Writing off into the sunset
Esper steps down, ushering in ownership change at Standard
This Wednesday marked the last time Mark Esper will ever put the Silverton Standard to bed.
Next week, the 145-year-old paper will change hands – yet again – and Esper, who was editor for 13 years, will retire for health reasons.
“A few weeks ago, I urged them to find a replacement,” Esper, 62, said Monday.
“Them” is the San Juan County Historical Society, which took over the ailing paper in 2009. Prior to then, it had been owned by a newspaper chain that also owned papers in Telluride and Norwood, with Esper at the helm. The Historical Society stepped in when the previous owners threatened to shutter the unprofitable paper. The move made sense for the local nonprofit. Founded in 1875, the Silverton Standard and Miner is the longest continually operated newspaper and business on the Western Slope and has been designated a National Historic Site.
Last week, the Historical Society announced it had sold the paper to a group of Silverton locals, headed up by Aaron Brill, owner of Silverton Mountain. Although Brill did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment, Esper said Silverton schoolteacher Megan Davenport will take over editorial responsibilities.
Esper, who just bought a house (the old Walker Hotel) in Silverton, said he plans to stick around to help Davenport learn the ropes. But he said the paper is in good hands. “I think she’ll do a great job. She’s really smart,” he said.
Although he reportedly has not had a vacation in 13 years, Esper said his departure is bittersweet.
“It’s rough when the phone rings and you’re trying to write a story,” he said. “It’s been a blast, but it’s not all fun and games.”
He also said he would miss the casual, often sleepy pace of Silverton goings on. Although he has covered such huge events as the Gold King Mine Spill and apocalyptic avalanche cycles, more often than not, “news” constitutes more pedestrian moose sightings, Victorian picnics and scofflaw OHVers. “It doesn’t take much to make page 1 around here,” he laughed.
Esper, who’s originally from Flint, Mich., has also worked at papers in Traverse City, Mich., Montrose and at the Farmington Daily Times. However, he said he considers Silverton his home now.
“It’s a great town,” he said.
And it’s a town he feels may be on the cusp of big changes – for better or worse.
“I get the drift that Silverton is about to take off,” he said, adding a few unminced words of editorial caution. “I just hope we don’t get ‘Telluridden.’ I do worry Silverton is headed in that direction.”