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New Vail Daily owner Ogden under fire for moves made in Aspen in wake of lawsuit

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June 13, 2022, 11:03 am
The Aspen Times office in Aspen (Molly Briggs/Aspen Daily News).

Sunday’s edition of The Aspen Times was two words shorter than it normally is. It was a subtle change on paper — in the masthead — but sent shockwaves through the newsroom and community.

Andrew Travers.

Travers, the editor of The Aspen Times Weekly since 2019 and arts editor of The Aspen Times since 2014, had been offered the role of editor-in-chief at the newspaper — though it had not been publicly announced — when his employment with the 141-year-old publication was terminated Saturday.

On Saturday, plenty of social media chatter about The Aspen Times was already circulating, about a Friday column written by Roger Marolt regarding his experiences with the editorial team over the course of two weeks, when he had back-to-back columns go unpublished. Both columns commented on Vladislav Doronin’s March $76.25-million purchase of the near-acre parcel on Aspen Mountain on which a 26-voter majority had granted development entitlements, then to what would have become the Gorsuch Haus. But at the time, the Times was a defendant in a lawsuit filed by Doronin alleging defamation and libel about its coverage of him.

“Based on the decision from my bosses at Ogden, I have been instructed to hold this column because currently we are being sued for defamation by Doronin’s people,” then-editor David Krause wrote to Marolt in an April 28 email. “There’s a lot to this drama, including the fact Ogden will not let us write about being sued, the fact that I have another story on Doronin that we can’t publish until the lawsuit is settled, per the orders of my boss.”

Briefly on Saturday, that email exchange was publicly available on The Aspen Times website, as it was published under Marolt’s column. The column was shared dozens of times on social media, garnering dozens more comments. 

And then on Saturday evening sometime, the column and the email exchange disappeared from the website. Screenshots and web archives continue to circulate, but the original online publication is no longer live, as of Sunday night. And Sunday morning’s newspaper masthead did not include Travers’ name.

When asked if the termination was directly related to Marolt’s column being published, Scott Stanford declined to comment.

“I’m not going to talk about internal personnel matters, I just can’t,” the group publisher for Swift Communications and Ogden said. “What I want to focus on is covering the community and what’s happening in Aspen and the surrounding area; that’s our interest and that’s our job and that’s what we’re going to continue to do and to focus on.”

Ogden Newspapers acquired Swift Communications, the corporation that owned The Aspen Times and the Glenwood Springs Post Independent — as well as the Snowmass Sun, Vail Daily, Summit Daily News, Citizen Telegram in Rifle, Steamboat Pilot & Today, Craig Press, Eagle Valley Enterprise and Sky-Hi News in Granby, in addition to publications in California, Utah and South Dakota — in December, and the ownership shift took effect on Jan. 1. 

At the time, Krause was “cautiously optimistic,” as he penned in a farewell column published on May 15. Public statements issued by Ogden assured that newsrooms would remain largely intact. But there were a few factors that impacted many employees almost immediately, as a result of the nature of the business deal: mainly that those who relied on their employer for employee housing would be losing it by the end of June. That’s because Swift sold its media assets to Ogden, not its real estate holdings.

“I understand why Ogden didn’t buy the real estate because it was at peak — prices were out of hand in these resort markets,” noted David Williams, a longtime Colorado freelance journalist who runs the website, realvail.com. His bylines have appeared in more than 75 publications worldwide, including in the Aspen Daily News, The Aspen Times and the Vail Daily, also acquired by Ogden in the Swift acquisition. “Based on newspaper salaries, how are you going to find places for people to live? And it’s going to be even harder to staff these papers.”

But Krause didn’t live in employee housing. While a health scare caused him to re-evaluate his work, it wasn’t ultimately the reason he left his five-year post at the helm of the Times — it was the new leadership.

“I wasn’t feeling the vibe with our new group before the docs found my condition,” he wrote.

He’s not happy with what he’s seen transpire in the month since his departure, he said Sunday.

“I’m disappointed with what’s been going on there. It’s sad to see what we really built up in the past five years, when I was editor, is slowly getting dismantled one way or the other,” he said. “And it’s really disappointing.”

In those five years, even through the COVID-19 pandemic, nobody on his team departed the newsroom. 

In January, the number of daily titles under West Virginia-based Ogden’s ownership grew to 54, in addition to a number of weeklies and magazines, across 18 states throughout the country. Corey Hutchins — interim director of the Journalism Institute at Colorado College, the Colorado-based contributor for Columbia Journalism Review’s United States Project — follows the state’s and region’s media landscape closely. 

“I think the development in Aspen — once again — shows how much ownership matters when it comes to local news. In Colorado, we’ve seen how different ownership has affected local news,” he said Sunday. “We’ve seen a lot of institutional knowledge get zapped, or taken away, from newspapers after a larger merger, like with Gannett … like with Gatehouse.

“I think close watchers were wondering what new ownership would mean for Swift when Ogden took them over. From what I can tell in the relatively short time … plenty of people who had been there for a while have left,” he continued.

Travers could not be reached for comment on Sunday, but Roger Marolt said that he (Marolt) received a call from Stanford chastising him for his column.

“To me, if I had to guess, I think Andrew’s termination had everything to do with that column, and that just kills me,” Marolt said. “I was so angry when he called and was scolding me, I said, ‘Yes, yes, yes.’ I was boiling inside. If he called again, I would say, ‘Scott, look, that’s the way newspapers in this town work. You guys are missing the point.’”

Editor’s note: This story first appeared in the Aspen Daily News. Megan Tackett is the editor for the Aspen Daily News and can be reached at megan@aspendailynews.com or on Twitter @MeganTackett10.

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