First things first: A hearty congratulations to Philip Anschutz and the Clarity Media Group for purchasing the Gazette. The Denver businessman appears to be following in the hundred-year-old footsteps of our greatest community-builder — gold miner, entrepreneur and atheist Spencer Penrose, who not only co-owned the Colorado Springs Telegraph, but also built the Broadmoor Hotel.
Just as he has done with his September 2011 purchase of the Broadmoor, Anschutz has pledged to significantly invest in his latest acquisition. His publisher and editor, both new to town, have vowed to quickly add staff, pages and local content.
Not surprisingly, we have been inundated with questions about how the Independent will react to the Anschutz acquisition.
To be blunt, my initial reaction: AUUUGH!
For who in their right mind would want to compete head-on with a passionate entrepreneur and philanthropist worth in excess of $7 billion? (Yes, that's with a 'B'!)
But on reflection, I've realized we have little to fear. If the newly reinvigorated Gazette does indeed get better, hurray! It will be a huge win not only for the Pikes Peak region, but for our paper as well.
For the past decade, the Gazette has been in freefall, with at least eight different men filling their publisher's chair. As a result of repeated cutbacks and gross mismanagement, circulation has plummeted. Today its weekday, paid, home-delivered print circulation is 48,516, down from more than 106,000 a decade ago.
While all the talk is digital these days, print circulation is still the meat and potatoes of newspapers. As with almost all daily newspapers, the Gazette's largest single source of income is from free-standing inserts, the pre-printed coupons and ad circulars that very often contain far more pages than the newspaper itself.
Without Anschutz, our daily would have likely continued its spiral downward. This would have been disastrous, for without a decent daily, a city lacks coherence.
To grow and flourish, Colorado Springs needs to have a sustained narrative, one that not only reports the basic who, what, where and how of what transpired here, but also focuses on the why. Despite the explosion of tweets, blogs and websites, as well as traditional radio and television outlets, most of that reporting done today still is performed by traditional newspapers.
For the past two decades, our goal at the Indy has been to craft a more complex, more tolerant, more inclusive, truly sustainable and home-grown narrative to compete with the Gazette's libertarian/hard Christian right view.
And if past is prologue, the Gazette's editorial slant will remain rigidly hard right. For decades, Anschutz has funded anti-environmental groups and supported so called "traditional family values." He helped bankroll Colorado's 1992 anti-gay ballot measure Amendment 2, which was eventually ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.
In addition to the daily Oklahoman and the Gazette, Anschutz also owns the Examiner chain of free newspapers. These papers run conservative commentary from some of the more divisive voices, including Byron York (National Review); David Freddoso (author, The Case Against Barack Obama); and Michael Barone (FOX News).
Thus with the rise of Anschutz, the Pikes Peak region needs the Independent more than ever. And unlike in the past, we are in a position of great strength — for today a quarter of local adults pick up the Independent, with more 18-to-54-year-olds reading our paper than the first section of the daily Gazette (see chart).
So we are confident we can compete with the Gazette's new billionaire owner. But we do have a caveat.
Today we place Anschutz on notice that he must play fair, for previous Gazette owners have often acted like bullies. To cite one example: For over a decade, the Gazette threatened to cut off all support to many local nonprofits if they purchased a single ad in the Independent. In some cases, the Gazette bluntly warned that it would stop supporting local nonprofits if they even accepted donated ads from us.
Here is our warning: If the Gazette plays dirty, we will mobilize our lawyers and our readers to ensure fair play.
Fortunately for us and our community, new Gazette publisher Dan Steever seems like a smart and reasonable guy. (He even bought me lunch.) So we expect, and look forward to, a good old-fashioned newspaper clash for the hearts, minds and direction of our beloved city.
Scouting out the fire story
One rule in restaurants is never to let the diners know if there's a crisis in the kitchen. The same rule applied in our city during the Waldo Canyon Fire — it was essential that during those days, our leaders did everything in their power to keep things as calm and orderly as possible. And Mayor Bach and other community leaders did a masterful job of assuring us that things were largely under control.
But now that our community is formally examining what actually transpired, we must move beyond platitudes about our valiant first responders, though heroic they indeed were. The evidence uncovered in Pam Zubeck's insightful investigative cover story on p. 21 reveals far more disorganization in the fire's early days than the city's initial after-action report indicates.
Our ultimate goal is not to point fingers or assign blame, but to ensure we all know what actually happened so we can be better prepared when future disasters strike, from fire to flood, from drought to a terrorist attack.
Let's harken back to the Boy Scout call to "Be Prepared." The first step in doing so is to really understand what actually happened, warts and all.
Give! and let live
Many people understandably have donor fatigue after the Waldo Canyon Fire. But the 58 local, wonderful and inspired nonprofits participating in this year's Indy Give! 2012 campaign merit our support. And they are competing for more than a quarter million dollars in matching-grant and friendly-competition awards donated by local businesses and foundations.
In the first five weeks of the campaign, more than $300,000 has been raised via 4,000 donations.
For our worthy nonprofits to meet their challenges, at least another $250,000 must be raised by the campaign's end, midnight Dec. 31.
If you have not given yet, please check out the Give! campaign today. You will be amazed and awed by the powerful work of these small, yet mighty local nonprofits. (Plus, you'll get great thank-you rewards.) To read all about them, and how Give! works, go to indygive.com.