When Kristen Czaban started at the Sheridan Press in June 2008 as a new reporter, she thought she'd stay for a year, get experience and move on.
"I had never been to Sheridan before. I had never been to Wyoming before. But I was offered the job over the phone sight unseen," she said.
Czaban is originally from Kent, Ohio, and had just graduated from Northwestern University. She was a city-girl moving to Wyoming. But after experiencing her first Sheridan fall, pheasant hunt, camping trips, brandings, and meeting her now-husband, she knew she wanted to stay.
Czaban covered a wide-range of beats in town and worked at growing her reporting skills. Then when the managing editor position became available at the Press, she decided to apply for the job, even though she wasn't sure she wanted it.
"Surprisingly, my publisher had asked me to have lunch with him at the end of the week. And he said just plan for an hour or so downtown, we'll just grab something at a cafe. Then that morning he said, 'Change of plans. We're going out to the Powder Horn, and we're going to spend about three hours out there,'" Czaban said. "And I immediately thought I was going to get fired or something horrible had happened."
But nothing horrible had happened, quite the opposite actually.
"When I interviewed her, I recall that she was well-read. And that impresses me when people read outside of their work in the newspaper business," said Stephen Woody, the former publisher of the Sheridan Press.
Woody was also impressed by her ability to stand up to people in power, learn new things, and her vision for the paper and community. So that afternoon, he offered her the job.
"So then a few years after that, he had been coaching me and was really a great mentor. And he let me know a year out that he was planning to retire, and he wanted me to take the reins," Czaban said.
A publisher at a community newspaper is like being a CEO, Czaban said. The publisher handles the business side of the paper, the revenue, the marketing, ads, but also oversees news coverage, and is ultimately in charge of the product put out.
Woody thought she was ready.
"Maybe the most important thing that I recognized, and that she recognized, is that she needed some training on the business side of the house," Woody said.
So Czaban applied for and received a MBA degree from the University of Wyoming. And in 2017, she took over as the publisher of the Sheridan Press, the first woman to do so. But Czaban's education hasn't stopped with her new role.
That's something Letti Lister admires about her friend and colleague Czaban. Lister is the publisher of the Black Hills Pioneer daily newspaper in Spearfish, South Dakota.
"She came up through the news department so she really understood that side really well, and she's been able to adapt and learn the business and advertising side as well because that is a big part of what we do," Lister said. The Black Hills Pioneer and the Sheridan Press belong to the same publishing company, Seaton Publishing Corporation, a family-owned newspaper publishing group.
Czaban, who is in her early 30s, has also been working to be a leader outside of the Sheridan Press. She's a former president of the Wyoming Press Association. She coaches a girls' softball team. And over the past year, she's been participating in Leadership Wyoming, a program designed to help people become better leaders in their communities.
During her time as editor, she's made a point to showcase women in her community and across the state and region. For example, She has been hosting the FAB Women's Conference which stands for "For. By. About Women."
"We had sessions on everything from wage negotiation over the years, how to start your own business. Just a little bit of everything. Arts and writing and songwriting even," Czaban said. "And it was just a lot of fun, and it was a good way to help women from across the state network and grow and take a day for themselves which they don't typically do."
One of her main focuses as publisher is to build and represent her community.
"Our mission is really to engage the community and inform the community so they can make better decisions about the community. And we're really striving to be that public forum and that public square again, whether it's an event we're hosting or the stories we write. We want to make sure it has this community at its focus," she said.
Lister said over the past few years, she's seen Czaban's confidence in her role at the paper and in the community grow.
"She's really grasped and I think championed the role of the newspaper as the voice of the community and a way for people to get reliable information," she said.
Czaban said she encourages her staff, many of whom are women as well, to also build their own leadership qualities and be a part of the community. She hopes that her position will hopefully get more women in these roles across the industry.
"Seeing people that look like you at the top, helps encourage younger generations that they can do it too. So whether it's my own staff or going to conferences around the country and they say, 'This is Kristen. She's a female publisher in Sheridan WY.' It's just fun for them to go oh sweet, I can do that too."
Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Catherine Wheeler, at firstname.lastname@example.org.