GC VILLAGE — Twenty years ago this week, a group of about a dozen Grand Canyon-Tusayan residents got together to help produce the first edition of the Grand Canyon News section.
The first edition of the Grand Canyon News section appeared Dec. 5, 1981. Front-page stories included Tusayan business news, Grand Canyon Clinic news, a story about the Grand Canyon News staff and appropriately, a winter-scene shot of the Grand Canyon.
Two decades later, the Grand Canyon News continues to serve the community through news coverage and advertising.
Doug Wells, Williams-Grand Canyon News publisher, said the National Park Service played a big role in the newspaper section’s early days.
"About 1980, I was approached by an employee of the National Park Service who had support of the park superintendent of doing expanded coverage at the Canyon," Wells said. "I let them know that if we could get advertising support from Grand Canyon businesses, we would be able to get such a section going."
Babbitt’s General Store proved to be instrumental in helping the Grand Canyon News get off the ground by advertising on its pages. Other local businesses began to see the benefits of the publication and the Grand Canyon section has been going strong ever since.
"Fred Diumenti of Babbitt’s said from the outset that they would be a major supporter of the paper," Wells said. "From their initial support, we were able to get other businesses to advertise."
Many of the same advertisers seen in today’s Grand Canyon News can also be seen in those first issues. Although Babbitt’s is no longer around, Delaware North Parks Services continues to be a major advertiser. Verkamp’s, Grand Canyon Airlines, Grand Canyon National Park Lodges, Air Grand Canyon, Grand Canyon Trading Post, Quality Inn/Red Feather Lodge and others were also among early advertisers.
As far as news reporting goes, the Grand Canyon section had a shaky start in that area.
"For the first six months, we did the news without being there," Wells said. "We dealt primarily with Grand Canyon’s public affairs office. They were our first reporters at the Canyon."
Wells himself and newspaper employee Bill Sutton, now a judge in Williams, put in a lot of miles traveling back and forth between the two communities in the interest of the section.
Although the Dec. 3, 1981, edition of the newspaper was the debut of the Grand Canyon News section, happenings from the area had been published since the beginnings of the Williams News more than a century ago.
Grand Canyon-area related stories would appear periodically, but only if a resident would serve as a correspondent.
"Going back to the time when my grand-dad had the paper, people would send news down to us," Wells said. "We would run a half page to a full page of news from Grand Canyon. But how consistent it was depended on how good of a person we had."
The Williams News always tried to publish Canyon-related news when received because of the interest in the town’s tourism relationship with the natural wonder.
With advertisers secured and a volunteer staff in place, the first Grand Canyon News section hit the streets on Dec. 3, 1981. In those days, the newspaper was distributed on Thursdays.
The first stories included Clinic News by Dr. Cheryl Pagel, Tusayan Business News by Ron Warren and a story about the new section. There was also a story by Rita Cantu about a Grand Canyon fire. Cantu also had a front page, above-the-fold photo of the scenic Canyon after snow had fallen.
Tim Hosfeldt contributed cartoons to the newspaper and the very first issue had one on the bottom of the front page. The federal government was experiencing a funding shortfall and the cartoon illustrated how the park would be closed — with the military guarding the entrance.
There were many others involved in the beginning. Kathy Muntean covered social news and the education beat; Nancy Johnson wrote about community events; Sue Boardman covered entertainment; Connie Ruud wrote about park programs and Sandra Scott wrote book reviews.
There were also columns by Bryan Curd on "Comings and Goings," and by Marty Biederman with "Historical Sketches." Cantu, Frank Delano and Pat Phelan sat on an editorial board, which made decisions on coverage and editorials.
"That lasted about six months," Wells said. "They all had time restraints and only National Park Service news was being reported."
With advertising looking good, the newspaper invested in its first reporter — a recent Northern Arizona University graduate named Diana Ludlin.
Ludlin came on board in September 1982 and served as Grand Canyon reporter into the following year. George Stewart took over the job and stayed from 1983-86.
"George Stewart was there a long time, he was my first real person up there," Wells said. "Kyle (Hesselton) has the record for being up there the longest. She was there for eight years."
In the mid-1980s, the newspaper began producing a tour guide for Grand Canyon. It’s now one of the leading tour guide publications in the area in terms of distribution.
The newspaper went through a rough time with the Grand Canyon reporter in 1986. After Stewart’s departure and before Kyle Ann Hesselton’s arrival in 1987, there were three other reporters in only a matter of months.
Hesselton settled down into the job, however, staying with the newspaper until 1995, through the ownership transition from the Wells family to Western Newspapers Inc.
Since then, Jerry J. Herrmann (1995-98), Jeff Quinn (1998-99) and Brad Fuqua (since 1999) have served as Grand Canyon editors.
"I’m extremely happy with our coverage of the news now," Wells said. "Editorial-wise, we’re putting out our best ever."
The newspaper expects to be around for years to come.
"I think it’s fair to say the long-term outlook for Grand Canyon and Tusayan is very bright," Wells said. "People are always going to travel to Grand Canyon. I’ve been excited to see the improvements made to the community and the park."