I've never read the book, Two Years Before the Mast — Richard Dana's famous account of his two-year sailing voyage, beginning in 1834 from Massachusetts and taking him around the southern tip of South America to California and back, arriving in 1836.
But for some reason, even though I've never read the book, I've always felt oddly romantic sensations arise in me from merely thinking about the title... quixotic feelings about seafaring, and about the adventure inherent in visiting exotic places.
What I didn't know, until this morning, is that Dana apparently wrote the book as a political statement about the treatment of sailors.
According to Wikipedia:
The term 'before the mast' refers to the quarters of the common sailors — in the forecastle, in the front of the ship. His writing evidences his later sympathy with the lower classes; he later became a prominent anti-slavery activist and helped found the Free Soil Party.
Dana did not set out to write Two Years Before the Mast as a sea adventure, but to highlight how poorly common sailors were treated on ships. It quickly became a best seller.
Somehow, it feels right to use a derivative title to define my final article series, here at the Daily Post.
Eight Years Before the Mast(head).
My adventurous journey as editor of the Pagosa Daily Post will shortly be coming to its end. My final posting — as editor — is scheduled for this Friday, November 30. Eight years, almost to to the year, before the masthead.
Unlike Dana's famous book, the Daily Post has never been a "bestseller." But I think perhaps Dana and I shared an interest in the common man, and the poor way he is treated by the "ship owners." I'd like to discuss some of those feelings in this, my final Daily Post article as its editor.
I never set out to be the editor of the Pagosa Daily Post. Like so many other working class folks who relocated to Archuleta County during the 1990s, I was soon struggling to make a living in a little rural town that had always been economically depressed and seemed destined to stay that way. I'd moved here with my family from Juneau, Alaska, where I'd been a sign painter and graphic artist, making about $60 an hour. I naturally found the $8-an-hour jobs available here in Pagosa hard to swallow, so I started up a sign and graphics business and quickly learned that I might make $20 an hour. If I was lucky.
Through a curious string of events, I fell into website design, and landed a job re-designing one of Pagosa's pioneer websites: Pagosa.com. Local realtor Jim Smith had purchased the website, which had originally been created as a "visitor information portal" by a graphic designer living in Florida, who knew very little about Pagosa, but more, perhaps, about the role websites would be playing in people's lives during the 21st century.
Jim Smith had a similar insight. He had realized — sooner than some other local realtors — that the Internet was about to utterly change the way real estate is marketed in America. He also realized the supreme importance of driving people to your website, and that a well-built website chock-full of local Pagosa information — information about government, shopping, recreation, lodging — could possibly be a useful tool for connecting with potential real estate clients.
By the time we finished re-building Pagosa.com as the community's premier "visitor information" website, Jim was getting about 1,000 visits a month. (As I recall.) And a good number of those visitors were clicking through to Jim's real estate website, JimSmithRealty.com. The "portal" seemed to be working as planned — as a marketing tool.
A few months later, one of Jim's agents — Robbie Pepper — suggested that we could generate a lot more traffic if we posted daily news articles on the Pagosa.com website.
I was intrigued. A local newspaper, that used no paper or ink? Daily news, made instantly available in a little, economically depressed town that could barely afford a weekly paper? What a concept.
Jim liked the idea, and I gathered a group of interested friends who volunteered to get the "electronic news" concept off the ground, in hopes it would one day generate enough advertising income to everyone a healthy salary.
On December 1, 2004 we posted our first daily edition of the new "Pagosa Daily Post" on Jim Smith's Pagosa.com website. My personal goals for the new "online magazine" were basically two-fold: first, to give our readers (whoever they might be?) the kind of honest, thoughtful news coverage that we'd never seen in the weekly Pagosa Springs SUN; and second, to drive additional traffic to Pagosa.com.
And, incidentally, to make a lot of money. This was 2004, remember, and the real estate industry was booming. The construction industry was booming. Many of the working class people around me were making a very decent annual income — something that had not happened before in Pagosa's history, as far as I can tell. I was pretty sure the Daily Post could ultimately pay everyone a good salary.
Local graphic artist Crista Munro stepped up to serve as our editor. Former SUN salesperson Jacque Aragon signed on as our ad sales manager. Several friends volunteered to write articles and contribute photography. I was to be the webmaster and graphic designer.
A year later, the Pagosa Daily Post was struggling, and our staff was down to three people. Ad revenues were stagnant; I was subsidizing the magazine with my web design income.
Being involved in an honest, thoughtful news source had proven too intimidating for some of our writers; they felt they couldn't be associated with articles that were openly critical of our community leaders.
A typical comment: "I still have my full-time job; I can't risk losing business by having my name associated with the Daily Post."
Most importantly, some of Jim Smith's real estate agents felt he should not have his name connected to the Daily Post. "Their news is too negative," Jim was told. "It's going to hurt the real estate market. Get rid of Bill Hudson, and hire an editor who will publish positive stories."
Meanwhile, we had reached two of my personal goals. Traffic to Pagosa.com had quadrupled; we were now getting 4,000 visitors a month. And Archuleta County now had a regular, daily news magazine, with articles delivered instantly, free of charge.
Those achievements, however, didn't outweigh the concerns of Jim's agents, and I was given my walking papers. The Pagosa Daily Post content was removed from Pagosa.com — and moved to my own domain, PagosaDailyPost.com.
This month, November 2012, the Pagosa Daily Post will serve over 28,000 visitors, according to the stats I checked early this morning.
Read Part Two...