Thursday, September 28, 2023

The Signpost Treads a Newspaper Path 143 Years Old

The tradition of newspapers in Bernalillo dates to 1878 ahead of the railroad. Since then, The Mirror, Native and Bernalillo News all came and went.


By Bill Diven

Of all the newspapers that have come and gone from Bernalillo since territorial days, The Sandoval Signpost is the last one standing.

"It's been so ingrained in me for 30 years," said Barb Belknap, who with husband Ty has become publisher emeriti as new owner Pat Davis takes over. "I've raised my kids with it. And there are all the friends we've made.

"I'm happy with the change overall, but every time some one says, 'What will you do now?,' I start to cry."

They aren't going anyway, she added, and will be staying in touch with the community through the Placitas Winery and event space they bought in 2018 following the death of its founder Jim Fish.

Credit Candy Frizzell and friends for launching the Sign Post (two words) in 1988 as a newsletter after she saw Placitas residents and business people tacking notices to the most available pole, post or tree. From the beginning Frizzell characterized Sign Post as a community-input paper.

"There was no other way," she told The Signpost from her home in the Four Corners city of Aztec. "You couldn't get the word out about babies or anything.

"My idea was to have everyone pitch in."

The Sign Post began circulating in 1988 on 11x17-inch white office paper Frizzell produced at home with an office printer. When folded in half, that made a four-page newsletter with letter-size pages.

It became a tabloid newspaper on real newsprint in 1991 with a first pressrun of 500 copies.

The Belknaps bought the paper from Frizzell in 1993, and she and her husband Bill moved to Aztec where she founded TALON, The Aztec News (TALON for The Aztec LOcal News). Frizzell also labeled TALON a community-input paper and published it for 25 years

It survives today on Facebook managed by one of her early helpers.

Among the first to join Frizzell in her Placitas project was Barb Belknap, a commercial designer and glass artist who arrived in 1987 with two kids in tow after visits with her ex-sister-in-law here. Ty Belknap had arrived in 1986 after stints in the Army, as a parole officer, working foreign and Alaska oil fields and setting up shop as a certified Rolfer while also serving as a volunteer paramedic with the Placitas Fire Brigade.

He also worked for the Bernalillo County Fire Department and as an ambulance driver for the Town of Bernalillo until the Signpost needed an extra hand.

Together Ty and Barb expanded their family and became co-publishers and co-editors. Barb handled page design and printers; Ty took on ad sales, circulation and being a reporter-photographer whose beats included local government.

"One thing that changed was that the mayor and elected officials were not used to being asked questions," Ty said.

As animal lovers they added pet lost-and-found notices and with real estate broker Dave Harper created the Animal Hotline. They established arts coverage, published the late Rudi Klimpert's Placitas cartoons and invited community groups to contribute regularly.

Charlie Christmann's stargazing column "Night Sky" has been featured monthly since September 2002.

Along the way numerous community members have seen their bylines appear in the news columns or their names in the "Gauntlet" letters-to-the-editor section. By Signpost policy not seen in the "Gauntlet" was name-calling.

The Belknap's son Evan joined the Signpost in 2010 and put his creative writing degree to work as the Signpost copy editor. Barb described his job as turning long things shorter, making the incomprehensible readable, applying grammar, keeping text styles consistent and defending the Oxford comma.

"He is most remembered for his heartfelt 'Time Off' stories of adventure and human interaction, retrospection, introspection," she said.

Never strictly a Placitas product, the name evolved over time from the Placitas Sign Post with Bernalillo News to the Sign Post with Placitas and Bernalillo News to the Northside Signpost in a brief challenge to a certain Albuquerque paper launching the Westside Journal. Over time Sign Post became Signpost.

The tradition of newspapers in Bernalillo dates to 1878 when it appeared the approaching Santa Fe Railroad might make the village a rail center with tracks heading west and south. That attracted publishers named Chacón and Salazar who arrived from Taos likely with their own hand-operated press and launched The Mirror.

Historian Porter A. Stratton, Ph. D., in his "The Territorial Press in New Mexico, 1834-1912," found the men had earlier established the paper as the Valley Mirror in Taos where it also was known as Espejo, Spanish for mirror.

Bernalillo at the time was the county seat of Bernalillo County, which included modern Sandoval County, until Albuquerque swiped the title after the 1880 arrival of the railroad in that city. 

The paper lasted about two years in Bernalillo before jumping to booming Albuquerque. The Mirror soon returned to Bernalillo as The Native with Chacón in a new in partnership with B.F. Perea although the paper quickly disappears from Stratton's research.

Other sources suggest Chacón's partner was Benicio Perea, son of José Leandro Perea, the prominent Bernalillo merchant, farmer and landowner. Local lore holds that Albuquerque became the rail center because Perea asked an exorbitant price for the land the railroad want for its division headquarters.

Typical of how small newspapers and their presses moved and changed owners trying to stay in business, Stratton also shows a Bernalillo News publishing 1880-82 before relocating to Jemez Springs as the Hot Springs Guide.

Martha Liebert, in her recent book "Bernalillo: Between the River and a Hard Place," lists another Bernalillo News operating around 1890, and the Bernalillo Times in the 1940s. Mark Acuff, publisher of the Albuquerque-based New Mexico Independent, launched the Sandoval County Independent edited by Ann Rustebakke of Placitas in the 1970s, and Ken and Mary Kwapich of Placitas published the Sandoval Sentinel until about 2011.

Over those decades newspaper publishing evolved from hand-set letters and flatbed presses to melted lead creating lines of type on a beastly machine resembling an industrial typewriter. "Cold type" in the 1960s combined printed columns pasted on pages with photography to create thin metal plates that run on presses.

The Signpost came along at near beginning to the digital era with Frizzell and Barb Belknap claiming to have brought the first early Apple computers to Placitas. Now the new owners are upgrading the website, expanding the online presence, working with affiliated papers, with their roots still firmly planted in community journalism, drawing the Signpost into its next era.


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