Over a 30-year stretch of impassioned community journalism, editor Steve Ranson has become synonymous with the Lahontan Valley News.
Churchill County and beyond recognize the newspaper’s loss with his retirement on Tuesday. From copy editing to presenting issues and intriguing photographs, Ranson is known for his dogged effort in the pursuit of information as well as for being a Fallon community pillar.
“Steve’s journalism has always been fair and honest, and his tireless efforts at the LVN have maintained its relevance through difficult times for print media as a whole,” said Fallon Mayor Ken Tedford.
Former Reno Gazette-Journal reporter Guy Clifton, now a public relations specialist for the Nevada Department of Tourism and Cultural Affairs, has known Ranson for years. Clifton also has a special connection to Fallon. His parents live here and are — what he calls — faithful LVN subscribers.
“People don’t go into local journalism for the money and there is no such thing as a 40-hour week in that world,” Clifton said. “It’s all about the community and the people. He’s been a great champion of Fallon.”
While August will be a transition month, Ranson will continue to assist the paper with coverage. His future also includes a part-time position editing a new Swift Communications and Sierra Nevada Media Group military/veterans magazine for Northern Nevada, profiling individuals, events, service organizations and military news.
“Steve has built an impressive professional legacy and is one of the most respected journalists I know,” said former Swift publisher Peter Kostes.
The outgoing editor describes retirement as a tough choice, as he is passionate about his work and has been since first starting out as a professional as well as a military service member.
“For a person to spend his own money to go to Kandahar Province, Afghanistan — on his vacation time…” said Erick Studenicka, public information officer for the Nevada National Guard. “Who would pay their own way to a war zone? But Steve wanted to cover the Nevada troops deployed there.”
Studenicka said it wasn’t hellacious but uncomfortable, a combat zone. He said he knows it might seem cliché but Ranson’s dedication goes above and beyond. He added Ranson was a natural aboserver from 9/11 through the end of the cycles for the Nevada Guard.
“What he did was as close to deploying without actually being in the unit,” Studenicka said. “I remember him checking out a helmet, bulletproof vest; he did it voluntarily. I thought, this is over-the-top passion.”
Ranson was inducted into the Nevada Guard Hall of Fame in 2012 for his service covering units overseas during wartime. For his two trips to Southwest Asia, he also earned two reporting awards from Military Reporters and Editors, an organization for journalists who regularly cover the U.S. military at home and abroad.
AN EARLY LOVE FOR JOURNALISM
Ranson has been immersed in journalism for most of his life, from being a teenage sportscaster in school to delivering the weekend news on Reno’s Channel 4. He has covered beats such as water, fire, military, geothermal energy, wild-horse roundups, agriculture and crime including the D.B. Cooper hijacking while working for KBET Radio in 1971.
“During high school, I began to develop an interest in the journalistic style of writing when I was a junior and the interest increased during my senior year,” Ranson said. “I had few problems in knowing my grammar rules or writing because my mother was such a strong writer.
The spark took off with a military story idea.
“I felt I had some talent during the summer of 1971 when a co-worker of my dad’s knew the legendary World War II Army hero Audie Murphy (who had been killed in an airplane crash) and asked me if I would be interested in writing a story. I met with the editor of the Nevada State Journal, Paul Leonard, and he told me to write the article about the two WWII Army buddies, and it if was good enough, he would print it in the NSJ.”
Ranson said evidently the story was just that because the NSJ published it, leading the young reporter to work at the publication for the next two summers and occassionally during football season.
The future editor-in-chief grew adept at announcing games with radio play-by-play and covered tournaments including state championships and NCAA basketball and football in the 2000s. He began the LVN Greenwave Athlete of the Week, a feature that has endured 25 years during Fallon’s sports seasons.
“I’ll never forget my first published photo,” said Ranson’s son Thomas, a longtime sports contributor to the LVN. “He brought me into the newsroom and showed how they laid out the sports page to include the photo. I saved a bunch of copies of that paper and still have the page saved in my sports portfolio.”
Thomas said his father has been a strong supporter of his career and everyone who has walked through the LVN doors.
“He’s tough on everyone — just ask his high-school English students — because he expects the best and isn’t satisfied with less,” Thomas said. “He pushed me during my writing career and although journalism is a tough field to make a living, it’s something I don’t want to be apart from even after he leaves.”
Ranson additionally began in 2003 a network among Northern Nevada newspapers with Dave Price of the Record-Courier and Sam Brown of the Elko Daily Free Press to share sports stories with each publication, spurring sports editors from Carson City, South Lake Tahoe, Sparks, Truckee and Winnemucca to participate too.
“One of the things that stands about Mr. Ranson is his deep ties to the community,” said former LVN publisher Rick Swart. “The LVN is a community newspaper in the best traditions of journalism. Steve usually knows not only the story but the story behind the story.”
Ranson also covered military news events in the United States and on four other continents while in the National Guard (26 years with the Nevada Army Guard, retiring as a lieutenant colonel) and U.S. Army Reserve, including a two-year stint in Panama, where his son Thomas was born, serving as a broadcast officer and on-air talent for the U.S. Southcom’s SCN-TV-Radio. On one assignment on the Fourth of July 1985, the U.S. commanding general at Fort Clayton introduced former Panamanian President Manuel Noriega to his crew.
FALLON IS HOME
“It’s been an honor working with Steve,” said Brooke Knight Warner, SNMG general manager. “His support and dedication to the Fallon community has been exemplary — whole-hearted and full-throated. Swift Communications has been lucky to have Steve in that role, and with us for the last 30 years. Now, we’re delighted that while he’s officially retiring, he’ll continue to help out with some of our standing publications and with the launch of our new veterans’ magazine.”
Also an educator at heart, Ranson taught at Balboa High School (Dept. of Defense school in Panama) and also at Elko and Churchill County school districts as an English teacher as well as a journalism or yearbook adviser. He also advised the Wells High School student council — a city he served as a councilmember — coached junior varsity football, and was a varsity assistant coach before going on to coach JV and freshman football at Churchill County High School. He received Churchill County Teacher of the Year in 1995 before he became vice principal at Churchill County Middle School.
“When I first met Steve Ranson as a sophomore in high-school English, little did I know the man would become one of my greatest mentors,” said Christy Lattin, a former LVN reporter. “In high-school journalism class, Steve helped me discover my love of writing. Years later, after I completed college, I found myself working in the newsroom with Steve. It took me a long time to call my co-worker Steve, and not Mr. Ranson.”
Lattin recalled Ranson would log long hours covering varioius sports around town then rush back to pump out stories to accompany the photos he had taken, all the while being a school administrator.
“That’s when I realized journalism wasn’t just a job for Steve — it was his passion,” she said. “Readers of the LVN will never know the amount of work Steve has poured into this newspaper. He fought hard to maintain the integrity and local focus of the paper when it transitioned from a privately owned paper to a corporate subsidiary. He fought hard to keep quality content on its pages as newsroom budgets were slashed again and again and again.”
Lattin added he kept up with technology as the paper created an online presence.
“Steve has been ever-present at the paper for more than 25 years,” she said. “It’s been his constant all while he held down other jobs, raised a family, battled health crises and gave his time to the National Guard. Thank you, Steve, for all you’ve taught me and for everything you’ve done for our community newspaper.”
Ranson’s two other children, David and Stephanie, were born in Fallon at the start of his LVN career, after Wells, Nev., had fanned his fire for community reporting. His ex-wife was hired as editor of the Wells Progress, so he provided sports stories, covered meetings and wrote local personality profiles. Little known to others, he served on the Wells Volunteer Fire Department for seven years, fought wildland fire during the summer for six seasons and was an ambulance attendant with an EMT-II certification. Before that he worked for Wyoming Game and Fish, broadcasting a weekly program over the Intermountain Radio Network to 95 stations across the Cowboy State and 10 others, compiled media releases and wrote articles for the monthly Wyoming Wildlife.
“I have enjoyed the best of many worlds,” Ranson said in his column announcing his retirement.
The seasoned writer explained how community journalism hooked him much more so early on than the bigger leagues, igniting an all-in-all five-decade flame for hometown coverage. Ranson noted a journalist records history, regardless of medium. He added the last couple years have been a roller coaster as he toyed with the idea of letting go of “his baby.”
COMMITTED TO THE CRAFT
The paper has achieved much under his leadership, collecting more than 100 awards from state, regional, national and international competitions and organizations as well as aiding numerous fundraisers and campaigns. He said two of the most memorable events covered were the nearby Amtrak crash and two embeds with Nevada troops in Afghanistan in Nov. 2011 and Nov. 2012.
He also traveled to the Arabian Sea to document the training stemming from Naval Air Station Fallon and how it relates to operations with a carrier air wing aboard an aircraft carrier.
Ranson was president of the Nevada Press Association and is current president of the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors. The NPA named Ranson co-journalist of the year in 2012 and awarded him Editorial Writer of the Year in 2014.
“Steve has been more than a friend to Nevada newspapers for a long while — he’s been a leader and example of how to do community journalism the right way,” said NPA Executive Director Barry Smith. “We’ve relied on him for help in a lot of different ways.”
David Henley was owner and publisher of the LVN from 1977 to 2004.
“There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that he has been this newspaper’s finest, best-ever editor,” Henley said. “During his many years at the Lahontan Valley News & Fallon Eagle-Standard … he has given us countless news and feature articles, editorials, columns and photographs, every one of which has demonstrated his widely-acclaimed reputation as a master storyteller.
“Steve is among a handful of truly great newspapermen I have ever known.”
When asked what is his favorite aspect to being an editor unrelated to community journalism, Ranson said he might need to think about that.
“I don’t think you can have one without the other,” he said.