Sally Ann Said It Best: ‘Terribly Sad’

Columnist Dave Simpson writes: "Where do you go for all those things my 70 co-workers in Illinois once did every day of the week, back when local newspapers were still viable, essential, and a great place to work?"

Dave Simpson

February 28, 20234 min read

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(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

To quote Dorothy, “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore, Toto.”

The decline of a once-great industry continues at breakneck speed.

Sally Ann Shurmur – a 43-year veteran of the Casper Star-Tribune (who once wrote a great column about what it’s like in Laramie when your dad gets fired as the UW football coach) – posted this on Facebook last week:

“Another sad end of an era.

“The Star-Tribune is permanently locking its front doors to the walk-in public. Oh, the memories I have of the folks just cruising in long before there were glass partitions and locked interior doors, just to chat, share tips or give us hell.

“One mentally disturbed guy brought his bicycle in with a pigeon on his shoulder.

“They would bitch about their name in the police calls and I would show them the paperwork, telling them, ‘I didn’t make this up.’

“They’d need a recipe or deliver a Town Crier item written in pencil on lined notebook paper. They would come in teary and say, ‘I just can’t write my mom’s obituary. Can you help me?’

“Or they would need five copies of the paper with their grandson’s picture in it, but have no idea what day it was.

“Terribly sad about this.”

You can’t say it better than that. Sally Ann speaks for so many of us with fond memories of working at the Star-Tribune. For me, it started in the old building off Second Street, then to the fancy new building on “Star Lane” west of downtown. And today it’s located in a small office in the Sand Bar area.

This is the result of the massive switch in advertising dollars from local newspapers to the internet.

Departing revenues have resulted in crippling layoffs, to the point that at some newspapers it doesn’t make sense to station an employee at an unlocked front door. (The decision to lock the front door at the Star-Tribune was announced last week with ads in the paper and a sign on the front door.)

It was fun working at the Star-Tribune back in the days of Phil McAuley, whose newsroom was as feisty as Phil, and Publisher/Owner Tom Howard, who used mail-hauling contracts to get the Star-Tribune to every town in the state.

When Tom sent me off to be publisher of the tiny paper in Craig, Colo., he told me, “First do what’s right. Then worry about the money.” Great advice.

The legacy of the Star-Tribune is best personified by Hall of Fame statehouse reporter Joan Barron, a 50-year veteran, now retired, who still writes a must-read column that appears every Sunday. And in the recently-retired Sally Ann Shurmur, a Star-Trib mainstay who now lives in Glenrock (and, no surprise, is a huge supporter of local sports).

The Howard-owned newspaper I published for 13 years in Pekin, Ill., once employed over 70 people. Today, I’d be surprised if it employs more than two or three. The building – which once housed a second-floor office for Sen. Everett Dirksen – was torn down, and is now a county parking lot.

The Fourth Street office of the Laramie Boomerang, where I started as a reporter, is now a commercial laundry. The building for the paper I published in Mattoon, Ill., is now a Lutheran private school.

For publishers trying to survive these days, it’s Ulcer Gulch.

And now that some have locked their front doors, I wonder where you go to get those five copies with the picture of your grandson. Where you go to get help writing your mom’s obituary. Where you go to give the editor hell.

Where you go for all those things my 70 co-workers in Illinois did every day of the week, back when local newspapers were viable, essential, and a great place to work.

I read in the Star-Tribune recently, in a column by their new publisher, that of the group of papers he supervises for Lee Enterprises, he considers the paper in Scottsbluff, Neb., the “flagship.”

The notion that the venerable Casper Star-Tribune is now not considered a flagship, more of an outpost, took me a second read to fully absorb.

Sally Ann said it best.

“Terribly sad about this.”

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Dave Simpson

Political, Wyoming Life Columnist

Dave has written a weekly column about a wide variety of topics for 39 years, winning top columnist awards in Wyoming, Colorado, Illinois and Nebraska.