Beyond JonBenét

The media scene in Boulder is getting wilder every day -- even without the Ramseys.

More than three and a half years after her murder, JonBenét Ramsey continues to make news from coast to coast. The August 28 edition of NBC's Today opened with hype about her parents, John and Patsy Ramsey, preparing to speak with Boulder police, and the subsequent decision by the Ramseys' showboating attorney, Lin Wood, to release videotape from these sessions provided lurid cable-network filler for many days thereafter, proving once again that voyeurism in this country has reached the pathological stage. Would someone please confess so we don't have to be subjected to any more of this crap?

Yet JonBenét: The NeverEnding Story is hardly the only weird media tale being spun in Boulder. Below, find several other twisted examples.

Boulder, take one: Can the relationship between the University of Colorado-Boulder and the Boulder-based Colorado Daily get any worse? Theoretically, yes: No one's mailed any letter bombs yet. But the latest dust-up involving CU and the Daily, which was the official campus publication until the early '70s, suggests that only the springs in hefty comedian Louie Anderson's mattress are under higher tension.

Pressure has been building for quite some time. The Daily's investigation of former CU president John Buechner and his connection to high-priced consultant Fran Raudenbush was marked by legal challenges (when the university failed to provide some requested documents, the Daily sued) and cold shoulders (Buechner eventually refused to speak with Daily representatives). Daily editor Pamela Whiteconcedes that the situation improved after Buechner resigned last year, but she fears that the overt hostility demonstrated then has merely gone underground via a pair of arrangements CU made with the third party in this particular contretemps: the Boulder Daily Camera, a sister property of the Rocky Mountain News (both are owned by Scripps-Howard) that was mainly asleep at the switch during the Buechner investigation.

The first deal dates back to October 4, 1999, when CU chancellor Richard Byyny wrote a letter addressed to Colleen Conant, the Camera's publisher (and a member of CU's advisory board), and several other muckety-mucks at the publication. In the missive, Byyny formally accepted the Camera's offer of a $10,000 donation, from which would be deducted $4,875 to pay for 500 six-month subscriptions to the Sunday Camera that CU personnel would stack up inside of four university dormitories. The Camera also agreed to insert 7,500 copies each of the Carillon, a CU publication that's primarily promotional, into two separate Friday editions of the Camera and to "develop an advertising campaign that promotes the link between newspaper readership and student success in a Total Learning Environment" -- this last program being a controversial CU concept heavily endorsed by Buechner.

White sees this accord as favoritism, pure and simple, with the Camera sucking up to CU, a massive institution that it's supposed to be covering objectively and aggressively, in order to pimp its product to a student body that the Daily considers a vital part of its market. But Conant makes no apologies for the pact, and neither does Byyny, who sees it as giving CU an opportunity to get the Carillon into the hands of people who might not otherwise peruse it, thereby more widely spreading news of CU's good works. Likewise, he regards the availability of the Sunday Camera in the dorms as a way of encouraging students to pay more attention to the events of the day -- "and that helps every newspaper, not just the Camera." (He also questions whether the papers compete in any way with the Daily, which doesn't publish a Sunday issue.) Overall, Byyny terms the Camera's contribution "pretty altruistic."

CU personnel put the same spin on a more recent arrangement. On August 9, in a prominent article, the Camera announced that it would take over printing and advertising for the weekly, student-staffed Campus Press, which rose in the late '70s as the university's replacement for the Daily. A letter, dated July 17 and signed by associate professor/Press advisor Bruce Henderson, reveals that the contract will last for three years, with the Camera paying the Press an annual fee of $17,000 and increasing circulation from 6,000 copies to 10,000.

The Dailytook umbrage at this turn of events, too, and no wonder: Back in the early '90s, the Daily negotiated with the Press to create a similar operating agreement that never came to fruition. Nonetheless, publisher Russell Puls shot off an August 10 letter to Ken Lane, Colorado's deputy attorney general for policy and governmental affairs, formally complaining about what appeared to him to be "a case of collusion between the University of Colorado and the Boulder Daily Camera/Scripps-Howard to damage the financial well-being of our newspaper and the other independent newspapers catering to this demographic." In the discourse that followed, he noted that the alliance hadn't been put out for open bid; that the sale of advertising for the Press would enrich the Camera at the expense of its competitors; and that the increase in circulation was a "blatant attempt" to "control the student market" that would have no tangible benefit for student journalists. Puls also hinted that CU might be engaging in retaliation for the Daily's Buechner reporting. "After speaking with our attorney," he wrote, "we have to wonder if there is a conspiracy between certain members of the University and the Boulder Daily Camera to damage the business of the Colorado Daily."

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