Start the presses 

The who, what, when, where, why and how of the Independent's launch

In 1983 and '84, while her husband Ted worked as a physician at Fort Carson, Kathryn Eastburn lived in the Old North End. She was a Southern woman — born in Kentucky, raised in Tennessee — but she took to Colorado Springs right away: enjoyed the neighborhood, traveled into the mountains, watched her daughter Katie thrive at Steele Elementary.

When Ted got a cardiology fellowship at Vanderbilt University, the family moved back to Nashville. But by the time he was ready to go into private practice in '91, Katie had three brothers, and choosing a city that'd be good for children was paramount. Colorado Springs was the pick.

They moved back into the same neighborhood, bought a house, enrolled the kids in school ... and quickly realized that things had changed. Growth, of course, was rampant — no longer was Academy Boulevard essentially the east edge of town — but it was more than that.

"My impression of the West was, it was kind of live and let live: 'You do your thing, I'll do mine, as long as we don't get in each other's way, we'll be fine,'" Eastburn remembers. "Then I came back and all of this stuff was in your face: anti-abortion pamphlets in your mailbox every day with pictures of dead fetuses, really extreme stuff."

Just a couple years into the city's new economic strategy targeting a handful of sectors, the faith-based sector was carrying the day, at least culturally. In 1990, El Pomar Foundation pledged $4 million to help Focus on the Family relocate from California to Colorado Springs. Other evangelical groups followed, or formed locally; by the end of 1992, a Los Angeles Times story would put the number at 40. Many, it turned out, weren't particularly interested in "live and let live."

"There were movements afoot to fire the teachers and the principal at my children's school because of their sexual orientation," Eastburn says. "And that was not going on 10 years before."

With an English degree from the University of Hawaii, Eastburn had written community newsletters and done nonprofit work, and "looked forward to the day when my kids would all be in school and I could work as a writer." Now in her late 30s, she was finally there.

And then she heard that Richard Skorman was starting a newspaper.

Skorman had arrived in 1970 from Akron, Ohio, to attend Colorado College. In the '70s and much of the '80s, he built the foundations of the Poor Richard's complex: a bookstore and restaurant, as well as a movie theater.

In the late '80s, he took a sabbatical in New York and wrote a book about movies, which made perfect sense given that he had been a film critic for the Colorado Springs Sun, the daily paper the Gazette-Telegraph bought and shut down in 1986.

While in New York, he still handled the movie side of the Poor Richard's business. When bomb threats followed his decision to screen The Last Temptation of Christ locally, Skorman, like Eastburn, realized that things were changing.

He returned in 1990, and in '92, helped Amy Divine and Doug Triggs start Citizens Project, a nonprofit dedicated to "promoting equality, religious freedom and respect for diversity." That marked his foray into politics. And he found there was no turning back once Springs-based Colorado for Family Values got Amendment 2 on the ballot that year.

The measure prevented the LGBT community from claiming any legally protected status, essentially banning gay-rights laws from being passed in Colorado. Among its supporters was the libertarian G-T, which would describe it as a counter to "forcing people to accept and condone a lifestyle they may find morally offensive."

Skorman remembers that polling suggested the amendment would fail, and he and others were ready to celebrate on election night. The Champagne would remain unopened: It passed 53 percent to 47 percent.

Immediately, his restaurant became a gathering spot for progressive groups that felt "very, very cornered and outnumbered," Skorman says. "And there weren't many media outlets that were on our side — in fact the only one was Springs Magazine, a monthly."

So with Springs Magazine's Michael Gardner, Skorman started investigating what it would take to start a competing news outlet, going so far as to make a fact-finding trip to the Santa Fe Reporter, an alternative newsweekly.

But given everything else the men had going on, the size of the task was too daunting. By the time Eastburn contacted Skorman, she actually had bad information. He wasn't looking to start a newspaper.

He did, however, know someone else who was. Three, people, actually.

"I said, 'Let's start a paper.' I said, you'll be the publisher, Kat, because you're going to give us the money."

This is how Raphael Sassower remembers reacting to Amendment 2's passage along with Kat Walter (now Tudor). They were colleagues at the brand-new Smokebrush Foundation, and as Sassower puts it, "We were upset about [the amendment], and upset at ourselves, that being such progressive, wonderful people, we didn't do diddly to stop it."

Seeking someone with newspaper knowledge, they talked with friends; someone suggested a Colorado College grad named John Weiss, who had recently earned a graduate degree from Columbia University's journalism school.

Weiss had graduated from CC in 1978, but at this point, he was an outsider. A Massachusetts native, he had been living on the East Coast (and elsewhere) for years, not only going to school but also writing books about standardized testing reform, and lobbying government officials.

Weiss, 37, agreed to come out and talk. But first, he visited a handful of other newspapers, and went to a convention of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies. By the time he arrived, Weiss was falling in love with the altweekly model — and falling out of line with the vision of Walter and Sassower, who had envisioned a daily.

They were unable to come to agreement. But to Sassower's surprise, Weiss "stayed in town. He didn't leave."

Instead, Weiss dove deeper into his research, and soon found a like mind in Eastburn. ("We didn't vet one another," she remembers. "You know, it was just pretty much, 'Oh, you want to do that — so do I. So what can I do?'")

With Weiss' idea gaining traction, Skorman — who had known of Weiss, but was friends with Sassower and Tudor — was called in to quash the growing tension. A deal was hatched: If Weiss could convince Skorman that his idea would be good for the community, Weiss would stay, and there'd be no fighting.

"He said, 'You have to prove it to me,'" Weiss remembers. "I had to make a presentation to Richard about why I thought what I could do was good."

The presentation's actual contents are unclear today, but a 53-page business plan dated May 4, 1993 — written by Weiss and edited by Eastburn — lays out capital requirements, a market overview, partnership opportunities with organizations including the Denver Post (into which the Indy would be inserted for years), and of course, editorial vision.

"Our very presence will persistently, but gently remind readers of the city's diversity," it reads, "from the varied social and economic backgrounds of its residents to the range of artists working in the region."

It continues, "For the daily, the events are the news. ... Our goal will be to provide incisive analysis of the political and economic players and currents that shape newsworthy events."

Skorman was sold.

"I really thought he had studied it well ... and seemed to have a real passion for it."

Inside Skorman's rented office above Poor Richard's, using $200,000 they accumulated with help from Weiss' parents and local attorney Greg Walta, Weiss and Eastburn went to work.

As the business side of the operation, Weiss was often out in the community. He found it a mixed bag.

"I was always introduced as the Jewish publisher," he remembers. "And I'm not really Jewish. I'm biologically Jewish, but ..."

There were issues with his left-leaning politics, and questions about the viability of his vision. He remembers a representative of the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce declining to OK the newspaper's membership and saying, "We're not sure you're Chamber material."

But others were warmer, like Rocky Scott at the Economic Development Corporation — the same group that had been wooing all those faith-based organizations.

"We were on very different political wavelengths for the most part," Scott says today, "but I thought that was a good thing."

Back in the office, Eastburn was calling altweekly editors to figure out how they did what they did. Among other things, she learned about reaching out to schools, churches and community groups to solicit event listings, which would be "the backbone of the paper," as she puts it.

She says she heard a lot of support from industry colleagues; among others, Westword editor Patricia Calhoun offered valuable advice. But Eastburn also noticed an "Oh my God, are these people serious?" vibe that gave away just how widespread the negative publicity was for the city known as the cradle of Amendment 2.

"You know: 'Are they really going to do this in that town?''' she remembers. "But what they didn't recognize was that all of the people in this community who were not part of this new right-wing influx ... were a ready audience for this. We estimated — we knew that we could count on 60,000 readers immediately, as soon as we started the paper."

Which was a great thing for advertisers to hear, too, assuming there were some salespeople who could make the pitch. Weiss remembers trying to skim a few from the G-T, but the only one willing to leave its stable confines was Teri Homick, a 27-year-old who had transferred within Freedom Communications from Texas less than a year before, sight unseen, and was wrestling with the feeling that her new home was completely backward.

And even in her case, she resigned, then "freaked the F out" and un-resigned, before Weiss talked her into resigning again.

"It was really scary," she says. "I probably took a $20,000 pay cut, and I wasn't making that much at the Gazette.

"I ultimately did it because I missed my Austin paper so much," Homick says, referencing the Austin Chronicle altweekly. "The chance to be able to start that here, and have that kind of almost cult following, and to be such a big player ... was the big deciding factor."

Of course, they weren't there quite yet.

"We were all wearing Birkenstocks and shorts and tank tops, and like, literally sitting on the floor upstairs above Poor Richard's ... calling all the papers in markets our size," she says, "and having the ad director send me their media kit."

By the fall of '93, the effort had picked up speed. With Homick making many of the calls, some businesspeople had agreed to advertise, such as Dan Foster at Mountain Chalet, Judy Negley at Independent Records, Dick and Judy Noyes of the Chinook Bookshop, and Gary Sondermann at Terra Verde.

"To advertise took guts," Weiss says. "It was a statement."

The paper now had a managing editor: Donna Ladd, who had responded to an ad in an industry newsletter with a clear vision in mind.

"It was really about helping build a hard-hitting media outlet that was so desperately needed in the wake of Amendment 2," Ladd says via email. "I was born and grew up in the town where three civil rights workers were killed in Mississippi in 1964 — that is, amid hate where the media just egged it on."

Her team included news writers (including senior reporter Cara DeGette), arts writers, and interns. In fact, interns showed up in every part of the paper; Weiss says at the beginning, there may have been more unpaid workers than paid employees.

The paper also had a name. The business plan from May had advanced SpringsWeek as the favorite, with other possibilities including Colorado Springs Sun (in honor of the shuttered daily), Colorado Springs News & Review and Pikes Peak Reader. By summer, however, there were two choices: the Colorado Springs Observer and the Colorado Springs Independent.

Weiss says the staff was split between the two. The tiebreak came in the form of a letter from Peterson Air Force Base, home of the Space Observer newspaper; having caught wind of the possibility of another Observer, it threatened to sue, and that was that.

And finally, the Independent had a home. After sending some interns to scope out the copious "For Rent" signs in the post-Savings-&-Loan-scandal downtown, Weiss, Eastburn and Co. settled on the Independence Building at 121 E. Pikes Peak Ave.

They got 3,000 square feet, utilities and parking included, for $1,200 a month. It was essentially "raw space" that would be most notable for the huge paste-up table at the back, where pages would come together on deadline via printouts, X-ACTO knives and hot wax.

At September's end, the staff put out an eight-page prototype with the Independent flag, using the tilted "i" logo created by deputy art director Marc Raab. In what was essentially an elaborate flier for potential advertisers, Weiss explained what an alternative weekly was. He promised to "sport a variety of voices. Only dreary publications play just one note." Ladd pledged to "tell the truth with style — and let the chips fall where they may."

Four weeks later, and almost exactly a year from when Amendment 2 passed, the Independent made its debut with its Oct. 27, 1993, issue. Graphic designer George Migash's uncle served as the cover subject, one lens of his sunglasses reflecting prison bars and the other Kissing Camels, over a headline: "Do you see what I see? Impressions of our 'Boomtown' from across the country and around the block." The related story, by DeGette, includes points of view from "culture warriors" like Will Perkins and Kevin Tebedo, politicians including Mayor Bob Isaac, clergy, and grassroots activists.

On the following page, the staff box shows Eastburn as arts and entertainment editor; Weiss, as associate editor. They shared the title of publisher. And above the list of names was an editorial whose headline seemed to speak not just for them and their colleagues, but for all the locals who'd been ignored in the prevailing narrative about Colorado Springs, capital of the "Hate State."

"We're here."

  • The who, what, when, where, why and how of the Independent's launch


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