The Reader 2.0 approaches a decade back from the dead

Looking back at the Reader in Sandpoint

By Ben Olson
Reader Staff

Reader cover from February 26, 2015.

With the dawn of a new year, the Reader passed an important milestone: The second iteration of our alt-weekly (started in January 2015) is officially older than the first Reader (late-2004 to mid-2012).

A lot of water has passed under the bridge since the early days, when this newspaper was just a pie-in-the-sky idea that three college friends shared while drunk at the end of a dock in McCall. Started by Zach Hagadone, John Reuter and Chris DeCleur, the Reader has grown from a plucky indie newspaper that rarely made any profit into a Sandpoint institution (which, let’s be honest, also rarely makes any profit). 

Headlines from the first edition include a story about the forthcoming Home Depot box store in Ponderay and an attempted board shakeup at the Panida Theater. In other words: development and political intrigue. Not much has changed over the years.

I was just a writer at that point, pulled from my lucrative career working in film production in Los Angeles by Zach, who promised me that their endeavor would provide a voice to those in Sandpoint who felt they had none. The first major article I worked on was a behind-the-scenes look at the Dover Bay development, which marked the first time the Reader was threatened with a lawsuit. 

“We’ve only published one edition and already we’re getting legal threats,” I remember Zach saying at the time. “Hot damn, this is going to be a good newspaper.” 

And it was. Reader 1.0 was a labor of love in the truest sense, with a bunch of 20-somethings paying themselves peanuts and applying the principles they learned in school to the real world. We spent late nights in the old office behind Di Luna’s, clacking away into the wee hours of the morning to make the printer deadline. Today, we believe it’s a minor travesty when we work past 10 p.m. on deadline nights; but, back in the day, it was rare to leave the office before 2 a.m. and common to leave as the birds sang to the coming dawn.

Many of our readers now might not know that Zach is an excellent artist whose drawings graced many a cover for Reader 1.0. His drafting desk still sits in our office today, covered in H.P. Lovecraft novels and bags full of plastic silverware. While I admonish him to keep drawing, I realize how difficult it is to create, especially when you’re not a hungry 20-something with an endless supply of energy. Rest assured, someday Zach’s art will again grace the Reader pages as some sort of retirement plan from his onerous duties as editor.

I learned so much about journalism and the publishing industry from those eight years the Reader was in print. One can take journalism classes in college and study under the greats, but it takes real world experience to truly grasp this strange, but vital industry. 

In 2012, after a couple years of the Reader limping along, Zach told me he was thinking of folding the paper once and for all. Nobody ever made any money off of that endeavor — but it was a hell of a time and nobody regretted it. With a family on the way and facing the reality of economic loss, Zach made one last hail Mary to me, asking if I wanted to carry the paper forward as publisher. I didn’t just laugh in his face — I pointed at him, slapped my knee and shook my head as well. I didn’t want any part of that life, dragging myself to an office every day, slogging through boring details from budgetary hearings and public meetings, eating untold amounts of shit from the public because they didn’t agree with a certain article. For the little money we were earning, why would I want that life?

I told Zach “no thanks,” and he reluctantly printed the last edition with a black cover in 2012. As far as anyone knew, that was the end of the Reader’s story.

But, like in any terrible ’80s horror movie, the monster always returns after it has been slain to lunge at the hero one last time before the credits roll. 

I had already moved back to Sandpoint in 2011 after meeting someone special; and, a few years after that, I realized I needed something to do that I could be proud of. I’d been drifting aimlessly for far too long, and thought it might be fun to bring the Reader back from the dead.

Despite many respected people in my life urging me not to make such a dumb decision, that it would end in poverty and disaster, in late 2014, I banded together with Chris Bessler, of Keokee and Sandpoint Magazine, to take ownership of the Reader. I would serve as the publisher and Cameron Rasmusson came on as our first editor. An intelligent, young U of I graduate named Lyndsie Kiebert joined us a couple years later, first as an intern and later as a paid staff writer. 

Together, we brought the Reader back to this community. With a curious mix of news, bloviated opinions, humor and off-the-wall topics, the reception of the Reader will always warm my heart in times of darkness. Perhaps it was the nearly two-year hiatus, or maybe a change of attitudes, but whatever the case, the people seemed to embrace the return with open arms. 

We began selling enough ads to pay our salaries. Letters to the editor filtered in, and the usual hate mail and vitriol followed. Contributors came out of the woodwork and wrote thought-provoking articles without any compensation. 

But accompanying those usual features of a newspaperman’s inbox were also countless letters from our readers thanking us for covering certain stories or giving leads for other stories. There were words of encouragement, constructive criticism and even the odd donation check to support the cause.

Around Independence Day 2019, Zach and his family moved back to Sandpoint after living and working in Boise as editor of the Boise Weekly, then Pullman, Wash., where he earned a master’s degree in history at Washington State University. We were delighted to welcome Zach back to the Reader, a paper he started, as editor-in-chief.

Reader Cover April 30 2015

Reader cover from April 30, 2015.

Although we were saddened to lose our longtime friend and news editor Lyndsie Kiebert-Carey to the joys of motherhood this year, we again lucked out when Soncirey Mitchell came to interview for the job and blew us away with her wit, unique storytelling and perfect weirdness that fit the Reader family to a T.

We’ve had a lot of ups and downs over the years. We’ve endured a yearslong campaign of hate by a neo-Nazi robocaller, who also attacked and intimidated our advertisers because the Reader was the first paper to report his identity. We had to lay everyone off for six weeks during the pandemic, then when they returned, we worked remote for another 18 months and were forced to navigate the strange world that hasn’t quite kicked back to normal almost four years later. We still get the occasional legal threat and encouragement to jump off a bridge, but they pale in comparison to the sheer volume of kind notes we receive from our readers today. 

Love always seems to outshine hate.

Faced with rising costs that we often struggle to meet and a shrinking revenue source of advertisers, I appealed to our readers a few months ago and wrote that, frankly, we needed your help to stick around. Boy, did people ever respond. We set a goal to reach $50,000 by the end of the year. Local philanthropist Dennis Pence pledged to match up to $10,000 worth of donations. We ended up meeting our goal before Christmas, thanks to the fact that more than 700 people donated to the Reader to keep us around. Even though the fundraiser has officially ended, I’m still opening checks in the mail. 

I will forever be in your gratitude for helping us avoid the end of Reader 2.0, because that’s certainly what would’ve happened if not for the amazing show of support from this community. We believe in the free press, and we also believe in this community. Sandpoint has changed a lot over the years, and so has the publishing industry, but we’re confident that with your readership and support, we can weather any storms that come our way.

Thank you for allowing us into your lives each and every week.

While we have you ...

... if you appreciate that access to the news, opinion, humor, entertainment and cultural reporting in the Sandpoint Reader is freely available in our print newspaper as well as here on our website, we have a favor to ask. The Reader is locally owned and free of the large corporate, big-money influence that affects so much of the media today. We're supported entirely by our valued advertisers and readers. We're committed to continued free access to our paper and our website here with NO PAYWALL - period. But of course, it does cost money to produce the Reader. If you're a reader who appreciates the value of an independent, local news source, we hope you'll consider a voluntary contribution. You can help support the Reader for as little as $1.

You can contribute at either Paypal or Patreon.

Contribute at Patreon Contribute at Paypal

You may also like...

Close [x]

Want to support independent local journalism?

The Sandpoint Reader is our town's local, independent weekly newspaper. "Independent" means that the Reader is locally owned, in a partnership between Publisher Ben Olson and Keokee Co. Publishing, the media company owned by Chris Bessler that also publishes Sandpoint Magazine and Sandpoint Online. Sandpoint Reader LLC is a completely independent business unit; no big newspaper group or corporate conglomerate or billionaire owner dictates our editorial policy. And we want the news, opinion and lifestyle stories we report to be freely available to all interested readers - so unlike many other newspapers and media websites, we have NO PAYWALL on our website. The Reader relies wholly on the support of our valued advertisers, as well as readers who voluntarily contribute. Want to ensure that local, independent journalism survives in our town? You can help support the Reader for as little as $1.