Last Thursday, Denver's Philip Anschutz finalized his purchase of the Gazette from a rebooted Freedom Communications; Friday, after an announcement to the staff, many of the paper's writers hoisted drinks at Oscar's Oyster Bar in careful celebration.
The deal ends months of rumors and makes our 140-year-old daily a part of the Anschutz Corp.'s Clarity Media Group, which also owns content-farm examiner.com; the Weekly Standard, a prominent conservative magazine; and the Oklahoman, which, along with The Broadmoor, was owned by the Oklahoma Publishing Co. before the multi-billionaire bought it all in late 2011.
The exchange of the Gazette wasn't a bloodless transaction: A handful of people in the newsroom were not offered contracts with the new company, including content director Carmen Boles. She was replaced by Joe Hight, former managing editor of the Oklahoman.
He didn't respond to multiple interview requests, but according to Anschutz spokesman Jim Monaghan, Hight will be leading an expansive transformation.
"We [will] look at increased news coverage," Monaghan says in an interview. "We [will] look at staff increases; page increases, obviously; circulation increases. And then, as for the entire digital [side], we would look to grow that as well."
Monaghan says newsroom personnel will be increased by 20 percent, with an additional 30 pages added to the typical week's total. "I think by next week you'll see some changes," he says.
Indeed, on Tuesday, the paper advertised the return of the "Life" section. Other, less noticeable, changes include Clarity's CEO Ryan McKibben — whose brother, P. Scott McKibben, was the Gazette's publisher from 2006 to 2008 — joining Hight in leadership as the paper's chairman, as will Christian Anschutz, Philip's son, who will serve as vice-chairman.
Current publisher Dan Steever will remain.
It's left to the rest of us to speculate what else Anschutz's ownership might mean for the Gazette. The paper was already on the way back up under the short ownership of Boston entrepreneur Aaron Kushner, who bought Freedom in June.
Reporters like Ned B. Hunter and Garrison Wells now have Gazette bylines, while new sports columnist Paul Klee picked a good year to leave Illinois' News-Gazette to cover the Broncos (and Rockies).
But as to whether there will be a shift on the paper's much-maligned editorial page, one might check a story by Politico about another Anschutz property, the Washington Examiner, for a clue.
"When it came to the editorial page, Anschutz's instructions were explicit," wrote Michael Calderone in 2009. "He 'wanted nothing but conservative columns and conservative op-ed writers,' said one former employee." A more recent view comes in a Nov. 28 editorial in the Oklahoman that looks skeptically at "the 'science' of global warming."
Monaghan wouldn't speak to any trends in the newly acquired paper's official tone, but did say "contrary points of view" would get space in the op-ed pages as well.
All this leaves one last question: Why the Gazette?
"While the industry's in decline, there are significant opportunities on a market-by-market basis, and this is one of them," says Monaghan. "We think the newspaper can be grown, improved, made more meaningful for the community. And I think with the acquisition of The Broadmoor, and spending more time down here, both the family and various individuals associated with Anschutz, everybody paid attention to the Gazette. And we consider [Colorado Springs] an extended hometown. So, the pieces just all fit together."
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