper

Silverton Standard & the Miner
The arrival of the town’s first automobile was big news in Silverton, Colo.
TODAY contributor
updated 4/25/2012 1:28:41 PM ET 2012-04-25T17:28:41

In some places, the past does not slide into history’s shadow: It lingers, to remind us what it takes to keep a community together.

By all rights, Silverton, Colo., should be a ghost town: It was nearly wiped out by avalanches, epidemics, and the busts that followed boom times. In summer this isolated village is filled with tourists, and in winter adventure skiers and snowboarders test the surrounding mountains, but only 638 people live here year-round.

To get here, you must drive over a mountain pass more than two miles high, past dozens of signs telling you not to stop. Travel is a challenge; this part of the Rocky Mountains, in the southwest corner of Colorado, gets a lot of snowslides.

Even in spring, heavy snow can cut off the people who settle here. Freddy Canfield would have to ride his bike 50 miles to reach the next town. “Your life really does depend on your neighbors,” Canfield said. “People really do have to look out for each other.”

Silverton Standard & the Miner
The Silverton Standard & the Miner is one of Colorado’s oldest newspapers — and thanks to the people of Silverton, it’s still in business.

Pioneer spirit keeps town from giving up the ghost

That’s why Gilbert Archuleta built a free water line to a blind woman’s house, and Melissa Childs opened a thrift shop in Silverton’s old jail. Sales of donated clothes keep the town’s volunteer radio station on the air.

A town that time forgot
“This is 92.5, KSJC, Silverton’s community radio.” Deejay John Allen glanced at the studio clock and then his watch. “I don't know what time it is,” he confessed. “All the clocks are flashing different numbers at me.”

Time does seem to have forgotten Silverton. Main Street still looks a lot like it did back in 1874, when miners moved here to claw silver by the ton from nearby mountains. But the last mine closed two decades ago. Now most everyone works several jobs so they can afford to live in this beautiful bowl of mountains year-round.

Silverton’s town hall today.

County coroner Keri Metzler, for instance, clerks in a hardware store and is also a waitress. “When there's an E. coli outbreak,” Mark Esper laughed, “she’s on the case!”

In Joplin, a diner serves up shelter from the storm

Esper is Silverton’s only reporter. He also delivers one of Colorado's oldest newspapers, the Silverton Standard & the Miner. Its historic memories offer folks in Silverton a blueprint to help solve the problems they face today. So when people saw the paper struggling and about to close, they decided to make some history of their own.

Schoolkids helped raise $2,000 to temporarily save Esper’s two jobs. As 10-year-old Kevin Alsup pointed out, “Nobody knows everything in the world.”

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Small-town doc has charged $5 a visit for 55 years

Bev Rich, who runs the Historical Society, decided the newspaper was not just a dusty museum piece to put on a shelf; it needed to be saved. “It’s how we keep a free society,” she said.

Rich persuaded her board to become the publisher of Esper's first draft of history. Is it a good fit?

"History and news are really the same thing," she answered. "It's just a matter of what time it is."

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$236 in profit
In a town where social media is still face-to-face, the newspaper's appeal is timeless. "Lots of good gossip!" Vicky Scow chuckled over her morning coffee.

But it needed more than that to survive. Freddy Canfield contributed a weather column.

"The biggest challenge of my job?" Esper sighed. "Deciphering your handwriting."

Is there still gold in them thar Montana hills?

Stacey Foster covered kid news. "We all really like looking at the paper, seeing ourselves in it," she said, "because we're all in it."

Perhaps that's why subscriptions have doubled. How's the paper doing now?

"We made $236 last year in profit," Esper said.

I laughed. "Hey," he cried, "don't sneeze at that. It's more money than a lot of big papers make!"

Newspapers across the country are struggling to keep from becoming history. History saved Silverton's — the last link to news about itself.

Know someone who would make a great American Story with Bob Dotson? Drop a note in my mailbox by clicking here .

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