Bill Sniffin: Journalism From Slow Wooden Type To Lightning-Fast Digital

Columnist Bill Sniffin writes: “We called what we did ‘refrigerator journalism.’ Every refrigerator in town had clippings from our paper plastered on the front of it with a magnet.”

Bill Sniffin

October 21, 20235 min read

Sniffin mug shot 10 3 22 v2
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

It was right about now 61 years ago when my journalism career started. And lately it seems like this is a time to ponder certain things that have happened over this long period of time.

If memory serves me right, I was kicking off in a football game for Valley High School against Elkader under the Friday night lights in Elgin, Iowa.

I raced down the field and tackled the runner hard, hurting my head, resulting in a concussion. Since it was my third one, my dad wanted me to quit football. So I did.

Soon my English teacher, Kathryn Grove, asked if I would write up the football games for the school paper.

One door closes, another opens.

I Did Not See That Coming

So, in October 1962, when things seemed darkest, a whole new world opened up during my high school years.

A mere eight years later, legendary Wyoming newspaper pioneer Bruce Kennedy recruited me to the Cowboy State in 1970. We moved here about this time 53 years ago. October has always been an important month for our family.

The Lander newspaper, which was then called the Wyoming State Journal, was a twice-weekly that was in disarray. I did not realize I was hired to be its fifth publisher in two years.

The newspaper’s name had been changed from Lander Clipper to Wyoming State Journal in anticipation of Lander being named the State Capitol. It came close, but lost a pivotal legislative vote in about 1912 or so. Thankfully, they never changed the newspaper’s name back to the Clipper.

Even as its youngest employee at the age of 24, I had way more experience than just about anyone there. The crew was so inexperienced that they would often run the same news stories several times in various sections of the paper just to fill it up. We soon stopped that crazy practice.

Over time, we turned it around and made it into one of the best community newspapers in the country. But one of the best awards you would win was when we visited schools. We would occasionally do a presentation to a class. I would ask the kids who had had their photos in the paper to raise their hands? Inevitably, two-thirds would. That was so great.

We called what we did “refrigerator journalism.” This meant that every refrigerator in town had clippings from our paper plastered on the front of it with a magnet. We ran thousands of local photos in our editions each year.

We had great photographers like Dick George, Carl Bechtold, Bart Smith, Steve Woody, Bruce McCormack, Jeff Moscow, Mark Raymond, and a slew of others who recorded Lander’s history photographically in two printed editions each week.

Another truism was that “if what they are talking about down at the coffee shop isn’t in your paper, you are not doing your job.” Good advice.

And the best words an editor can ever overhear is someone in conversation start off their offering with: “I see by the paper …”  Loved hearing that.

Nancy and I spent 30 years running the Lander newspaper before selling it in 1999. We also owned interests in newspapers in Cody, Green River, Greybull, Jeffrey City, Dubois, Bridger Valley and in Montana, South Dakota and Hawaii.

Quite A Career Arc

Not sure there is anybody in the country who has had a journalism career quite like mine.

That newspaper that printed my stories 61 years ago used wooden type, which was carefully placed into a form where it was inked and then “pressed” to produce a newspaper.

Today, I am working with one of the most advanced digital news sites in the world — Cowboy State Daily. 

That is quite a career arc, from Gutenberg (who invented printing with wooden type) to high-speed digital news. Whew!

Editor Jimmy Orr and the CSD crew is an outstanding group of journalists. They literally take my breath away with the breadth and scope of their work all day long every day.

Every level of the organization has made a commitment to create a top-notch journalistic product. They have certainly achieved that goal and I am proud to be a part of it. 

When I got involved with CSD in January 2020, we had about 800 subscribers. Today, it has 53,000 daily subscribers, making it the largest news organization in the history of Wyoming. It also has 67,000 Facebook followers. And for you computer nerds who understand this kind of stuff, the CSD website gets more than 4 million pageviews per month.

CSD Even Does Radio

Most recently, CSD started a daily news brief product for Wyoming radio stations. At last count, 29 stations from one end of the state to the other are running this feature. Wyoming radio pioneer Wendy Corr makes that happen.

In the newspaper business, we used to say we had ink in our blood. Not sure what would describe today’s digital newshounds, but perhaps we just have lots of digital electrons flowing through our nervous systems as we chase down the news.

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Bill Sniffin

Wyoming Life Columnist

Columnist, author, and journalist Bill Sniffin writes about Wyoming life on Cowboy State Daily -- the state's most-read news publication.