David Krause: Who signs the check can change but community coverage doesn’t give up
I fully intended to write this article in my staff column about my early season goal of setting a personal best 13 consecutive days to start the ski season. Opening day was in the books, I was delighted to be back in the snow and was on track to achieve this after the first five days on the slopes.
Then, Tuesday arrived.
As most of you now know, the owners of The Aspen Times announced last week that they have decided to sell the Swift Communications family publications to another family group, Ogden Newspapers. Suddenly it felt like I was writing a little weird about my mountain goal given the high level change of hands on the horizon. Although the deal is not official until December 31, the wheels are moving and picking up speed. (And besides, after Tuesday’s announcement, I got a feeling that I might not have time to get out on the elevators that day.)
In our industry, change is the only constant. The difference in this deal, however, is that the acquisition is based on the quality of the media organizations that Swift Communications has built.
It’s not one of those “takeovers” where newcomers come to “save” publications. More importantly, it’s also not one of those cases where new owners come in to gut the place and use up every penny to hit their 20% profit margin every fiscal year.
I’ve been through a few changes of hands since I won my first newspaper paycheck in 1982, and it’s not it. I told people that there is some comfort in knowing that the first two letters of this new group begin with OG (den) and not AL (den).
I saw first-hand how the hedge fund media takeover affected and upset newsrooms. I lived through Alden Global Capital’s dismantling of the Denver Post for profit until I got the chance to land this job. And before this mess, I felt the impact of how the recession gutted our industry. But we still survive because the news is out 24/7, 365 days a year and people need and have a right to know.
While some things are still being worked out in the Ogden-Swift deal, from what appears to be the 187 hours of meetings I’ve been in, I can tell you a few things that won’t happen.
One: Our commitment to covering the Roaring Fork Valley community we live in will not give up. We plan to move forward with the veracity and institutional knowledge that you expect from The Aspen Times press team.
And two: our newsroom isn’t going to shrink anytime soon. In the almost five years that I have been responsible for running our newsroom, we have grown in our ability to report news with virtually no turnover. This is something our future owners are committed to: journalism focused on the region and respect for the team we have assembled. Could people move on? Maybe, but only by their choice.
As editor-in-chief of the Aspen Times, I think we’ve raised the bar for journalism in everything we do. This is one of the reasons the Ogden Group is interested in adding us and our other sister Colorado newsrooms to their stable of community newspapers.
As staff, are we concerned about what the long term future holds? Sure. Who would not be ? Anyone who has ever changed owners (in any business) has this anxiety. The fear of change is always lurking in our heads, but it’s how we exploit it that matters.
We can only control what we can control, and that continues to serve our communities in the ways that have helped make Swift Communications a sought-after acquisition. In the meantime, we’ll remain cautiously optimistic that as the dust settles in 2022, we’ll be doing the work we love to do and that the Aspen, Snowmass, Basalt, and Roaring Fork communities have come to appreciate.
David Krause is the editor of the Aspen Times. His first paid story was in high school (1982) covering the Putnam North Panthers football team for the Bethany Tribune Review.