On preserving the past, newspapers and strong mayors

Filed under: Hazlehurst |

“Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.” — Dr. Samuel Johnson

The corollary to Dr. Johnson’s oft-quoted maxim may be that, absent such knowledge, one’s mind is regrettably dispersed — so here’s a week’s worth of unrelated but interesting stuff.

Forty-two years ago, in an astonishing act of civic vandalism, the then-owners of the Burns Opera House tore down that beautiful and distinguished structure. Their excuse: the city told them to bring the building up to code, so they did — by turning it into a parking lot. It remains a parking lot to this day, although located at the prime downtown corner of Cascade and Pikes Peak.

No trace of the building endures, other than the elegiac photographs by Myron Wood in the library’s collection. Everything of note was destroyed by the wrecker’s ball — or so it seemed until last week.

The entry to the building was graced with magnificent stained glass panels. The panels had vanished, dimly remembered by a few old-timers. Had they been destroyed, or removed to a theme restaurant in Kansas City, Detroit, or Milwaukee?

The panels, which may once have been a backlit skylight above the main lobby, resurfaced last week at Ross Auction. There were four sections, each 5-feet by 14-feet. Would they be sold individually, to be dispersed forever? Or would they remain intact and somehow carry forward the memory of the Burns for generations to come?

Thanks to Chuck Murphy, whose company has renovated many of our city’s great historic structures, they’ll stay together. Murphy bought all four at auction on Saturday, and will see that they’re installed in an appropriate setting. It’d be nice to see them in the Mining Exchange Hotel — Perry Sanders, take note!

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And speaking of ancient monuments, it was interesting to note the banner ad on the Gazette’s web page.

“With 82 FTEs, the Gazette newsroom is the biggest in the region, delivering more local news than any other media outlet.”

True enough. Yet, as a once-famous radio commentator used to say, here’s the rest of the story.

Ten years ago, more than 120 people labored in the Gazette’s newsroom. Since then, the daily’s circulation has declined by more than 40 percent, and the paper has shrunk correspondingly. It seems evident that although the news will not disappear, the paper will. Print media may be going the way of passenger railroads, quaintly archaic reminders of another time.

Last Saturday I was a guest on Tonya Hall’s talk show, as was Tim Moore, the digital media chief at the New York Times.

The conversation turned to the IPad. Moore said that many Times journalists use their IPads to access the paper. So here’s my question: if the NYT’s own reporters don’t read their print edition, who does?

No one under 45, and that’s the problem for the G, for the NYT, and for all daily print media.

One Colorado Springs businessman, who once considered making a bid for the Gazette, neatly summarized the daily’s dilemma.

“We hired some people to evaluate the business,” he said, “and we concluded that we didn’t want the building, we didn’t want the presses, and we didn’t want the employees — so it was hard to figure out just what we were buying.”

As print declines, and the newsroom count diminishes, the Gazette will find it harder to defend its position. Print dailies require tens of millions in capital investment, while websites require very little. Competitors will appear, and try to snap up undefended segments of the G’s turf. Eventually, someone will take on the G directly. It’ll be interesting to watch — a digital replay of the newspaper wars waged in every American city during the early 1900s.

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Finally, forget the “strong mayor” hype. In less than 11 months, we’ll elect a new mayor. Who will it be?

At the moment, Tim Leigh and Buddy Gilmore are the only declared candidates. Neither has been anointed by traditional power brokers, who have historically been cautious and circumspect.

If city voters pass the strong mayor charter amendment, other candidates will surface. There’s only one person who has all of the “necessaries,” including long experience in government and business, a deep pool of passionate supporters, vast political savvy and steely resolve — county commissioner Sallie Clark.

She’ll run only if Scot McInnis loses to John Hickenlooper. Otherwise, she’ll join McInnis’ cabinet, possibly positioning herself to run for the Senate against Mark Udall in 2012.

And if the amendment fails? Expect the usual assortment of the rich, the retired and the delusional to compete for a full-time job paying less than 75 cents an hour.

Tim? Buddy? Are you still there? It’s me, your therapist.

John Hazlehurst can be reached at john.hazlehurst@csbj.com or 719-227-5861. Watch John with the latest in business at 7:20 a.m. every Tuesday and Friday on Channel 3, Fox Morning News.

2 Responses to On preserving the past, newspapers and strong mayors

  1. Yes John – I’m still here! And you are not the first to recommend a therapist. One of the first questions I get is “why would you want to put yourself through this? (The second question is usually about the “strong mayor” issue). I got into this race because I love this city and the people in it – and that I have become increasingly frustrated as I watch our city continue to operate as a group of individual enclaves that can’t collectively define who we are as a city – much less where we want to go. I am weary of the naysayers who continue to focus on the negatives, rather that accentuating all the postivies our city has to offer. And finally, I got tired of sitting in Chamber “good idea” meetings where the last thing said is usually, “yeah, that’s a fine idea but who will lead?” There are a lot of similarities in the reasons I started my business 10 years ago.

    I fully expect a crowded field come January, and I don’t expect the traditional power brokers to put thier money on any horse until they see the field. In the meantime, there is much to be done. Think July 4th, 2011: that is the first practice day for the U.S. Women’s Open at the Broadmoor. Right now people from all over the world are making their travel plans and are Googling every bit of info they can find on our city. Right now they don’t need to search too far to find articles about “dead grass and dark streets”. What kind of impression will our visitors walk away with next year- the mean-spirited city they are now reading about, or will they leave saying “that’s where I want to live – that’s where I want to move my business”. Just imagine – the 4th of July and Colorado Springs – “America The Beautiful”- will be on the South Korean version of Sportscenter. Will we have fireworks in Memorial Park? Will we be prepared as a city for that international spotlight? Only time will tell, but we can’t wait until after the April election to make the kinds of decisions and take the kinds of steps we need to take to prepare us for this event. Let’s collectively accept the challenge to be all that we can be for July 4, 2011 and who knows – maybe we can start talking as a community again to solve some of the other challenges we face!

    Buddy Gilmore
    May 24, 2010 at 8:05 am

  2. One of the issues to have been brought out in the Project 6035 was the “polarization” the political process has brought to Colorado Springs and I submit Mrs. Clark has done more to create disharmony in the region than any current politician short of Lionel Rivera. City residents did not want her as mayor when she ran against Rivera as he was seen as the lesser of two evils. Will we have the foresight to keep her out of the mayor’s seat once again?

    Rick Wehner
    May 24, 2010 at 10:47 am