Editor doesn't mind telling tall tales to please VC readers

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VIRGINIA CITY - To print a newspaper, editors need news. Even on the slowest news day, they insist reporters write stories.

In a great news town like Las Vegas, it's not too hard. But try Virginia City in the late fall and winter, when the tourists go away and shop owners lock their doors.

It means Doug Truhill, editor and publisher of the Virginia City Register, must use his wits. Nothing of interest may be happening, but he still must put out a paper every Friday. So he often turns to humor.

Take the Jan. 17 banner headline of the 5,000-circulation weekly: "Ennui Epidemic Strikes Town."

Ennui, Truhill informs his readers, means listlessness and dissatisfaction resulting from a lack of interest. Boredom.

Devotees of the Register can expect such stories every week. Truhill and his staff tell the news like it is, and sometimes like it isn't.

For example, the Register runs a correction photo every issue.

"Last week we incorrectly printed a picture of our county commissioners," reads one caption. "Here is the correct picture."

What one sees is not a proper photo of the three commissioners, but the Three Stooges, My Three Sons, or a trio of skater punks.

"I grew up on Mad magazine and the National Lampoon," Truhill, 54, said. "My thought is a small town newspaper is the outlet for births, deaths and all the pertinent news, like school lunch menus and the senior citizen center menu. But you should have a good time reading it. I like to think someone who is just not having a good day can grab our newspaper and come away feeling good about it."

The formula has worked for Truhill, who swears the Register has turned a profit since its first edition on June 2, 2000.

"It doesn't support us," admits Truhill, who also works as a mechanical engineer in Reno. "The only person who must make money is the ad salesman."

Most of his subscribers are not locals, but visitors who stop in Virginia City on vacation.

The Virginia City Register is truly a 21st century desktop publishing phenomenon. There is no office. The entire staff of a half-dozen or so news gatherers e-mail stories to Truhill. He edits the copy and e-mails it to the apartment of his layout man. The evening before the newspaper is printed, Truhill visits the apartment and gives his OK. He pays to have the newspaper printed and distributed.

"There is no way I could have done this 20 years ago," he said. "The computer has allowed us to do it. I don't know of any other newspaper like this in Nevada."

Along with handling the billing, Truhill's wife of 32 years, Sharon, writes much of the news. In a recent series, she described her dealings with local ghosts and holding a seance with friends.

And don't expect anything on Kobe Bryant or the Oakland Raiders from sports writer Kevin Young. He writes long treatises on subjects like curling, cricket and the 1919 World Series.

"If two kids were playing tiddlywinks on the sidewalk, he would watch them," Truhill said.

Then there is RR Whitney, author of RumRunner's Roost. He offers remedies and instructive tidbits, kind of like those found in the Old Farmers' Almanac.

"You need only two tools," he advises. "WD-40 and duct tape. If it doesn't move and it should, use WD-40. If it moves and shouldn't, use duct tape."

There also is "Evelyn Nesbit," anonymous author of "The Word," a rumor and gossip column. She may not use names, but the locals know who she's talking about.

Keeping with the tradition of Virginia City, the all black-and-white Register resembles a 19th century newspaper.

The masthead features two drawings of Liberty, a popular 19th century symbol still found on the old courthouse in Virginia City. Drawings in ads invariably show ladies and gentlemen dressed in the finest 1880s fashion.

Like editors of that era, Truhill prefers headlines that grab the reader's attention.

"I don't want to write sensationalist stories, or stories that distort facts," Truhill said. "But I love to get a headline that will grab you, cause people to say 'What the heck is that?' That is old school, what newspapers used to do."

Truhill picked up his love of headlines as a child living on the East Coast. His father often took him to New York City where he gasped at the headlines in the Daily News.

"There would be a picture of a mobster lying in a pool of blood. It was dramatic. I thought it was cool."


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