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The Last Local Chieftain

In Pueblo life there has been one constant, like them or loathe them – the Pueblo Chieftain and the Rawlings family have had an outsized influence on Pueblo both in their hold over Pueblo news and politics, and in their support of local causes.

But with the passing of Publisher Robert Rawlings and the renewed frenzy to sell the paper, the Pueblo Chieftain will likely see a new, non Hoag-Rawlings publisher and a non-Pueblo based company take over the paper.

If the Chieftain sells it would be the last locally-owned, major daily on this side of the continental divide in Colorado.

If you’re expecting some sort of gleeful exuberance here, you aren’t going to get it.

It’s no secret that the Pueblo Chieftain and the PULP see news in divergent directions. The Chieftain sees itself as an advocate newspaper, advocating for what it believes is best for Southern Colorado and especially for Pueblo. I don’t believe the media can be advocates in that sense. As I tell people, the only thing we can do is take you right to the cliff edge and let you see out over the vista of an issue, but the moment we give you the slightest push, our credibility is gone. The best we can do is give you a fighting chance to understand what’s going on without opining on the news.

This is one of the reasons we don’t run a plethora of editorials; we don’t have an editorial board; and we don’t allow many op-eds. If you even for a moment think one of our stories is influenced by an opinion, even if it wasn’t, then that story loses credibility in your mind. Audiences no longer have the ability to separate out personal politics, publisher politics and the news. This is why I disagree with how The Chieftain has blurred the lines among news, editorial and advocacy.

But even with all that said, local daily coverage is still needed. And it must be produced by local people, daily. Even if the politics of Bob Rawlings and Pueblo clashed many times, there was still a mentality that only a locally owned paper can produce – we are all in this together.

At the end of the day, Bob Rawlings then, and now Jane today, as well as I, have had to sleep in the beds we made. What readers must understand is if we run an editorial blasting a politician, we could see him or her while getting coffee. If one of our reporters writes a blistering investigative piece, we could be frozen out of advertising dollars.

We hear, often times loudly, the impact of what we print.

As publisher, and I think the Rawlings would agree, we also feel the highs and lows of local businesses. When times are good, we see that. But when times are bad and people are struggling, boy, do we feel that, too.

There’s no boss from New York is on the phone telling us to get our third quarter revenues up. Rather, it’s a local eatery, closing down because of the economy. Or it’s a local business struggling to pay for the lights because of an utility company raised rates again.

Even if I disagree with how The Pueblo Chieftain works, I knew they were in this just like you and me.

An out-of-state company won’t have that same dedication to Southern Colorado. That doesn’t mean new ownership will mean less news or bad news. Some company could come in and rebuild what the Chieftain has been ceding in the last few years –readership, territory and an audience.

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But there’s a possibility a media company will see the Chieftain as a carcass without much meat and pick those bones, never letting it die but never letting it live either.

Since taking over the PULP in late 2011, the Chieftain has cut its reporter pool, buying-out or forcing out senior staff, focusing on prep sports at the cost of quality news reporting and has ceded nearly all of its Southern Colorado coverage. Its decline, losing over 15,000 — it could be close to 20,000 or almost half today of its subscribers — isn’t just because of the internet but due its own decisions to keep itself in the black by cutting costs rather than growing its audience.

Will a larger conglomerate turn that around? Who knows. A new company could restructure, firing most of the support staff, hiring a few more reporters, focusing on digital solutions and using the presses to make money. But that seems unlikely as a company would have to invest millions in Southern Colorado, an area lagging behind both in terms of technological literacy as well as economic growth.

At the Chieftain, and I hope Jane Rawlings and others will see it, there is still the option — not to sell out and keep the paper Pueblo-owned. Let the writers who want the Chieftain to be more than a senior newsletter for older Puebloans, shine through. But they have to toughen up a soft newsroom.

And for goodness sake, people, save the full 6-column inch, above-the-fold for declarations of war, not the Broncos.  But beyond that find someone with journalistic passion to lead the paper into the new digital age.

This may sound strange to have a publisher of another newspaper encouraging another newspaper to be stronger but I believe when there are multiple outlets keeping audiences informed, that’s a good thing. But when a bunch of out-of-state companies produce news that only falls within acceptable profit margins, we all lose. And right now we all our losing, from the local TV, to the hyper-partisan weeklies, and ending with the dailies which are out-of-touch with modern audiences.

Plus, the Chieftain has never been my main competitor, neither has the Colorado Springs Independent or local TV news. Our fight is for the future of providing better content, not the protection of “what’s always been done.”

If, in the coming months, we see the last local Chieftain printed, replaced by a corporate Chieftain—Southern Colorado will suffer in the long-run until someone else, likely that will fall to us, delivers non-corporate daily news.

Local news is important and a 149 year-old publication owned by an outside media company is the antithesis of everything that was printed at the Pueblo Chieftain in those 149 years. I don’t want to see that, because while I dislike how the Chieftain does news, there’s still pride in the local paper, you know, being local.

If you think local news will be better with a company that can invest locally, ask yourself this question, how much local pride do you have today in former “local” stations — KOAA and KTSC? We will look back in 20 years and feel much the same way about a corporate Pueblo Chieftain.

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