Every week since September 29, 1915, the San Juan Record has carefully chronicled life in the isolated southeastern corner of Utah.
The highs, the lows, the important and the trivial are all captured in an effort that hasn’t missed a week in 100 years.
The cumulative volume of the work is impressive and the cumulative value of the work can’t be overestimated.
Roughly 5,200 issues have been published, each one of them recounting just what happened that week.
The challenge of covering the news is real when you consider the size, diversity and complexity of San Juan County.
It is said that journalism is the first rough draft of history. Journalism is certainly a rough draft: it is written on the fly and then you are off chasing the next story.
The task that journalists undertake is daunting: to analyze and summarize in the moment and complete the reporting before an ever-looming deadline.
For the past 100 years, writers have chronicled these events. The San Juan Record and its readers are in debt to these writers.
Their accumulated effort provides a treasure trove of information. Listing them all would be an exercise in frustration and I would certainly miss a number of key contributors.
Just a few brief examples:
Many of our writers sent a weekly column for decades, including Albert R. Lyman, the Old Settler, who spent time as a writer and an editor of the paper.
Helen Redshaw contributed folksy columns about Ucolo, Eastland and Monticello for approximately 60 years.
In the 1970s, Nell Dalton caused a firestorm in her weekly Nell’s Newsy Notes column when she expressed frustration with environmentalist writer Edward Abbey.
The matriarch of the ranching Dalton family suggested that if a bull on the ranch acted like Abbey, the logical action would be to castrate the bull. That set off several weeks of letters to the Editor.
Oscar W. McConkie, the first publisher and editor of the San Juan Record, set the tone for the newspaper in that first issue in 1915. His words continue to set a high standard.
McConkie writes, that the Record would be independent. “In the county, where there are so many interests common to all, we have an abiding conviction that the newspaper should be answerable not to any particular clique or faction, but to the people as a whole.”
McConkie continues that the Record will not be sectional. “Every development in any part of San Juan County is a benefit, either direct or indirect, to every other part. No section of the county should ever be arrayed against any other section. The Record will always use its influence to promote general harmony and concerted effort for community betterment.”
McConkie continues, “The Record will not be a crusader. It has no grudges to satisfy or scores to settle, so will not engage in the interesting but unprofitable pastime of bumping heads–either on its own behalf or on behalf of others.
“True, should occasion clearly and insistently demand, we shall not hesitate to criticize, but we conceive our work to be constructive.”
McConkie adds, “The great need of San Juan County is people and development–not better people, or a better method of development, but more people and more extensive development.
“In this work the Record can help, perhaps more effectively than can any individual or any other organization.”
He closes by writing, “The time has come when public interest demands that the story of San Juan’s development and possibilities should be written and sent broadcast every week of every year. To meet this demand, the Record is established.”
When you take the time to look back, it is logical to also look forward. The newspaper industry is going through a time of tremendous change as the San Juan Record marks 100 years.
The advent of the internet presents both a challenge and an opportunity. In 2015, the San Juan Record can boast greater readership than at any other time over the previous 100 years.
In addition to the weekly print product, the newspaper has an online version, a website, and thousands of friends on Facebook.
In an instant, readers can catch up on the news of home from thousands of miles away. One of the Record’s most enthusiastic readers gets the news, every Wednesday, from Siberia.
The technology also presents a challenge as the business model of a newspaper changes. Many pundits herald the demise of the daily newspaper, and they may be right. However, community newspapers, like the San Juan Record, are alive and well.
The printed word stands the test of time. Back issues of the San Juan Record are archived and available in print and in a remarkable online database through the University of Utah library.
When the San Juan Record marks its bicentennial year, in 2115, it is likely that ink on newsprint will be nothing but a memory.
However, I have confidence that the San Juan Record, in one form or another, will still be chronicling the events, the people, and the places of San Juan County.
The San Juan Record has hosted a number of events to mark our Centennial year.
In April, Professor Joel Campbell of Brigham Young University discussed his research about Marie Ogden. Ogden provides a fascinating chapter in the history of San Juan County and was publisher of the San Juan Record.
Judy Muller, an ABC News correspondent who currently teaches at the Annenberg School of Journalism at the University of Southern California, visited in July. Muller recently completed a book about rural community journalism entitled Emus Loose in Egnar, Big Stories from Small Towns. The San Juan Record is one of more than a dozen rural newspapers that are featured in the book.