Left Hand Valley Courier - All Local, All The Time

By Dani Hemmat
Editorial@lhvc.com 

For the love of community

 

February 6, 2019

Courtesy Photo

Although the first year’s photo of the Courier Staff has been lost to time, this photo was taken in 1999 for the second anniversary. The staff includes (from left) Anna Mahorski, Gay Waterbury, Selene Luna, Bruce “Biff” Warren, Karen Copperberg, Ann Barnsley, Helen Johnson, Julie Fowler and her children, Ron Goodman, Mary Wolbach Lopert, Kim Alsop, and Vicki Maurer.

Reporter’s note: I’ve been reporting for the Left Hand Valley Courier (LHVC) since July 2018, although as a Gunbarrel resident, I’ve been reading the paper for four years. Much of my life has been in small towns, so I have a fondness for small, independent papers—which, by the way, are a rapidly disappearing breed. When I began working with the LHVC team, I was struck by the founders’ fierce dedication to the integrity of the paper, but even more so by their dedication to the community that they intend to serve.

During a chat with one of the founders, Selene Luna, she said something that struck a deep chord in me, and it sparked the idea for this story. I work with a team of professionals who started a community newspaper out of sheer love for that community, and they’ve been doing it since 1996. They usually don’t take home paychecks for their efforts, and they frequently take the brunt of any complaints that typically accompany running a local paper. They are involved on a daily basis, even though they have other occupations, and they are some of the funniest, warmest and most solid people I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with.

When I pitched this piece to the editorial team, which includes five of the original seven founders, they reacted as I had expected: shifting uncomfortably in their seats, looking a little embarrassed. These are not folks who toot their own horns—in fact, quite the opposite. I practically begged them to let me write this piece about their story and their remarkable dedication, because their love for the community they serve is laudable, and I consider it an honor to write for them. –DH

In 1996, Niwot resident Bruce “Biff” Warren saw a need in his community. Neither the Times-Call nor the Daily Camera, Boulder County’s daily newspapers, covered Niwot school sports at the same level as Longmont and Boulder schools. Not much was ever reported about the Niwot feeder schools or community events either. Warren was active in the town where he lived and worked, and wanted to do something to help bring the community together. The Niwot Tribune had ceased publication in the late 1950s, and a couple of later efforts did not last.

And so it was that seven Left Hand Valley community members—some friends, some acquaintances—came together in November 1996 to create and publish the Left Hand Valley Courier. They were Karen Copperberg, Ron Goodman, Lori Lindemann, Mary Lopert, Selene Luna, Vicki Maurer and Warren. Their first issue was published April 1, 1997.

Founder Mary Lopert said, ”The community’s response was, ‘What’s this?’”

Lopert, a creative writing teacher who had also reported and written a humor column for a small paper in Longmont, was appointed editor of the new venture. She was the only one with any journalism experience beyond high school newspapers.

“I guess because I was an English teacher and had worked for another newspaper,” Lopert said.

For the first 17 years, the LHVC was published monthly, and the first few years’ production was definitely “old school.”

Lopert recalled,”We used to physically lay out the newspaper on my ping pong table, walking around and changing the layout. I was one of the few people at the time that had a computer that was online. Remember floppy discs? That’s what we’d put it on. We called it Sneakernet, because you actually had to physically take the disc with the information on it over to Julia Vandenberg, who would finish the layout and get it to the printer.”

If they were running late, Warren would include a bribe of chocolate along with the floppy disc.

Lopert’s motivation was simple: community involvement. “One of the issues, which is actually still sometimes an issue, was the disparity between organizations in Niwot and Gunbarrel. We wanted to bring this area together,” she said. “Also, I really wanted to write the humor column and make people laugh.”

Ultimately, she feels that keeping readers informed is the most important thing. “In the past, we’ve done multi-week pieces on the City of Boulder’s attempt to form its own electrical utility to the more recent issues of fracking in Heatherwood and Boulder County’s six-month building moratorium in Niwot.”

For Lopert, the best part of the job has always been interacting with people. “I’ve met some really amazing people over the years,“ she said, “and I would say that 98 percent is good.”

Warren sees the role of a local newspaper as essential to the vibrancy of a place. “It’s important to be able to build consensus in a community,” said Warren, “because if you can help build consensus, you can bring people together.”

Warren is also a die-hard sports fan, and the LHVC has given him rich experiences and memories over the years.

“I’ve loved following and writing about local athletes who have gone on to play at the collegiate and pro levels. Interviewing high school coaches, who were always so gracious and said wonderful things about their athletes,” he said, “and working with the late Ed Navarro, who took literally millions of photos of local athletes and shared them with the paper and the athletes for free, are some of my best memories.”

Warren’s favorite experience was when he got press credentials for the College World Series in Nebraska—his home state—to cover Niwot's Sean Ratliff, who played outfield for Stanford.

“Sean hit a home run that night. I asked him a question at the press conference after the game, which appeared on ESPN while my dad was watching,” said Warren. “ And, I pretended to be nonchalant about eating in the press lunchroom with Erin Andrews and Orel Hersheiser.”

Karen Copperberg, whose kids went to school with Lopert’s children, also had community on her mind when she agreed to help publish the paper.

“Mary and I were just friends from our kids’ schools,” said Copperberg. “And it was all about getting out the news about our school system. The whole feeder school system was being ignored.”

Copperberg, who had worked for the school district as an aide for the hearing-impaired, was asked by Lopert to be the copyeditor.

“I was a good speller,” laughed Copperberg, “but right away, I wanted to do the copyediting and proofreading. That’s what I really liked. But it was so primitive in the beginning, laying it out on Mary’s ping pong table.”

Aside from layout and copy editing help, Copperberg, along with the rest of the founding team, was also in charge of distribution.

“We delivered 10,000 papers,” she said. “I remember when my family came to spend Thanksgiving with us, and I put everyone to work, folding papers, stuffing bags, and then delivering them all.”

For founder Selene Luna, now a retired banker, the reasons to put her time, talent and money behind the LHVC all these years is also for the deep love of her community and its health.

“I believe in democracy. And a healthy, functioning democracy can only be a reality with a free press, and the dissemination of information,” Luna said.”I want to help that however I am able.”

Lori Lindemann, a Gunbarrel resident who remains a good friend of the owners, left the paper after a year when family demands on her time did not allow her to continue. Ron Goodman, a retired architect in Niwot, covered community events and was the resident cartoonist for many years before he passed away in 2011. A healthy community is the strongest common thread to which the remaining five founders hold fast.

“It started with schools,” said Copperberg. “Schools shore up a community, and if there are a lot of good things being reported on in the schools, then that can’t help but bolster the health of a community. Plus,” she added, “I just really like that it’s local news.”

Copperberg feels that the LHVC provides a public service in other ways, as well. “It’s a community resource that we feel is valuable, especially to newcomers,” she said. “But people that have lived here for 20 years also depend on the paper, for our little community calendar to meeting notices.”

Copperberg added, “There are a lot of stories that would never be told without us there to gather them.”

Founder Vicki Maurer, who has worked with Warren at his law firm since she was in high school, the reason to work hard without much pay to produce the paper was for information’s sake.

“It was a way to get information out to the community,” she said, “Accurate information, and to cover the community news. Also, to make sure that what was being said in the media was accurate.”

Maurer’s other reasons for sticking with it all these years? “Camaraderie,” she said. “It’s fun, and it’s something to do with people I enjoy.”

“Obviously,” she added with a laugh, “because we really haven’t made any money at it!”

Lopert agrees. “Really, it boils down to the people,” she said. “The people I work with are a really good group. Biff and Vicki, Karen and Selene--they’re just really good friends. And everybody brings something unique to the paper, which is what we’re looking for.”

And it’s not just the founding editorial team that has pulled together for the paper’s longevity.

“It’s really a family affair,” said Maurer.”My parents have delivered the paper from the very beginning. First it was helping me out, then my kids, and then they just decided to do it.”

Maurer added,”I really enjoyed doing the deliveries. It allows you to spend that one on one time in the car. I loved it when I delivered, whether with my kids or with my parents.”

Potential buyers have offered to purchase the LHVC three times in its history. In 2014, a Kansas-based newspaper owner offered to take the paper weekly, and a two-year ownership transition was agreed upon. The founders would stay on as an advisory board, with production handled out of Kansas.

But at the end of the two-year transition, the Kansas paper suddenly backed out of the purchase agreement, and the original owners scrambled to keep publishing the now-weekly newspaper. Almost three years later, they are still at it, with what Warren describes as “the strongest staff we’ve ever had.”

For all the hard work, there has been an awful lot of fun. The paper puts out an annual April Fool’s edition that is enormously fun to produce and manages to create a stir among readers every year.

“I went out to Golden and took a picture at the windfarm, with a windmill against the mountains as backdrop. Then I wrote a story about a wind farm being installed on Gunbarrel Hill,” Lopert said. “People got so mad. Biff was at church that week, and someone brought the paper in, shaking and rattling it in his face, and Biff asked, ‘Did you look at the date?’”

Lopert’s wicked sense of humor isn’t lonely at editorial meetings. The intelligence, sharp humor, support, warmth and dedication of everyone involved makes it clear that the labor of love does come with some pretty valuable compensation.

Copperberg added, “We always have said, ‘We’ll do it until it’s not fun anymore, because we’re clearly not doing it for the money!”

Warren remembered delivering papers with his son Michael and his son’s friend, Mike Anderson. The boys were hanging on to the back of his Subaru on rollerblades throwing papers out of the open trunk. Warren then had to take the call from a lady who had seen them and was incensed that someone was delivering papers in such a dangerous manner.

“I told her I would look into it,” Warren quipped.

For all the fun, there’s also a real respect and affection among those who put out the newspaper. Warren has a deep appreciation for “the amazing people I've worked with over the last 21 years, who are so selfless, and dedicated to their community.”

“It’s been a real privilege to do this,” said Lopert. “And for the most part, people like us. You can’t please people all the time, and it’s not the function of a newspaper to do that. But we bring people together, and we help build a community.”

 

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