Robert Nutting’s Wheeling-based Ogden Newspapers obtained the Aspen Times at the end of November as part of its purchase of Swift Communications. (I wrote about it here.) Since then, the paper has had problems and recently, Colorado College journalism professor Corey Hutchins wrote about some of them:
Six months after Ogden Newspapers of West Virginia bought The Aspen Times, the 140-year-old paper has become the subject of negative local news coverage.
In recent weeks, the newspaper has been reeling from a billionaire developer’s lawsuit (and later settlement), the paper’s editor quitting while citing the “vibe” under new ownership, the town’s mayor accusing the paper of suppressing news coverage, and the interim editor “strenuously” objecting to management decisions.
(See also, the Denver Post’s coverage, here.)
Late last week, matters in Aspen went from bad to worse:
On Saturday, The Aspen Times printed the letter and the paper’s response. The letter was addressed to Ogden Newspaper owner, Robert Nutting. Here is the how it begins:
As current and former elected officials of local governments in the municipalities of Aspen, Snowmass Village, and Basalt, and the county of Pitkin, Colorado, we write to you with grave concerns about the recent conduct of Ogden Newspapers’ leadership in regards to editorial decisions at the Aspen Times daily newspaper.
We are specifically troubled by a number of actions stemming from the publication of articles, columns, and letters to the editor related to Vladislav Doronin’s purchase of real estate on Aspen Mountain, and Doronin’s subsequent lawsuit against the Aspen Times. Those actions include: the absence of full disclosure by the Aspen Times of the settlement with Doronin; the prohibition against former editor David Krause to publish other stories about Doronin; the removal of Roger Marolt’s column of June 10, 2022; and the firing of acting editor Andrew Travers for the publication of Marolt’s June 10 column.
These actions all flow from the dissatisfaction of a billionaire landowner in our community of a local newspaper’s reporting of him and his recent real estate transaction, and publication of some community members’ opinions or concerns about him and the transaction. Ogden Newspapers chose to side with Doronin’s individual dissatisfaction rather than the community’s need to understand and converse about such a historic real estate deal and to ponder its broader implications for the community.
Later in the letter, the group threatens the paper:
Our faith in Ogden Newspapers is shattered and we are individually considering separate reactions as a result, including: directing our individual organizations to pull advertisements and notices from the paper; encouraging local businesses to do the same; refusing interviews with reporters at the Aspen Times; or calling for a community boycott of the paper.
Here is part of the response from the paper’s publisher, Allison Pattillo:
Although it is encouraging to see their expressed support for the importance of vigorous, independent community journalism, which this newspaper has provided to Aspen for more than 140 years, it is frankly shocking to see elected officials so brazenly threaten to use their positions of power to control a community newspaper.
This chilling precedent is certainly not representative of our democracy nor the Aspen Idea our community touts.
Worse, the letter, shared with me and company owners, is based on incomplete and inaccurate accounts of recent events at The Aspen Times. I look forward to clearing up any misconceptions or inaccuracies in the days and weeks to come.
Pattillo then goes on to pledge that the conversation will continue.
Some thoughts: As an outsider, I’m dependent on what I read and there is much to read. A helpful development here is that, unlike most cities in the United States, Aspen has two competing newspapers - the Aspen Times and the Aspen Daily News - and the News has covered the story. Still, I’m not quite sure of what to make of much of what I read because I have few reference points. Similarly, this may be the source of Ogden’s problem. It seems to me that the Aspen area and the other ski towns that now read Ogden papers have little in common with the northern panhandle of West Virginia, or for that matter, the towns and small cities that make up most of the Ogden Newspaper chain. What works for Ogden in these locales in West Virginia, Ohio, or Pennsylvania may not work in Aspen or Vail with their expensive real estate, upper-bracket incomes, and wealthy life-styles. In any event, I can’t help thinking that this will not work out well for Ogden. I’ll try to keep up.