Commentary

The Colorado Daily Finally Shuts Down, Long Past Its Prime

“I know you — you’re the editor of the Means & Media section in the Colorado Daily.”

That’s how I met Jennifer Heath, who ran the Colorado Daily’s arts coverage in 1979. I was fresh out of art school in New York City with a BFA in painting, a passion for pop music, and a little experience writing for high school and college newspapers. I was a clerk in a Kwal Paint store in Boulder (a job my parents didn’t appreciate, having spent a lot of money for me to study paintings, not house paint). Heath had come in to buy some paint, and showed her driver’s license when she paid for her purchase.

The Daily was an independent, small but well-read free newspaper distributed mostly on the University of Colorado campus, but also in racks around town. Its Means & Media arts section was as important to me as the Village Voice had been when I was in college in New York. I followed up my greeting to Heath with “I have a story idea I’d like to write for the Daily, about whatever happened to folk music.” To my shock, Heath told me to go ahead and write it, and she ran it as a cover story in her section a couple of weeks later. That’s how I kicked off my media career in Colorado.

For a year, I wrote art reviews (I did have the degree, after all) and music stories for Heath. I even got to do my first “celebrity” rock musician interview, sitting in a coffeehouse booth with David Muse, the flautist who brought a breezy, jazzy vibe to Boulder-based Firefall’s folk-rock hits. (He died of cancer on August 6, 2022.) I took my clips from the Daily and showed them to Westword in 1980, and I subsequently wrote music stories (and a couple of terrible snooty art reviews) for this newspaper for the next decade, becoming the first full-time editorial staffer.

On September 17, Prairie Mountain Media, which owns fifteen papers in Colorado including the Longmont Times-Call and the Boulder Daily Camera (and is owned by Alden Global Capital, which also owns the Denver Post, among other publications), announced that it was shutting down the Daily that day, citing the devastating effects of the pandemic on a newspaper serving the University of Colorado Boulder campus.

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In 1970, the University of Colorado and the Colorado Daily split.
colorado.edu
But the Daily had been much more during its 130-year-long run. It started out in 1892 as The Silver & Gold, the student newspaper of CU; in 1953, its name was changed to the Colorado Daily. In 1970, it became an independent paper, still focused on the student market as well as so much more, with a focus on news and cultural events all over Boulder...and beyond. But award-winning work couldn't overcome bad business operations, and in 2001, after declaring bankruptcy, the Daily was sold to Randy Miller, who sold it to the Camera five years later.

The downhill slide started soon after. The Daily was absorbed by the Camera, and its staff became Camera reporters. By the end, a couple of journalists worked on stories that ran in the Daily, but much of the content was repurposed from the Camera and the Camera’s owners. In his announcement of the shutdown, Prairie Mountain CEO Albert Manzi says the content that would have appeared in the Daily would now be part of the Camera’s Friday Magazine. There won't be a lot to miss.

The student journalists who ran the CU Independent, for which I served as staff advisor from 2010 to 2020 until the journalism department stopped funding the CUI, including my salary (the CUI is still alive, with a volunteer staff), all hated the Colorado Daily. They (and I) were convinced that the Daily was printed simply to bundle advertising for businesses who wanted to reach students with stacks on wire racks around campus. The CUI staff would become incensed when students and faculty at CU Boulder would say they thought the Colorado Daily was the “student newspaper.” When the Daily went independent, the student newspaper was the Campus Press, which became the CU Independent in 2008. That remained the true student newspaper, even after the Camera bought the Daily and positioned it as a student paper.

Jennifer Heath was with the Daily through the 1970s into the ’80s, and considers that era its glory days. The Daily’s bylines included some top-notch news and arts reporters and columnists, many of whom went on to work for many other publications both locally — the Rocky Mountain News, the Denver Post, the Camera, Westword, Blues Access — and nationally. Heath isn’t wistful about the Daily’s sunset. “It's been shut down for me for years and years," she says. "I think ever since it moved to the Camera, I just I totally lost interest in it.”

But she does get nostalgic about the days when she was with the paper: “We had a voice, and it was really fun. I felt like we were doing something. It really was wonderful." The Nation listed the Colorado Daily as “I think the best small leftist newspaper in the country,” she recalls. Her Means & Media section won an award for coverage that led to saving CU Boulder’s forgotten art collection, which today is the university's Permanent Collection. “That was thanks to the Colorado Daily,” she says with pride.

One of Heath’s notable accomplishments was the hiring of a number of journalists who moved on to other publications and notable careers. She hired Chris Clark, who went on to edit national magazines. She hired Leland Rucker to write music features for the Daily, and he became Means & Media editor in 1986 and worked there until 1993.

“That was at the time that all newspapers were getting bigger,” Rucker recalls. “All newspapers were adding color, new sections and building out." Rucker paid Heath’s legacy forward by hiring the late music columnist Wendy Kale, who covered the local music scene with such zeal and familiarity that she was a must-read for fans and bands alike. He hired a theater reviewer (Juliet Wittman, who had been at the Daily, went on to the Camera and eventually to Westword). As the rock-music scene evolved, he hired younger writers to cover metal, including a student named Brian Trembath, who’s now a special-collections librarian at the Denver Public Library.

Clint Talbott, assistant dean of communications at CU who began writing for the Daily in 1984 and was editor until 1998, when he became a columnist for the Camera, does mourn the loss of the Daily. “I'm sad on two levels,” he says. “One for the loss of the Daily, and also what the loss of the Daily means in the bigger picture — that it's not happening in a vacuum. I feel sad for the loss of independent editorial voices across the country.”

He gives credit to Heath and Tim Lange, who was editor from 1971 until the mid-’80s and shepherded the paper through its tumultuous move to independence from the university. “They were visionaries about what they could do with a a small paper,” says Talbott. “And they did amazing stuff.”

John Lehndorff, who began writing for the Daily not long after he arrived in Colorado in 1976, eventually worked for the Camera as features editor, then was the Rocky Mountain News food reviewer; he's worked at a succession of other outlets since. “I thought [the Daily] should have gone away a long time ago,” he says. “You know, for many years, it just, it hasn't been much of a working newspaper. Mostly reprinting things from the Camera and Post.

“But, you know, the Colorado Daily at the time was a significant other paper in Boulder," he adds. "The Camera was the stodgy establishment publication. And the Daily, they were covering all the stuff I was interested in.”

Lehndorff acknowledges that the end of the Daily marks a milestone for local media — in Boulder, at least. “It's kind of like the death of the queen. You're sort of mournful. Some of it is that you're mindful for what was and who you were at the time, and the endless opportunities and cool stuff going on.

“And the other thing is, you know, think about this for a minute: Coupled with other things that are closing, like Albums on the Hill and other things in the world and other people that are dying, I'm sad for what it once was. But I don't think a lot of people are mourning, you know. It's just that it was time to go.”
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