You may just glance past it every week, but there's a little line of numbers on the cover of every issue of New Times, and it rolls forward like an odometer as each new issue comes out.
Last week's read "Vol. 21, No. 52." This week, barring any typos that I might have missed, reads "Vol. 22, No. 1."
In case the significance is lost on you, I'll explain. This newspaper just turned another year older. This is actually the paper's 21st birthday.
We can finally buy a much-deserved round for everybody, from the founders who had a vision for this community and journalistic enterprise, to the readers who've perused our pages over the years, to the sources and subjects who've filled our stories since New Times began.
The road to this point has been a long one at times a rocky one and though I haven't been treading it the whole time, I can say that I've been at least an observer for more than half of New Times' life. As a Cal Poly student, I would read this paper between classes and while I ate lunch. I always admired its spirit, and I strove to continue that spirit when I stepped into the editor's position.
Steve Moss laid some incredible groundwork and created an amazing newspaper. "It's a town square you can hold in your hands," he'd say, and I've repeated that phrase innumerable times. The idea is that people can come together here and talk. Learn. Discuss issues. Debate. Share their opinions. Discover new ideas. Uncover hidden truths.
Steve is gone now, and I think that even now that truth is just beginning to settle on people. The harsh reality is that New Times won't ever be the same without him, but neither will this community. Things change. It's a fact of life. The best any of us can do is to nudge that change toward the better. That can take time, but it's worth doing.
Over the years, I've come to learn a lot about this paper and this community. San Luis Obispo takes New Times very seriously readers feel a sense of possession or ownership that I haven't seen in many other cities and counties. Countless compliments, complaints, congratulations, suggestions, rants, raves, and even occasional manifestos come across my desk from week to week. People hate the paper. People love the paper. People think it should be one thing or another. Everybody has an opinion, and regardless of what you may think they all matter to me. I take every e-mail, every note seriously, because it's a sign that this community cares, and it's an encouragement for people in the business.
Let me tell you that this business needs all of the encouragement it can get at the moment. Between tumult at the Santa Barbara News-Press, cost-cutting redesign measures at The Tribune, and a loss of accreditation and a leadership change-up at Cal Poly's journalism department, these are trying times.
I remember that when I started writing at Cal Poly's Mustang Daily, the college was bracing itself for the unknown onslaught of the Millennium bug. Overcrowded students were living in temporary housing set up in dorm lounges and laundry rooms, forced to share their living space with washing machines and dryers. As my time at the paper went on, David Weyrich started drawing fire for his anti-gay stance at his Gazettes. Bello's Sporting Goods did battle with the California State University system for use of the Cal Poly logo. Professors, students, and other locals worried about the fates of missing Rachel Newhouse and Aundria Crawford, a horrific story that prompted my then-editors to send me out to a canyon road and wait for the results of a coroner's visit. The Rex Allan Krebs trial soon unfolded.
This job is never easy, whether writing for a college paper, a daily chain, or the county's weekly. As writers, reporters, and editors, we try to reflect the community that we cover, which is a daunting task. San Luis Obispo County isn't just one uniform demographic it's a complex tapestry of people from different walks of life, with different goals and ideals. Some of them you're going to agree with. Some of them you're not.
The bottom line is that, despite the murky status of the newspaper industry as a whole, New Times is going to continue to do its job. To dive into that diverse mix each week. To seek out the stories that impact the readers. That impact you. It's going to continue to entertain and enlighten, inform and instruct.
Thanks for reading. Keep it up, and let me know what you think.
Ryan Miller is editor of New Times, executive editor of the Santa Maria Sun, and a 2001 Cal Poly journalism graduate.