Meet the lead reporter for western Garfield County
Ray Erku might be new to Rifle, but he’s very familiar with the rural west. Originally from Minnesota, Erku comes to Rifle after working as the editor of the Rawlins Times in Rawlins, Wyoming. Prior to that, he worked as a reporter for the Reporter & Farmer in South Dakota and is a graduate of the Minnesota State University, Mankato.
Erku’s focus won’t be limited to Rifle — he’s the lead reporter for all of Western Garfield County and looks forward to writing the stories of Parachute, Battlement Mesa, Silt and our rural community.
Erku spoke with Citizen Telegram Editor Peter Baumann about journalism, what he’s enjoying about living in Rifle so far and what he hopes to accomplish in the future.
You moved to Rifle about two weeks ago now — how are you liking it so far? How does it compare to your earlier experience in other rural communities?
Cosmetically speaking, Rifle’s an incredible place. I almost have to pinch myself every morning when I step out onto my deck, sip my coffee and gaze at the rugged beauty of Roan Plateau. For some reason I keep thinking that gorgeous thing’s somehow going to grow a pair of legs and run away from me and I’ll have nothing fascinating to look at!
Meanwhile, when I look around town it’s easy to say this place takes care of its people. There’s a curvaceous concrete skatepark. The municipal pool is impressive. Pedestrian paths, parks and awesome trails seem countless. Not to mention, people seem nice here and the food is exquisite.
Honestly, not to slander my former hometowns, but Rifle’s quality of life is pretty much incomparable.
Being a journalist in a small town offers a lot of blessings, in my opinion, compared to working in a larger metro market. What do you enjoy about community journalism?
It’s all about accessibility. Working small-town journalism gives a person such a greater opportunity for interaction; you’re able to become a lot more intimate, let’s say, with the people and their stories. And amid such a weird, almost unprecedented time for journalists, small-town journalism truly allows reporters to break whatever misinterpretations and stigmas the public may have about the media.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s almost every reporter’s dream to have a byline in the Washington Post or New York Times. But when was the last time anyone’s ever met a reporter from larger publications like those? Most times, it feels, a lot of those reporters have no faces, while in smaller markets it’s not really a surprise if the locals know what size shoe you wear. We’re more “in the flesh,” ya know?
How did you decide to go into journalism? How do you think it’s changed since you first began in college?
When I was growing up I wasn’t the greatest student. When teachers tried to teach me algebra or isosceles triangles, my mind was in the clouds as I scribbled poetry all over my poor, tortured textbooks. So, in a way, it’s almost the other way around: The craft of writing sort of decided to pick me.
Consciously, however, I finally decided to pursue journalism when I was a senior in college, after things turned a bit sour in my personal life. Originally I was a marketing major, but I always in the back of my head knew ultimately that it just wasn’t for me. And it was right before walking into another business class I was struck by a major epiphany. My father, a mechanical engineer who would work eight hours, come home, eat a good meal, drink a cold beer and go straight back to our home computer to create more blueprints or whatever he was doing, had just passed away from pancreatic cancer. Thing was, he died loving what he did for a living.
So I skipped that class and walked straight to the college newsroom and asked for an application. Quite an expensive decision, but, you only live once.
What are you most excited about over the coming year?
It’s quite a thrill knowing I’ll be working with some great, experienced reporters, editors and publishers. Back in Wyoming I was almost entirely on my own, so to gain that camaraderie and mentorship typically found in a newsroom with actual people inside of it is priceless in itself.
Most importantly, I’m excited to document the lives and stories of the people of Rifle and Garfield County. Sometimes we can forget just how much of a difference journalism makes, and to be an agent manifesting that difference for this community is both a privilege and honor.
Coming from Wyoming, what do you see as some similarities between there and where you are now on the Western Slope?
Green chili. Like Wyoming I’m quite certain people smother the delectable sauce not just over their burrito but their breakfast cereal, their muffins, their chocolate bars. Perhaps they even brush their teeth with green chili; maybe even bathe in it, who knows?
On a more serious note, especially when it comes to western Garfield County, the energy industry here is almost an economic facsimile of southern Wyoming, where things like oil and alternative energy production reign supreme. It’s been profoundly interesting to witness major projects backed by people like Philip Anschutz and Warren Buffett come to fruition and materialize. I look forward to reporting further on these topics here in Garfield County.
What are some ways you enjoy being involved in the community in which you live and what are three fun things you’re most likely doing if not working?
In any way shape or form, involving myself in some sort of recreational sports league has helped me throughout my entire career. I grew up in my home state of Minnesota playing hockey, basketball, football and soccer, and through these experiences I found out quite quickly that the concept of sport brings people together. Doesn’t matter what aisle you sit on, doesn’t matter what god you worship, doesn’t matter if you prefer dogs over cats. A good ol’ pick up game of some puck or basketball shatters differing opinions with an iron fist.
On that note, here are three fun (and not so fun) activities I love (and hate) doing in my spare time:
1) Screaming at the television set when the Minnesota Vikings choke yet again on NFL Sunday.
2) Reading Rolling Stone magazine while drinking a Scotch.
3) Listening to the Lakme’s “Flower Duet” while I pretend to give a performance at Palais Garnier.
Is there anything else you’d like the community to know? If a reader wants to reach out, what’s the best way to get a hold of you?
No matter how much I claim to play guitar, I’m truly terrible at it. And call my cell phone. I usually answer — that is, if I’m not busy verbally damning the Vikes on NFL Sunday. Readers can call me at 612-423-5273 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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A fire in a building at Willits Town Center Thursday night forced Roaring Fork Fire Rescue to prepare for the worst because of residences on the upper two stories. Fortunately the fire was confined to an HVAC unit on the roof.