Paper Trail

The Colorado Daily has been on a long, strange trip for over a century. Is the journey ending or starting anew?

Harburg eventually confronted Breese, but without getting the police involved. "We were desperate for cash," she says, "and the only way to get any right away was a civil lawsuit." In the end, Breese, who'd been canned by this point, agreed to settle for $252,000 -- but the only money he's put toward that amount thus far is $29,000 he forked over from the sale of his house in Lafayette shortly before vanishing. Once he decamped, the Daily had a team of so-called forensic accountants pore through the financial records in the hope of triggering criminal charges against Breese. But the paper didn't get this data to the Boulder Police Department until January 2001, and Detective Jeff Kithcart, the investigator on the case, says "the material is still being reviewed." He declines to speculate how long this process will take, but doubts that an arrest warrant for Breese is imminent.

Harburg left the Daily in May for Pennsylvania, where her husband had just landed a new job, and Russell Puls, a veteran of the Rocky Mountain News, took over as publisher amid cautious optimism. But while ad revenue began edging upward, it couldn't keep pace with a gusher of red ink. Bank loans on the building and the printing press had been cross-collateralized, making lending institutions unhappy, and Breese's previous failure to keep up with payroll taxes miffed the IRS. In late November, the Daily filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, listing a debt whose $2 million size far outstripped its assets; the value of the building and the press, on which the paper was still paying, was put at around $1.5 million.

The only way for the paper to avoid liquidation was to find a buyer, and it did. While Randy Miller's offer of around $2.3 million was far below the asking price of $3.9 million, it was deemed good enough under the circumstances. The closing was delayed for two days, and was reportedly contentious -- a claim Miller denies. But on February 28, he took possession of his new baby.

The employee-owned Daily was no more.


As soon as Miller arrived at the Daily, the nasty rumors started coming -- the worst of which was that he'd callously sacked a mentally handicapped man who had handled the paper's recycling for years, leaving the poor, befuddled guy in tears. But the truth turned out to be considerably less Dickensian: Unbeknownst to Miller, an employee who'd misinterpreted something the new owner had said told the man he would be fired. The staff was on the verge of a revolt when Miller learned of the mixup and reinstated the man.

Others weren't so fortunate. Russell Puls and Dave Fritz were promptly disappeared (Miller has hired his own financial team), and so were a couple of designers and a sports editor. But the other editorial types were retained, giving White hope that she'd be able to continue on her mission to remake the Daily in the image established by Timothy Lange. Granted, some critics felt she was a long way from achieving this objective, but there's no denying that the Daily broke some impressive stories under her command. The biggest scalp the paper claimed belonged to ex-CU president John Buechner, who resigned after the paper drew back the curtains on his problematic connections to university consultant Fran Raudenbush. More recently, the Daily was the first area publication to hint that the death earlier this year of Brittney Chambers was caused by water intoxication, not an overdose of the drug Ecstasy, which she had ingested. "All the other papers were talking about it in terms of overdosing," White maintains. "But there were enough of us in that room who've done enough drugs to say, 'We don't think so.'"

With articles like these running alongside other first-rate stories such as investigative reporter Terje Langeland's ongoing series about dog labs at the CU medical school, the Miller-controlled Daily didn't differ substantially from the employee-owned one. But White says she began to get the sense that that wouldn't be the case for much longer. First, she says, Miller issued a length limit on editorials and decreed that they shouldn't jump from one page to another, as White's frequently did. Then, she goes on, he returned from a private meeting with assorted University of Colorado representatives to say that "perhaps I was being unfair to CU and giving things a negative slant on purpose, which really pissed me off." She adds that Miller admonished her to not be so "rude" to potential sources in the future, which she interpreted as a request for her to be a less aggressive journalist -- "and he also told me that it was time for him to get more involved in editorial. Which meant to me it was time to go."

Miller sticks to generalities when discussing White's departure, but he does point out that her final editorial, an April 13 effort built around an interview with Native American prisoner and cause célèbre Leonard Peltier, filled an entire page, making it considerably longer than most pieces of its kind. He also confirms that "since I got here, I've been setting up meetings with people at CU and in the community to introduce myself and meet them, and I am still in the process of doing that." And he adds that he will be keeping a closer eye on editorial matters in the future.

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