"Please let me introduce myself. I'm Randy Miller, owner of the Colorado Daily..."
So began a letter, headlined "Dear Reader," that appeared on the front page of the March 5 Daily, a newspaper in its 109th year of serving the residents of Boulder -- and while Miller sustained a friendly tone throughout, he also made space for some horn-blowing. He stated with pride that the Daily, whose circulation is estimated at 23,000, "is the only independently owned daily newspaper on the Front Range," noted that it's "believed to be the oldest free-distribution newspaper in the United States," and claimed that it "has the highest readership in Boulder" -- a supposition calculated to nettle folks at the Boulder Daily Camera, the Daily's best-heeled competitor. Furthermore, he put a benign spin on the paper's reputation as "the official voice of the Republic of Boulder," declaring that those who agree with the statement "recognize that we're a lifestyle publication, one that fits with Boulder and increasingly with more and more people."
However, Miller left out many memorable elements of the Daily saga. He failed to mention that the paper has a history of progressivism and edginess that in the spring of 1970 inspired officials at the University of Colorado, where the Daily was born, to sever all ties to it. He decided not to recap its years as a not-for-profit publication, or its early-'80s transformation into an employee-owned operation dedicated to rattling the power structure by any journalistic means necessary. He didn't sketch out how the Daily's financial profile went from stable at the dawn of the '90s to struggling by the decade's end, and he skipped the tale of former finance director Mark Breese, whose alleged embezzlement of somewhere between $250,000 and $1 million preceded the Daily's bankruptcy and ensuing sale.
Finally, he chose not to address the sadness or apprehension felt by readers and former Daily employees over his acquisition of the paper, and for a very good reason: He says he has no knowledge of such reactions whatsoever. "Every person I've met, whether they've been a community person or an advertiser, has told me, 'We're so happy you bought the Daily,'" says Miller, whose resumé documents nearly thirty years of mainstream newspapering experience, most recently with Iowa-based Lee Enterprises. "All the comments I've gotten have been tremendously supportive."
At the same time, Miller concedes that he knew absolutely nothing about the Daily's reputation for muckraking before late last year, when he learned the publication was on the block. And he prefers to talk about its selling points -- among them, a loyal readership that includes more young people than is common for most newspapers -- rather than politics. For him, the purchase was an opportunity to settle in Colorado, a state he loves, not a way to stick it to the Man.
Nearly two months into his tenure, Miller hasn't turned the Daily upside down. There haven't been major shifts in content, and most editorial employees on staff prior to his arrival are still there, with one big exception. On April 13, Pam White, the first female editor in the Daily's history (she served from 1998 until early March, when Miller took the editor title himself and named her managing editor) tendered her resignation. Some of her reasons for leaving had nothing to do with Miller's arrival: She plans to finish a novel she's been working on since 1994, she wants to explore new journalistic territory (she just took a job at the Rocky Mountain News), and she admits to a degree of burnout when it comes to certain annual Boulder events. "There's only so many times you can cover the Conference on World Affairs without encountering some boredom," she says. But she also believes that the Daily she's known and loved may be slouching toward oblivion. As she puts it, "I think Randy is going to take the paper in a direction I didn't want to go."
She's not the only one with such trepidations. White says she's received numerous calls from members of Boulder's progressive community urging her to stay at the Daily and fight against alterations. And alterations there will be: In his front-page letter, Miller wrote, "There's no question you'll see some changes evolve at the paper."
This prospect leaves White with mixed emotions. "I'm glad the Daily's still here," she says. "I'm glad it didn't have to shut its doors, and I'm glad we found a buyer who didn't want to shut it down and sell it off -- who wanted to keep the paper running. But I was also a strong believer in the employee-owned nature of the paper, and it's been a hard thing to stand on this threshold and see that this paper I had loved for all my adult life was going to change in a way that's irreversible. I felt like somebody I loved was dying, and there was nothing I could do about it."
In the beginning, the Daily was The Silver and Gold, a publication about as radical as a politician in favor of flag and family. A mission statement printed in its first issue, September 13, 1892, revealed that it was "named for the colors of the State University" and endeavored to "represent the best interests of the institution in all its departments" to a student body of approximately 250.
This rah-rah sensibility dominated the publication for many years to come. For instance, the front page of the October 27, 1925, edition led with "Varsity Rooters Out-Cheer Utah Backers at Game," which recounted the spectacle of "more than a thousand cheering students and townspeople" who met a train carrying CU's football squad and then paraded "to the Campus Drugstore and there dispersed, thus ending the trip which Salt Lake residents said was the greatest display of school spirit that they had ever seen." In addition, The Silver and Gold regularly devoted one of its meager handful of pages to society doings, even when World War II was raging: Readers on April 14, 1942, were no doubt fascinated by an item slugged "Evva Belle Peabody Tells of Engagement to Allan Vickers." Yet substance often crept into the newspaper's editorials. Woman's suffrage was debated in advance of its becoming Colorado law in 1893, and during the 1930s, the paper supported two students who fought against fascism and Francisco Franco in the Spanish Civil War, much to the chagrin of the local American Legion branch.
The paper changed its moniker to the Colorado Daily in 1953, reportedly because students thought The Silver and Gold made their product sound as if it specialized in mining news. The university apparently disagrees: It launched Silver and Gold Record, a weekly that highlights the school's faculty and staff, in 1970.
By the late '50s, the Daily's independent streak had grown more prominent. Back then, editors were chosen for one-year terms by the Board of Publications, a group made up of students, faculty and staff -- an arcane system that tended to undercut continuity. But by happenstance, a series of editors eager to look beyond parochial concerns wound up in positions of power, with opinion pieces in favor of civil rights and other attendant issues becoming commonplace. In 1962, this willingness to take controversial stands led to one of the Daily's first serious run-ins with the university. According to Boulder County Commissioner Paul Danish, who was a Daily staffer at the time and still writes occasional columns for the paper, then-editor Gary Althen raised hackles by publishing his hope that CU's football team, which had been sanctioned by the NCAA the previous year for recruiting violations, would "lose tomorrow's game and every game to follow."
Individuals offended by this declaration began sifting through the Daily in search of something to use against Althen, and found an article by writer Carl Mitcham that referred to conservative Arizona senator Barry Goldwater as "a fool, a mountebank, a murderer, no better than a common criminal."
They forwarded this to Goldwater, who then demanded an apology. Althen offered one, but that didn't prevent Denver Post cartoonist Paul Conrad, a future Pulitzer Prize winner, from portraying the Daily as a bastion for beatniks, which might have had some truth to it but still seemed insulting. Subsequently, the Rocky Mountain News reported that Mitcham, in a letter that attempted to explain his earlier salvo, dubbed ex-president Dwight Eisenhower "an old futzer." CU president Quigg Newton reacted to this curious description by canning Althen, whom he'd previously defended. Newton's action precipitated the walkout of several Daily staffers and members of the Board of Publications, yet, Danish says, "the paper managed somehow to survive."
Another major dustup occurred in 1966 over an incident involving Clancy Sheehy, a beloved Boulder eccentric who died last December at age 73. At four-foot-three, Sheehy was hardly the biggest man off campus, and he suffered from osteogenesis imperfecta, or brittle bone disease, which made him especially fragile. But the business he ran in Boulder's Hill district -- Clancy's Upstairs Bookstore -- was a favorite of CU attendees, partly because he allowed students to buy items on credit. Hence the uproar when he was arrested for selling indecent material after a policeman found a button on display at the shop that read "F*ck Censorship."
Bob Ewegen, a staffer at the Denver Post since the '70s, was then the Daily's editor, and he sprang to Sheehy's defense with an editorial in which he wrote that prosecuting someone for selling a button emblazoned with "F*ck Censorship" was the equivalent of saying "F*ck the Constitution." The Rocky Mountain News, which the Daily had previously lampooned in a parody issue as the Right-Wing Mountain Views, immediately leapt on these last three words (rendered in its pages as "---- the Constitution"), implying that the Daily had attacked the foundations of our democracy. Even a cursory reading of the line showed that this charge was untrue, but in the end, that didn't matter, as Ewegen acknowledges. "I quickly learned rule one of successful demagoguery," he says. "Which is, be careful about writing things your opponents can twist on you." Shortly thereafter, Ewegen responded with what he characterizes as "a heartfelt, marvelously crafted non-apology that would have made Bill Clinton proud" and braced himself for a spanking from the CU regents, including just-elected beer-empire heir Joe Coors, who once sued the Daily after cartoonist Rob Pudim drew him as a mad dog. Fortunately, other regents were friendlier to Ewegen, and he managed to escape further punishment.
But the marriage between CU and the Daily didn't last much longer. Early on, the paper had been a vocal critic of the war in Vietnam, and as the fighting escalated, so did both the Daily's rhetoric and the university's displeasure with it. At various times during the '60s, Daily staffers tired of being pressured by school officials explored the prospect of going out on their own; Ewegen says a feasibility study about the topic took place during his tenure as editor. Regents, too, were looking for a way out, especially after a 1969 Supreme Court ruling, Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, made it clear that attempts to censor the paper would lead to a protracted legal battle they'd almost certainly lose. In the decision, which supported the rights of three teenagers upset by what was happening in Vietnam to wear black armbands at school, the justices decreed that "First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and expression, applied in light of the special characteristics of the school environment, are available to teachers and students, and neither students nor teachers shed such rights at the schoolhouse gate."
In the spring of 1970, with this precedent fresh in their minds, the regents voted to cut all campus publications loose, the Daily included. One regent who opposed the proposal predicted that the Daily would soon perish, which probably would have suited Joe Coors just fine. According to onetime Daily publisher Dennis Dubé, Coors quietly funded some start-up student publications more to his liking.
But the Daily was too stubborn to die.
The last editor chosen under university rules was Timothy Lange, who wound up being the single most important figure over the next sixteen years of the Daily's life -- and some employees argue that even this statement sells him short. He's not among them: "I was just one of many people at that paper, really talented people who were working for nothing and who made it what it was," says Lange, who currently dwells in Southern California. But despite his efforts to demythologize himself, the legend persists.
Lange began writing columns for the paper in 1967, after which he became a copy editor, layout editor and, in 1970, editor of the paper as a whole. But he eagerly ditched this designation after the Daily split from CU and incorporated as a not-for-profit organization, becoming one of three titleless people who attempted to oversee editorial functions cooperatively. The paper also eschewed titles in its staff box.
Although the setup didn't last, it was symbolic of a publication that wanted to walk like it talked. So, too, were the covers of the Daily on February 5, 1971, and December 14, 1973. The former was dominated by a stark map of Southeast Asia accompanied by instructions on how to join a protest of the invasion of Cambodia and Laos at the State Capitol the next day; the latter was filled by a holiday-themed photo of the stoned-looking Daily staff beneath a marijuana-leaf graphic. Its caption said, "Peace on Earth to People."
The timing was right for this blend of militancy and youth orientation, Lange says. "Students got the right to vote in their local communities in 1971, and that totally changed Boulder. Before, it had been a moderately conservative place, fairly oriented toward the Chamber of Commerce and so on. But the students voted by tremendous margins for liberal and left-of-center candidates, and that continued for many years. So that was a watershed, and the Daily reflected it."
Synchronicity didn't necessarily translate to consistent financial success. Revenue was up and down over the next several years, and attempts to reposition the Daily as a community newspaper and not just a publication for students weren't widely embraced. Many staffers were laid off during summers, when the paper cut back its production schedule, and had to file for unemployment to survive -- a practice that was still ongoing long afterward. And even when the staff was at full strength, there was often more to do than bodies to do it. After five years of struggling under this workload, Lange left to write for a succession of area publications, including Westword. But he was cajoled into returning in 1980 after what staffers at the time describe as a "palace coup" against then-editor Jeff Morgan.
The we're-all-in-this-together management structure that helped bring about the second Lange era cut both ways, empowering employees throughout the paper yet spurring infighting capable of slowing decision-making to a crawl. But despite its drawbacks, the collectivist approach was so essential to the Daily's culture that Lange and company transformed the paper into an employee-owned business a few years later.
From that point forward, Daily workers who remained for a prescribed period (usually either two or three years) were vested with part ownership via shares in the company; this gave them the right to vote for company trustees whose primary duty was to appoint the board of directors -- and the board, in turn, was charged with choosing the publisher. (Three trustees served at any given time, while the size of the board varied from five to seven members and sometimes included non-employees chosen from the community.) Any vested employee could run for trustee or board seats without regard to department or position, meaning that the lowliest paste-up person might have more influence at times than his supervisor. In addition, staffers got to keep their shares after they left the Daily. These holders of so-called B-shares lost their voting privileges but stood to make money if the paper was ever sold for a profit.
Not that cashing in was on anyone's mind back then -- not with so much injustice in the world in need of exposing. The Lange-led Daily didn't shy away from diving into national and international stories, some of them only tangentially connected to Boulder. Lange and writer S.K. Levin wrote frequently about U.S. policy in Nicaragua and even traveled to that country to do ground-level reporting; their main local hook involved Boulder's establishment of a sister-city relationship with the Nicaraguan community of Jalapa. The pair also investigated what became the Strategic Defense Initiative (aka Star Wars), coming out with an in-depth multi-part series a month before President Ronald Reagan unveiled the program in a 1983 speech.
But Lange also found ways to take area news nationwide, as he did when he unveiled the inner workings of a Federal Emergency Management Administration civil-defense plan intended for use in the event of a nuclear strike in Boulder and many other American cities. A meeting to explain the previously secret program drew around 1,200 dumbfounded Coloradans and the folks from 60 Minutes, and led to the dropping of the entire idea everywhere. Articles like these induced Nation scribe Alexander Cockburn to declare the Daily the best leftist newspaper in the country.
Despite the soberness of these topics, however, the Daily was neither bland nor laugh-free. It developed an innovative entertainment section overseen by Jennifer Heath, who has gone on to become an author of books on a slew of subjects, and dabbled in often-self-deprecating humor courtesy of Todd Moore, who was also largely responsible for its grabby look. Moore, who's described with great affection by former colleague J. Gluckstern (now a CU film instructor and contributor to the Daily Camera) as a "fuck-you anarchist," wrote under the name Tao Jones and manned the regular feature "Tommy Tofu's Field Guide to Boulder," in which he described creatures such as "Liberal Man (Homo Pinko)": "Listen for the roar of Homo Pinko as he gathers in large herds to affect events thousands of miles away -- 'SMASH THE STATE...please.'" And that's not to mention his "Apocalypse Poll," in which readers were given the chance to predict whether the world would end in a "bang," a "whimper," or "other (please specify)."
Moore's adventures are notorious. On one occasion, he and a photographer decided they wanted to take a photo of Rocky Flats and drove onto the facility's grounds to get one without asking permission; they wound up spread-eagled on the ground surrounded by armed men in black commando outfits. On another, he penned an editorial, later published as a letter, about a suspicious fire at a fraternity house that convinced Boulder authorities and frat boys alike that the letter's mysterious author, identified as "T. Moore," was a female arsonist. "I remember standing at a cash machine and these two guys behind me were talking about what they were going to do when they got ahold of this bull dyke T. Moore," he says.
But his most infamous accomplishment was 1984's anti-Reagan issue. There's some disagreement over who sparked this notion: Moore says the idea came from singer Gil Scott-Heron, while Marty Durlin, Moore's former spouse and a onetime Daily staffer (she's presently station manager at Boulder public radio station KGNU), believes the responsible party was poet Amiri Baraka. (Both Scott-Heron and Baraka contributed to the issue.) Moreover, support for an all-editorial edition in advance of the 1984 election, in which Reagan's main competitor was Democratic candidate Walter Mondale, wasn't universal, with some employees fearing the concept would damage the Daily's future credibility. But the stone-throwers eventually won out, and on November 5, 1984, the Daily unleashed "Ronald Reagan: A Commentary."
Viewed from a distance of seventeen years, some of the anti-Reagan issue's content seems a bit curious. S.K. Levin's somber piece about Reagan's military buildup ages well, as does Durlin's personal commentary about the dearth of worthy candidates, but they're juxtaposed with wackiness like Nan De Grove's "What's in the Stars for Reagan, Mondale?," an attempt to analyze the election via astrology. ("Mondale's Sagittarius planets all fall near the ascendant in the United States chart, which indicate he could help the country recover some of its lost idealism...") But what hasn't dated are the incendiary graphics: a smiling Reagan dressed as Darth Vader, a poster of two elephants mating labeled "The Making of a Republican," and a doctored photo showing a football placekicker about to boot Reagan's head. This last image prompted a memorable moment for Moore: "These guys threatened to beat the hell out of me because it was their friend's leg kicking it."
That was hardly the only negative reaction. Numerous Daily sources swear that ad revenue plummeted 40 percent after the issue, but Lange, who by then had added publisher duties to his editorial responsibilities, says that's not so: Only a few advertisers bailed. Yet university conservatives voiced their disapproval in larger numbers. Pam White, who started contributing to the Daily in 1984 and holds the distinction of having written a pro-choice article for the Reagan edition that was withheld because it was "too extreme even for us," tells the tale. "I was sitting at my desk when a bunch of campus Republicans barged in with armloads of the paper that they'd picked up from all over town -- and they threw them on the floor and called us 'fucking communists' and spewed profanity and otherwise demonstrated their commitment to the First Amendment. I always thought that was funny."
So, too, does Mike O'Keefe, a Daily staffer who also worked on the Reagan edition -- but his view of the project as a whole is a measured one. "Compared to all the really great stories the Daily did, a lot of the anti-Reagan issue was bad journalism," says O'Keefe, who went on to work at Westword and is now a sportswriter at the New York Daily News. "But now I look at where we are today, with another Bush in the White House, and I think, 'We were right.' You know? We were right."
The following year, Lange received a job offer from the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner. He turned it down because he was in the middle of overseeing several capital improvements at the Daily. But when the Herald Examiner phoned again in early 1986, he was more receptive. The improvements at the Daily had been made, and, he notes, "I was 39 years old and had been in that small circle of journalism in Boulder for a long time. I thought I'd done as much as I could do at the place, and I felt I was leaving it in good hands."
That was clearly true from a financial standpoint. Dennis Dubé, hired at the Daily in 1981, succeeded Lange as publisher and ushered in an eight-year period of expansion and relative prosperity. Even setbacks such as the flop of a Daily spinoff called the Boulder Courier, a home-delivered weekly paper edited by Paul Danish that wound up $50,000 in the red after just six months, didn't prove fatal. "It was a rough and tumble time in the market," says Dubé, who is currently on the faculty of the CU journalism school. "Growth was flat in real estate and everything else. But the Daily still did well in that environment."
Editorial changes were more controversial. Replacing Lange as editor was Clint Talbot, who started at the Daily as a reporter in 1984 and is now a columnist for the Boulder Daily Camera. Talbot quickly shifted priorities. "I had a couple of things I thought were important," he says. "One was to get back to our roots journalistically. We existed because of the university campus, but our campus coverage seemed to be sort of secondary at that time. So I wanted to focus on things relevant to the university's students. And the second thing was to try to make sure, to whatever extent practicable, that we kept opinions on the opinion pages. I'm not averse to opinions; I do it for a living. But I thought there was too much opinionizing in the news columns and also in the graphics."
That was a shot across the bow for Todd Moore, who didn't last long under the new regime. He was philosophically at odds with Talbot, who, in his opinion, "writes like he's pounding on the piano with a frozen mackerel. He doesn't hear the music in the words." The end finally came after Moore arrived at the office one day to discover that the decorations he'd put on the wall over his desk had been taken down and replaced by a world map; afterward, he says, "I went to Dennis Dubé and lit up on him about basically selling our souls for advertising revenue. And he fired me for insubordination."
But Moore, who ran a widely admired, now-defunct newspaper in Illinois for several years and is currently working at a Boulder garden store, didn't leave quietly. In a scorching goodbye letter, he wrote, "What's wrong with making a newspaper interesting, exciting, personal and possibly even (horrors!) subjective? For all the freeze-dried, short-term bullshit that passes as news in this town, the Daily has in the past provided an antidote. But nobody's saying much about the Daily these days. And that's because we're not saying, or doing, anything of interest."
This opinion was shared by many veterans of Lange's reign; numerous folks loyal to his way departed by their own choice or were pink-slipped. But those who came later tend to portray the Talbot Daily in much more positive terms and point out that it still had its eccentricities. Luke Cyphers, now a colleague of O'Keefe's in the New York Daily News sports department, remembers a sentence that appeared on the copy-editing test he took in 1987: "The problem of teen pregnancy is mounting."
"When I read that, I thought, 'Somebody has a sense of humor here,'" Cyphers says. But serious journalism was produced as well, including a Cyphers story that turned into one of the Daily's biggest-ever scoops: the revelation that then-CU basketball coach Tom Miller was, in Cyphers's words, "Bobby Knight-ing some of his players." The story was directly responsible for Miller being placed on notice by CU in June 1988; he was fired in 1990.
Bronson Hilliard, a communications consultant who also worked at the Daily under Talbot, thinks local reporting of this kind was of more use to Boulderites than the sort of journalism that preceded it. "My problem with Tim Lange's stewardship of the paper was that it was one-dimensionally focused on international politics and dismantling the Reagan revolution," he says. "Ideologically, I didn't have a problem with that. But from a practical standpoint, they really soft-pedaled local news. You could read about Nicaragua every single day and still not know what was going on in Boulder."
With CU and Boulder spotlighted in the news hole and with the entertainment section, assembled by Leland Rucker, preserving the paper's high standards, the Daily flourished even after Dennis Dubé turned over the publisher's job to longtimer Cindy Dziekan in 1989. But in the mid-'90s, competition from new publications such as the Boulder Weekly added external pressure to the ever-present internal sort. Debate over the notion of buying a building relatively distant from downtown Boulder caused schisms as well. "Financially, it was an excellent move," says Dziekan, a certified public accountant in Boulder, "but I felt that management wasn't comfortable with supporting me on some of the decisions that needed to be made."
Dziekan says she left the Daily on her own; others argue that she jumped before she was pushed. But what's indisputable is that in 1995, Chris Harburg, who'd joined the Daily ten years earlier as an entry-level typesetter and later moved up to production director, was handed the publisher's mantle.
Under Harburg, the Daily took possession of the building that Dziekan had coveted, at 5505 Central Avenue -- a transaction that Harburg, who now lives in Pittsburgh, defends as fiscally farsighted. But it couldn't prevent advertising revenue from dwindling over the next few years. One idea to offset this downturn was to purchase a printing press, which was done in the summer of 1998 -- and even though Harburg confirms that it wasn't kept busy enough on outside printing jobs to come close to paying for itself, she believes that the revenue stream it created helped the Daily stay afloat a year longer than it otherwise might have. But increased scrutiny was also directed at the paper's editorial side in general, and Talbot in particular. Shortly after Talbot was recognized as a Pulitzer Prize finalist for a series of editorials he'd written about a Boulder County gang-rape trial, Pam White, who returned to the Daily in the early '90s following a several-year absence, was put in day-to-day command of the newsroom, with Talbot receiving the new title of "executive editor" as compensation.
This gesture failed to prevent future disagreements, however, and in August 1998, Talbot quit. But just before he did so, Harburg mentioned to him that she was exploring the possibility of selling the paper. In 1999, Harburg listed the paper with a newspaper broker without informing the staff (she says she took this course because a potential buyer wouldn't tender an offer until she did) and initiated an attempt to buy back B-shares from former employees. Many ex-workers interpreted this as preparation for an impending sale, and although some took the cash (most who did got a few hundred dollars), others held onto their shares out of nostalgia or because they anticipated a windfall.
Little did they know that, because of the bankruptcy, their shares would wind up being about as valuable as Confederate money.
After becoming publisher, Harburg, who says she's "pretty weak on the financial side," knew she needed someone to do the Daily's books. So she called a Boulder temporary agency and asked that some accounting pros be sent to her office. "I didn't even know what to ask them," she confesses, but she still got the sense that of the candidates who appeared, Mark Breese was the one who most obviously knew what he was doing. In Harburg's mind, "He was just what we needed. Too bad he wasn't honest."
How Breese might respond to that depiction is an open question, since his whereabouts are unknown. But there was plenty that Harburg didn't know about him. Documents on file at the Colorado State Board of Accountancy show that on November 17, 1988, Breese was stripped of his permit to practice as a certified public accountant after admitting that in 1987 he had "converted for his personal benefit funds belonging to H.W. Joint Venture in an amount exceeding $20,000 by means of his unauthorized issuance of checks" payable to himself. The previous July, Breese also had been accused of four additional counts involving embezzlement of another $40,000-plus from other businesses.
The accountancy board order gave Breese the chance to reapply for his CPA certificate in five years, but the state board has no record of him having done so. At the time of his hiring by the Daily, he was not a licensed accountant in Colorado, yet no one at the paper knew it, because no one bothered to investigate his background. This astonishing lapse was compounded when Harburg and company let Breese, the newly christened financial director, set up a bookkeeping system in which he handled funds without any oversight whatsoever. "When we were beginning to wonder about him, I started talking to people, and they told me, 'What he's doing isn't standard accounting procedure,'" Harburg says. "And I had no clue, because I didn't even know what standard accounting procedures were." To confuse matters further, Breese had risen to become president of the Daily's board of directors, meaning that this underling of Harburg's was also, in a very real sense, her boss.
Several Daily sources say Harburg's investigation into Breese began only after he, in his role as board president, began pushing for a performance review of her. But Harburg insists that her suspicions were piqued after twenty dollars turned up missing from a cash box in late 1999 -- an account corroborated by Pamela Rodriguez, who served as office manager and classified-advertising manager during her three years at the Daily. "The only people who had access to that cash box were Mark, [accounts payable manager] Dave Fritz and me -- and I knew Dave and I didn't take it," says Rodriguez. "That's when I told Chris, 'We've got a serious problem.'" Harburg spent weeks quietly making copies of Breese's books on the weekends, when he wasn't around -- and Rodriguez says what she found during these and subsequent investigations was disquieting. "There'd be checks listed in the checkbook as being for $230, and we'd get the checks back from the bank and they'd be for $2,500, made out to Mark Breese."
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.
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."
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
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."