50 Years Ago

Times finds moneymaker with special editions

By Bill Donovan
Special to the Times

June 5, 2014

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In June 1964 the Navajo Times discovered how to print money.

Well, not literally. What they found was a way to bring in bushels of money to help make the paper profitable -- special editions.

The first one was printed 50 years ago - a 56-page edition (more than twice the usual size of the paper) welcoming tourists to the Navajo Reservation. It was the first of many annual tourist editions of the paper.

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Chet MacRorie, the publisher of the paper, had put it in motion just days before he stepped down. It would prove to be one of the best financial decisions he would ever make.

The Times had talked about special editions before but with only two writers, it didn't make a lot of sense because they had enough problems filling out a normal issue of 20 to 24 pages.

But in February MacRorie and the paper's editor, Marshall Tome, began talking about having a tourist edition to bring in more revenue from advertisers and circulation. The idea was that if more money was brought in, they would be able to go before the Navajo Tribal Council and ask for another position for a writer.

As for the stories, the two began stockpiling articles that they could reuse in the special edition and they added to this with anything they could find of a touristy nature. MacRorie wrote a welcome to tourist editorial and the thing was done.

Actually, they wanted two positions, one for a reporter and another for a photographer because they had received a lot of feedback from elders who got the paper and almost all of them said the paper did not have enough photos and the ones they did have were of people just looking at the camera holding up an award or something else.

MacRorie and Tome, however, felt that the paper's most immediate need was for a writer since only three or four stories in the paper each week were staff produced and the rest consisted of press releases or anything that the two could get that was already written.

There was also another reason why the paper opted for a writer rather than a photographer and this had to do with the quality of the printing.

MacRorie would say in the 1970s when he came back on as the paper's general manager that one of the biggest frustrations he had with the paper in the early years was the quality of the printing.

The company publishing the paper was heavy with the ink to the point where photographs would be so dark that on occasion the reader couldn't really tell who the person was. When they asked the printer to go lightly on the ink, the photos would look washed out.

Since the paper was printed in Albuquerque, by the time he saw the paper was when it was transported back and it was too late to do anything about it.

The first tourist edition, which was printed on June 18, 1964, was a major success, bringing in a record amount of revenue from advertisers. The paper also printed four times the normal number because that issue of the paper would sit around most of the summer to be picked up by tourists when they came to the reservation.

It did so well that future general managers would think of all sorts of reasons to have special editions. They would do a special tribal fair issue every year, a rodeo issue in the spring and another one for the national finals.

In the early 70s, they started printing an annual Progress edition, which would turn out to be the most profitable of all the special editions.

A lot of the credit for this idea came from Peter MacDonald, who was chairman of the tribe throughout the 1970s.

His speeches would often talk about the progress that was being made by the tribe and MacDonald decided to hold an economic summit centered on the theme of tribal progress.

At this time, MacRorie was back in charge of the paper and he decided to print a special edition to coincide with the summit and, with the help of economic development officials for the tribe, MacRorie sent a letter to all of the companies that were doing business on the reservation and even some companies that were trying to do business with the tribe.

He said a great majority of the companies agreed to advertise and companies like Peabody Coal and the Tucson Gas and Electric Company took double pages to congratulate MacDonald and the tribe for the progress it was making in energy development and economic development.

Like the ads, the stories that were published in that issue were heavy on praise and light on actual facts.

The paper would go to 60 and 72 pages with advertising taking up 70 percent of the space and the money rolled in.

Of course, none of this lasted forever.

The Times would continue to do fair editions and there would be other special editions but nothing like the 70s when there would be a special issue every two or three months.

The Progress edition ended in the 1980s and the tourist edition suffered when the hantavirus scare killed the tourist industry on the reservation for several years.

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