By Will Grandbois
Sopris Sun Staff Writer
Departing Sopris Sun editor Lynn Burton has seen a lot of change in the journalism landscape in almost four decades working for an array of local dailies and weeklies.
“A lot of reporters and photographers have come and gone. I was really fortunate a lot of times, with the economic ups and downs and papers opening and closing and coming under new ownership, to somehow or other hang on,” he said. “I’m a pretty good photographer for a writer, and I’m a pretty good writer for a photographer. I think what really kept me in the newspaper game in the Roaring Fork Valley is that I’m able to do both.”
It hasn’t always been a clear path.
Born in 1949, Burton and his two brothers had a “typical middle class, suburban post World War II upbringing” in Oklahoma City. After high school, he enrolled at the University of Oklahoma (OU) as a business major, which he “figured was more practical than the liberal arts.”
Part way through his degree, the allure of the mountains became too hard to resist, and he dropped out with a friend to become a “ski bum” in Aspen. He was already familiar with Colorado from visiting his uncle in Denver as a kid.
“I’d never been to the mountains before, and we got up here and I thought it was pretty cool,” he recalled. “It was just the logical place to come.”
His first stint in the state didn’t last long, but after returning to Oklahoma to finish his degree, he moved to Boulder in 1975 and stayed until 1979. That was when the ski factory where he worked closed down, and he began to contemplate a new direction.
“I decided it was time for a career change,” he said. “I’d heard about Colorado Mountain College and its photo program.”
He made the move and, after shooting a few photos for the Free Weekly Newspaper in Glenwood Springs, he got a job as a production manager right out of school. It was a far different experience from what he does today.
“The reporters literally had typewriters. You would hand that to the typesetter and she would put it on a little rack and print it out into strips. We’d paste it up on a grid sheet, and for photos, you’d develop your film, do a print, use a gigantic copy camera to make a halftone, and that’s the way it was done,” he recalled. “It wasn’t very long after that we got computers. Now everything’s digital. Sometimes I have to remind myself that it really is faster. I don’t think you could put out a weekly the way we put it out now.”
Seizing the chance
He seized the chance to learn the trade, and soon began to branch out.
“Once I got that job and started shooting pictures, I got more and more into photojournalism. From there, it wasn’t long before I was writing stories as well,” he said. “The more I did it, the more I started to like it and realize the importance of newspaper, especially in a small town. You’re writing about things that really affect people’s lives, sometimes on a daily basis.”
It was also the height of Hunter S. Thompson’s influence, particularly near his home base at Woody Creek. Burton, who had written to Thompson while he was still at OU, certainly felt it.
“I used to just write some free form letters to my friends and family – stream of conscious kind of stuff – and they liked them,” he recalled. “I really liked Hunter Thompson’s style of writing, and once I started at the Free Weekly, they let me write like that. I was a third-rate gonzo journalist, but I thought maybe I could work my way up to second rate and it might take me somewhere.”
Living in the Roaring Fork Valley, he had several encounters with the famous journalist. The first time, Burton was still at CMC and working at a liquor store in Glenwood when HST came in for a pack of Heineken. He paid with a check, which he said wouldn’t bounce, “or we’re all in trouble.”
“I thought about keeping the check, and just sticking five bucks in the till, but I didn’t have five bucks to spare,” Burton recalled.
Later, when Thompson asked for a copy of a picture Burton had taken of him at the Woody Creek Tavern, he agreed to share a beer at the Tavern in exchange.
Coming to Carbondale
Meanwhile, Burton also became more familiar with Carbondale, which offered an appealing vibe. He remembers covering an early KDNK talent show at Barry’s Garage on Main Street.
“It was more of a small town (versus Glenwood), and I was kind of able to weasel my way into the culture as a photographer and reporter,” he said. “If you’re a newspaper person, you can get into a lot of places and in with people you wouldn’t otherwise be able to.”
When a position opened up at the Valley Journal in 1987, he jumped at the chance. Shortly thereafter, he bought a building lot near Sopris Park.
“For me, it was a great time and place to be,” he said. “Carbondale was on the upswing. KDNK, the Arts Council, Mountain Fair… everything was rolling along going forward.”
Burton was at the Journal through several owners until around 2000, when he was pushed out of his editorial role due to conflicts with the publisher. He went to work for the Glenwood Independent and made it through the merger with the Glenwood Post.
“I’d never worked for a daily before, and I sort of expected it to be some sort of a total hysterical frenzy all day long. I was really surprised at how low key it was,” he recalled.
When the Post Independent let him go, he got a job as night editor at the Aspen Daily News.
“That was a crazy group of people,” he said. “I remember telling people that it was like trying to put out a newspaper in the middle of a prison riot.”
He came back to Carbondale after being laid off in the depths of the Great Recession, splitting Sopris Sun editorial duties with Terray Sylvester for a while before taking over full time.
“The Sun was based on the Valley Journal, and I really liked the Journal,” he observed. “We’re bucking a trend as an independently operated weekly newspaper. All the decisions concerning The Sun are made right here in Carbondale.”
He also had the chance to work with his longtime girlfriend, Jane Bachrach. The couple also share a radio show every other Thursday from 2 to 4 p.m. on KDNK. On the air and elsewhere he’s known as Jake – a solution offered by Jane when he expressed discontent with his name.
“She asked me what name I’d like, and I’d always liked the name Jack,” he recalled. “She said “No, but how about Jake?””
The Jake and Jane show has proven to be a great creative outlet.
“I’ve always liked music, but I don’t really play an instrument. Doing a radio show allows me and people like me to put together different kinds of music for other people enjoy,” he observed. “It’s an eclectic mix, and we (Jane and he) just kind of get goofy and banter back and forth.”
As the face of The Sun for much of its existence and a longtime community figure, Burton is trying to figure out what’s next. The board’s decision to seek a new editor didn’t come at the best time for him, although he has the option to stay on half time for several months. After that … “It’s kind of up in the air. I can’t afford to legitimately retire,” he said. “I think Jane and I might give Dolores a look. I’d kinda like to keep at least one foot in the state.”
Despite yet another setback, he remains cautiously optimistic and doesn’t regret his choice of career and community.
“It’s worked out great,” he said.