Stepping aside: Routon moves to retirement role

Routon with members of our news team at a small going-away party.

Going on 11 years ago, while settling into my then-new role as executive editor of the Independent, this column was born.

First, though, to fit the paper’s usual custom, it needed an appropriate name, and soon a title came to mind: Between the Lines.

The debut column set the stage in describing my basic approach: Choose topics the readers care about (or should care about). Don’t be afraid to make people mad (past readers know all about that), make them laugh or even cry. Have a thick skin for criticism and nasty attacks. Finally, avoid using the first-person “I” whenever possible.

From decades of writing for newspapers, my experiences had led to an unwavering conclusion: When done right, nothing can be more valuable to any local newspaper than strong local columns — mature, unpredictable, provocative when necessary, sensitive and emotional, never condescending, always tolerant, all built on hard-earned credibility.

Good columnists convince readers to come back again, no matter what the headline. And the best columnists nurture long-lasting relationships with the readers, even without meeting in person.

But like everything else in life, columns aren’t forever. And after this installment, my five decades of working continuously in media — almost all newspapers, but with some radio as well during high school and early college — end with my retirement as executive editor of the Independent, Colorado Springs Business Journal and Pikes Peak Bulletin in the Colorado Publishing House family.

Henceforth, my title will be executive editor emeritus, which means no office hours, no routine, perhaps helping on occasion (the key word there is “perhaps”) and writing columns from time to time. Not just on a whim, but when warranted for historical perspective.

In other words, this won’t be the last Between the Lines. But there’s no guarantee when you’ll see the next one.


Wait, some have said. You just turned 65. That’s too young. Lots of people work until they’re 70 or longer. My answer is simple: Many start their careers in their 20s, so they might push 70 before retirement. I started writing prolifically for our southwest Arkansas town’s small daily, the Hope Star, well before my 15th birthday in 1967.

That’s easy math — 50 years. I decided in third grade, no kidding, to be a newspaper writer. From basic calculations, my number of published words approached 250,000 just in high school. This many years later, the total (again, an educated guesstimate) has surpassed 7 million words, roughly the equivalent of 70 to 80 full-length novels.

Yet, even while slowing down in recent months, whenever it seemed the time might be right to turn off the faucet completely, my list of potential columns quickly refilled with another batch of important topics, people, controversies and unanswered questions.

Granted, some were different versions of familiar stories, as a quick check of subjects from 2007 confirms: City Council battles, the Olympic movement (headquarters then, museum now), treatment of protesters, Colorado Springs’ identity, rebuilding the Cimarron bridge, political incorrectness around the Everybody Welcome festival, growth at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and related development on North Nevada Avenue. Some people covered then still are on the political stage and/or relevant — Doug Lamborn, John Suthers, Richard Skorman, Sallie Clark, Wayne Williams, Jan Martin, etc.

But back then, with the economy going south, people didn’t care so much about promoting outdoor recreation, legalizing marijuana, developing the craft-beer/liquor industry or building a downtown for the future. They do now. And of course, Pam Zubeck and Adrian Stanley remain as anchors on the Indy’s news side; it’s been so rewarding to work with them and others led by publisher Carrie Simison and editor Matthew Schniper, who have worked their way into vital roles.

The other good news is that columns still matter at the Independent. From Laura Eurich’s SemiNative to Patience Kabwasa’s DiverseCity, Baynard Woods’ Trump Tracker, Jim Hightower’s LowDown and the voices of Queer and There, each edition brings more to devour or simply digest.

Some have wanted to know the most vivid memories from the Indy. Here are three, in chronological order:

First, the Democratic National Convention of 2008 in Denver, starting with the evening in Pepsi Center when Sen. Ted Kennedy, just after surgery for a brain tumor, gave a rousing speech. Then, the final night with 70,000 in the stadium that should be known simply as Mile High.

Second, being able to cover the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, as the only American alternative weekly to be credentialed, seeing and writing about everything from the ceremonies to the big moments in hockey, figure skating, bobsled and more, while also admiring how the host Canadians celebrated their victories.

Finally, though being less directly involved, I’ll never forget sharing in the Indy’s phenomenal effort covering the tragic Waldo Canyon Fire of 2012 and its aftermath, showing the staff’s strength in crisis and resulting in much-deserved national recognition.

To all the readers, many of whom go back to my Gazette years of 1977 to 2001, thanks for caring enough to read, whether you’ve agreed or not. You’ve inspired me, start to finish. And with that, let’s just say adios ... until next time.