In an unprecedented move that followed months of secret negotiations, the Colorado Springs Independent has announced that it will purchase the city's daily newspaper and conduct business under a joint operating agreement (JOA).
Independent owner and publisher John Weiss announced the merger this week from Southeast Asia, where he is investigating the possibilities for outsourcing Gazette newsroom labor.
"India is leading the pack so far," Weiss said. "I am thoroughly impressed by the quality of offshore labor; the journalists here are far more qualified to produce a Colorado Springs daily newspaper than those whose work I've read back home -- and at roughly 42 percent of the current cost in labor."
The Independent will remain locally focused and locally produced, Weiss said.
All wire, all the time
The JOA is the 29th since Congress passed the Newspaper Preservation Act in 1970, but it is believed to be the first in which a city's daily, corporate-owned newspaper will be acquired by an independent weekly newspaper. Weiss said the purchase became possible because of the Gazette's dwindling circulation and a perception among its readers that it relies almost entirely on wire service stories.
A Gazette spokesman angrily denied that allegation and said the newspaper would print its own view on the JOA as soon as the Associated Press writes it.
Richard Karpel, executive director of the national Association of Alternative Newsweeklies (AAN), of which the Independent is a member, was stunned to learn that a weekly newspaper had acquired a daily. "I knew the Independent was doing well, but I never expected anyone would want to buy into a dying industry," Karpel said. "What's wrong with John? Is the air so thin out there that he thinks he can make a daily into a good paper?"
The last major JOA occurred in 2000, when the Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News agreed to the partial merger, becoming the Rocky Mountain Denver Post-News. That JOA expires in 2050, when the two papers will be joined in a new JOA by the Boulder Daily Camera and the Pueblo Chieftain to form the Boulder Rocky Pueblo Denver Chieftain Mountain Camera Post-News (motto: News You Can Understand).
The Independent's acquisition of the Gazette will be formalized July 1. At that time the name of the daily newspaper, which has been known during its 120-year history as the Gazette, the Gazette-Telegraph, the G-T, the G and more recently the New Testament, will be changed. Possible new names for the paper will be the Independent-Gazette, the Independent-GT, the IGT, the Independent G or the G-Spot, although Weiss said he feared that last suggested name would make the newspaper almost impossible to find.
Under terms of the JOA, the daily newspaper will continue to be published daily and will operate separately from the Independent under a revenue-sharing plan. Weiss said he plans to use the entire first month of Gazette profits to buy a new hat, and initial plans call for him to use the second month's profit toward purchasing a new bell for his bicycle.
Tasty side dishes
The JOA will end the 120-year run of the Gazette (motto: Bringing You Today's News By Early Next Week), whose first edition on June 2, 1876, consisted of a logging story out of Minnesota, a story on school board issues in Providence, R.I., and a lifestyle profile of a woman in Maine who created tasty side dishes with asparagus and cloves.
That inaugural edition of the Gazette contained just one paid advertisement, a ranting, incomprehensible dissertation by snake oil salesman and muskrat trapper Jeremiah Bircham, an English immigrant who was selling a box of "100 percent fur paper clips" for a dime. Everyone in town laughed at him.
That first edition of the Gazette in 1876 also featured a charcoal sketch by the new editorial cartoonist, Zebulon Asay. The drawing depicted well-dressed East Coast pioneers being savagely disemboweled by a snarling mountain lion under the words "Rocky Mountain Wildlife Greets the Liberal Homo Bastards."
Weiss said he plans to upgrade the Gazette's health plan, with an initial move aimed at actually getting the Gazette editor and redecorating expert, Sharon Peters, out of her office for at least one hour a day to clear her head of wet-paint fumes.
And, Weiss said, there will be some minor staff changes and some new features in the daily paper. Former El Paso County Commissioner Betty Beedy, for example, has been hired as the paper's minority affairs writer and will have a weekly column titled "Those People."
Change is a'comin'
Other staff changes announced by Weiss:
Managing Editor Jeff Thomas, who has spent a lifetime in the Gazette newsroom making bold and innovative colored-pencil charts that no one else understood, will spend just one week each year in the newsroom and the other 51 weeks raising honeybees on his family's ranch in Vernal, Utah.
Current County Commissioner Jim Bensberg has been appointed circulation director and will teach each of the Gazette's delivery persons how to carry as many as 50 newspapers at one time -- under a trench coat.
Ed Bircham, the grandson of early settler Jeremiah Bircham, will begin his new duties on July 1 as the newspaper's public relations director and writing coach. In that second role, Bircham will reinforce and nurture the young Gazette staff writers' already proven ability to construct a 65-word sentence without using a verb.
County Commissioner and rental property owner Doug Bruce will be in charge of a once-a-year special real estate section featuring homes Bruce has personally chosen. The Parade of Shacks will come out in October.
Staff writer Ed Sealover, who now covers city hall, will be reassigned. Starting in July, Sealover will move to the environmental beat and will cover his dream job -- five-sixths of the earth's surface.
Replacing Sealover on the city hall beat will be Colorado Springs Utilities executive director Phil Tollefson, thus eliminating an unnecessary middleman. Tollefson, who will retain his duties as utilities director, will also write a weekly column. His first offering: "Leave Those Lawn Sprinklers Running ... Papa Needs A New Mercedes."
City Councilwoman Margaret Radford will return to the daily newspaper, where she was a "writer" for many years before wisely jumping at that $6,250 annual City Council salary and, more importantly, the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to sit next to Larry Small. Radford will remain on City Council, and in both jobs will continue to answer directly to Tollefson.
Local gun advocate Bernie Herpin, president of the Pikes Peak Firearms Coalition, has been hired as director of the newspaper's customer complaint department (ombudsman). Herpin has already unveiled the department's new motto: "Nobody Complains Twice."
Paul Asay, the Gazette's very objective religion writer and also the houseboy for James Dobson, will continue to write news stories that show no prejudice, appeal to the entire spectrum of the community and reflect the diverse editorial beliefs of the Gazette. Examples would be "Why Did The Jews Kill Our Savior?" and "The Altar Boys Were Asking For It."
Asay's father, longtime editorial cartoonist Chuck Asay, will continue creating his enlightened, love-thy-neighbor views of the world in the same way that he has done since starting at the Gazette. With his cartoon renamed Upchuck, Asay will be lightly nudged toward entering the Pleistocene Era.
Current Gazette publisher Bob Burdick, who has apparently been ordered by his California corporate bosses to maintain the breathtaking resurgence of the Gazette initiated by his brilliant predecessor Tom Mullen, will be asked to take a more "hands-on" approach to running the newspaper. Specifically, he will be asked to get his hands on a can of oil -- to keep the revolving door in his office from squeaking.
Because frankly, whenever those of us who work at the Independent want to hear something squeak, we just ask Mr. Weiss to open his wallet.
A gun in every driveway
Distribution efforts will continue under expanded I-G
THE DISASSOCIATED PRESS
Building on the Gazette's pioneering strategy to distribute New Testaments to subscribers, the newly formed Independent-Gazette has announced plans to include other classics, such as The Communist Manifesto, in the future.
I-G Publisher John Weiss announced that, under the joint operating agreement, the Gazette is also in negotiations to distribute handguns to subscribers as well.
"Why the hell not?" said Bernie Herpe of the local Firearms Coalition, who is the sponsor of the gun giveaway and newly appointed ombudsman at the paper. "This is nothing more than a Second Amendment right to bear arms."
Similarly pleased were members of the Colorado College Student Commie Underground Movement, or C.C. S.C.U.M., which has paid to include Manifesto and Das Kapital for Dummies this summer.
Gazette Publisher Bob Berdick said the paid inserts are no different than giving away free samples of Gillette razors and Old Spice deodorant.
"Just because we distribute something doesn't mean we endorse it or don't endorse it," Berdick said.