S+B Q+A with Daily Sentinel Publisher Jay Seaton

When I developed the business plan and concept for this new magazine, the first person I went to see was Daily Sentinel publisher Jay Seaton, who was immediately supportive of the idea of a lifestyle magazine for western Colorado. We sat down to talk more about journalism, the future of the news industry, and what we love about western Colorado. 

RB: As you know, I love western Colorado history and have a personal soft spot for the Sentinel’s Walter Walker, since he was responsible for building the Avalon Theatre in 1922—a local treasure which I, along with many others, helped to renovate and expand three years ago. And the Daily Sentinel’s history seems to closely follow the history of Grand Junction itself. 

JS: The Daily Sentinel was founded in 1893 by Isaac Newton Bunting and became the largest circulation newspaper between Denver and Salt Lake—as it remains today. It’s known nationally for its public lands, water and energy reporting, and its owner is a small family company based in the Midwest. It also employs 140 people in western Colorado.

RB: I read a lot of newspapers, but I’m also on social media quite a bit and often find out breaking news stories online. Why are print publications—daily newspapers—still important?

JS: Have you ever encountered something in your Facebook feed that turned out to be inaccurate, Robin? Even deliberately misleading? What separates traditional newspapers from information sources like social media is the "editorial process." The singular focus of a community newspaper like the Sentinel is to offer information that’s vetted and reliable.

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The editorial process breaks down like this: A reporter gathers information in the most penetrating—hopefully responsible—manner possible. She or he writes a story based on that information and hands it to an editor. That editor critically reviews the report and returns it to the reporter with comments like “we’re weak on this point; find another source” or “these numbers aren’t clear to me; double-check them with a third party.” The reporter goes back to work and presents the revised version to the editor. And after that editor is finished with it, the report goes to another editor for the same examination. After that, there is yet a third editor who lays eyes on it.

This is the process, laborious and expensive as it is, that allows newspapers to present information that’s vetted—and something readers can hopefully organize their lives around. Do newspapers make mistakes? Of course. It’s a human enterprise, but the core purpose — indeed, our business strategy — is to present reliable information.

RB: So then, what is the future for local newspapers? Will they be around in 10 years?

JS: I hope newspapers will be around in 10 years. Without them—without a touchstone of what’s real and vetted—it’s very hard to discern fact from contrivance. Despotic regimes in other countries attack a free press first because without an independent press, the despot’s ‘truth’ becomes the only truth. Thomas Jefferson said in a variety of ways that a free press is critical to the proper functioning of this democracy. The Framers built that concept into the Constitution with the First Amendment. The very first thing they did after setting up the apparatus of government was to shield the press from the power of that government. It’s a brilliant design.

So, where technology [advances] double every couple of years, I have no illusions we’ll be doing the same exact thing 10 years from now. But I think we’ll still be down on South 7th Street [in Grand Junction] pumping out good news information. And I suspect we’ll still be running the press every day, but paper will be just one of many different ways in which people consume their news. In the industry, they call it ‘the big mashup’ in which people go to a newspaper’s Website to read, to view pictures and watch videos, listen to podcasts and even have some interaction with others. That’s where we’re headed.

RB: With all this in mind, Jay, what do you believemight be the biggest misconception about the media here nearly two decades into the 21st century? 

JS: That very word… media. It’s the plural of medium, so it’s grammatically incorrect to say ‘the media is biased or ‘the media doesn’t like’ someone. Rather, one would have to say ‘the media are biased,’ for example. It underscores the fact that not all media are the same. Indeed, there are vast differences from medium to medium. The Wall Street Journal and Fox News Channel have common ownership—but the information they present is very different. The Journal is real hard-nosed journalism and it makes very clear where opinion will appear… namely on its opinion pages. Fox News — like CNN, MSNBC and other cable ‘news’ outlets — are mostly entertainment wrapped around some bits of news.

The same is true for community newspapers like the Sentinel. Some folks think it has a political leaning. Interestingly, there are about as many people who think we’re too far right as too far left. It surprises me every time I hear this sort of thing because, again, pushing political outcomes does not serve our business plan. By contrast, the Breitbarts, the Rush Limbaughs and Rachel Maddows and Huffington Posts of the world are most certainly interested in political outcomes.

RB: What do you see as the Grand Valley’s best asset, and maybe its biggest drawback? 

JS: Biggest asset is the people. I love this place and everything about it—its climate, the Monument, the Mesa, Powderhorn, the waters — but people here are so welcoming. It’s like the Midwest in many ways… without the crappy weather!

The biggest drawback is these wonderful people don’t realize what they have here. We live in one of the most amazing places on Earth, but it doesn’t elicit the pride it deserves. I can’t explain that one. Maybe more people should leave for a little while… then come back. That way, they’ll understand what a gem this place is. 

RB: Your favorite Colorado activity?

JS: Snow skiing in the winter and water skiing in the summer. Don’t people realize you’re not supposed to be able to do that in the same place!

RB: Favorite Colorado beer?

JS: My favorite Colorado beer is Colorado wine. This region is pushing out some tasty stuff.  

RB: Something ridiculous that nobody knows about you?

JS: Hmmm. By local legend, the publisher of The Daily Sentinel is supposed to be the custodian of the skull of John Crawford, the founder of Grand Junction. Also, my birthday, November 20, happens to be same day as the very first edition of The Daily Sentinel — only 77 years later!