COTTONWOOD – The Verde Independent Newspaper celebrated its 65th birthday February 12. Not surprisingly, much has changed – not only with the Verde Independent but also with the newspaper’s coverage area.
In 1948, when Richard “Dick” Brann put out his first edition, Cottonwood High School had 27 graduating seniors, and the Verde Valley Medical Center was still Marcus J. Lawrence Hospital with 24 beds. Bread was selling for 17 cents a loaf.
The Jerome mines closed in 1953, and Cottonwood, Clarkdale and Camp Verde have all become incorporated. Instead of a police department, Cottonwood had a night watchman that kept law and order. Cottonwood didn’t have its police department until 1960.
Dan Engler, who has been with the VI for 27 years, has seen some of the biggest changes.
“We had one newspaper twice a week,” Engler said. “Today we publish three newspapers a total of seven days a week plus a monthly community newspaper for the Village of Oak Creek.”
He explained that all four of the newspapers published by Verde Valley Newspapers have 24-7 websites, as well as a Facebook profile that is updated regularly.
“When I got here we had an old-school darkroom and that craft has been replaced by computer technology,” Engler said, “and that certainly has been a good change.”
Counting himself, the VI had a three-person newsroom when he arrived in October 1985.
He said that, over time, the newspaper has added personnel and established offices in Camp Verde and Sedona.
“The biggest difference between then and now is the technology, which seems to reinvent itself every three to five years,” Engler said. “I’m not preoccupied with technology like everyone else seems to be. If I have to carve it out of stone, I will still get a newspaper out the door.”
When Brann opened the VI, he bought parts of an unassembled flatbed press from the Holbrook Tribune. He also bought the building materials for a military surplus Quonset hut. Although that original building has been built onto, it is still in use today by the newspaper.
Brann sold the newspaper to William Wright in 1952, and he sold it to Bill Cameron.
In April 1957, during Cameron’s ownership, the VI suffered a major fire that brought debris down on the typesetter, press and type cases. The paper was forced to move across the street to the Smelter City Iron Works building for about two weeks.
Cameron hired Chuck Mabery in 1962. Mabery was a popular sports writer who also filled in for Cameron as news editor. He covered the Mingus Union High School’s basketball state championship season in 1965.
The modern era for the Verde Independent really got under way in July 1969 when Eugene (Marty) Marten and his wife Joyce bought out Cameron. He was responsible for leaving the hot-lead typesetter and tabloid-size paper technology for the standard-size page, computer systems and a web-offset press.
The newspaper prospered under Marten’s ownership. He published the VI in three sections, one for Cottonwood, one for Clarkdale and one for both Camp Verde and Sedona.
Marten said he modernized the newspaper with a computer system he purchased sight unseen.
“I was the first one west of the Mississippi to put in a Micro-tech computer system,” Marten said.
Marten, at the urging of his wife, Joyce, hired Dick Larson in April 1972 as an advertising representative. Larson eventually became publisher for about two decades.
Although Larson wasn’t with the newspaper during the old hot-lead and letterpress era, he has seen some major changes take place in the newspaper industry.
“You’d have to say the technology is the biggest change,” he said.
He is still working for the VI’s parent company, Western News&Info.
“I’m developing new products that diversify us,” Larson said. “It’s all advertising related.”
Pam Miller, current publisher and CEO of Verde Valley Newspapers, took over in 2004. Miller is also serving this year as President of the Arizona Newspaper Association (ANA). She has been on that organization’s board of directors for four years.
As publisher and CEO, Miller is responsible not only for the day-to-day operation of the Verde Independent but also the Camp Verde Bugle, Kudos (a weekly arts and entertainment guide in Sedona and the entire Verde Valley), and the Villager, a monthly community newspaper in the Village of Oak Creek. She is also responsible for verdenews.com, cvbugle.com and kudoz.com.
Miller grew up in Prescott and worked on her high school newspaper and later became editor of her community college newspaper. She earned a bachelor’s in journalism with an emphasis in advertising from Northern Arizona University.
She went to work for the Daily Courier in Prescott as a sales representative and moved up to advertising manager and advertising director.
In 1978, Marten served as president of the ANA and met Don Soldwedel through that organization. Soldwedel was president of Western Newspapers Inc. (WNI) in Yuma.
Marten sold the newspaper to WNI in 1979. Western Newspapers is now Western News&Info and is still owned by the Soldwedel family.
Don’s son Joe is president, and Joe’s daughter Kelly and son Brett are associate vice presidents with Western News&Info.