Tale of a Daily Newspaper Odd Couple

The recent announcement that the Colorado Daily will abandon its headquarters at 2610 Pearl Street in Boulder in order to share space with the Boulder Daily Camera hardly caused an uproar among locals. Just three readers posted comments on a Camera article about the change — and only one saw it as a harbinger of future consolidation of the papers themselves, says Albert Manzi, the president of Prairie Mountain Publishing, which runs both papers under an agreement with the E.W. Scripps chain.

Yet veteran Boulder journalists understood full well the symbolism of the move, including Clint Talbott, who left the Camera a few weeks earlier for a new position at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Prior to his decade at the Camera, Talbott put in fourteen years at the Daily, most of them as editor, and he vividly recalls the animosity between the two publications. "The Camera was the dark star," he says. "Our reason for getting up in the morning was to beat them and do a better job than they did with a fraction of the staff. It was rare that we did, but we kept trying."

These thoughts are echoed by onetime Daily entertainment editor Leland Rucker, who noted in an online requiem that "the Daily's dissolution and Talbott's departure are significant, like tacking a big -30- at the end of the story of a distinct period of newspapering in Boulder."

Of course, the decision to share space makes perfect sense given the particulars of the current era — one in which the transition of readers from physical papers to their far less profitable Internet components has resulted in advertising-revenue declines that seem to accelerate with each news cycle.

Manzi does his best not to make this situation seem any gloomier than necessary. In its most recent survey, the Audit Bureau of Circulations, an industry-sponsored monitoring group, reported that the Camera's weekday and Sunday numbers tumbled by 6.7 percent and 7.5 percent, respectively, in the past year. However, Manzi says that "individually paid circulation" — the total excluding papers provided to hotels and education initiatives or those once peddled through so-called third-party sales programs — were only down about 3 percent, and he boasts that "in the first quarter, the daily readership of both print and online together was up double digits daily and high single digits on Sunday. The way to look at it is, more people are coming to us for information than ever before."

Probably so, but that hasn't done much for the publication's bottom line. On May 6, the Camera revealed that it laid off nine employees from its 155-person staff. Manzi declines to get specific about their positions, confirming only that the editorial and business departments lost one person apiece — "and we actually added business staff prior to that." But the paper's been steadily shedding workers since at least 2001, when it employed 250 full- or part-timers, and attrition over the past few years, not to mention a 2007 circulation-sharing agreement with the Denver Newspaper Agency, has opened even more room in the Camera's base of operations. "The space has been used inefficiently for years," Manzi argues.

Much the same situation has existed at the Daily, for analogous reasons. The paper moved into its current building six years ago, at a time when owner Randy Miller was pumping resources into the publication. As a result, "I think the place was a little bloated," says Oakland L. Childers, the Daily's managing editor. "We could always use more people in the newsroom — although I've never been in a newsroom where people didn't want more bodies. But we had too many people in some other areas." That didn't last long, though. Miller sold the Daily to Scripps in 2005, and since then, the goal of doing more with less has received even greater emphasis; at present, the paper's making do with twenty employees. "We definitely are a lot leaner than we've been in the past," Childers allows. "We've been through a lot in the past ten years."

Before then, too: The Daily's history is among the most colorful tales in Colorado journalism. Founded in 1892 as The Silver and Gold, the paper began its life as CU's official publication, and read like it for decades. But in the years following a 1953 moniker switch to the Colorado Daily (because students reportedly thought the old handle made it sound like a mining journal), staffers slowly began throwing off their figurative shackles, and trouble followed. In 1962, Barry Goldwater, an Arizona senator and future Republican presidential candidate, demanded an apology for a piece calling him "a fool, a mountebank, a murderer, no better than a common criminal" — and got one. Soon thereafter, articles and editorials blasting the Vietnam War began popping up, and by 1970, conservative CU regents led by beer magnate Joe Coors were so fed up that they voted to cut funding for all campus publications. But instead of dying, the Daily became a free, independent, employee-owned newspaper given to bold notions and controversial provocations like a notorious 1984 edition devoted entirely to excoriating President Ronald Reagan, who was pictured on the cover with a skull and crossbones in place of his left pupil.

The Daily dialed down the radicalism when Talbott took over as editor in 1986, becoming a widely accepted staple of the community. But by the dawn of the millennium, money had become a major issue, and a former finance director who embezzled an estimated $250,000, and perhaps even more, pushed the paper to the brink of collapse. Miller rescued it with his purchase and successfully fought off attempts by the Camera to undermine the operation, including its launch of the late, unlamented dirt, an entertainment-oriented freebie aimed at college students — still the Daily's core audience. But when Scripps offered to buy him out in 2005, he took the deal, and since then, the longtime adversaries have embarked on a love match. When Manzi joined the scene in 2006, he combined as many business, circulation and production functions of the papers as possible, and even talked about sharing editorial content. The latter hasn't really happened yet, and that's fine by Childers, who'd rather the Daily come up with its own material. But he's grateful for the Camera personnel who helped the Daily redesign its website. With the exception of color schemes, the two papers' sites look mighty similar these days.

Even so, both Manzi and Childers stress that the Camera and the Daily will continue to operate independently, with employees reporting to newsrooms by separate entrances once the big move happens; because relocation isn't slated to take place until after the Daily's building is leased, there's no firm ETA. Likewise, Manzi maintains that fans of the Daily shouldn't view the shift as evidence that the paper is on its way to becoming, for instance, a supplement to the Camera as opposed to a stand-alone entity. "The Daily is a niche publication that's free, portable and everywhere," he says. "And those kinds of products are doing very well right now."

In contrast, traditional daily newspapers across the country are struggling. With so many firms leaving open positions unfilled, there's no shortage of space at places like the Rocky Mountain News and the Denver Post, and while Denver Newspaper Agency spokesman Jim Nolan says there are no plans to rent any of it out to other businesses as of now, that certainly could change as even more employees opt for other careers.

Talbott is a prime example. He says a major factor in his decision to leave his job as Camera editorial-page editor in favor of the publications-coordinator gig at CU's College of Arts and Sciences had to do with "the status of public discourse right now. It was disheartening to see how irrational and unhinged a lot of our discussions about public issues have become." But the 45-year-old concedes that the journalism industry's predicament also played a part. "Those of us who aren't terribly close to retirement age have to think about things like long-term financial security," he notes.

The Daily, which turns 116 in September, faces the same issues — which is why its once-despised rival now looks like a pretty good roommate.