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What now for the Gazette

Between the Lines

Monday night, while searching for the right words to say here, I instinctively checked online to see what would be the Gazette's editorial on Tuesday.

I saw that editorial, and an all-too-common mixture of emotions came over me for the umpteen-hundredth time. In the piece, the Gazette shared its view on Memorial Health System, particularly the news of the $246 million it would have to pay to the Public Employees' Retirement Association in the event of an ownership change.

No problem there, except that the Gazette's main source was a University of Colorado professor, Barry Poulson. Just four days earlier, Poulson had made similar points in a full-length Indy cover story on PERA by Pam Zubeck. The daily recycled our themes, and our source, to reach a comparable conclusion — as if it were all its own.

Also, on Sunday, the Gazette gave front-page treatment to a news story about the uncertainty surrounding the Southern Delivery System pipeline, reshaping the message that had been provided in Indy news stories starting in early December.

The first 20 or 30 times this happened, we joked about it. Now, after so many occurrences, all we do is shrug.

So the little Indy beat the big Gazette on another local story. Who really cares? Apparently, nobody at the Gazette.

Several years ago, when we'd come up with a good, enterprising story, there would be no response — until, several months later, the daily would do its version and call it breaking news. Now, whether it's about local government or the rebirth of the Navajo Hogan, the Gazette might do its version of our stories within a few days. Or never do anything at all.

I hate it.

Let me rephrase. I love it every time our aggressive, hungry staff kicks the daily's butt on a story or an angle. But I hate having such a close view of the self-destruction — or is it corporate suicide? — of what once was the best paper of its size in America.

That was from the 1980s into the early 1990s. I know, because I was there, working and writing my tail off, burnout be damned, along with the rest of a superb staff. People would leave occasionally, for Washington D.C., Los Angeles, Chicago, places like that.

Now they leave to escape, or when they're kicked out the door.

The latest chapter came last Friday. Rumors had warned of more layoffs, even as Indy publisher John Weiss confirmed his interest in buying the Gazette. Then came the guillotine: six layoffs, two open positions eliminated. Two photographers gone, the religion writer, two Fresh Ink site managers (another unsuccessful idea), even publisher Steve Pope's own secretary, who had been there 12 years. All to make the finances look better for potential buyers.

Now we hear of a possible merger with the MediaNews Group and the Denver Post. But be careful what you wish for, because that could mean becoming a Post bureau — with many more layoffs, just a shell of a staff here, and this edition being published in Denver with an early deadline.

Almost every day, someone says the Indy should buy the Gazette. The only ones who would be upset are the right-wingers who write all those poisonous online comments, which have done more to further Colorado Springs' intolerant image than any person or budget cut. Really.

Hey, we aren't perfect. We make mistakes and miss stories. But we wish there could be a scoreboard to show readers every time the Gazette botches a story or reworks one we did earlier. Or, every time officials refer to stories as if they came from the daily, when actually they were ours.

There are still some good people among the carnage. I feel for them — but I don't feel anything now for the paper that I gave 24 of the best years of my life. All those years, all those estimated 5 million words I wrote, seem wasted now.

It's no longer the Gazette that I knew. Some say it's like a divorce. No, I've felt that. This is worse. This is a community fixture on its deathbed.

It's not something to cheer or feel good about. Instead, let's simply share a moment of silence.

routon@csindy.com

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