Reader founders remember paper’s history

Zach Hagadone, John Reuter, and Chris DeCleur founded the Sandpoint Reader shortly after finishing or nearing the completion of college in late 2004. It remained a town staple for seven years. (Courtesy photo Zach Hagadone)

SANDPOINT — The drinks flowed freely at Eichhardt’s Pub last Friday.

Visitors packed the restaurant’s upper room, moving from table tennis and shuffleboard tables to speak with other guests who had dropped by for the occasion. While the energy was high and the mood was celebratory, the party attendees came to commemorate the bittersweet end of an era. It was the last week of the Sandpoint Reader.

For Zach Hagadone and John Reuter, it was the end of a seven year road that defined their 20s. The two, along with fellow student Chris DeCleur  had managed a college publication at the Albertson College of Idaho, now known as the College of Idaho. Hagadone said the three struck upon the idea of a Sandpoint-based alternative weekly newspaper after nearing or completing graduation.

“We thought we’d have no trouble running a newspaper because we’d done it in college, thinking running a student paper was analogous to running an actual paper,” Hagadone said.

While the notion started as speculation between Reuter and Hagadone regarding a post-graduation pursuit, the idea soon formed into something more solid. Hagadone began crunching some numbers and realized the project was indeed viable. Afterward, Reuter and Hagadone brought DeCleur to Sandpoint for a visit and ultimately convinced him to move over for the project. With that agreement, the Sandpoint Reader was born.   

Reuter, DeCleur and Hagadone released their first issue of the Reader in December 2004. They only released one issue that year, but they were off to a good start — many of the advertisers that supported the first paper stuck around all the way to the last.

At the time, Reuter was still finishing up his college studies. That meant that once the holidays came to an end, he was back to school. While Hagadone and DeCleur manned the Sandpoint office, Reuter contributed articles from school.

“Every Wednesday I was in my room working on something for the Reader,” Reuter said.

After Reuter graduated from school, the team enjoyed an brief period where all three founding staff members worked the office. From May to September of 2005, Reuter, Hagadone and DeCleur lived and worked locally. Before long, however, both DeCleur and Hagadone took off to Boise for new opportunities, and it was Reuter’s turn to hold down the fort. He did so by himself until Hagadone returned in 2010.

“I’m not sure how John did it all by himself,” Hagadone said. “I don’t think he slept a lot.”

According to Reuter, the responsibility never became overwhelming thanks to plenty of help from the community. Hagadone and Decleur also provided support from Boise.

“There might have been a few nights there where it felt a little lonely around the office, but I had a lot of people sending in pictures and support,” Reuter said.

Throughout its life span, the Sandpoint Reader staff aimed to provide a special focus on arts and culture, a distinct, occasionally irreverent tone and support for long-form journalism, with some stories throughout its history running several thousand words in length. Writers for the paper covered a diverse array of topics, including local artists and musicians, current events like the comprehensive plan or the Pend d’Oreille Bay Trail and features covering essential Sandpoint characteristics like its historic buildings. And while its mission always stayed the same, the publication did make subtle tonal changes based on who was managing the office and where the contributors were in life.

“I think the paper matured as we did,” Hagadone said.

 Within its seven-year run, the Reader was a common sight at the coffee shops, restaurants and public buildings around town. However, as always, life intervened when Reuter accepted a position in Boise as the executive director of Conservation Voters for Idaho.

“In a way, I’m doing much the same thing here as I did at the Reader,” Reuter said. “I’m promoting the things that people love about Idaho and trying to preserve them.”

Meanwhile, Hagadone is looking forward to an even bigger life change as he and his wife anticipate their first child. He plans to freelance as a writer for the present, leaving him open for new opportunities in the future.

Although it might be gone, the Sandpoint Reader’s back issues stand as a testament to what individuals with passion and a vision can accomplish with a strong community behind them.

“We are just filled with thanks for Sandpoint and have so much gratitude for everyone that’s supported us,” Reuter said. “We wouldn’t have made it past the first issue if it weren’t for that help.”

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