Fired Aspen Times editor files lawsuit against his ex-newspaper
The news behind the news in Colorado this week
Andrew Travers, an editor of the Aspen Times who was fired last year amid a censorship scandal, has now sued his former newspaper and its parent company.
Allegations in a scathing 16-page lawsuit filed this week accuse the West Virginia-based Ogden Newspapers of cowing to a wealthy foreign developer and reneging on a promise that Travers would have editorial independence.
Ogden fired the editor “for simply attempting to do his job as a watchdog journalist of one of the richest towns in America, and its billionaire residents,” the lawsuit alleges. “He was lied to by Defendants to induce him into taking the promotion, and when he performed the job as he was promised that he could, he was fired.” (An Ogden representative has denied unlawful conduct, and a lawyer for the company denied the allegations.)
Here’s the introduction of the suit:
Plaintiff Andrew Travers accepted a promotion to be Editor-in-Chief of the Aspen Times only after receiving extensive assurances from its publisher and owner, Ogden Newspapers (“Ogden”), that he would be allowed to do his job. That job? Rebuild the paper’s credibility by publishing a truthful account of the censorship that had been imposed on Aspen Times employees by Ogden management during a defamation suit by a Russian oligarch.
The Aspen Times had been sued by the oligarch to silence critical, and accurate, reporting about his past, and present, shady business dealings, and to reduce community opposition to a controversial land deal that was of considerable public interest. Mr. Travers took his job seriously and, as his first order of business, published two previously spiked opinion columns suppressed by Ogden upper management during the lawsuit, along with a series of internal emails about why the articles had been killed. For that, Mr. Travers was immediately and unceremoniously fired.
Filed Tuesday in Pitkin County by the high-profile Denver-based civil rights firm Killmer, Lane & Newman, the lawsuit follows more than a year of trouble for the Aspen Times.
Six months after Ogden Newspapers bought the 140-year-old paper in a deal that included a string of other Colorado ski town titles owned by Nevada-based Swift Communications, things got sticky.
A Swedish billionaire developer born in Russia had filed a lawsuit (and later settled it) over coverage. The paper’s editor quit while citing the “vibe” under new ownership. The town’s mayor accused the paper of suppressing news coverage. An interim editor “strenuously” objected to management decisions. The paper hired Travers, who took on the job amid the turmoil, and then fired him after about a day as editor. Outside the paper, the county government responded to the scandal by very publicly pulling its ads from the Times and giving the paper’s rival, the locally owned Aspen Daily News, the coveted title as Pitkin County’s newspaper of record. This summer, the City of Aspen followed suit.
Aspen is one of the few towns left in the United States with two competing daily newspapers, and it is not a stretch to wonder if that might always be the case.
Ogden recently offloaded one of its papers, in Utah’s Park City, to a local tech billionaire. Notably, that paper’s new editor is Don Rogers, who jumped ship from none other than the Aspen Times this summer after about a year on the job.
While Andre Salvail of the Aspen Daily News was first to report this week on the notable newspaper lawsuit filed by a former editor — the story quoted quite heavily from the filing — the Aspen Times did actually cover it.
The piece in the Times that appeared on Thursday by reporter Josie Taris quoted Cameron Nutting Williams, the chief revenue officer for Ogden Newspapers, saying, “While we have not yet received any official notification of this lawsuit, we continue to strongly disagree with Mr. Travers’ characterization of this situation and deny any unlawful conduct.” It also cited an attorney for Travers saying settlement talks, going back roughly six months, didn’t pan out.
The lawsuit’s allegations, from the perspective of Travers, offer a detailed play-by-play and a behind-the-scenes look at a troubled newsroom during last summer’s saga — right down to what Travers was cooking in a break room for a workplace snack on the day he got the axe. (Spoiler: it was a burrito.)
The lawsuit asks for “injunctive relief, including reinstatement of employment.” But Travers, who wrote an essay last year in The Atlantic titled “How to Kill a Newspaper,” told the Denver Post he doesn’t want his job back. He currently works on educational programs with the Aspen Institute.
His suit, filed against the Aspen Times, Ogden, and Swift (the Ogden papers kept the Swift brand for some of them), seeks a jury to decide to what extent the companies might owe “compensatory damages” including pain and suffering, and “such further relief as justice requires.”
Scott Stanford, group publisher for Swift’s newspapers in Colorado and Utah, declined to comment.
UPDATE, Oct. 8: Mera Kutrovac, an attorney for Ogden, said via email “Unfortunately, we cannot comment on any pending litigation, but we do deny the allegations that have been made against us.”
For his part, Travers said via email he is “hopeful that this action can hold Ogden accountable for violating the public trust along with my legal rights, and deter them from doing this to other journalists and other communities.”
Aspen Public Radio’s Eleanor Bennett reported that the lawsuit “could have wider implications for the future of journalism and workers’ rights.”
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The Colorado Sun examined our state’s local news scene — in three parts
This week, reporters Jennifer Brown and Kevin Simpson published a three-part series examining Colorado’s local news landscape.
The first, headlined “While many small-town newspapers are vanishing, these Coloradans are working to keep local news alive,” looks at a handful of small papers in the state that launched or re-launched, including the Florence Reporter and the Pikes Peak Bulletin in Manitou Springs. Here were some nuggets:
“Colorado, compared with other states, has a robust media scene, where news agencies are winning competitive grants to keep operating, and there’s an infrastructure — the nonprofit Colorado News Collaborative — that leads joint reporting projects and advises startups on how to begin.”
“Colorado now has numerous online-only startups, including The Colorado Sun, as well as near-heroic tales of local people reviving their dying or dead newspapers. Some are producing traditional journalism, meaning vetted and reported stories by trained reporters, while others are run by citizen journalists. And as the number of traditional newspapers is shrinking, there’s been a burst in alternative sources for information — for better or worse.”
“The last election cycle in Manitou, when there was no robust local news, three people ran unopposed for city council seats. This time, there are three people running for mayor and 10 people running for three open council seats. The Bulletin devoted space in its pages to writing about Manitou’s Citizens Academy, which was intended to inspire the next generation of city leaders.”
The second story, headlined “The Newton experiment: How a rural Kansas weekly newspaper refreshed an outdated business model,” looks at our neighbor next door, and it cited a study that includes University of Colorado Boulder journalism professor Patrick Ferrucci as an author. Here’s an excerpt:
Their surveys revealed that while most publishers clung to a traditional business model that dates to the 19th century — cheap print subscriptions augmented by advertising — their readers, mindful of a small-town paper’s role in civic life, said they’d also support other strategies, like in-person events, membership models and e-newsletters. Some were even willing to make cash donations.
And while those results provide a glimmer of hope for economic growth, publishers squander that potential when they fail to act on readers’ willingness to embrace new initiatives, the study concluded.
The final story, headlined, “An old-fashioned newspaper war inspired by modern politics is raging in Westcliffe and dividing readers,” takes a look at the town in small, rural Custer County where a group of right-wing partisans launched a publication to change the county government — and succeeded. (A signal about the standard of verification that goes into the publication can be seen in the “Trump won” sign outside the political periodical’s office on Main Street.) Some nuggets:
“The conflict between the two papers has gotten so ugly that coffee shops have taken sides.”
“Locals say that while each newspaper has contributed to a resurgence in interest in local politics, the battle has mainly served to further polarize Westcliffe. And for some, the negative vibes are too much — they won’t buy either paper.”
“The Sentinel’s politics, though, are attracting subscribers, [the partisan publisher] said. It saw a boost during the pandemic, when the paper published stories making fun of masks and calling vaccines dangerous, and referred to the coronavirus as ‘WuFlu.’” (Editor’s note: Everything old is new again.)
Over email, the Colorado Sun journalists said what they learned most while embarking on this series about our state’s local media scene.
“I found it interesting that research shows rural publishers need to listen more closely to their readers, who are far more willing to embrace changes to the traditional business model — including significant price increases and outright donations — than they think,” Simpson said. “Just don’t take away their print product altogether. Online may indeed be the future of local news, but newsprint will endure longer than we might have thought — as long as there are enough presses to meet the demand.”
Brown said she was surprised to find that reporting the project was inspiring.
“It turns out that people who’ve lost their local newspaper will rise up to bring it back, because, as one of our sources put it, a town without local news is ‘less of a town’,” she said. “It made me see that local news isn’t dead — it’s changing, in some ways for the better and some not.”
State Court Report launches first local event in Colorado
A new project by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU’s law school that seeks to provide more coverage of constitutional developments at the state level is holding its first local event in Colorado.
“Recent federal rulings that have limited or eliminated rights under the U.S. Constitution have brought increased attention to state constitutions as important sources of rights,” reads the website of State Court Report. “State constitutional questions cut across issues and ideological lines, from curbing partisan gerrymandering to protecting property rights.”
What’s been missing is a forum where experts come together to analyze and discuss constitutional trends emerging from state high courts, as well as a place where noteworthy state cases and case materials are easy to find and access. State constitutions share many common provisions, and state courts across the country frequently grapple with similar questions about constitutional interpretation.
Enter State Court Report, which is dedicated to covering legal news, trends, and cutting-edge scholarship, offering insights and commentary from a nationwide network of academics, journalists, judges, and practitioners with diverse perspectives and expertise. By providing original content and resources that are easily accessible, State Court Report fosters informed dialogue, research, and public understanding about an essential but chronically underappreciated source of law.
As part of the project, organizers are putting on an evening Oct. 12 event at the University of Colorado Denver’s School of Public Affairs titled “Democracy and the Colorado Constitution: Success Story or Cautionary Tale?”
The 7 p.m. panel on the second floor of 1380 Lawrence St. will feature Colorado Supreme Court Justice Melissa Hart, Sturm College of Law professor Tom Romero, State Court Report editor Alicia Bannon, and Chandra Thomas Whitfield of Colorado Public Radio.
Here’s the tease for it (RSVP here):
Be it TABOR, water rights, or cannabis, Coloradans have used their constitution to expand rights beyond those offered in the U.S. Constitution. As public attention shifts from federal to state protections, what can Colorado’s constitutional experiments teach the nation — and what are the challenges facing Coloradans? Join us for a lively discussion, including a moderated Q&A and light refreshments.
“State supreme courts are where the action is, but local news organizations rarely have the resources to make them a beat,” says Nancy Watzman, a consultant working with the Brennan Center for Justice on State Court Report. “State Court Report wants to make it easier to cover courts and share out trends and insights. Colorado has such a vibrant, collaborative, and experimental local news scene, that it’s a natural place for us to start in bringing together scholars, judges, and journalists together to start a conversation.”
Readers respond: Should CPR disclose its secret $8.3M donor ASAP? RESULTS…
Last week this newsletter polled its nearly 3,000 subscribers about whether Colorado Public Radio should disclose who ponied up $8.3 million for a new station headquarters. (The station says it plans to reveal it eventually but is holding off until a later, unspecified date.)
Here are the results out of 84 votes:
65% voted “Yes, I think so.”
24% voted “No. Trust them, don’t mind waiting.”
11% voted “You’re blowing it out of proportion.”
Personal responses to the poll didn’t flood my inbox. A handful of people indicated how they voted, but one email from a reader stuck out.
“When so much of the future is nonprofit journalism I think we need to encourage more of what makes donors happy,” said Scott Yates, founder of JournalList.net and the trust.txt system. “If that means waiting a couple weeks to make an announcement, I don’t think it’s a good idea to go all Woodward and Bernstein.”
Perhaps that starts a conversation — if not publicly, then at least maybe in newsrooms or boardrooms.
Why Denver’s 5280 magazine absorbed its standalone Home edition
Post-pandemic costs have forced Denver’s lifestyle magazine 5280 to stop printing its “Home” title and fold it into the broader magazine.
While costs have gone up across the board, “printing alone has gone up 60% since COVID,” Daniel Brogan, 5280’s founder, CEO, and editor, said over the phone this week. “That changes your business model.”
A decade ago, 5280 launched Home as a separate publication that offered advertisers a lower rate with a smaller circulation of 30,000 editions instead of the award-winning 70,000-circulation 5280 flagship. That had worked out well, Brogan said, and the niche publication even saw some of its larger advertisers migrate over to 5280. But when COVID hit, revenue fell, including at Home, and since then expenses have spiked.
“We looked at it and we just didn’t see that changing long term,” Brogan said. “So we made the decision to fold it back into 5280.” Doing so also meant eliminating three positions.
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More Colorado media odds & ends
🎬 After five years, filmmaker Rick Goldsmith’s documentary, “Stripped for Parts: American Journalism on the Brink,” which is about a “secretive hedge fund that is plundering America’s newspapers and the journalists who are fighting back,” will premier Oct. 21 at the Santa Fe International Film Festival. (The trailer focuses heavily on journalists from Colorado.)
📉 Kara Mason wrote this week for Southwest Contemporary about how “for arts communities in southern Colorado, a diminished presence of alternative newspapers like the Colorado Springs Indy means less coverage and support.”
💨 Elliott Wenzler is leaving the Colorado Sun to become a Denver correspondent for a string of Swift-branded newspapers on the Western Slope owned by Ogden Newspapers of West Virginia. “I’ll be covering the statehouse in addition to the congressional delegation from the Western Slope,” she said.
📺 Denver’s 9NEWS anchor Kyle Clark said on Sept. 29 via social media that he would be “taking a few weeks away from work.”
☀️ The Colorado Sun published its annual report — what the news outlet expects will be “the last annual report we produce as a privately-owned public benefit corporation.” The site says it had more than 22.5 million pageviews, “an approximately 10% increase over the same period in 2021-22” — and more than 20% more unique visitors.
⛺️ 🌃 Progressive journalist Jason Salzman spent a night on the streets of Denver “to fact-check Aurora Mayor Coffman’s story about posing as an unhoused person.”
⚙️ Boulder Weekly is looking for an editor it will pay $55,000 to $60,000. “Recently our editor (10 years with the paper) has decided to move on to a non-profit,” reads an announcement. “We are now searching for the next great editor who can lead our award-winning alt weekly newspaper into the future.” Send Cover letter, resume, and clips to franzan[at]boulderweekly[dot]com.
🏍 When OutThere Colorado this week posted an anonymous motorcyclist’s viral video of him speeding from Colorado Springs to Denver in about 20 minutes, a reader of this newsletter remarked to me: “Maybe I’m overthinking this, but it strikes me as weird that a Gazette product would be plugging this guy’s monetized YouTube channel for something so illegal, reckless, and antisocial.” My response: “Gotta get those clicks.”
📧 Colorado News Collaborative, Colorado Media Project, and Colorado Press Association are hoping our state’s local news outlets fill out a survey they’re calling the “Colorado News Media Survey.” Check your inbox for a link to it. The groups say the survey results will help them “gain a greater, deeper understanding of what you — and the industry as a whole — need from us.”
🔌 The Denver Press Club is holding an Oct. 10 evening event that promises “an honest, fact-based discussion” about Electric Vehicles “with those who know the segment most.”
📢 If you’re a Colorado journalist, add yourself to the new Amplify Colorado directory to help you connect with more diverse sources.
📗 5280 magazine’s Jay Bouchard has a write-up about a new book by Salida-based environmental journalist Ben Goldfarb. The book is “Crossings: How Road Ecology Is Shaping the Future of the Planet.”
📡 The Black Millennial Mom podcast, hosted by radio personality Mercedes on 104.7 THE DROP, “focuses on showcasing the struggles and the authentic beauty of a generation of mothers and fathers who share their parenthood journeys.”
📒 “Zine is short for magazine,” Kels Choo, who organizes the Pikes Peak Zine Fest with fellow zine maker Jennifer Eltringham, told Nick Raven of The Indy in Colorado Springs. “They’re self-published little books and they can be any format you want.”
🎙 Rossana Longo-Better broadcast a piece for KGNU titled “The Printing Press Continues The Fight To Preserve Local Journalism.”
I’m Corey Hutchins, co-director of Colorado College’s Journalism Institute. For nearly a decade I’ve reported on the U.S. local media scene for Columbia Journalism Review, and I’ve been a journalist for longer at multiple news organizations. Colorado Media Project is underwriting this newsletter, and my “Inside the News” column appears at COLab, both of which I sometimes write about here. (If you’d like to underwrite or sponsor this newsletter hit me up.) Follow me on Twitter, reply or subscribe to this weekly newsletter here, or e-mail me at CoreyHutchins [at] gmail [dot] com.
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