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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with a comment from Vail Daily Publisher Mark Wurzer, who says the problem with the search function has been fixed as of 4:40 p.m., Saturday.
To say it’s been a rocky start for the Colorado ski-town media takeover of Swift Communications by West Virginian’s Ogden Newspapers this year would be a bit unfair to rocks.
First there was the Aspen Times Soviet-born developer debacle that cost the company a couple of editors in Aspen, a whole lot of credibility with that hyper-critical community, and some not-so-flattering national headlines.
Then came the decision in Vail to stop doing political endorsements due in part to what they called “intense partisanship and political extremism, including a significant rise in threats of political violence,” which in my opinion is basically capitulating to the angry mob. I was told it was a companywide decision handed down from on high.
Now comes “Search-Gate.”
I was first made aware of a very strange anomaly on the Vail Daily website on Friday, Oct. 28. I delved a little deeper into when I got up Saturday morning, Oct. 29.
I plugged Democratic state Senate candidate Dylan Roberts into the homepage search function and got no story results, just this message (see screenshot): “Search functionality is undergoing maintenance. We suggest searching google until maintenance is complete.”
I then plugged Roberts’ Republican opponent, Matt Solomon, into the search function and got the same maintenance message but also tons of story results (see screenshot).
I tried it with state House candidates Meghan Lukens and Savannah Wolfson and saw the same disparity. Ditto Eagle County commissioner candidates Jeanne McQueeney and Brian Brandl.
At that point I started getting pinged with email and text messages from county commissioner and state legislative candidates from Eagle to Steamboat Springs to Summit County, where Ogden-Swift has a pretty firm monopoly on mountain-town news.
Let’s be clear, these communities trend blue, and Ogden has been described as conservative for years given its family ownership and headquarters in deep-red West Virginia.
As of 11 a.m. Saturday, the search functions have been taken down on the Vail Daily, Summit Daily and other Ogden-Swift paper websites. I also searched Lauren Boebert and Adam Frisch on the Aspen Times homepage, which was still up and running, and got plenty of story results for both … and no maintenance message.
I emailed Vail Daily Publisher Mark Wurzer around noon on Saturday, and at about 4:30 he responded with this email: “We’re aware of the search issues. We did an upgrade to the search software last week which caused issues on a wide range of searches. Our IT team took the search function down while work was done to fix the problem. It has now been fixed.”
But apparently this has been an issue for at least a week, with Democratic Routt County commissioner candidate Sonja Macys flagging it to the Steamboat Pilot publisher on Oct. 21. She noted her Republican opponent, Kathi Meyer, was getting favorable search treatment, and at the time there was no maintenance message (see screenshots).
The Steamboat Pilot publisher basically replied she was aware of the problem, working on it, and that the disparity in Dem vs. GOP search results was unintentional.
That may be, but it’s certainly odd timing this close to the Nov. 8 election, and not a good look for a newspaper chain entering a new market and trying to build credibility within its communities.
Editor’s note: This blog has been updated with more detail on Routt County commissioners race, and will be updated again with any new developments or comments from the various parties.