Jimmy Orr: In Less Than Two Weeks, Cowboy State Daily Will Be Two Years Old

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By Jimmy Orr, executive editor

In less than two weeks, Cowboy State Daily will be two years old and I am thrilled to have been part of it the entire time.

When founder Annaliese Wiederspahn asked me if I wanted to join her in starting this endeavor, I jumped at it.

One, because journalism is in my blood. From the time Larry Birleffi hired me at KFBC radio in Cheyenne to being on the masthead at the Los Angeles Times as Managing Editor, journalism is my one true passion.

Two, because it was a chance to work with Annaliese. We had known each other for 25 years and following her professional and entrepreneurial path, I knew if she was starting something, it would be great.

We immediately brought in former Wyoming AP Bureau Chief Jim Angell, legendary Wyoming television broadcaster Bob Geha, and the best videographer in the state of Wyoming — Mike McCrimmon.

And between the five of us, we created something really fantastic.  In the legislative arena alone, our experience was unparalleled. 

Our brand new digital news organization, in fact, had more combined journalism experience than any other media outlet in the state.

And for the five of us, it was an opportunity to continue to do something we all loved: journalism. Straight journalism. No bias, no slant, no preference in either direction.

Annaliese, among other things, started the daily email newsletter called “Coffee Break” which was another way for people to receive the news.

I asked my college friend Don Day to join us with his daily weather forecast which soon became the most clicked-on item in the morning newsletter.

When Annaliese left to run her mom’s successful Senate campaign, I decided to do double duty. Not only remain as executive editor but continue what she started with writing and publishing the newsletter. The fun for me is finding the variety of Wyoming stories out there and presenting them in both an informative yet entertaining way.

As fun as it all is, you have to bring in money to exist. So she reached out to Bill Sniffin and asked him to take the helm of publisher and he spends his time trying to raise funds to keep Cowboy State Daily going — as well as writing his columns. He also brought on his friend Dave Simpson, a 40-plus-year journalist who writes a fantastic weekly column.

The news industry today is not easy. Technology has completely upended it.

 The competition is fierce now and it’s everywhere. You are no longer insulated by geography. You have to offer real value to gain and keep an audience. What separates you from everyone else?

When someone clicks on a story, they better get something from it. It’s kind of like the old Wendy’s ad “Where’s the Beef?”

It better be more than two sentences, an embedded tweet, and a hashtag all surrounded by a a collage of hyper-obnoxious ads.

The readers deserve a full story. 

I feel fortunate to have been in the middle of the technology disruption while both at the Christian Science Monitor and at the Los Angeles Times. We did some really innovative things at both locations and, as a result, both are strong publications to this day.

As long as you produce quality content and have a team of real journalists, you stand a chance. Especially if everyone enjoys what they’re doing. 

We do. This weekend we published two really fun stories.

I wrote about my time at the President George W. Bush White House and putting a videocamera on the president’s dog’s head and creating a national media sensation.

And we published Jim Angell’s story about going out and testing and rating 10 holiday drinks all in the same afternoon. I was the videographer that day and, frankly, ran out of time. I didn’t have the time to edit it. So we sat on the footage for a full year and I spent eight hours on Sunday editing the video.  It’s a lot of fun.

We had a couple really good columns this weekend too. Rod Miller reached out to me with his new column on Cyrus Western’s tweet and Matt Micheli sent me his column on Christmas and the Power of Light (which we will publish later today).

We do a lot for such a small staff. Thankfully Ellen Fike joined us this year and she has a variety of talents. Not only is she a great writer but she’s really funny. And she’s been doing a lot of stand-up lately.

She won’t post the video (although it’s funny). But you can read about her standup experience here. Ellen is the engine of Cowboy State Daily.

Difficult policy story? No one can decipher it like Jim Angell. Plus, he has the historical knowledge only rivaled by the Casper Star’s Joan Barron and Wyoming Public Radio’s Bob Beck to put it all in perspective.

When Annaliese and I sat down with Jim in late December, 2018 and he said “yes”, we knew with Jim as our anchor, we could build something really solid.

We really do a lot for a small staff and I’ll tell ya, it really is a labor of love. We all do it because we love it.

We all do it because we like to write. We all do it because that’s what we do.

There’s nothing more satisfying that writing a good story. Even when it’s one of my throw-away “If there were a criminal’s handbook…” stories. I write them because they are fun to write.

Cowboy State Daily has no bureaucracy. We have no hierarchy. Bill can write a column whenever he’d like. So can I. So can Jim Angell. So can Ellen Fike. We thrive because we’re not a top-down organization. 

We all work together. 

Thanks for reading us. Thanks for following us on Facebook. Thanks for reading our daily newsletter (I really do enjoy writing it) and it’s been my mission (thankfully successful) to grow our subscribers. It’s been a really good year.

Here’s to a great 2021!

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