Something that I’ve found so refreshing about Idaho Falls is that people care about politics.
The passion that people feel on all sides of the political spectrums made it a pleasure for me to work there in the 1980s. I received a generous number of comments about my work, good and bad. I remembered one call at about 2:30 one morning from someone complaining about one of my columns suggesting that Idaho State University should be placed on wheels and moved to a city that gives a damn (Idaho Falls). I guess the Pocatello Chamber of Commerce didn’t like that one, and in retrospect, it wasn’t one of my best efforts. But getting an angry call in the middle of the night was a compliment of sorts.
Recently, I found there are a good number of people in Idaho Falls who care about something else – newspapers. The conventional thought is that the newspaper industry is dying, or already dead, as readership and revenue continue to decline. Not in Idaho Falls.
I attended a gathering of opinion-makers – people who contribute regularly to the Post Register – and found that the daily newspaper remains an important part of people’s lives. In some respects, the gathering had the flavor of a pep rally. People talked about the importance of getting their opinions out and striving for a better community, state and nation. Quite a few people commented favorably about my columns from Idaho Politics Weekly, which appear regularly in the Post Register. It was nice to be noticed, but not surprising coming from this community. People enjoy seeing their names in the paper, which is human nature. But in the Idaho Falls area, people enjoy it more when they see their opinions in the newspaper – especially ones that are well researched and thought out.
Marty Trillhaase, the opinion page editor of the Lewiston Tribune, promoted guest columns years ago when he worked with the Post Register and Corey Taule has carried on with that tradition.
“I have around 20 folks from all over Eastern Idaho who write regular columns for me, about once every six weeks,” Taule said. “Every two or three years, we rotate in new people. We ask them to write in and tell why they want to be a columnist and for a sample column.”
The response to this outreach is always big, Taule says. “It’s far more than I can bring in, which is pretty amazing since they are volunteering to write for free.”
Several years ago, Debu Majumdar, a local author and frequent contributor, started holding gatherings, inviting mostly people who write columns or letters to the editor to the paper.
“It started out as mostly my lefty writers, but has expanded,” Taule said. This year’s gathering included local libertarian Tim Urling and Sean Coletti, a member of the Ammon City Council and Bonneville County GOP Central Committee.
“Sean is more exception than rule,” Taule said. “These are people mostly outside the power structure who view the opinion page as kind of an oasis in our vast desert. Unlike many newspapers, we encourage and accept columns from a wide variety of people, from the Urlings of the far right to the Debus of the far left. Everyone gets their say and , as a result, all feel like they are part of something.
The best thing about the gathering, Taule said, is “we had nothing to do with organizing it.” That was all Debu and Steve Watts, an ex-cop and private investigator who died recently and was honored at the event.
The interest in guest columns goes well beyond Idaho Falls, Taule says. Louise Wagenknecht, a longtime columnist, is from Leadore. The Post Register also publishes commentaries from places such as Blackfoot, Shelley and Rexburg.
At least with its opinion page, the Post Register has figured out a formula for something that so many companies are grappling with – relevance. Writing newspaper commentaries for the local daily may not change the world, or turn Idaho from a red state to a blue. But it’s one forum where people have a chance to express their views and exercise their First Amendment rights.
If people in other places cared as much about politics, and expressing themselves, as they do in Idaho Falls, then maybe we’d see more people voting and giving greater thought to who they are voting for.
That, my friends, is the key for forging real change.