Paper Trail

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

But in his view, this represents a natural progression, not something sinister. "I wanted to take my first month or so to observe what we do here and get to know people at the paper and in the community before I presume to make any changes," he says, adding, "Everyone I've met is very fond of the newspaper and reads it widely -- and folks in the community seem very excited about the Daily having a stable ownership structure and an owner with experience in journalism."

Miller certainly stacks up well in this last respect. He grew up in Kansas City, Missouri, graduated from the University of Missouri's acclaimed journalism school, and in the early '70s bought a tiny weekly newspaper, the Marceline Press, in Marceline, Missouri, population 2,500. Upon discovering that most of his readers were seniors, he redesigned the paper, moving from eight columns to four and enlarging the print -- a simple but effective solution that brought him to the attention of people at the Kansas City Star, where he became graphics director. After serving in a similar role at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, he moved to the Denver Post around the time the paper was purchased by L.A.-based Times Mirror. Rich Clarkson, for whom Miller worked at the Post, has nothing but compliments for him: "He's extremely talented, and not just in the areas of newspaper design and editing, but also in management and advertising. He covers all the bases."

Next, Miller jumped to the Detroit Free Press, where he served as deputy managing editor; several years later, he was chosen to be vice president of the Detroit Newspaper Agency, the organization that handles the business aspects of Detroit's joint-operating agreement, just as the Denver Newspaper Agency does here. That was followed by a stint as publisher of a daily in Battle Creek, Michigan, and, in 1997, an executive post with Lee Enterprises, keeping an eye on publications of several descriptions (dailies, weeklies, shoppers) in Nebraska, Montana and the Dakotas. But the traveling involved made Miller realize that he'd rather stay in one place. "My wife and I always wanted to get back to Colorado at this phase in our life. So when I heard about the Daily being for sale, it seemed perfect."

Still, he's largely keeping his vision of the paper to himself -- for now, anyway. "I wouldn't want to try to be really specific about the kinds of changes we're going to make," he says. "They'll work themselves out over time. But in general, I think the Daily needs to be true to its heritage, to its roots, which is as an alternative daily newspaper about Boulder. It needs to focus on Boulder County and the interests and needs of the readership here. And it needs to be a true alternative. We don't want to be just another daily."

No one's described it that way in the past. Indeed, the Daily has a unique reputation that's been spread by alumni in Colorado (the Rocky Mountain News's Jerd Smith and Debra Melani are two of many area journalists with ties to the paper) and beyond (sportswriter Doug Looney's credits include Sports Illustrated and the Christian Science Monitor; Rich Mauer shared in a 1989 Pulitzer Prize earned at the Anchorage Daily News). Such Daily veterans tend to look back on their years there with the sort of affection that's exceedingly rare in a profession known for its cynicism -- and even those who've been gone for ages don't like the idea of it losing the spark that keeps it burning in their imaginations. "When I was there, you couldn't get a sense of what Boulder was, in all its eclectic glory, by just reading the Daily Camera," says Steve Rinehart, an assistant city editor for the Anchorage Daily News who left the Daily in 1988. "Boulder's such an amazing, strange place, and I'd like to think the Daily would always reflect it."

Will it? There are as many opinions on that as there are opinion-givers. Former publisher Dubé is encouraged by the Miller Daily's first month-plus. "Eyebrows have been up waiting to see what happens, and people are wondering, 'Is the Daily going to be what it really is, or is this another publisher coming in with some grand vision of being the other Daily Camera?'" he says. "One of these paths leads to success, and the other path has some dubious logic about it -- but so far, it looks like Randy knows what he's doing." As for Timothy Lange, who went from the Herald Examiner to the L.A. Times syndicate and is now working on a hush-hush TV and Internet project, he laments the structural shift: "The thing that gets me the most is the loss of employee ownership. That the employees were bosses in the way they were made the Daily, warts and all, close to unique in American newspapers. And now the employees no longer have a structured voice. I find that sad." And Jennifer Heath feels that the Daily's glory days are long gone no matter what Miller does. "This might be me being a disappointed mommy, but since Tim left, I never again saw in it the energy and the intelligence and the thoughtfulness, and also the inspiration and the originality, that it once had," she says. "All that's left is the myth."

Paul Danish falls somewhere between these extremes. "Of course it's the end of an era," he says. "But it's also the beginning of another one. That's the nice thing about newspapers. As long as it's alive, there's always another edition."

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