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Pandering to no one

When Independent Editor Cara DeGette asked me to comment about the "good and bad" of the Indy over the last 10 years, my first inclination was to decline.

If I wrote something positive, I could be accused of pandering. If I took a few shots, someone at the Indy may take it personally. As I have learned the hard way, you don't want to anger a media source that has plenty of ink to retaliate.

So why did I agree? Because all of the above doesn't really matter with the Indy. The fact that I helped cook up the Independent with John Weiss 11 years ago (he camped in my office for six months before renting his first office down the hall from mine) has never stopped certain reporters from letting me have it in print. The fact that for several months in 1994 I wrote all of the Indy's editorials never stopped subsequent editorialists from expressing their disdain for a decision of mine.

The crowning insult occurred in the very April Fool's issue I had placed an ad for my restaurant. In that issue, the Indy featured me on the cover as a distorted looking, super bald-headed politician abducted by aliens.

That's what I like about the Independent; they aren't beholden to anyone. No one can interfere with the editorial side of the paper, not the publisher, an advertiser or a powerful local politician. Best of all, they aren't afraid to poke fun at anybody, including themselves. No they aren't perfect. Sometimes I wish their factual reports would contain less editorial comment and their editorial comments less embellishment of the facts.

But imagine Colorado Springs without its alternative voice. In a city where social and fiscal conservatism rule, where self-censorship and pandering are common, the Indy has the guts to tell it like it is, no matter whom they piss off in the process.

Richard Skorman is vice mayor of the city of Colorado Springs.

Blat with a conscience

Though I don't live in Colorado Springs, I have been gobbling up the Independent for a long time.

Any newspaper that had the guts (and the foresight!) to run excerpts from one of my floundering novels years before it finally got published sure gets my vote. You have a great blat with a courageous social conscience, a randy sense of humor, truly right-on movie and book reviews, and wonderful columns written by intelligent human beings who actually still have the capacity to think, which is no small feat in present-day America where most of the press is embedded with the megalomaniacal teeny-boppers running the asylum.

I've really been hooked on Domestic Bliss ever since it first came out, and I read Hazlehurst and DeGette with much interest every week. I also love Tom Tomorrow, Red Meat, Stranger Than Fiction, and Brezhnev, that Soviet astrology guru!

You guys rock, so please keep it up for at least another 10 years (if this goofy nation lasts that long!). We need your voice like Seabiscuit needed Red Pollard to get him into the winner's circle.

Thanks for the memories!

John Nichols is the author of The Milagro Beanfield War and many other novels and nonfiction books He lives in Taos, N.M.

Tilting with windmills

I read the Independent because the Indy investigates topics that are persona non grata to our "alternate paper" (bet that's the first time the Gazette was ever called that).

I appreciate intelligent and thorough research, and professional, well-written work. The Gazette reports, the Indy writes. Because of its format, the Independent can do in-depth, thoughtful essays such as Kathryn Eastburn and Cara DeGette produce, pieces that win prizes, stories that are controversial and thought-provoking, and really make me think.

Publishing only once a week de-emphasizes the frenetic breaking-news syndrome and allows a longer-term view at our own small, crazily teetering world. Such work takes time and courage, not only to smell out misguided doings but to smell the roses.

It's good to have patriarchal day-to-day reporting, but it's glorious to have a newspaper that can kick up its heels and rattle a few chains every Thursday -- the Independent could survive on its superb editorial and review sections alone. And its superb local columnists -- reflect: nobody else has a John Hazlehurst, whose experience and trenchant wit ought to keep our City Council heading in the right direction.

But hey, talk about tilting with windmills. Which is a good thing for a newspaper to do. And when the lance catches a frayed sail, then the fun begins.

Ann Zwinger is the author of Beyond the Aspen Grove and numerous other books exploring nature and natural history.

Badge of honor

One of the worst trends of recent years has been the loss, through bankruptcy or mergers, of so many newspapers. City after city has gone from having two or more competing papers to having only one. Even Colorado Springs had two dailies until the Gazette bought the Sun and shut it down about 20 years ago.

How refreshing, then, to see a new newspaper start up, and actually thrive. We still have only one daily, but for 10 years now we've also had the Independent coming out every week. And far from being less important because of the smaller quantity of verbiage, the Independent has, perhaps against all odds, become a big and positive force in reshaping this city's nature and atmosphere. Here are just a few of the reasons:

Real investigative reporting on local issues. To my mind, it is a real badge of honor for a reporter who stuck his nose into things the city government would rather keep under wraps [to be] detained or sued for his trouble. The otherwise comfortable wielders of power in the city government realize that the Independent's probes into their questionable schemes result in real exposure of new information to the public. That's something there's far too little of in America today.

Real opposition to the new federal police state. The Independent is in select company being one of the few publications doing more than grumbling about the trashing of the Bill of Rights now being carried out by the Bush/Ashcroft regime in Washington. Story after story actually suggests that there might be something fundamentally wrong and/or dishonest about what's going on.

The Independent really does what it always said it intended to do: give a voice to viewpoints and constituencies outside the current mainstream, with real respect for diversity.

Thus, there's something more substantive than just cheerleading for local "leaders." A crusty individualist like me will certainly not always agree with the editors' stated policies, but that's not what matters. What matters is that real ideas and real issues get real analysis, and the multiplicity of voices that make up our city is honestly represented.

Longtime Independent reader Patrick Lilly is a Libertarian activist.

In search of dirty laundry

I was hardly the only Gazette staffer who could be counted among the Independent's readership. But having served so long as the daily's opinion editor -- the chief scribe of its right-thinking worldview -- I probably was among the Indy's most unlikely regulars. Not all, but many of my philosophical soul mates and fellow travelers who caught wind that I read "that rag" would express surprise and a little discomfort.

No mystery, I'd explain. Before leaving the Gazette and the industry last year, I had been a daily newsman for 17 years. I was hooked on news -- still am, and still read the Indy faithfully -- and I needed my fix. For those like me, one newspaper alone, even the dominant one in a news market, won't suffice if another is available.

It didn't trouble me that, in this case, the weekly's editorial slant synched with Boulder -- circa 1973 -- better than it did with the Springs; I never cared about the Indy's politics. Nor did it bother me that I was the occasional butt of its ridicule. If anything, I was a little flattered when Editor Cara DeGette pawed through my personal e-mails in search of dirty socks and undies. She wound up publishing some of my more memorable lines, the kind of stuff I couldn't indulge on my own pages.

What mattered to me were the little nuggets of local news that the Gazette or any other daily might miss and that the "alt" press just might pick up. Not the Indy's big cover stories about how I and my fellow right-wing gun nuts were taking over El Paso County. We already knew that. I mean stuff that doesn't tilt left or right; it's just interesting. If it involves politics and politicians, its focus isn't ideology so much as skulduggery, ignominy or simple incompetence. Better still, it'll be a blurb about how City Hall overreached or undershot, like the Independent piece some years ago about how the city utilities system was supposed to make a minor roadside repair and wound up taking out half of some guy's front yard. A small outrage, but the story had heart.

A community is better served by two watchdogs, especially when one is watching the other, too. So what if one also is a little rough around the edges and, at times, too scrappy for its own good, like some mangy, underweight pit bull? That only makes it more fun.

Happy 10th to my favorite junkyard dog.

Dan Njegomir, the former editorial page editor of the Gazette, is currently a senior fellow at the Bighorn Institute for Public Policy in Denver.

The best defense against tyranny

Do you remember what 1993 was like in Colorado Springs? I certainly do.

I remember fear.

I remember a daily newspaper that skewed the news while publishing almost daily editorials demonizing gay people.

I remember fear.

I remember an editorial cartoonist publishing almost daily cartoons that were designed to increase hate of gay people.

I remember fear.

I remember people telling me, "I support you but I can't say anything because ..."

I remember fear.

I remember a television station where reporters were told by its owner, Don't report anything positive about HOMO-sexuals.

I remember fear.

I remember a mayor who said with contempt: "You mean I have to meet with the queers ... ?"

I remember fear.

I remember a funny guy who I would often see working in an office above Poor Richard's. He was researching to see if a weekly progressive newspaper was needed or would be a success.

I remember hope.

There have been many changes since 1993. Most significant has been a willingness by those who once feared to speak out to use newfound voices, often alerted by articles in the Independent, no longer content to be silent.

I see progressive organizations with newly energized constituencies working diligently to build a more inclusive community -- often with the support of the Independent.

It has been said that the best defense against tyranny is an informed people. I look forward to many more years of being informed by the Independent and ...

I look forward to the final demise of the tyranny of fear-induced hate.

Frank Whitworth is the former director of the local gay rights group Ground Zero. He currently works for the Urban League of the Pikes Peak Region.

Time for an intervention

I love Colorado Springs, despite all of the good reasons not to.

My feelings about the city today are much like my feelings about the United States. There's this enormous love mixed with anger, outrage and disbelief. It's as though a family member has gotten hooked on some weird, dangerous, new drug, with all kinds of bad side effects, and won't acknowledge there's a problem, and refuses to enter rehab. Time for an intervention.

The Independent offers a weekly dose of tough love to a town that really needs it. In an age of media concentration, when all the radio stations and TV stations and newspapers are being bought by a handful of companies, offering the same McNews in hundreds of different markets, papers like the Independent could hardly be more important. And it has just the right name for the job. We need more independent voices. We need news that isn't being filtered through some distant corporate headquarters. We need fearless reporting, at a time when there's a hell of lot to fear.

Those of you who are new to the Springs may not know that the city used to have two daily newspapers. The Colorado Springs Sun was a liberal newspaper. The owners of the Gazette, the Freedom Newspaper chain (no irony intended), bought the Sun in 1985, fired all its employees, and shut it down. So now there's only one daily paper. That's the sort of freedom being practiced all across the United States. And that's why the Independent is so important to Colorado Springs.

Cara DeGette, the editor of the Independent, is a formidable woman. She's smart, tough, politically savvy, and funny as hell. That's why I'm drafting her to bring the spirit of the Independent to Washington, D.C. I want her to run for Congress in 2004. It's positively un-American that Joel Hefley faces no real opposition, year after year. Only one candidate to vote for -- why, that's communistic!

There's already a DeGette in Congress: Cara's sister, Diana. We need the nation's second sister act in Congress, ASAP. Since the Democratic Party has no prayer in Colorado Springs, we need to reclaim the Party of Lincoln, the Republican Party, from its current right-wing usurpers. DeGette for Congress, in the Republican primary, next year. Readers of the Independent should demand it, immediately, and I'm behind you all the way. Stranger things have happened. Just look at who's in the White House.

Journalist Eric Schlosser is the author of Fast Food Nation and Reefer Madness.

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