Making a good product better

Written by Andrew Cutler December 03, 2012 03:11 pm
Whew, it has been a whirlwind of a first week here at the La Grande Observer.

My first week here has been primarily learning names, becoming familiar with my staff and those in other departments and just trying to become acquainted with this community. I’ve met some of you and I know I will be meeting many more of you as we move forward. But in the meantime, allow me to give you a little background about myself.

My wife, Larra, and I celebrated our 17th anniversary back in October. We have a pair of sons, Brady and Connor, who are 15 and 13. My family remains in Rapid City, S.D., and will be there until school is out of session in late May.

My newspaper career started in November 2000 at the Argus Observer in Ontario. 

I started off as a freelance sportswriter, eventually being hired as a full-time sportswriter in early 2001 and working my way up to sports editor a few months later. It was at the Argus that I learned most of what I know from Editor Pat Caldwell, who many of you know as a La Grande native.

He gave a completely out-of-his-league newbie the opportunity to run his own sports department, probably more out of necessity rather than because he really wanted to. But I will be forever grateful to him for taking the chance.

I spent two stints at the Argus, sandwiched around a brief stop as the Boise State football beat writer at the Idaho Press-Tribune in Nampa, Idaho. 

After coming back from the Nampa paper, I worked my way up to news editor at the Argus, serving for a year in that capacity as the No. 2 person in the newsroom under Caldwell. While in that capacity, I also covered the police beat for the Argus.

I spent a year as the news editor until the opportunity to become the managing editor for the Argus’ sister paper in Pierre, S.D., came up in 2006. The Argus’ parent company, Wick Communications, purchased the Capital Journal in early 2006 and its long-time editor decided to step down. Caldwell and Argus publisher Steve Krehl recommended me for the position and a short time later I was hired.

Valuable training ground

Pierre proved to be a valuable training ground, one that I am grateful for having gone through. During my time as managing editor, the Capital Journal under went a successful conversion from an afternoon paper to morning delivery, a complete redesign of the product and a complete overhaul of policies and practices. 

None of the changes were easy. Reporters, other Journal staff and subscribers all chaffed at the changes, but the result was a South Dakota Newspaper Association General Excellence award for the Capital Journal in 2008, the first for the paper in its 126-year history. 

Following the Capital Journal, I went to Rapid City to become the sports editor at the Rapid City Journal, where I spent three years in that capacity and almost two years as the weekend news editor. 

I enjoyed Rapid City and on numerous occasions considered making that my last stop, but the chance to return closer to family — my parents live in Fruitland and my in-laws reside in Auburn, Calif. — and the opportunity to work here at the Observer were enough to convince me to head out west.

I have a lot of respect for the history and tradition of the La Grande Observer. It was something I learned about during my time under Caldwell, a former Observer sportswriter. Caldwell often told stories about his time working for guys like Ted Kramer and Bob Moody and with people like Jeff Petersen, Dick Mason and Phil Bullock. I’m excited about working with quality people like Petersen, Mason and Bullock, in addition to Chris Baxter, Brad Mosher, Casey Kellas, Bill Rautenstrauch and Katy Nesbitt, and getting the chance to meet Kramer and Moody at some point during my time in La Grande. 

Those guys, along with others who have called the Observer home, have set the bar pretty high and I’m eager to try and live up to the history and tradition.

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