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Former Rio Grande Sun editor Bob Trapp dies

Robert E. Trapp, left, is shown with his son, Robert B. Trapp, at the Rio Grande Sun in September 2013. (Pat Vasquez-Cunningham/Albuquerque Journal)

Robert E. Trapp, left, is shown with his son, Robert B. Trapp, at the Rio Grande Sun in September 2013. (Pat Vasquez-Cunningham/Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA FE, N.M. — Rio Grande Sun founder and former editor and publisher, Robert E. Trapp, was a hard-nosed newsman, who “followed the money and chased corrupt politicians,” said his son, Robert B. Trapp, current managing editor and owner of the Española-based newspaper.

“He was an old time journalist who did the job all of us should be doing today, and he did it to the detriment of advertising and the business model. He focused on news. That’s all he cared about. He wanted to make money to pay the bills, so he could write news. That was the only reason he paid the bills,” said his son.

The senior Trapp, 87, died Sunday. A cause of death was not released, and as per his request no funeral service was held. Cremation has taken place.

Trapp, along with his wife Ruth, were among the original four founders of the Sun in 1956. In the early 1960s, they bought out the other two partners, Bill and Hollie Birkett. Ruth Trapp died last January.

Robert E. Trapp plugging away at his typewriter in 1960 at the Rio Grande Sun.

Robert E. Trapp plugging away at his typewriter in 1960 at the Rio Grande Sun.

The Trapps grew the weekly from an initial circulation of a few hundred into the largest paid weekly newspaper in New Mexico with a paid circulation of about 12,000 readers. The Rio Grande Sun built its reputation serving the Española Valley with its emphasis on local politics, crime, school news, county coverage, editorial content and sports.

According to the newspaper’s website, Trapp “successfully sued Jemez Mountains Electric Cooperative, Los Alamos National Laboratories, and the City of Española (among others) in efforts to publish public records which custodians thought should be hidden from the public.”

Trapp was the recipient of numerous writing awards for his editorials, columns and news stories. He was inducted into the New Mexico Press Association’s Hall of Fame in 2000, was given the (Eugene) Cervi award for community newspapering by the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors in 1992, and received the (Bill) Dixon Award for fighting for openness in government in 2002.

During his 60-year newspaper career, Trapp served as president of the New Mexico Press Association and president of the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors. He was a founding member of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government and served as its president.

“Bob Trapp was one of the very best in the newspaper business. Always a gentleman, it is no exaggeration to say he was a champion for truth and transparency, and a role model and mentor to so many,” said Albuquerque Journal editor Kent Walz.

“In addition to his work as publisher of the Sun, he was instrumental in forming the Foundation for Open Government and was always willing to take on the hard fight against long odds,” Walz said.

Robert E. Trapp.

Robert E. Trapp.

Michael Kaemper, a partner at the Rodey Law Firm, worked for the Rio Grande Sun after getting his undergraduate degree in journalism at the University of New Mexico in 1989. He left in 1996 to attend law school.

“A lot of good journalists went through the door of the Rio Grande Sun, and learned how to ask the tough questions and follow the money,” Kaemper said. “I called it the ‘Bob Trapp Graduate School of Journalism,’ and it’s where I really learned how to be a journalist. I started as a reporter covering crime, courts and county government and then was promoted to news editor. Bob was an amazing newspaper man and the Rio Grande Sun was, and is, a dynamic newspaper that didn’t kowtow to advertisers and politicians.”

Kaemper said he worked at the newspaper at the “tail end” of the era of Emilio Naranjo, one of the last of the powerful bosses of the political patrón system in northern New Mexico. Trapp’s battles with Naranjo were legendary, and “Bob was always nipping at his heels,” he said.

Richard Rosenstock, an attorney from Northern New Mexico remembers those battles well. He represented the La Raza Unida Party, which had challenged the rule of Naranjo.

“Bob Trapp was courageous and fearless in covering those stories,” he said. “He certainly didn’t agree with La Raza Unida politics, and he held a lot of libertarian views that I didn’t agree with, but he recognized that the climate Emilio Naranjo created in Rio Arriba County was oppressive. The coverage he provided for the public about the political machine, I think, played a role in helping to bring about change.”

Trapp is survived by his daughter Julie Ann Trapp, of Santa Fe; son Robert B. Trapp, of Española, and his life partner Belinda Martinez; James Trapp, of Buena Vista, Colo.; one granddaughter, two great-grandchildren and six nephews.