Explorer publisher looks toward the future

From left, Adirondack Explorer writer/photographer Mike Lynch, publisher Tracy Ormsbee and editor Phil Brown pose outside the Explorer office in Saranac Lake last week. (Enterprise photo — Justin A. Levine)

SARANAC LAKE — One of the most recognizable publications covering the Adirondack Park has a new leader at the helm, and she hopes to expand the magazine’s reach and digital presence.

Tracy Ormsbee, who was hired earlier this year to be the publisher of the Adirondack Explorer, came to the magazine from the Times Union newspaper in Albany. Ormsbee moved to an apartment in Saranac Lake while she and her husband wait to sell their house in the Capital Region.

Ormsbee sat down with the Enterprise for this interview, which has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity and space.

How do you like living in Saranac Lake?

I love it, it seems like there’s a real resurgence going on right now, and I’m right downtown, so I’m right in the heart of it.

What about visiting Lake Eaton as a kid made you fall in love with the Adirondacks?

What’s not to love? There’s a million things to do. It’s peaceful and beautiful, and it was fun as a kid. We swam all the time and boated and went out for ice cream at Custard’s Last Stand and went to the dump to watch the bears.

We would come here and spend the entire summer when school got out, and just sort of take our shoes off and not put them back on until (fall). Just kind of running around and swimming and stuff.

So it’s just a beautiful place (and) it gets into your blood once you spend some time here.

When you were at the Times Union, you worked on 518Life and Women at Work magazines. Did that give you a leg up coming into this job, or is this a whole new beast?

Well, it’s sort of new. I did more than those two magazines, I was one of the senior editors, so I oversaw the features and sports departments and the Sunday front page too. But if I hadn’t done those magazines, I probably wouldn’t understand some of the business end of what we’re doing here.

So yes, I would say it gave me a leg up. It gave me an understanding of more than just the editorial portion.

But there’s more to learn, for sure. The Explorer is a non-profit publication, so there’s fundraising involved. I wasn’t handling circulation, there was a whole department doing that at the Times Union.

So it’s a really interesting challenge. There’s something new and different to be doing all the time, (but) I’m enjoying it so far.

It sounds like Women at Work expanded significantly while you were there.

Women at Work was a really cool project because it was more than the magazine. Our slogan was “A magazine, a network and a movement.” The magazine came first and then we started building a network around the magazine.

When I left there were 2,000 members, so there’s a real movement around women coming together and helping each other in the workplace and lifting each other up.

I felt like that paralleled, in some ways, what’s happening here, which is a magazine that is devoted to the issues of the Adirondacks and the environment and protecting what’s here. I think people have that same emotional attachment to the issues, and so I feel like you could create kind of a membership around this that could grow in the same way. People just feeling involved, but also we have a location that helps people understand the issues and what they need to do. So I got really excited about this when they came and asked if I was interested, and I saw those parallels.

Building off of that success, how are you going to try and replicate that at the Explorer?

Well, I’m not sure we’re going to go to a membership model, but we could because I do think people feel very passionate about this place and protecting it, so I think we could go in that direction (but) I’m not positive we will.

But we will definitely be working to grow our circulation both digitally and (for) the magazine, just because we want this message to get out to a wider audience. I think there’s great potential to grow this beyond the High Peaks region and really get out there to the Albany area, Syracuse and Buffalo.

We need to get on to newsstands somewhere so that people see the Explorer out there. But I think it’s a great publication. It’s really great, important information, so I think it has great potential to grow.

You’ve written a lot of articles for the (Adirondack) Almanack already. Are you planning on being a hands-on publisher/reporter?

I’m right now doing a little more than I intended to. What I’m doing with the Almanack, I remade the newsletter and the way that daily email newsletter (is) fed is by what’s on the Almanack.

So in order to have a little more hand in the content that gets into the daily newsletter, it has to be on the Almanack first.

So that’s why you’re seeing my name there more. My focus is more on making some digital changes and that’s my way of feeding this email newsletter. But when I see something, I also like to write about it and get it out there.

What sort of new features can Explorer readers expect to see?

Well, we have an app, which has been available to us and we’re going to start doing more with it now. We’ll be sort of launching that for summer and letting people know it’s a really great benefit for campers because you can download the issue, like the Outdoors Guide for instance, and then you don’t need Wi-Fi. It’ll just be on your phone and you can get all those excursions we have in our outdoors guide. So I think it’ll be really useful for people here where Wi-Fi can be hard to get.

Mike Lynch has a new photo blog that’s going to be on the Explorer website, and Phil (Brown) is doing more with his Outtakes blog, so you’ll start seeing more stuff on the Explorer (site) and we’re going to be teasing back and forth between the Almanack and the Explorer and we’re really going to make that connection between the two websites that are both owned by the Explorer. For now, that’s the direction we’re going in.

Do you see the Explorer as more of a news magazine or an advocacy magazine?

Well, I think it’s a news magazine, (but) it’s advocacy in that the issues we write about are tied to the protection of the Adirondacks, the protection and enjoyment of the Adirondacks.

But our journalism is, we tell both sides of the story. It’s true journalism. We’re not just telling one side of the story. The advocacy is in what we’re choosing our niche to be, that we write about. So we’re advocacy, but our journalism is pure.

Is there an issue facing the Adirondacks that jumps out at you?

I might be too new to the Adirondacks, (but) I’ll tell you what is important to me. Continuing to protect the wilderness.

We need to keep an eye on global warming and the effects that it’s having on the Adirondacks.

Also important to me, and a push that I’d like to see us do more of, is writing about the communities here. One of the things that makes the Adirondack Park different than the national parks is that there are communities of people living here trying to make a living. And I’d like to include that in our coverage because that’s part of what makes the Adirondacks unique.

I was 5 when I started coming here, but that was in the 70s. That was when there was this contention, or more contention, between the environmentalists and the townspeople and I feel that changing. I think there seems to be many more attempts to work together and compromise. That is really heartening to me, to see the community and the environmental groups working together for the good of the Adirondacks.

Do you think there are any Adirondack issues that are flying under the radar?

You know, what it’s like to try and make a living here? I think those are the issues that should be more in the forefront. How can we coexist and have this beautiful place protected and still have people be able to survive here? Are people really being priced out by the summer people coming in?

I’d like to see us do more of that stuff. And I don’t mean just the High Peaks area, because that’s another thing: I’d really like to diversify our coverage geographically because this is a huge park and I’d really like to get into some other areas. I’m really trying to show that this is a big park and there are people who love Old Forge and there are people who love Lake George.

It’s beautiful up here, and obviously that’s why people are attracted to the High Peaks. But there’s much more out there and there are interesting things going on in other areas of the park, so I just want to spend a little more time on that too.

As a newcomer, what do you think the Explorer already does well?

I think there’s a real depth of knowledge there. Down at the Times Union, we would write about the big issues as they bubbled up and we would sort of send a reporter cold to come up and start covering it, where Phil understands. He’s been covering these issues from the beginning, so I think we cover the issues in great depth and we’re hoping that we have an influence with the stories we’re doing.

We’re hoping to have that sort of influence, and I think we do. (I think) we have really good features (and) good writing.