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Editor opening in Colby, Kansas, attracts high-profile interest after Rocky Mountain News closes

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In an odd bit of timing, the Colorado Press Association's convention got under way at the Brown Palace on February 26, the day word broke that the Rocky Mountain News would close after nearly 150 years. No wonder that, the next day, a mini-job fair held at the Brown in association with the convention drew large numbers of potential applicants.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of publications that set up tables at the event had no any openings; most accepted résumés but didn't bother conducting interviews. Indeed, according to several attendees, the only paper with an actual job to offer was the Colby Free Press, a daily located in Colby, Kansas, a community with an approximate population of 8,000. Steve Haynes, the Free Press' publisher, who's looking to hire an editor for the 2,200 circulation paper, was absolutely inundated with potential applicants. "It was kind of a surreal experience," Haynes confirms. "I interviewed Kevin Flynn, who worked at the Rocky for more than twenty years -- although I think he's more interested in freelancing -- and J. Sebastian Sinisi, who took a buyout from the Denver Post. I thought I'd mostly be interviewing college kids. I was very surprised."

Of course, Haynes chatted with plenty of ready-to-graduate journalists, too, and he was pleased to discover that most of them "were very enthusiastic about newspaper work and print. Based on what you read and see, I didn't expect that. But the job I had wasn't the one that fit them."

The same was true for many other Rocky veterans who spoke with Haynes. He's looking for someone who's spent two or three years as an editor, and most of the newly minted free agents had much, much more than that. "The ones who came around were way, way up on the food chain," Haynes notes.

That's hardly a shock in today's newspaper environment -- and neither was interest in the Free Press editorship. Not only are positions at metro dailies scarcer than ever, but papers in small towns seem to be weathering the changes currently shaking the journalism industry better than larger operations. Indeed, Haynes calls the Free Press "a good moneymaker" because, in his opinion, "it's just a lot more directly connected to its readers than metro dailies are to theirs these days.

"We don't use a lot of AP copy," he goes on. "It's all local news, and whatever's on page one usually involves someone the reader knows -- which was the original basis of all newspapers. When the Rocky started out 150 years ago, Denver wasn't that big of a city, either. But America's changed since then, and as it's changed, I think the bigger papers have lost that connection to readers that we still have on a real, direct basis."

To put it mildly, Haynes has plenty of editor prospects, and he plans to spend this week and perhaps next narrowing down the candidates in the hope of finding the one who will best fill the bill. No telling if the winner will be someone he met in Denver late last month -- but whatever happens, the experience certainly made an impression on him. "It was fascinating," he says, "and a little strange."

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