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Coming of Age 

There was a spectacular fall sunset over the Front Range as seen from the upstairs patio at the Kissing Camels Club on Oct. 5, 2002.

That evening, the club played host to a panel discussion on bias in the media sponsored by the Bighorn Center for Public Policy, the bipartisan Denver think tank whose recent success with the telemarketing no-call list has many hands clapping (and many homes sans phones ringing at dinnertime).

Bighorn headlined four Colorado journalists, in this order: Cara DeGette, editor of the Independent; Dan Njegomir, the former editorial page editor for The Gazette; Ed Sardella, longtime news anchor for KUSA Channel 9 in Denver; and Eric Anderson, a former staff writer for The Denver Post.

Sardella, sounding as sober as Walter Cronkite, directed traffic and more or less let the action play out between DeGette and Njegomir, who were nothing if not entertaining. In the audience one had the feeling their verbal salvos -- which more closely resembled a variety program than Crossfire and bordered on a bizarre flirtation -- carried with them the capacity to revert instantly to a liberal-conservative death match, hands clenched about each other's throats, grappling to the last.

The exchange stayed playful and polite, however. These two should go on tour.

The approximately 90 persons in attendance included nearly all of our community's heavy hitters. Think I'm kidding? Here's a short list: Mayor Mary Lou Makepeace, who runs the city; El Paso County Board of Commissioners Chairman Tom Huffman, who runs the county; and El Pomar Board Chairman Bill Hybl, who runs both the city and county.

El Paso County Sheriff John Anderson was there, as was the mayor of Manitou Springs, Marcy Morrison, with her husband, attorney Buddy Morrison. State Sen. Andy McElhany was there, as was Senate hopeful, Commissioner Ed Jones.

City Councilman Ted Eastburn was also there, tacitly lobbying for a name change -- he's keeping Eastburn but wouldn't mind swapping "Ted" for "Mayor." And naturally, businessman Steve Schuck didn't miss it.

Other politicos and a preachy chap from the ACLU were there, but let me direct your attention to the last question of the evening, which came from businessman Luke Travins of Concept Restaurants, Inc.

Travins asked Njegomir whether the existence of the Independent had caused The Gazette to change in any way, either in business strategy or coverage.

Using more disclaimers than Bill Clinton at a deposition, Njegomir coughed up some minor concessions, saying he didn't mind that the Independent existed -- he still reads it online from Denver every week -- and that the Independent "might" have had something to do with The Gazette's "Go" entertainment section coming into being, and, yes, that he sometimes -- and this is him personally, now, and not The Gazette, you understand -- considered what the Independent's point of view might be before writing an editorial.

Now that's real warmth.

No, the inescapable irony of Travins' question was not in Njegomir's answer, but in the fact that Bighorn had given DeGette and the Independent an equal seat at the head table and an opportunity to answer it themselves.

The very fact the Who's Who of community leadership responded to an invitation to hear what Bighorn and a panel that included DeGette had to say conferred another level of legitimacy to a paper that nine years ago didn't even exist.

No, I haven't lost my head and no, I do not overstate the case. The Independent has a long way to go. The paper's voice is intellectually inconsistent. Story choices sometimes suggest agenda-driven reporting.

But the Independent is also a long way from where it was nine years ago, when it was tough to even get phone calls returned. The Little Engine That Could is more than chugging. If elections are any measure, margins of victory between Republicans and Democrats in at least two state legislative races were very slim in 2000. City Council is by no means conservative across the board anymore, especially in its at-large seats.

More than anything, however, the Independent offers articles and perspectives that would otherwise be ignored. It serves as a point of connection for those seeking an alternative to the steady diet of opinion emanating from multiple sources in Colorado's most conservative community.

It will be interesting to see where the Independent and the community will be sitting nine years from now.

Andrew Gorgey is a Deputy County Attorney and president-elect of the El Paso County Bar Association. A past editor of The Colorado Springs Business Journal, he was one of the Independent's first two news reporters when the paper was founded in 1993.

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