Boise Weekly's 13th Birthday

Boise’s locally owned and independent newspaper grows up, then throws itself a Bat Mitzvah.

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Newspapers, unlike babies, do not begin life at age zero. They begin with volume one, issue one. At the end of the first year, as they grow into the terrible volume twos, they are, in fact, only one year old. This year, as Boise Weekly enters its 14th year, we celebrate our 13th birthday. Officially Boise Weekly began production of its first issue on July 16, 1992, with the first issue published Tuesday, July 21, 1992.

Thirteen is a powerful number. It is the year that children become teenagers. It is also the year in the Jewish faith that a boy or girl becomes a man or woman. And although nobody on staff is Jewish, we encourage diversity and decided to celebrate our 13th year with a Bar Mitzvah issue. That is until debate erupted in the office about which is the proper gender for Boise Weekly. Most of the women in the office felt it was a female, hence it should be a Bat Mitzvah. Most of the men really didn't care. But Larry Regan, former owner and publisher of Boise Weekly, said he always felt the paper was a woman. Who are we to disagree?

Over the past month I have asked many past editors, publishers and writers previous to our tenure as stewards of this publication, to provide their views about their time during the first 13 years of Boise Weekly. (We wanted to look back at the "cute" years of an adolescent's life, not the pre-teen, hormone-laden emergence into adulthood years we have been managing over the last four years.) Some alumni we were unable to connect with, but most responded. As time is a precious commodity, I'd like to thank all of them for taking the time to contribute words.

Some of the comments here may seem a little warm-fuzzyish and overly supportive of the current ownership, but I guaranteed everyone their say. Of course, both Sally and I get the last word. Prior to each alumni's contributions, we have identified specific facts including "where are they now" and any personal interactions that they may have had with us. As we take a trip down memory lane, please enjoy the history, warts and all, from the alumni of Boise Weekly. Now let's eat some cake.

-Bingo Barnes, Editor

Boise Weekly was founded in 1992 by Andy and Debi Hedden-Nicely. The first issue was published on July 21, 1992, and was 20 pages.

Debi Hedden-Nicely

Mark Twain once quipped, "Why not go out on a limb, that's where all the fruit is." Andy Hedden-Nicely is the complete embodiment of that kind of thinking. The fruit for Andy, however, is all about the adventure of getting out on that limb, not necessarily the fruit itself. As he is lounging out there enjoying the fruits of his labor, what he's really doing is dreaming up the next adventure. And sure enough, just as the Boise Weekly became a growing concern in all areas-journalistically and financially-the buy-out offers began to come in and he was out.

Ah, but I've gotten ahead of myself in this story. When readers open their Weekly, if they have a mind to read the "brag" box, there they will find a short sentence in small type that I think is most gracious of the current publishers. It tells the creation story of the publication in an extremely succinct manner. My name is mentioned and I'm not sure it should be. You see, of all the people Andy included in the inner sanctum as he brought his idea to fruition, I was the only nay-sayer.

If Andy embraces adventure with all its risks and pitfalls, I am the antithesis of that. I'm more of the Murphy's Law kinda gal. "If anything can go wrong, it will." I had worked in newsrooms before. Andy had published a weekly newspaper before. We both knew what it took. It took a pound of flesh. Yet we were on the opposite ends of the spectrum as to whether or not to go forward with a project of this magnitude.

As it turned out, as it does in most instances, we were both correct in our thinking. Thirteen years later as we celebrate the Bat Mitzvah of our creation and the parenthood of it by others, Larry Ragan,Willamette Week [City of Roses], and now Sally and Bingo Barnes, my reflection on it reminds me of raising up a human being. A lot of things did go wrong and had to be altered, it was gnarly sometimes, and gritty, and messy, and there were powers-that-be in our community that, simply put, did not want us to succeed and did their damnedest to trip us up. But on the other side of the same coin, Boise Weekly is still around, commemorating a rite of passage, continuing to provide this valley with perspectives that are not found in any other local publication. That has been the mission of the Boise Weekly all along-a mission that some other conglomerate-type publications have misunderstood. The idea was to delve into issues that profoundly matter to our community, to shine the light on what is dark and perhaps unjust, to be inclusive as opposed to exclusive. I think our teenager of a publication is measuring up remarkably well and I have great expectations of its future as any proud "mother" of a child would have. It is then all well and good that we should take stock in the fruits of our labor. Mazel tov!

Perhaps the man most associated with Boise Weekly is Andy Hedden-Nicely. Andy appears weekly in "Point2Point" a weekly debate topic with Dennis Mansfield on Channel 2. His laughter is infectious and he has been a mentor to both Sally and myself. We are proud to call both he and Debi friends.

Andy Hedden-Nicely

I guess I should mention the early team which included Jay Vail as the first editor (from Melba to Miami and back). Jay did a fantastic job of organizing my thoughts and making the first issue real. Chris Munson was instrumental in helping with the finances and Jenny O'Reilly and Daryl Beeson did the initial design graphics. Jim Hawkins helped me run the original spread sheets and did tons of work on sales and distribution.

The only other name we considered for the publication was The River City Times, but I was intent on Boise Weekly and for once got my way. Two significant advertisers in the first issue were Fosters Furniture (John Foster took out a double truck center spread ad) and the Bon Marche. The manager at the Bon Marche was Terry Jensen and he ran full page ads with us until he was transferred to another store. It also seems like the Flicks have been in just about every issue published.

The Farnsworth story about the Idaho Housing Authority was and still is the biggest and most important story we published. It put us on the map as a serious contender in the Boise news scene and the paper continues to enjoy the reputation established by David Madison.

Jay Vail was the first editor of Boise Weekly. After years away from Boise Weekly, today he is working for the paper again and now spends several hours each week on Monday and Tuesday proofreading the issue. We like Jay. He's quiet and when he does say something it's punchy and makes us laugh. He makes us pay attention to what we write.

Jay E. Vail

Are you sure it's only been 13 years since the Boise Weekly launch? Seems like it was in a previous life when I moved back to Boise from Miami to join forces with Andy and Debi Hedden-Nicely and Jennie O'Reilly on the project. Those were heady times that I recall (admittedly dimly) but with great fondness. Dimly, because the focus of the weekly enterprise is forever forward. What's next? If it's off the press, it's out of mind.

Andy and I found that out when we went to the old Channel 2 studios that were then housed in a beautiful Deco-esque building in the shadow of Boise Cascade Corp.'s HQ to be interviewed for one of their local talking-heads shows. We walked over and were already discussing two or three issues ahead as we settled in under the klieg lights. Practically the first question was, predictably, what's in the first issue? Andy and I turned and stared at each other blankly. Neither of us could remember. We had a good laugh about it later over cocktails.

I learned a valuable lesson while at BW. After putting the edition to bed at about 1 a.m., I somehow "lost" the computer file that held the whole paper. I looked frantically everywhere on the computer I could think of, but came up blank. So I kicked myself and re-did the edition from scratch, finishing up as (I think it was) Andy arrived at the office. I groggily blurted out my sob story. "Did you do a search?" I didn't know what he was talking about. "You know, Control-F?" He came over to my computer and showed me, and immediately found my missing file, which I no longer needed. I kicked myself again, but have never lost another file. And if I ever do, I learned how to do a search for it while at the BW.

Looking through my back issues of the Weekly, I was impressed all over again with the often-stunning covers produced by Jennie O. and her team. My fav, of course, is still the one that face-melds mayoral candidates Brent Coles and Tracy Andrus to reveal they were actually long-lost twins (Vol. 2, Issue 1; July 22-28, 1993). Also the glam shot of Hollywood Market owner and North End political maven Margaret Lawrence (Vol. 1, Issue 25; Jan. 5, 1993).

Of course, my favorite part of the infant BW was "Social Swirl," our weekly collection of local-yokel candid shots. I had great fun meeting and snapping the thousands of people who posed, and even more fun looking through them again all these years later. I think "Swirl" was very popular with readers and an important part of the paper's early success.

All in all, I was very proud of the job the team of "founders" did. We laid a solid foundation for the paper's growth and continued success. I hope the current staff just has as much fun as we did along the way.

Melissa Goff was not employed by the Boise Weekly, but she did work alongside the staff on a daily basis as VP of Andy Hedden-Nicely's ad agency and she says, "I enjoyed being part of the team."

Melissa Goff

In this era...

• The ad agency (Hedden-Nicely & Associates) and the Weekly were roommates in the Idaho Building.

• Chris Farnsworth and I had an office love affair and had to be reprimanded for making out in the workplace.  

• When Andy and Debi started screaming, Andy Newman would say, "Mom and dad are fighting again."  

• New employees had to share their most embarrassing moment in our monthly staff meeting. 

• Chris Farnsworth went to court when he refused to reveal his source for a story on Zilog.

• When Andrew Putz flew in to interview, he drank too much and fainted getting out of Larry Ragan's hot tub, convincing everyone he was the right man for the job.

• The paper was proud to take first place "Rookie of the Year" awards at Idaho Press Club at least two-maybe three-years in a row.  

• We had an intern (not for very long) who wrote phone messages in code, and gave everyone a decoder key.

• We took the paper to the printer on Bernoulli disks.

Larry Ragan joined the Boise Weekly team in February, 1993. Almost as much as the Hedden-Nicelys, Larry's name is synonymous with Boise Weekly. Starting out on the masthead as update editor, he quickly moved into Associate Publisher, then taking on the management of the paper outright. In March, 1998, he acquired sole ownership. Recently I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with him. Larry's love, nostalgia and emotions for Boise Weekly run deep. For those that know him, it might be a surprise that he wished to say very few words about his time here, but these few words say it all.

Larry Ragan

Those were the greatest working years of my life. It was a labor of love which rewarded me each week with the knowledge that Boise and surrounding areas were no longer fed bullshit from an out of state monopolistic corporate entity. I love and adore all those wonderful people that passed through and helped build a foundation to what is now a significant and viable newspaper in the valley.

The birthday should be a Bat Mitzvah because to me, Boise Weekly is like the great women who traveled west a century ago. She has endured like no man would have.

Andy Newman (as he was listed on the masthead) was hired as editor and the first issue publishing his name was Sept. 9, 1993. Andrew Adam Newman went on to serve as editor first at In Pittsburgh Newsweekly and then at Pittsburgh City Paper. This last winter he moved to New York City, where his articles have appeared regularly in The New York Times.

Andrew Adam Newman

Boise Weekly's Bat Mitzvah? And it seems like just yesterday that I was prying its little legs apart at its briss.

Actually, I arrived at Boise Weekly when it was about a year old. The most popular feature was a two-page spread called "Social Swirl," snapshots of people at cocktail parties. It was lowest-common-denominator, third-rate journalism-put a bunch of pictures of people in the paper so they'll pick it up to see if they're in there. It was also Andy Hedden-Nicely's favorite feature, as it was filled with photos of his pals and advertisers, but to his credit he let me kill it.

My promise to Andy was that we could do better. And we did, thanks to the caliber of the writers who somehow tumbled into the pages of Boise Weekly. There was Steve Duda, who when I arrived, was selling ads at the paper and dashing off short pieces, but who jumped over to the edit side to become the arts editor. Besides possessing a freakishly large head, Duda had an ear for language, and his writing was lively. There was David Madison, who did fearless and tireless investigative reporting. There was Perry Swisher, a white-haired, cane-using curmudgeon with more piss and vinegar than the youngest of our contributors. There were Samantha Silva and John Rember, both of whom wrote pitch-perfect, gorgeous essays. There was a convict, David Ansgar Nyberg, who wrote a column called "Sentences" about life inside prison. And of course there was Chris Farnsworth, who was getting a degree in creative writing and turned out to be not just a silky writer but an excellent reporter as well. If my resume is to be trusted-though really at this point I've lost track of all the gross distortions therein-we earned 11 awards from the Idaho Press Club while I was at the wheel.

I arrived at about the same time as the organizers of the anti-gay ballot initiative who'd also led campaigns in Colorado and Oregon. There's nothing like a band of homophobic and well-organized cretins to lend gravity to the task of making an alternative paper. We tried-sometimes more successfully than others-to debunk some of the evangelicals' propaganda, and to write humanizing stories about lesbians and gays in Boise, and naturally we were heartened when the initiative was defeated. If that was the moment when Boise struck me as being enlightened, it also was by far the most provincial place I've worked: We were, after all, the target of an advertiser boycott for printing the word "fuck." Still, I can't say that I've ever cared more about the people I was writing about, and was working with, than I did in my two years there.

So congrats, Boiseans. As if the smell of cottonwoods along the Boise River weren't enough, or the way the foothills look in the last light of day, or those surreal, snow-bordered lines of green grass that run along the hydrothermal pipes of Warm Springs Avenue homes, you've got a paper that's feisty and smart and on good footing. Two of the four alternative papers where I worked have since gone the way of all flesh. So here's to surviving, and thriving.

Steve Duda was arts editor of Boise Weekly from 1993-1995. His career has included editorial stints at the Seattle Dispatch and The Rocket. He has contributed to Rolling Stone, Village Voice, San Francisco Bay Guardian, Seattle Weekly, MTV, Wine X and others. Recently retired from his post as Editor-in-chief at Amazon.com, he is currently at work on a novel.

Steve Duda

I have a box in my basement containing a copy of every Boise Weekly to which I contributed. When the e-mail announcing BW Bat Mitzvah issue found me, I wandered downstairs and pulled the thing out. After paging through the huge stack, I did some back of the envelope calculations and figure I'd written about 250,000 words for the Weekly during my tenure. That's about 20 pounds worth of scribbling.

The early hours inside Boise Weekly were freakishly um ... well, they were just plain freakish. As arts editor from 1993 to 1995, I was witness to the full assortment of goofs, misfits and loony tunes who stumbled through the door looking for either work or revenge. There was the affable columnist with the fully appointed sex dungeon in his basement; the other columnist doing time for first degree murder upstate; the DJ who threatened to burn down my house and shoot my dogs; the source who had caches of ammo buried all over the desert; the easily offended patron of the arts who tried to ban me from the Morrison Center; the easily offended promoter who banned me from the Boise Music Fest; the interview subject who went on to lead the Heaven's Gate suicide cult. Hell, BW publisher Andy Hedden-Nicely regularly threatened to boot my ass up and down State Street and editor Andy Newman constantly replaced my best headlines with horrific puns. On the bright side, however, there were the long hours, ridiculous pay and bomb threats.

As arts editor, I was tasked with all the crappy jobs (well, at least until David Madison joined up). I had to write capsules for hundreds of movies I didn't see; write previews for events I had no interest in attending and go out of my way to soothe the sensitive psyche of all manner of artistic types. Somehow, we managed to get a paper out every week. Yet even with this box of old clips in front of me, my favorite memories, of course, are the people.

Publisher Andy Hedden-Nicely was absolutely unflappable. As hard as I tried to yank his chain, "Chiefy" was, in turns, hilarious, profane and sage. He gave me my first break and I owe him.

Andy Newman, our editor back in the old days, was highly strung, brilliant, hilarious and the best teacher I ever had. He was also somewhat unorganized, his desk a mound of papers, faxes, manuscripts, photos and notebooks. Sometimes I'd snatch a random document off his desk and wait for him to burrow into the pile, desperate and pleading for it to somehow appear, a needle in the haystack miracle.

"Is this it, Andy?"

Heh. I owe him.

Publisher Larry Ragan was a patient, intelligent guy with a huge heart. He taught me how to fly fish. I owe him.

I shared a North End rental with writer and soon-to-be BW editor Dave Madison for a while. Madison was a writing foil, a good pal and reliable drinking buddy overflowing with a goofy earnestness I didn't know existed any more. I owe him, too.

A quarter million words, written a decade ago, now conscribed to a cardboard box deep in my basement. Where did all those words all come from? Cowboy poets, punk rockers, sex shops, horse races, boxers, skateboarders, cops, poets, drunks, dogs, painters, politicians, hippies, skaters, the Monkey Bar in Nampa, the Neurolux, the Interlude bar across the street from the office that functioned as dining hall, board room and after-hours salon, sex shops, boxers, rock climbers, radio DJs ... I managed to unearth them all during my time in Boise and looking back I can say that working at Boise Weekly was the only job I really, really loved. I owe all you guys.

David Madison moved to Boise after graduating from the University of North Carolina in 1993 and bought a night season's pass at Bogus Basin for $99. He worked at BW from 1993 to 1997, filling a variety of roles from staff writer to delivery man to layout grunt to reception person to editor. He currently lives in Montana with his wife Katie and daughter Mae. Last fall he spent an entire day with me in a drift boat fishing for steelhead on the Salmon River. David landed two not more than five minutes apart. I made him give me one because I got skunked.

David Madison

For several years running, Boise Weekly was ranked by local fundamentalist Christians as one of the top 10 "enemies of God." I think we never ranked higher than third, though really we were all too busy to notice.

Between 1993 and 1997, Boise Weekly doubled in size. We went from 20 to 40 pages, largely thanks to the sales and management skills of people like Pete Weiblen, Carey Augustine and Larry Ragan. Everyone on the business side of the paper knew the BW voice of that era. It was repeated to them, sometimes read aloud over the phone the day of publication. There were certain advertisers who felt the need to call immediately and cancel their ads. Whether it was for something noble, like sticking it to the Kelly Waltons of the world, or something smart-assed (like my poor man's gripe about skiing at Sun Valley), BW was often offensive to its advertisers. Luckily, most patrons of the paper realize that without editorial integrity and the freedom to experiment, a newspaper will never thrive.

The BW voice is real. It's a chorus of local thinkers with something important to say, and enough talent to say it well. As editor, I had the privilege to live and work with a crew of fantastic writers, photographers and assorted troublemakers. Here's a name-drop list of some of these characters:

ANDY AND DEBI HEDDEN-NICELY: The day I managed to get Cecil Andrus to sit for an interview at BW's offices, I remember Andy coming up to my desk and asking, "Ole Cece came down here? Hot damn man." At the time, Andrus was flacking for the pro-waste crowd. I happen to be obsessed with nuclear waste. Debi responded by allowing me to spend more time at home writing. Together, Andy and Debi created an environment where reporters could spin long, creative narratives. And because of that, the paper remains an indispensable gift from this couple's imagination.

ANDY NEWMAN: The man who turned Boise Weekly into a place where some of the best writers in the state wanted to have their work published. I remember seeing a guy at the Interlude finish an article by John Rember, look up and say to the bartender, "That's one of the best things I've ever read." Under Newman, the paper often had that effect on people. He brought in Rember, Samantha Silva, Bill Cope, Alyssa Harad and Steve Stuebner. He also had the good sense to hire Steve Duda as his arts editor.

STEVE DUDA: Before Steve fell in love with news anchor Lisa Hughes and moved to Seattle, he and I lived together. At our first place, way out Broadway by a Circle K, Steve and I huddled around our Mac Classics and rocked out to Liz Phair's first album. We never actually made coffee in the apartment. Instead, Steve would rise early and head over to the Circle K. As he walked out the door, Steve was always thoughtful enough to ask: "Do you need anything from the mothership?"

PERRY SWISHER: I still have an original copy of the San Jose Mercury News that Perry brought into my office when Gary Webb's "Dark Alliance" was published in 1996. He wanted us to marvel at the power of great journalism. Perry was a helpful mentor who once got so mad at me over my naïve take on nuclear waste that we ended our lunch in silence. He was right, and the paper benefited from his constant offerings of rare wisdom.

MICHAEL HEWES: Along with the other excellent photographers who shot for BW (Jim Elgee, Jim Talbot, Tracy Lay, Mitch York, Ken Schneider), Michael knew he was blessed with incredible material and settings. There is so much delightful weirdness in Boise. I lived with Michael one summer out on Wood Duck Island in East Boise. The "island" is separated from the mainland by an irrigation ditch. Our garage was Michael's studio, and once, a neighbor dropped in to complain. He said that not only was my 1982 Datsun pick-up old and unsightly-but that, well, "The grass could sure use a good cutting." I wish I had taken Michael's camera and captured this special moment in Boise history. I would have called the photo, "Boise artist slams door on cul de sac conformism."

CHRIS FARNSWORTH: As associate editor, Chris Farnsworth produced a remarkable amount of aggressive material. He rattled one cage after another: the corrupt local housing authority, the trigger-happy Boise PD, the unscrupulous managers at Zilog. When Farnsworth's story about Zilog poisoning its employees hit the stands, I got a call from a Zilog attorney who asked, "What the fuck do you think you're doing?" As an Idaho district judge would later confirm, we were just telling the truth.

ANDREW PUTZ: He started his career in Sparks, Nevada, and now he's writing for Philadelphia Magazine. He was named journalist of the year while working in Cleveland (and like another BW alum, Andrew Scutro), Putz is a top-flight reporter and feature writer. He's still pissed that I up and moved with former BW staffer Jami Phillips to Salt Lake City. I did drop a lot of responsibility in his lap, and he responded by doing great work. In his corner were former arts editor Jeff Fearnside, staff writer Nicole LeFavour (whose cover story on Albertson's is one of BW's best ever) and art director Anabel Ramirez.

THE ARTISTS: Randy Jamison, Lara Petitclerc, Scott Schmaljohn, Lindsey Loch, Laura Ragan, Dan Tvrz, Grant Olsen, Jennifer O'Reilly, Daryl Beeson and many others brought the pages of BW to life. Whether it was Jamison's bizarre collage approach to cover art, or Loch's quirky illustrations for the Best of Boise issue, these artists gave BW the visual personality it continues to express each week.

BILL COPE: Bill has told you about how after the beating Idaho Democrats took in 1994, only two liberals made it back to Redfish Lake when spawning season rolled around the following year. Oh, and how about the time Bill insisted that if you leave enough Twinkies at the bottom of a bear's favorite tree, it will eat them, grow sleepy and you can kill it with a Nerf bat? That one earned me a phone call from Bear Baiter Central, where an avid Baiter demanded I grant him equal time in the paper. This guy wanted to explain how it was physically impossible to kill black bears with Nerf bats. Bill had made a mistake, and I told the man that I'd take it up with "that damn Cope" the next time we met. That happened to be every Thursday night at Noodles. We went for the free nosh and free exchange of deadly Nerf tactics.

AMY KEPFERLE: Arts editor Amy studied BW's inner workings, and later applied that experience toward creating a weekly alternative paper in Bellingham, Washington. Like former staff writer Aaron Switzer (a world-class ultimate Frisbee player, who started a weekly in Bend, Oregon), Amy spread the Boise Weekly gospel. Her writing still has a refreshing openness that readers adore. In 1996, she interviewed Katie Gaines for a story on midwifery. Today, Katie and I live with our daughter Mae in Columbia Falls, Montana.

Chris Farnsworth was associate editor at Boise Weekly from 1995 to 1997. He's currently working as a screenwriter in Los Angeles.

Chris Farnsworth

The first issue of the Weekly I ever saw had a chalk outline of Santa Claus on the cover. I can still remember the outraged letters, printed a couple of weeks later. People could not believe that someone in Boise would dare print such a tasteless-no, evil-photo. Out in the open! Think of the children!

I knew I had to work at this place. BW didn't quite feel the same urgency about me. I think I applied twice before Andy Hedden-Nicely, Larry Ragan and David Madison decided that they would bring me up from part-time freelancer-with a habit of pissing off advertisers-to full-time employee.

Ten years later, I still feel a bit like the kid that hung around the office until they took pity on me. (At least I didn't have to answer the phones on my way, like Madison did.)

But I did have to drive cover shots to the graphics shop because our scanner couldn't handle the files. I gouged the Hedden-Nicelys' van in the tiny, tiny parking garage behind the building. I'm sure that made me look like a great investment.

When I got the job, I took a $7,000 pay cut. I traded in a reliably dull 9-to-5 schedule for 3 a.m. races to finish the paper. I got hate mail and angry phone calls from across the board; one day I was called both an anti-Semite and a lackey of the Jewish media overlords.

I felt like I had finally found home.

We took a lot of credit, because nobody would give us any. We plastered "BW has learned ..." and "As told to the Weekly..." on everything but the restaurant reviews. Today, that would be called "brand-building." Back then, we were just trying to get people to stop confusing us with the Penny Saver.

Nobody really took us seriously. Until we made them.

We broke the story of mismanagement and nepotism at the Boise City/Ada County Housing Authority. (I knew we were onto something when, in the middle of an interview, the chairman of the authority's board grabbed my notepad, ripped my notes from it, swung his cane at me, and then tried to run out of the building. A good journalist catches these subtle clues.) Every news outlet in town followed us, the entire board of the agency resigned, and the executive director was fired.

Our next big story wasn't as popular. Zilog, the computer-chip maker, was accused in a lawsuit of exposing its workers to dangerous chemicals. I got hold of some of the sealed documents in the suit, and we printed them. The attorneys and the judge weren't pleased, and Andy and Larry had to shell out for a lawyer of our own to keep me from spending time in jail. The rest of the local media was a lot less interested in following up after that.

We won, more or less, but I learned it's far easier to talk about protecting a source than to face the reality of wearing an orange jumpsuit. USA Today later picked up the Zilog story, and splashed it across the nation.

But the story that really makes me proud barely appeared in our paper, let alone anyplace else. A man came to us-forgive me, I don't remember his name-and told me that the state had just seized his trailer home. His mother had left it to him before she went into state-assisted care. He'd lived there for years, and she wanted him to stay. The state claimed they were owed the money she'd racked up while dying. They took the trailer instead.

This guy had no idea what to do; he couldn't afford a lawyer. I called up the paralegal in the AG's office who did the paperwork and asked about his trailer. She said, "You mean our trailer."

We didn't have much room, so it was only one item in my column. But the next week, the man returned. The AG's office reversed itself, he told me. He had his home back. He handed me a belt buckle he'd made himself. It was real cowboy jewelry, a piece of polished picture jasper in hammered copper. I told him reporters couldn't take gifts, but he wouldn't let me give it back. I never saw or heard from him again.

It wasn't all skittles and beer. My hindsight isn't that blurry. I made dozens of stupid mistakes, some from inexperience, some from arrogance. The ancient Macs we used, in those pre-iPod days, were liable to grind up whole pages of effort. Hours were long; tempers frayed and sometimes snapped. I remember David worked himself into back spasms and nosebleeds. At one point, I weighed 105 pounds.

I'm not a reporter anymore. After moving to the Phoenix New Times and the Orange County Register, I managed to sell a script. Now I take meetings with producers and try to figure out new and interesting ways to blow up monsters and aliens.

But I'm grateful-and proud-I got my start at BW.

And I still have that belt buckle.

Robert Speer was editor of Boise Weekly from March 1998 to April 2000. He is now senior editor of the Chico (California) and Reno (Nevada) News & Reviews. He lives in Chico with his wife and two children.

Robert Speer

A couple of days after I started work as Boise Weekly's editor in the spring of 1998, I called the office of the press secretary to Gov. Phil Batt. To my surprise-I'd come from California where the office is protected by a Praetorian Guard of aides-I was put right through to the secretary himself.

I introduced myself, said BW was interested in running a commentary piece the governor had written, and asked if I could get a photo of him. "Absolutely," the press guy said.

"Can I come by and get it?" I asked.

"Nah," he replied. "I'll drop it off. Welcome to Idaho."

Sweet. I felt right at home. I'd been a long-time journalist in Chico, a relatively small college town in Northern California, where such friendliness and informality were standard at the city government level, but I hadn't expected it from a governor's office. (I say "relatively" because Chico, at 100,000 people, was larger than any town in Idaho but Boise. A small town in Idaho, someone there once told me, was "wherever two guys are arguing over who's going to buy the beer.")

In any event, it was a good thing I liked Boise and Idaho, because I'd come to work at the most dysfunctional outfit I'd ever seen. BW was a spirited paper filled with interesting voices, especially Bill Cope's, but it was also a mess structurally.

The advertising staff had no tools to work with-no readership figures, no promo materials, no sales kits. There was no photographer. Most of the systems were screwy. Worst of all, the paper had no consistent format. It was reinventing the design wheel with each issue.

My boss was Larry Ragan, a sweet guy whose intentions were good but whose experience as a publisher was nearly nil. ("That's why I hired you, Bob," he said.) I told him I'd be working closely with the art director to design a new format for the paper. Our conversation then went something like this:

"That might be difficult," he said. "She only works at night."


"Yeah, she won't work days."

"Then why don't you fire her and get a normal person?"

"Because she's the only one who knows how to do it."

It took a couple of months, but eventually we were able to replace her with a highly creative young man who was a widely known local musician. I liked him. I chalked up his jitteriness during our interview to eagerness. Big mistake. Not long after he started, he began disappearing into the bathroom every half-hour or so. Then he stopped coming into the office until late afternoon and started working all night long, alone. I was beginning to wonder if there was something in Boise's water.

It was downhill from there. Before long he wasn't finishing the paper on time. I never knew, when editorial was done on Tuesday, whether we'd have a paper to publish on Wednesday. Finally Larry and I woke up to the fact that the guy had a drug problem.

"This is killing me," I said. "We've got to find someone else."

"I agree," he replied.

So, secretly, so as not to spook the young man into leaving before we had a replacement for him, Larry enticed a young Mormon guy named Mike away from the Idaho Tribune, where he was a pre-press technician. Mike didn't quite understand what we were up to as a paper but liked us as people, didn't do drugs and preferred to work from 9 to 5.

The transition was horrible. The young man-I wish I remembered his name and to this day feel bad about what happened-pleaded with Larry not to fire him, at one point bursting into tears, at another raging with anger. But we had no choice. Get help, we said. You've got a problem and need to work on it.

But he didn't get help, and a couple of months later he shot himself. It was awful, not least because he had a 4-year-old daughter.

By then I was four months into the job and already exhausted. With Mike in the design chair, though, things started to come together. The editorial staff-the two Andrews, Putz and Scutro, on the news side, photographer Matt Helm and Anna Webb handling arts-was as good as any I've worked with in more than 25 years in the business. Circulation and page count grew, the paper looked good, and it was starting to get some respect. We won a pile of Idaho Press Club awards.

I'm proud of many of the stories we did. Three stick out in my mind: Andrew Putz's moving story of a young man who'd died from a heroin overdose; Andrew Scutro's brilliant exposé "Soft-Serving the News" (Volume 8, Issue 33, February 24, 2000) of the Idaho Statesman's kowtowing to Micron by glossing over problems at the chip maker; and a probing piece on what happens to Mormon families when their gay kids come out (Volume 8, Issue 34, March 2, 2000). There were many others, of course.

Despite the disasters at the beginning, I enjoyed my run at BW. We all did.

But BW was still losing money, and Larry could no longer afford to subsidize it, so two years after I started he sold it to City of Roses, publishers of Portland's Willamette Week. They're a first-rate group, but they blew it on this one, failing to invest in the paper sufficiently to keep it going. I'm glad the Barneses are there now. They have the passion and the commitment to keep BW going and growing, and I've enjoyed watching them build it into an increasingly worthwhile publication. It will keep getting stronger, and Boise and Idaho will be better for it.

In Spring 2000, Larry Ragan sold Boise Weekly to the City of Roses Newspaper Company based in Portland, Oregon. Both editor Robert Speer and Publisher Larry Ragan's last issue was April 27, 2000. City of Roses, current owners of Wilamette Week and the Sante Fe Reporter, replaced them with publisher Sean Flaherty and editor Sara Kuhl.

Richard H. Meeker, Mark L. Zusman and the rest of the gang at City of Roses Newspaper Company

Here's a list of greatest joys during our short time with Boise Weekly:

1. Coming across Bingo and Sally Barnes. They are uniquely qualified to run the Weekly and are to be congratulated for having made such a success of the newspaper. We know how hard it is to get an alternative weekly to the point where it can sustain itself financially. They've managed to do so while enhancing its editorial quality at the same time.

2. Getting to know Bill Cope. He's given the Weekly a singular voice of reason and joyous humor.

3. Being exposed to Boise. It is a fabulous city-and fully deserving of the first-rate newspaper now being published.

4. We are proud that we kept BW alive and gave it a new graphic look that you've continued, for the most part, to leave intact.

I think immediately of BW's coverage of various aspects of the mayor's bizarre battle against sex and drugs. I think of the photos of those old, old, white, white conservative legislators sleeping at their desks after lunch many an afternoon. I think of the food vendors' battles late at night on Sixth Street. I think of the surprise of some restaurant owners at being given real reviews when they were expecting something like the Statesman's usual gruel. Finally, I think of the continuing embarrassments of watching Gannett print money while calling it journalism.

Sally Barnes and I have owned the Boise Weekly since August 1, 2001. At the time of purchase, BW was distributing 17,000 copies and averaged about 40 pages per week. In four years, circulation has increased to 32,000 copies distributed from McCall to Sun Valley and averages about 58 pages per week.

Bingo Barnes

We were living in Las Vegas, Nevada-Sin City U.S.A.-and despite our open mindedness to cultural extremes normally associated with Vegas, after a year there decided it was not the place for us to live. I first discovered Boise Weekly for sale while surfing the Internet at work. I wasn't sure where Boise exactly was in Idaho-I had to look it up on a map-but I began researching the city and discovered there were two mindsets: Those that had never been to Idaho regurgitating all the stereotypes such as white supremacists and potatoes, and those that had lived or visited there. The latter were the ones we listened to; as there was nothing but good to be said about the place.

Despite the pleadings of our family and friends to not go-saying it was too risky and far away-we decided to pursue it anyway. With a solo Memorial Day visit in the Spring of 2001, I was amazed at the pedestrian vibrancy of downtown, wowed by the North End bungalows with blooming flowers and was awed during an overnight drive to Lowman, Stanley, Sun Valley and back. The key moment for me was taking a walk on the Greenbelt and seeing a man with a fishing rod scramble out of the bushes along the riverbank carrying a huge salmon he just caught. I fell in love with Boise and knew that my family would, too. Thankfully, Sally trusted me enough to go for it. Either that, or she hated Vegas so much she'd have done anything to get out of there.

So how could two middle-class professional, corporate wonks buy a paper? Simply put, we couldn't. But we liquidated our meager savings, 401Ks and kids college funds anyway and made a crazy offer with some even crazier and creative financing options. Surprisingly, City of Roses accepted our offer. I quit my job. Sally shifted hers into a consultant position with the airlines she was working for to help us with a little much needed income, and we moved. (Read my first column online in the Lingo Yarns archives called "Leaving Las Vegas," August 8, 2001).

With any new owners, there will be changes, but first-time newspaper owners do not always make the transfer into their new role as gracefully they should. Admittedly, we were naive and inexperienced in some respects. During the first month we shifted staff around, eliminating some positions right away. The economy was already on a slow downward slide, but it had hopes of turning around soon. We believed that although we had risked it all, we bought a fixer-upper and we were willing to work hard.

We made a few changes immediately to the paper. First, while accepted in larger markets, adult advertising was actually harming the paper here. Readers had stopped picking up the paper and advertisers were dropping like flies after their ads appeared next to adult-oriented business ads. We established a set of rules regarding the placement, imagery and content for them but allowed any adult-oriented business to continue if they played by our new rules. One of our basic tenets is to support free speech-be it stories or advertisements-so it would have been hypocritical of us to ban adult advertising altogether. Ironically, most of the adult advertisers got huffy, pulled their advertising and had to follow the same general content rules we established when they decided to put their money into advertising with the"family oriented" Idaho Statesman. (It still amazes me to hear businesses refuse to advertise in BW because of the "adult ads" when the Idaho Statesman and their tabloid of pablum has them in full glorious color just about anywhere.)

After only one month of ownership, 9/11 happened the morning we were rolling out a new advertising rate card. That week Sally lost her consulting job when her airlines scaled back operations (eventually closing a few months later) and I can't recall the paper selling an ad for an entire month. We started eliminating positions and scaling back.

By the end of October, we had gone through our reserves and were forced to cut our staff to a skeleton crew on what became known as "Black Friday." All that remained were seven employees including Sally and myself. Those were dark times and there were a few payrolls in December and January where we considered closing Boise Weekly's doors forever. People do not know how close the paper came to extinction during this time.

Slowly, day by day, we worked hard, adding employees only when we could afford to, adding new racks and newsstands only when we could afford it and working our butts off. Everyone on staff wore many hats, putting in many hours, even helping to deliver papers.

When we heard about the Gannett-owned Idaho Statesman launching a free tabloid weekly newspaper aimed at a "younger market" in the fall of 2002, we were scared. Boise was the first of many markets (all with established alternative newspapers, by the way) that Gannett had targeted with what has come to be known in the industry as the "faux alts." Competition, and especially rumors of forthcoming competition, will make you work harder and get your act in order. We vowed to not lay down and let them eliminate another independent voice. So we worked even harder. Everyone on staff during that time sacrificed to keep the paper alive. And while one staff member left to join the "other" new paper, those of us that remained were faithful to the cause of continuing an independent voice.

By the first summer, Sally and I finally took home a paycheck, albeit just one and a meager one at that. We could see a future, dim, but a future nonetheless.

During the previous year we had learned several things. While Boise pretends to be a big town, socially and culturally it behaves like a small town. This was important to understand quickly and hard lessons were learned. Lessons such as: Don't have conversations in local restaurants, there are ears everywhere listening to the new folk in town. And: No matter how much you try to avoid protecting people's privacy through changing names in a story, someone you know will know who you are writing about.

Secondly we learned, that Boise Weekly had a very loyal, smart readership that has stuck with the paper during good times and bad. They understood that new owners needed time to get their feet wet, but they were kind enough to pull us aside on occasion and give us words of wisdom or let us know if we were doing something wrong. I hope that openness never stops.

I expected truthful stories to make people angry, upsetting advertisers to the point of pulling their ads and the general nonsense involved with people requesting a review, but not really expecting a "review" with actual criticisms. In a market in which the daily paper throws more softballs than hardballs, people get desensitized to what real journalism is. (Actually, I think the country is desensitized to what real journalism is.) I only wish we had the resources to do "real" journalism every week.

When we added Ted Rall's column as a national "liberal" voice, I felt confident we had found someone that people read, whether they agreed with him or not. He is just as hard-edged on the left as conservative radio show commentators are on the far right. To us, he was a balance in this community; a voice not heard in this reddest of red states to remind people that there are other opinions out there.

As the war in Iraq began, he sparked a boycott of Boise Weekly led by an employee of a local television station and lathered into a frenzy by a local conservative talk-show host who is no longer on the air. We called the stations out on the ethics of this (it wasn't an official boycott of BW by the TV station, just the employee waving around her connection to the media as a scare tactic), offering ourselves up to go on local talk shows or television to defend the position of free speech, but we had no takers. In the end, we gained readers checking out what the hubub was about and only lost a few distribution locations. Most of which we got back after having a discussion about censorship and letting people make up their own minds. Boycotts always have the opposite effect. Over the last four years, we've had a few locations drop our paper because of issues like the Gay Pride issue, or by publishing interviews with politically charged "lefties." But mostly it's been Ted.

These little setbacks are part of the process of doing our best to make our community better. Idiots and bigots don't get us down. They make us try harder to help them. We don't expect people to agree with us all the time. We just want them to be informed so we can have an intelligent conversation. And if we have to do the informing, so be it.

We are proud of several things we have done so far including our committment to the arts community and our support through media sponsorships of worthy causes, but the cover idea was the best. I brought the idea with me when we moved here and just knew it would work if given time. It flew in the face of traditional, newspaper cover theory. Almost all other publications have an "editorial" cover tied to their "cover story." My idea was unique. We wanted to exlusively involve Idaho artists of all ages and skills, require them to donate their originals and sell them at a charity auction. For the past three years, we have donated almost $30,000 to the YMCA to establish a youth arts program for youngsters to interact with local artists and learn a thing or two. We felt this was very important because in many cases the arts are being eliminated from public schools due to budget tightening.

At first our covers raised questions. People didn't understand. Some, to this day, like Andy Hedden-Nicely, feel we should abandon our policy on occasion for a good "editorial" cover. Actually, after three years of jibes and jaunts from other alternative paper editors and publishers across the country, the Boston Weekly Dig has took our concept and ran with it for their covers. We're influencing the nation one small step at a time.

Another thing Sally and I have tried to make happen is a sense of family at the paper. Because Sally and I live and breathe the Boise Weekly, to some degree we have that expectation of our employees. It might be unfair to expect such committment, but we feel in life, if you don't have passion for what you do, then why do it? We don't want our team to be part of the paper unless they feel it's more than just a job. We have hired some qualified people in the past, but because they didn't quite "fit in" we parted ways.

We are sad to see long term staff part ways too. Staff like Anna Webb, Colleen Cronin, Erin Ryan (who now writes more for us as a freelancer than when she worked full-time) and Cynthia Sewell (who recently left and is now reporting for the Idaho Statesman.) But we also understand that people's lives change over time. And sometimes change happens and people don't. In either case, life moves on.

Looking back at my own career path I have had many forks in the road, some by my own choice, some forced by others. Had I not been fired from my first art director job, I would never have moved on and learned the intricacies of publication design and how to start a magazine. Had we not been living and working somewhere where we didn't want to be, surfing the Net for another opportunity, would we have found the Boise Weekly? I doubt it.

Reading former employees' reflections upon their time at Boise Weekly, it is clear that their experiences were some of the most rewarding in their careers and influenced who they are today. Would Nicole LeFavour be an Idaho legislator without her experiences at Boise Weekly? Perhaps. Would Amy Herzfeld be the executive director of the Idaho Human Rights Education Center today without the varied positions she worked at BW? Maybe. Would all of the former employees look back on their time here with enjoyment? Definitely not. A paper is a business with no real tangible assets other than the employees that make it up. And at a small publication, the soul of the paper is made up of the collective voices of the writers, designers, ad executives and support staff.

Because of the ever changing nature of the paper, the continually growing numbers of staff, my role (and corresponding title-of-the-month) changed quite a bit during our first four years, leading to staff frustration. My role has settled down today, but it's still hard for me to constrain myself.

My Memories of Working at Boise Weekly
by Chris Munson

I just took the last bottle of Boise Weekly Ale Ternative Beer to Bingo. BW employees brewed the beer and designed the labels back when BW was housed in the Idaho Building. When I heard that Boise Weekly was celebrating its 13th birthday, a beer seemed an appropriate gift for a rebellious teenager.

I loved working for the Boise Weekly, because there was a spirit there that made up for the low pay and lack of benefits. It was a feeling of us against them, the them being big corporate newspapers. It felt good to work for a paper that by its very existence gave people another option of where to get their news.

When Farnsworth broke the BCHA story, I remember that all of us were very excited about what it would mean to the paper. It really put us on the map. When I deposited my paycheck that week, the teller told me that I should be very proud to work where I did. I was, and that was a first – someone outside the paper that I barely knew expressing that to me. After Farnsworth had parried with the cane-wielding interviewee for that story, the rest of the staff had to deal with other tenants in the building thinking we had been beating up on an old man. We couldn’t set them straight, because Farnsworth told us to keep it secret until the article was published. A bunch of us headed across the street afterwards to the Annex, otherwise known as The Interlude, to have a round of tequila shots.

While we always had proofreaders, sometimes there were mistakes. A guy in ad sales once quipped that we should promote it as ‘the first mistake is free.” Our first t-shirt, which featured a quote about us by the local John Birch Society on the back of it, had a typo that none of us caught for months. Then there was the time when we placed some ads that featured fictional strange products. The idea was that if people called in about these products, it would indicate how effective BW was for advertisers. We were on the 2nd or 3rd ad of the series when we discovered that the phone number in the ad was wrong.

Boise Weekly was a lot of work, but it was also a lot of fun. I remember Andy Newman with a curly telephone cord draped over his head topped with a hat, going around asking us who we thought he was. Or the time when Andy Putz left his paycheck out on his desk and was told that it was grounds for immediate dismissal to reveal his pay to other employees. He spent the next few minutes coming up with increasingly funny ideas of how he was going to show off his paycheck, the funniest being that he was going to make it his screen saver. Amy Kepferle’s nickname was Little Freak and Carey Augustine’s was Wild Thing. Ceci Thunes and I once filled Barry Fries water bottle with vodka. I still have Jason Russell’s golden sales god statue with the very phallic-looking head. I won’t forget Pete Weiblen making a stand against the new rule that employees couldn’t put anything up on the walls at the new 4th St. office. I remember Andy Hedden-Nicely saying that he would never have a cell phone. There was the time Dena Elliott, BW intern, and I got into trouble for laughing too much. I have a great memory of going to an A.N.N. meeting in San Francisco with Toni Heflin and very little money, which meant we saved crackers etc. from the plane ride for later. We still had a great time and learned a lot.

I became a second–hand smoker hanging out with the all the BW smokers in the alley. Even with all the smokers, there was the yearly employee survey on whether or not we should take tobacco advertising. We never did. We turned down a lot of advertising dollars to hold on to that principle.

I was heart broken when Larry sold BW to Willamette Week. I had planned on working there forever.

The future holds many things for Boise Weekly. As we enter into our 14th year, we continue to grow, unaffected by efforts of corporate media to wipe us out. We will be moving into our new office spaces at the corner of 6th and Broad Street at the end of the month, having outgrown our space in the alley off 4th Street. We'll have a real reception area and a big, beautiful sign. We'll have room to grow, but we'll grow like we have over the past several years-when we're ready to.

Would Boise Weekly continue to be the same paper if it were twice it's current size? Probably not. It could be better, but it could be worse. We guarantee that as long as Sally and I are captains of this ship, we'll continue to stay true to course, being an independent voice to Boise and doing our best to make BW and the community better every week.

We only had room here to explore the early years of Boise Weekly and comments from the more recent owners. I encourage all former employees to write their experiences for a historical archive of the paper and send them to editor@boiseweekly.com. We will add them to this article online at www.boiseweekly.com. Over the next month or so, we will also be adding previous archive covers and some of the the stories mentioned throughout this feature.


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