Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Chapter 3: The interference builds

The most dangerous threat to the integrity of the Fourth Estate comes not from obvious missteps by owners such as Anschutz, like the Clearing the Haze debacle in 2015. Those are simple to identify and easy for readers to dismiss as untrustworthy.

No, the most insidious threat that activist newspaper owners present is in everyday news stories. It is in stories that most readers would never pick out as altered or lacking, stories that fail to mention key details or make important connections, that don't paint the full relevant picture for civic-minded news consumers who care, for example, how local tax dollars are spent.

Those are the stories that too often can slip by unnoticed, and therefore, they are the most dangerous.

City for Champions was one such storyline, and it's particularly relevant when considering Anschutz, Clarity Media, and The Colorado Springs Gazette.

City for Champions is a Colorado Springs development proposal to use state tax rebates to jumpstart four city projects - a medical research facility at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs; a U.S. Air Force Academy visitors' center; a U.S. Olympic museum; and a downtown sports stadium and event center.

The project was the brainchild of a select group of elite Colorado Springs businesspeople and stakeholders, including Bill Hybl, Steve Bartolin, (ret) Lt. Gen. Mike Gould, Pam Shockley-Zalabak, and other power brokers. It was unveiled in July 2013 by Bach at a press conference.

Behind the scenes, the Denver-based Anschutz Foundation - a nonprofit organization that awards grants to other nonprofit organizations - put up $75,000 toward the city's $300,000 tab for lawyers to draw up the plans. So did the El Pomar Foundation and the Downtown Partnership, signifying that many city leaders saw the City for Champions proposal as an investment in the future.

The Colorado Springs Gazette's front page on
Feb. 2, 2014.
On Sunday, Feb. 2, 2014, the cabal behind the City for Champions proposal were probably feeling good about the banner headline in The Gazette that blared, "Private donors stepping up," over a story that reported much of the proposal was going to be funded by wealthy philanthropists. (The catch was that there were no such philanthropists, at least at that point, who were willing to be publicly identified.)

The headline was the result of clever manipulation, and was aided and abetted by Gazette management, according to former Gazette City Hall reporter Monica Mendoza. She was hired to take over after Chacon was reassigned to night cops, and aside from also experiencing the same pattern of constant badgering from Bach's office that began with Chacon, she said that City for Champions was a particularly troubling issue.

It wasn't the first time that a coalition of city officials and special interests, including Bach, former city attorney Chris Melcher, and other City for Champions backers were able to coordinate the timing of news articles, Mendoza said.

But not everyone agreed with the City for Champions plans. Immediately, the plan was panned by residents who were angered that the city would undertake a big taxpayer-supported proposal without citizen input.

The biggest critics were from City Hall. Then-City Council President Keith King and then-Councilman Joel Miller blasted the proposal. Other council members also objected. They feared that local taxpayers would be on the hook to fund a downtown sports stadium, and that the stadium would later be turned over to a private owner, who many speculated would be Anschutz.

The idea isn't as far-fetched as it may sound. Anschutz owns a number of sports stadiums across the country, including the Staples Center in Los Angeles and the StubHub Center in Carson, California. He was once dubbed "The man who owns L.A." by The New Yorker, and he's negotiated plenty of complex arena financing deals with other government partners across the country.

And the City for Champions financing plan called for spending about $200 million in local public money on the proposed downtown stadium and events center.

Proponents, including the Sports Corp. - a nonprofit organization that, among other things, organizes The Broadmoor Pikes Peak International Hill Climb and The Broadmoor Pikes Peak Cycling Hill Climb - launched a massive media campaign to sway public favor in support of the proposal. (Oh, and Steever sits on the Sports Corp.'s board of directors.)

King and Miller set a city council meeting agenda item for Feb. 3, 2014, to talk about the financing of City for Champions. The Friday night before the meeting, City for Champions backers called Hight and said they would reveal information about the private donors for three of the projects in the proposal. Mendoza was asked to talk to them on Saturday for a special Sunday story, she recounted.

"We're getting it exclusively," Mendoza recalled Hight telling her at the time.

But no new information was revealed. The organizers emailed Mendoza a one-page statement and an interview with El Paso County Commissioner Dennis Hisey, who was a de facto spokesman for the City for Champions project at the time. Hisey reiterated that three of the four projects would be paid for with private donations, but provided no details about who would be the financial sponsors.

In other words, there was no news.

Regardless, City for Champions got a banner headline that Sunday in The Gazette, just one day before King and Miller were set to pose questions about the entire project at a public hearing in City Hall.

"It really upset me," Mendoza said. "It seemed that the City for Champions organizers pulled one over on the paper. But what really upset me was that the editor should not have allowed it."

The entire City for Champions story "made me uncomfortable from the beginning," said Mendoza, who left The Gazette in April 2015 and is now a reporter with The Denver Business Journal. "The Anschutz Foundation gave money to the city to hire the attorneys to write the application" for state tax money to fund the City for Champions proposal.

"From there, the city project was pushed by The Gazette's publisher," Mendoza said. "For example, when the City for Champions organizers came into The Gazette's conference room to talk to me and another reporter, they had a Powerpoint presentation. Steever had set up the meeting. He didn't ask the organizers questions like a reporter would. He spoke almost in unison with the organizers about how great the project was going to be."

"I never experienced anything like that in my 20 plus years as a reporter," she said.

After City for Champions became a political football, Councilman Miller became the subject of at least a dozen Gazette editorials that painted him as a naysayer obstructionist. And it all started when he questioned City for Champions, Mendoza noted.

A full-page ad in support of City for
Champions in the Aug. 17, 2014 Gazette.
Then, full-page color City for Champions ads began running in The Gazette - at least eight of them between May and August of 2014. The ads were sold for a huge discount of $250 each under a trade account with the Sports Corp., instead of the more typical cost of $7,000, according to Stacy Brack, a former Gazette advertising sales executive who said she viewed company documentation related to the ads.

Trade accounts are pre-approved and must be something that benefits The Gazette, Brack explained. For instance, the local minor league baseball team, the Sky Sox, often trades for Gazette banners at its baseball stadium.

Brack viewed the ads as public relations for the City for Champions project, underwritten by The Gazette.

"The Gazette has no benefit from this," Brack said. "So basically, one of the red flags about this ad is, typically with trade advertising, if it's a Sky Sox ad or if it's sponsored in some way, The Gazette may request that their logo be placed on the ad. With City for Champions, there's no logo or signage being placed anywhere. So my question is, what is The Gazette receiving as a benefit for running the trade advertising?"

That's one of the many questions I would like to ask Steever. Or McKibben. Or Anschutz. But I've never had the chance. It is also a question Gazette readers may want to keep in mind when evaluating what they're reading in the paper, and whether a particular topic is connected to Anschutz or his business interests.

"It's very abnormal," Brack said of the City for Champions-Gazette ad account with the Sports Corp. "I've never seen this done in the eight years I've been in advertising."

When asked what she made of the ads and the trade account, Brack said the only logical explanation is that it benefits Anschutz directly somehow.

"I think that basically it's significant because City for Champions is a direct benefit to The Gazette's owner, Philip Anschutz," Brack said, but emphasized that she was speculating. "My feeling is that the newspaper has just become a mouthpiece for Philip Anschutz and what his business agenda is. He wants the public to think it's a good thing, that it's a positive change for them, no matter if it affects their taxes or not, no matter how it affects the city. We're changing public opinion by ownership of the paper. And by doing so with advertising, that just promotes propaganda that's his at a very low rate, that's a fairly unethical journalistic thing to do."

Combine the cost of the ads Brack knows were run - and there could have been more - with the $75,000 the Anschutz Foundation ponied up for the original City for Champions proposal, and Anschutz has invested at least $130,000 toward backing the project.

To date there has not been any formal discussion that Anschutz would take ownership or be involved in the City for Champions sports stadium and event center (at least, not in the public record). In fact, the city has been fairly quiet about that fourth project. But the Sports Corp. City for Champions information page says the stadium is projected to cost $92 million and open in 2019.

Whether or not City for Champions will prove a worthwhile investment for Colorado Springs is yet to be seen. It could end up being a solid economic driver, and help create jobs and tax revenue. But if The Gazette's owner, a billionaire with well-documented financial interests in other sports arenas in multiple countries, also has a financial interest in the project, then that's something the taxpayers of Colorado Springs deserve to know.

It's possible, of course, that Anschutz is investing in the project out of the goodness of his heart. But if he is, why give away tens of thousands of dollars in free advertising when The Gazette itself didn't seem to be on solid financial footing? Why not just fund the project directly, since Anschutz himself is worth over $12 billion? If the Sports Corp. is right, and the stadium is only going to cost $92 million, that's peanuts to a businessman with such assets.

It doesn't make any sense. Unless Anschutz saw it as an investment instead of charity. Then it makes perfect sense: Use The Gazette to drum up public support and shout down those who would undercut the deal, just as Brack suspects. Control the flow of information, and control public opinion.

"It's 1984-ish," Cotter said. "It's trying to control information. The good thing is that Philip Anschutz cannot own every publication in the United States."

Mendoza also heard directly from Wayne Laugesen, the editorial page editor, that Anschutz took a personal interest in The Gazette's content.

In August of 2014, Laugesen strolled by Mendoza's desk to ask if she was covering a local ballot initiative that had to do with a city stormwater proposal.

"I've been given a direct order from Phil to write in support of it," Laugesen said. Mendoza recalled it because the incident seemed odd, almost like Laugesen was boasting that he was getting orders straight from the owner. She wrote down afterward what had transpired.

"You get direction straight from Anschutz?" she asked Laugesen.

"Yeah, I get about two emails a week from him," Laugesen told her. "Some are commenting on editorials. Some are giving direction."

He then showed Mendoza some of the emails from Anschutz.

"I remember him saying on at least a couple of occasions, 'I was told to take Joel Miller's head off,'" Mendoza recalled.

Now, a wealthy newspaper owner taking a direct interest in his paper's editorial board stances is nothing new, and there's nothing wrong with a paper taking a clear position on public issues. But what this incident illustrates is two things: First, that Anschutz took a direct and ongoing interest in local issues and what The Gazette was doing about them, and second, that he intervened personally in at least some of the paper's operations.

And if Anschutz felt no compulsion about telling the editorial page editor what to write, who's to say that he would feel there's anything wrong with ordering specific news coverage?

The Gaylord Story

I believe that's exactly what happened with a sizable news story about the Gaylord Rockies hotel in Aurora, Colorado, that was published Sunday, Aug. 10, 2014.

The front page of The Colorado Springs Gazette
on Aug. 10, 2014
Because the story that The Gazette published was not what the reporter originally turned in. What was published was very - disturbingly - different.

The first draft of the story that was submitted by the reporter referred to the City for Champions' proposed sports arena in the third sentence. It drew obvious parallels between the controversial financing structures of the Gaylord hotel, City for Champions, and other economic development projects in Colorado that were essentially attempting to give taxes away to private companies. (The tax money is intended as an incentive for companies to set up shop, and the tradeoff for local governments is more jobs and tax income overall.)

For anyone who cares to read that first draft, I've published it on this blog as a footnote, along with images of the story that was printed in The Gazette that Sunday. And here's the link to the archived version of the story on

To anyone who takes the time to read both the original draft and the published story, several things will be immediately apparent:
  • The first is a better and more locally focused story for Colorado Springs Gazette readers than the one that was published. It took more angles into account, and localized the story by including City for Champions analysis.
  • There are many of the same sources, and even many of the same quotes, in both versions of the story. The main difference is that the published one focuses solely on the Aurora Gaylord project, and does not evaluate any similar policies being used by other cities.
  • There is no mention whatsoever of City for Champions in the story that The Gazette published, let alone any quotes from Colorado Springs City Councilman Don Knight, despite the fact that the city government was at the time considering relying on tax increment financing to pay for the City for Champions sports arena (which it still may do; I haven't had time recently to check on that project's status). But in the first draft, Knight expressed concerns that taxpayer money could be appropriated for City for Champions without a vote of the people, and discussed the issue in depth.
The published story does acknowledge that The Broadmoor, which sued to try to stop the Gaylord project, is also owned by the same parent company that owns The Gazette (Anschutz, in other words). That's proper disclosure of a potential conflict of interest.

But knowing that the original draft was so radically different - and that Anschutz has put money behind City for Champions - raises immediate questions.

Why would a reporter be ordered to so dramatically rewrite a legitimate news story about tax policy? Why remove references to City for Champions? Why remove analysis and quotes from a local city councilman who has been elected to analyze just such policies on the behalf of voters? And why not just keep the original story?

"Most people in the community wouldn't question that Aurora Gaylord project," Cotter said, because it seemed innocuous. "But it was influenced, certainly by the ownership, to do that story."

Cotter said it fit the bill of what she used to call a "command performance." That was when orders came down from Hight or Steever that a certain story was to be played up, or presented in a certain way, or reported on in the first place, she said.

The front page of The Gazette screamed, "Aurora's tax giveaway." But why? What do The Gazette's readers care about what Aurora taxpayers do with their money? And why would Anschutz care about the Gaylord project, or if a reporter believes a story to be relevant to an issue facing a local city councilman?

Even Jeff Thomas, who had been laid off over two years before the Gaylord story ran, remembers being perplexed by it.

"My first reaction was, 'What does this have to do with Colorado Springs? What is it to me, as a city resident, as a taxpayer, or even as a tourist who might want to travel around Colorado, what is this to me?'" Thomas said.

There's the rub: The first draft of the story answered all of those questions. The one published in the paper did not.

And, it's a good story. It's not a great story, or a groundbreaking piece of journalism, but it's solid work, and would be enjoyed by any reader who likes following wonky political stuff the way I do. 

"I didn't even have so much of a problem with the line of reporting in it. It just didn't seem all that relevant to us," Thomas said. "It was the sort of thing you'd read in The Aurora Sentinel, or The Denver Post, or The Rocky Mountain News back in the day. So that one felt to me - and I have no direct knowledge if this was true or not - but it felt like this one came down from the top office, and someone was tasked with having to report it."

That's exactly what I heard happened.

What I heard - from sources that I trust and believe - is the reporter was forced to rewrite the story to accommodate what Hight's superiors wanted to see in the paper. Staffers drew their own conclusions as to why (I actually left The Gazette just prior to the Gaylord story's publication, but was still in contact with many friends and colleagues at the paper).

When wondering why such an order had been given, the consensus among colleagues whose opinion I highly respect was twofold. 

One, Anschutz saw the Gaylord as a possible business competitor, a threat to his beloved Broadmoor, and thought he could potentially sink it by forcing one of the journalists on his payroll to write up some negative publicity. Besides, he tried suing the Gaylord once, and it didn't work. Why not try The Gazette? 

Two, that he didn't want any question marks in readers' minds about whether they should support City for Champions.

Maybe it was one or the other, or a combination. But there's no other logical reason I can think of as to why the first draft of that story would be shoved aside in favor of what was printed. There's no justification for it, from an editor's standpoint. 

I was asked not long ago by a journalist who I respect where the harm is in this particular narrative, in the entirety of this blog. He compared it to Spotlight, the film that tells the story of The Boston Globe reporters who exposed systemic child abuse in the Catholic Church. He asked where the injured party could be, in this story about Anschutz and The Gazette.

This is my answer. This is the potential for harm in this story. Colorado Springs taxpayer money could be directed straight into Philip Anschutz's pocket - by saving him millions in construction costs - if the downtown sports arena is built and one of his myriad companies ends up owning it. If Colorado Springs voters think the cost of City for Champions is worth it, then they should be allowed to make an informed decision. They should be presented with all of the facts. (Not to mention, many Gazette readers hold the Taxpayers Bill of Rights near and dear to their hearts, and this particular story cut straight to the heart of TABOR's ideals.)

But I don't think Anschutz wants voters to have all of the facts. At least, not based on the story that ran on the front page of The Gazette on Aug. 10, 2014, instead of the story the paper could have run.

That's what I was referring to at the beginning of this chapter: The stories that are not told can be more dangerous than the ones we know are false.

The troubling relationship between Steever, Bach, The Gazette and other city power brokers didn't end with the City for Champions coverage, either. 

There will be more to come on this blog about The Gazette and its recent history. I'm going to try to post new chapters and updates here on a weekly basis.

Chapter 3, footnote 1: First draft of Gaylord hotel story

Below is the first draft submitted by the reporter assigned to the story that The Gazette eventually published with the headline "Aurora Tax Giveaway" on the front page on Aug. 10, 2014. It is published here exactly as I obtained it, including a few typos.

DENVER - A single voter - appointed by a corporate landowner - raised taxes on a swath of vacant land in Aurora in a move to increase revenue the city had pledged to a developer as part of a multi-million dollar incentive.

In Larimer County, the entire Town of Timnath, including outlying farmland, was designated as blighted to make "urban renewal" incentives available to developers.

And in Colorado Springs elected officials are considering a new large-scale tax district that would be the first of its kind in Colorado to help pay for a proposed sports arena downtown.

All three are part of a trend in Colorado and across the nation of local officials so desperate to attract new development and jobs to their hometowns that they offer lucrative deals to developers. Such deals are growing in complexity and increasingly push the bounds of what's been done before with taxpayer dollars.

City attorneys have found themselves in court defending the bold new moves.

Every state except Arizona uses some form of tax increment financing to spur economic development, but the state that pioneered the tool - California - abolished the state statute amid fiscal crisis in 2011.

Redevelopment agencies in the state used tax increment financing laws with great success in the early years to combat blight, but municipalities began abusing the program - bending the definitions of blight and tying up billions in taxpayer dollars for projects that served minimal public benefit, said California Gov. Jerry Brown before he and lawmakers shut down the program.

In Colorado, competition is driving public officials beyond the intended scope of "urban renewal," said state Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins, who successfully passed a bill in 2010 he thought would close the egregious loophole that allowed Timnath to include agricultural land in an urban renewal district.

"You have to admire the creativity that goes into it," Fischer said. "It's really unfair to citizens who in good faith vote to tax themselves to provide county services and public education for their children and then to have developers with the help of municipal governments swoop in and say we are going to divert some of those tax dollars for purposes that were never contemplated."

In that setting, Colorado Springs and El Paso County officials will decide how to finance the cornerstone project of City for Champions - a downtown stadium and surrounding entertainment district with a landmark bridge and a parking garage.

"Cities all over the county are really competing to make themselves attractive to not only the residents but also to tourists and businesses," said Bob Cope, principal analyst for Colorado Springs economic vitality division. "In order to do that communities have to invest in themselves."

In 2011, the City of Aurora offered up almost every cent of future taxes generated by a proposed development, in the name of future economic development.

Whether or not those incentives - some of which are unlike anything else done in the state - overstepped the bounds of state law is the subject of a pending lawsuit. 

The Gaylord Hotel project - owned by Marriott International and being constructed by RIDA Development Corp. - would receive an estimated $381.5 million in taxpayer dollars to cover myriad construction costs over 33 years. That sum includes revenues from local sales tax, property tax, admissions tax, lodging tax and state sales tax.

"This incentive package like our other incentive packages are performance based," Kim Stuart, spokeswoman for Aurora, said. "No money is given in advance. They have to build this hotel, operate and bring in visitors a year before they receive any funding."

Because the incentives are based on the tax increment - the difference between taxes currently generated on the property and the taxes generated once the project is complete - the developer doesn't see a dime until there are improvements on the property.

Lawsuits have been filed by 11 hotels in an effort to quash the state incentives before the project cuts into the market, and two Aurora taxpayers are challenging the city's authority to execute various aspects of the deal without voter approval.

Aurora prevailed in the lawsuit filed by a group of Denver hotels owned by Sage Hospitality and The Broadmoor hotel in Colorado Springs. But the other lawsuit is pending and could slow financing of the development.

In Timnath, construction is rolling along.

The town will welcome a new Costco in October, located just south of a bustling Wal-Mart Supercenter. Both big-box stores were built on previously vacant land and are receiving portions of the increased property tax generated by the new stores to help pay for construction costs.

Proponents of these incentives say they have spurred the economy and breathed life into once dying parts of communities. Opponents point out developers once paid for infrastructure improvements themselves and the end-result of the incentives is lining the pockets of private companies with taxpayer dollars.

"We had a very limited revenue base before we had Costco and Walmart," said April Getchius, town manager for Timnath, population 2,500. "It's an opportunity to allow us to attract development that we can then use those revenues to build upon and do other things."

Additionally, she said the two stores are significant employers, noting Costco is in the midst of hiring about 200 full-time workers.

Larimer County was less than thrilled about the decision to possibly tie up some of its tax revenues for development on agricultural land. A lawsuit was settled out of court with a Timnath promise to reimburse Larimer County for some of the lost property tax revenue. Timnath, which created the controversial urban renewal district in 2004, will continue to enjoy the huge boost in sales tax, with most of the money coming from Fort Collins shoppers.

Fischer said he respects and understands local officials desire to spur the economy, but he said the urban renewal statute was intended to subsidize expensive infill development projects rather than vacant land that's usually cheap to build on.

He helped pass House Bill 1107 in 2010 along with now Senate President Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora. The bill limited the use of blight on agricultural land, but Fischer said to get the bill through the legislature he had to offer up exceptions as a compromise.

"Clever people have come up with ways around that so it's not much of an impediment now," Fischer said. "I regret that we had to do that because again it just creates another loophole in which communities can go ahead and continue to abuse the urban renewal statute."

In fact, the hotel project in Aurora used the urban renewal statute to declare agricultural land near the Denver International Airport blighted and put it in an urban renewal district a year after the new law passed. The law says a municipality can do that if all the taxing entities agree to the designation. Adams County commissioners sent a letter of support, but there was not a vote on the issue, a spokesman for the county said.

Unlike Timnath, where the tow will see a huge boost in sales tax revenue, Aurora isn't likely to see a significant increase in tax revenue from the Gaylord Hotel project for 25 to 33 years - the city council member pledged it all away.

Aurora City Councilwoman Barbara Cleland said it was an easy decision to make in 2011, considering the land would likely go undeveloped without the Gaylord hotel.

"The tax base they get back for the public portion of the Gaylord, is tax base they themselves raise," Cleland said, noting the money going to the developer will pay only for construction of the 350,000 square foot conference center, which she said will hold public events.

The lawsuit filed in February by Aurora taxpayers David H. Bishop and Regina M. Thomson says, "The Incentive Agreement specifies no fewer than four subsidy schemes to benefit Gaylord, resulting in a transfer to Gaylord of almost 100% of tax revenues generated by the Gaylord Project."

Among the most egregious of these said Sean Duffy with The Kenney Group, one of several groups representing the plaintiffs, is the enhanced taxing district established for a hotel lodging tax and tax on admissions tickets.

City council members in 2011 voted to establish a new tax district on land owned by the registered corporation LNR CPI High Point. They then called for a vote from all landowners in the new district to consider raising the lodging tax by 2 percent and the admissions tax by 6.25 percent.

Landowner LNR CPI High Point appointed Denver resident Brandon Wyszynski to vote in the election on behalf of the landowner. The tax rates were approved with the single vote.

In the agreement between the city and the Gaylord Hotel developer, it specifies that the developer will receive all of the revenue from those two taxes for 33 years.

The city also pledged that any increase in property value or sales taxes also will go to the developer over 25 to 30 years.

"These subsidies, approximately $800 million over 30 years, would be the largest in the history of Colorado," the lawsuit says.

The city estimates the amount will be much smaller - between $200 million and $300 million in current day value, over the life of the agreement.

Additionally, the city applied for and received on behalf of the developer a portion of state sales tax through the Regional Tourism Act. The state's Economic Development Commission approved an estimated $81.5 million over 30 years.

Jason Batchelor, finance director for Aurora, said the city hired outside consultants to analyze what it would take to make the proposed $800 million hotel financially viable. He said that gap came in at between $200 million and $300 million and the city found a way to make the development a reality.

"The incentive is needed to make the project work," Batchelor said. "The hotel will bring 2,500 permanent jobs and 10,000 construction jobs to the city."

Additionally, Batchelor said the city will retain the portion of the lodger's tax that goes to fund the city's tourism department and portions of sales tax that pay for emergency services such as police.

"Part of the reason we were able to do that (increase the lodger's tax) is our base lodgers tax is already below Denver and the surrounding communities," Batchelor said. "Even with the increase we are still below where Denver is."

But the lawsuit filed to halt the incentives says voters across the city should have been asked about the tax increase, not just a single landowner.

That's exactly what Colorado Springs City Council member Don Knight said he wants, a vote of the people if taxpayer dollars are to be spent on a downtown arena. Other council members have agreed with his assessment and signed a letter to that effect.

The City of Colorado Springs has secured state sales tax dollars for the project - roughly $120.5 million over 30 years will flow from state coffers to four projects pitched by the city under the Regional Tourism Act.

But that's not enough to cover one project on the list - an indoor arena that officials hope will draw revenue-generating sporting events from across the nation. The stadium could be publicly or privately owned.

Cope, with the Colorado Springs economic vitality division, said a decision on financing and ownership of the project is a long way from being made and when the city gets to that point a community conversation will involve taxpayers and stakeholders.

One proposed plan - a city and county partnership to establish a massive taxing district and dedicate some of the increase in taxpayer revenue over the years to the development - has never been done in the state, Cope said.

A document in December estimated a new taxing district could generate $49.3 million for the project.

"This would be the first time that this type of a TIF was established, so we would have to work with the city attorney's office to set it up in the appropriate manner," Cope said.

Knight said that the city charter specifically prohibits construction of a convention center using taxpayer dollars without voter approval.

"The city attorney has said the stadium is not a convention center - to me that's splitting hairs," Knight said.

In addition to a large taxing district to help pay for the project, the city also will try to renew an existing urban renewal district over the proposed site of the sports arena in southwest downtown that could generate an additional $46.8 million in sales and property taxes over 30 years for the project.

Knight said he analyzes each use of tax increment financing based on its own merits and this will be no different.

For example, Knight said he supported the controversial tax increment financing deal cut for Copper Ridge at Northgate, a 192-acre vacant parcel of agricultural land on the north side of the city that was being considered just as Fischer was attempting to close the loophole.

Knight said in that project the tax dollars will be spent solely to extend Powers Boulevard to the interstate - something he said serves as a clear public need.

"That for me was an easy decision," Knight said. "Our laundry list is a lot bigger than our wallet ... We could either wait 10, 15 or 20 years for this road or we could put in this TIF and have it done."

Chapter 3, footnote 2: The Gazette's Gaylord investigation story

Images of the Gaylord hotel story as it appeared in The Gazette on Aug. 10, 2014.

Page A1

Page A4

Top half of page A5

Bottom half of page A5

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Chapter 2: The downward spiral begins

Less than two months after Anschutz purchased The Gazette, morale in the newsroom was in the proverbial shitter.

Major staff changes were ordered by his new lieutenant, editor Joe Hight, with little to no explanation. And one of the biggest and most questionable was to remove Daniel Chacon from the City Hall beat.

Prior to 2013, Chacon had loved working at The Gazette.

"It was like so many other great newsrooms that I had worked at, where you have these very colorful personalities, and journalism is fun. I don't know if people really know how fun journalism really is," Chacon said. "It was like any other great newsroom, where people believed in journalism and doing great work."

Former Gazette reporter Daniel
He even had a nickname, due to his fondness for filing Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) requests with local government officials and agencies, as a way of looking for stories: We used to call him "Daniel ChaCORA."

But he failed to take into account that the new mayor - Steve Bach was elected in May 2011 - might have some real sway with those who controlled The Gazette's newsroom, starting after the purchase by Clarity.

Chacon and Bach had developed a very antagonistic relationship during the 2011 mayoral campaign, in part because of Chacon's dogged reporting and in part because Bach had a thin political skin.

"One of the first big stories about the election, probably the biggest story of the election, was April 1. We broke the story of Mayor Bach allegedly beating his first wife," Chacon recalled. "Leading up to that story, you have to tell the candidate what you're working on, because you want them to respond, and there was a lot of pressure from Bach not to run that story. There was some insinuation that we would be up for a lawsuit if we published it. I remember him calling me, and just trying to convince me not to run the story, that there was no story there, and insinuating that there could be legal action if we ran a story alleging that he had beat his first wife. But we had the story, and so we ran it."

After Bach took office in June 2011, he immediately began trying to influence Chacon's coverage of city politics.

"All of a sudden, you had the mayor trying to tap into the newsroom, with 'We're not happy with the coverage, and this is wrong,' even though the stories weren't wrong," Chacon said. "Another thing that bothered them was that I was doing videos of meetings. Just meetings. And I was doing stuff via social media, where I was giving people these up-to-date 'This just happened, and this just happened,' and I put a lot of attention on these people. And putting the spotlight on people, especially when they're not used to it, like Bach, who came from the private sector, and was just not used to that. I think it turns them off."

Looking back now, Bach's election was probably the real beginning of the end for Chacon. The purchase of The Gazette by Clarity simply sealed the deal.

"It was well known that Steever and Bach were social friends and saw each other socially. That was well known," Noreen said. "It was an unseemly exhibition where you have this embrace. The idea that a newspaper should have an adversarial relationship with government that it covers was completely out the window."

Bach left the mayor's office in 2015, and was replaced by former Colorado Attorney General John Suthers. It's not clear to me if this dynamic between the mayor's office and The Gazette's newsroom has changed at all since then, or if Vince Bzdek, the new Gazette editor, has given more cover to the current City Hall reporter. But I certainly hope so.

But it was too late for Chacon. Although Hight denied it to The Colorado Springs Independent in 2013, there's no doubt in my mind that Bach and Steever - and Anschutz because he empowered the two - were responsible for Chacon being moved off the City Hall beat.

For the record, Hight also denied it again, via email, last September.

"No elected or government official influenced my decisions at any time. I take great offense to anyone who would even suggest that," Hight wrote to me.

In that case, I'll assume Hight will be offended by what I've written here. But there is no other logical conclusion that any of us in The Gazette's newsroom at the time could reach. It was assumed by pretty much every reporter and editor that Bach, through either Anschutz or Steever or both, had been able to get Chacon removed from the City Hall beat. Otherwise, why would Hight pull an award-winning reporter, who was known for breaking great stories and bolstering readership, off the job?

At one point, before Chacon was reassigned in January 2013, he heard from a fellow Gazette reporter that, during a meeting between Bach and Hight, that his coverage of local politics came up in conversation.

"(The other reporter) told me that they went to a meeting for some reason, and it turned into an indictment of me," Chacon said. "And that's not what the meeting was supposed to be about. (Former city attorney Chris) Melcher, and the mayor, and I'm guessing (Bach's press secretary) Cindy Aubrey would have been there, and it turned into a bitch-fest about my coverage."

Bach even at one point canceled a previously-scheduled interview with Chacon, after he put up a blog post online challenging a public statement Bach had made. Bach claimed he had never suggested moving the city's minor league baseball team to a new downtown stadium, from its longtime home on the east side of Colorado Springs. Chacon called him out.
A screenshot of a Facebook post that linked originally
to Chacon's blog post in which he called out Mayor Steve
Bach. The blog has since been deactivated.

"Challenge accepted, Mr. Mayor," Chacon wrote on his Gazette blog, because Bach had suggested the move on more than one occasion. Chacon was easily able to document those statements, proving that Bach was lying when he claimed he never proposed moving the baseball team.

"Within a couple hours, I get a phone call from Cindy Aubrey, and she says, 'The interview is canceled.' And I was like, 'Wait, is it canceled, or are we rescheduling?' 'No, it's done. You don't get an interview,'" Chacon said. "And I said, 'Is it because of the blog post?' She finally fessed up. 'Yes, it's because of the blog post.' So I went back to the editors, and I said, 'Well, we can still do the story, we're just going to have to do it without an interview from the mayor.' And the decision was made to take me off the story and assign it to Barb Cotter."

That decision would seem strange to any given newspaperman or woman. There have been any number of public officials throughout history who have refused to be interviewed for any number of stories, so the standard response from most editors would have been for Chacon to write the story he'd planned on without Bach's input.
Cotter's story after being assigned to interview Bach,
while Chacon was still on the City Hall beat.

But that wasn't what happened. Instead, Cotter was forced to write the story, and the kicker here was that it was for an "anniversary" story, marking Bach's first calendar year in office at the end of 2012. That's despite the fact that Chacon had already written an anniversary story months earlier, he said, that marked Bach's first year in office in June 2012.

In short, he was removed from an unnecessary feature story he was ordered to put together, and he was removed essentially at the behest of Bach. To any good reporter, that would have felt like a kick to the groin.

"By that point, I had just sort of given up," Chacon admitted. "I was so demoralized, and it was like, 'I'm not doing journalism anymore. Why don't we just call ourselves Bach's PR team?' It sucked. It really sucked."

The complaints were steady and ongoing from Bach's office, Chacon said. For months, he would even occasionally receive text messages on the weekend from someone in The Gazette's newsroom, saying that the mayor's office was complaining about one of his stories. And Hight, apparently, caved to the pressure. The only question was where the pressure was coming from.

"It was so sad to see somebody who I thought was this journalism great just bend over and take it from Bach," Chacon said of Hight. "It was like, 'Why are you doing this?'"

Chacon's story in the Jan. 11, 2013 Gazette.
After the jump, Chacon's story continues with the headline
"Tourism: Money used for community events."

At one point, yet another Gazette reporter, Ryan Maye Handy, was ordered to basically rewrite a story Chacon had published in the Jan. 11, 2013 paper, titled "Mayor wants to name members of LART panel." The story focused on what was essentially an ongoing power struggle between Bach and the city council, and in this particular instance, the issue at hand was the Lodgers and Automobile Rental Tax (LART) committee.

"Ryan Handy called me up at one point and said, 'Basically they want me to redo your story,'" Chacon said. "They published pretty much the same story, but with more of Bach's side of the issue. So the story wasn't wrong; there was just more about Bach."

Handy's story ran the very next day, on Jan. 12, 2013. The headline was "Mayor seeks to clarify committee proposal."

Handy's story is still online at as of Jan. 24, 2017. In fact, I found it simply by Googling the headline. It came right up, the first result. Chacon's story, however, is nowhere to be found online, or in The Gazette's archives at, which are behind a paywall. Perhaps it was removed by someone. (I wonder who would have done such a thing...)

But Chacon's story did appear in the paper, and for the record, the original text is included as a footnote for this blog chapter. I welcome anyone to read the two, compare them, and decide whether Handy's story was necessary, if it really added anything to the context of the situation, or if it was simply another concession to Bach.

It also makes me wonder what other stories The Gazette may have removed from the Internet. I guess we'll never know.

Furthermore, I would argue that Chacon's story does a better job of putting the entire story in the proper and broader context for Gazette readers, while Handy's story simply adds more of Bach's perspective, and even directly references Chacon's article (the one that no longer appears on The Gazette's website). That's not meant as a condemnation of Handy's article or her reporting; only that there was no real need for further explanation of the situation at that time.

Eventually, that same month, Chacon made a mistake: He agreed that it was time for a change during a discussion with some of The Gazette's editors, including Hight.

"It was along the lines of, 'This is just getting ridiculous. Every weekend, every day, it's non-stop, the badgering,'" Chacon said. "I didn't say it that way, but I had reached a point where I felt alone. You just feel like you're out by yourself and nobody supports you and nobody believes in journalism anymore. So I, like a crazy person, say, 'Maybe it's time for a change,' and within an hour, maybe two hours, I was called back into the office, and they said, 'Yeah, Joe thinks that's a good idea, that it is time for a change.' So then I was in shock. At that moment, I thought, 'Why did I say it was time for a change?' Because I didn't want to be moved. I just wanted to convey to them that they weren't helping me."

Chacon was given a choice: He could cover education, or he could take the night cops beat (which is often reserved for brand-new journalists who are still learning the ropes, not veterans like Chacon).

He took night cops, and immediately started looking for another job.

"The day they moved me, I called The New Mexican, and asked if they had an opening. And I started to look around," Chacon said. "I didn't leave right away, because it's not like you can just get hired the next day. But as soon as they told me, 'We're moving you to night cops,' I went outside into the little park and I called my contacts. I was like, 'This just happened to me, and I'm not sure what I'm going to do, but I need to get out of here.'"

Chacon's move did not go unnoticed, and stories about what had happened circulated through city government, where Chacon had been a mainstay for years.

"I began to hear rumors from a Gazette reporter that there was also some influence being placed on the news that was reported, and the next thing I knew, that reporter was gone," former Colorado Springs City Councilwoman Jan Martin, who served on the council from 2007 to 2015, said of Chacon.

"It was clear that when Daniel wrote a few articles that were not necessarily complimentary of (Bach) that he was sort of shunned. He couldn't get people to return his calls. They had basically just put him out to pasture," Martin said. "But Daniel continued to write articles that would be considered critical of the administration, and the next thing we knew, Daniel was gone. It happened that quickly, with no explanation whatsoever. He was actually demoted. I've been told, as I ask around, that the nighttime police beat was the lowest beat at a newspaper. So he was basically moved to the bottom rung of the ladder."

Hight even promised Chacon that he would create a new beat for him, to cover downtown developments in general, Chacon said. 

"Joe expressed some sympathy toward me, like, 'Oh, man, I can't believe you've had to put up with this bullshit for so long, but what I really want you to do is cover downtown,'" Chacon said. "So then there was a downtown beat created, and they didn't give it to me. They never even asked me about it, ever again."

Chacon even asked if he could be assigned to cover county government instead of night cops, but was rebuffed.

Chacon lasted another eight months at The Gazette before bolting back to The Santa Fe New Mexican, where he has since won multiple awards for his reporting, including for his coverage of City Hall.

"Why did I leave? Because I couldn't work for a newspaper that doesn't believe in the basic principles of journalism," Chacon said. "I can't work for someone who doesn't believe in the fundamentals of journalism, plain and simple."

Whether Anschutz can be blamed directly for what happened to Chacon may be up for debate, but not to him, and not to me. It should never have happened, and Chacon - as well as everyone who worked in The Gazette newsroom back then - damn well knew it.

"Of course it's coming down from Anschutz," Chacon said. "He's turned Colorado Springs into his pet project. They should just rename the city 'Colorado Anschutz,' because he's buying everything in sight, he's using the newspaper as his microphone to sell his ideas, and who knows what the future holds? Who knows what else is coming down?"

Martin, the former city councilwoman, has the same concerns.

"I just had a real keen eye on that in my time in office, and had been concerned that there was undue influence being placed on the news, so that Colorado Springs wasn't getting the actual news from actual reporters, but that the news was being directed by a higher power," Martin said.

The effect Chacon's reassignment had on newsroom morale was, to say the least, corrosive. It's hard for me to put into words how disheartening it was to me and my colleagues in the newsroom at the time. The reality in front of us reporters was, if you wrote something the mayor didn't like, you'd be punished. Just like Chacon.

That very idea spits in the face of everything that journalism, that newspapers like The Gazette, are supposed to stand for. Journalists are supposed to be independent truth-tellers, beholden to no one save the ideals of the public good. Laugh at me if you like, but I'm a Romantic, and I believe - as does every other worthwhile journalist I've ever met - in that same idealism.

And those values, of truth and journalistic independence, are nonpartisan.

"Back in the old days, when we had Tom Mullen, he was a conservative old cob," Noreen remembered. Mullen was the editor of The Gazette from 1981 to 1991, and then served as president and publisher from 2000 to 2004. 

"But if the mayor had come in and told Tom Mullen that he didn't like what the City Hall reporter was doing, and 'Get somebody else, move that reporter out of there,' Tom Mullen would have savored the opportunity to tell the mayor, 'Don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out. And don't ever come here and tell me my business again,'" Noreen emphasized.

That's how a real editor would have responded to Bach.

And there we were, in January of 2013, a company full of intelligent journalists, expected to believe that one of our own was being kicked off a job he was excellent at for no good reason.


I didn't believe it. Neither did anyone else in The Gazette's newsroom that I spoke to. Neither did most of The Gazette's readers. The truth was obvious, and it even became a running joke at City Hall: "Piss off the mayor, and you'll get put on night cops!"

Bach had an in with The Gazette's management. The mayor of Colorado Springs had leverage over the newsroom of the largest newspaper in the county. And he used that leverage. A lot. Future blog chapters will go into more details on this, but Chacon's removal was the beginning of The Gazette's kowtowing to special interest demands, and it marked the real start of the end of The Gazette's newsroom independence.

That should disturb any reader of The Gazette who may rely on the paper for unbiased news coverage. Because unbiased news coverage is absolutely not what Bach wanted, and for whatever reason, The Gazette's management catered to many of his demands.

(In the interests of full disclosure: I was moved off the political beat in January 2013 as well. I was replaced by Megan Schrader, who came to The Gazette from The Oklahoman, the same paper that Hight had come from, and which Anschutz also owns. Schrader at the time had no background in Colorado politics, but to the best of my knowledge, she did a great job, and is now on the editorial board of The Denver Post. I didn't understand why I was being reassigned back then, but was asked by Hight to become the new video editor, despite having no experience at all shooting or editing video. I was never given an explanation in 2013 as to why I was given a job for which I was completely unqualified, though Hight told me in an email in September that he needed someone to fill the new role internally at the company, and I seemed willing to learn. I agreed to the reassignment, mainly because I was scared of losing my job entirely. But that's not nearly as big of a deal as removing Chacon from City Hall was.)

The next chapter will be published Thursday morning.

UPDATE: This story has been altered slightly, since Barry Noreen let me know that he referred to Tom Mullen as a "conservative old cob," as opposed to "conservative old cog." I misheard his original quote.

Chapter 2, footnote 1: Mayor wants to name members of LART panel

This was the original text of Daniel Chacon's story that appeared in The Colorado Springs Gazette on Jan. 11, 2013.

The headline was "Mayor wants to name members of LART panel," with the subheadline, "Council traditionally decides who helps dole out the tourism money."

A proposal from Mayor Steve Bach's administration to take over appointing members of a committee that recommends where thousands of dollars in tourism taxes will be spent has caused some consternation among Colorado Springs City Council members.

Council President Pro Tem Jan Martin and council Administrator Aimee Cox said they had been working with the mayor's office to streamline the committee's work.

But what they got this week was a proposal to give the mayor sole appointing authority of the Lodgers and Automobile Rental Tax Advisory Committee.

The seven-member panel recommends annually where money from revenues collected from taxes on hotel rooms and car rentals should be spent. About two-thirds of the so-called tourism tax is typically allocated to the convention and visitors bureau, leaving hundreds of thousands of dollars up for grabs for special events, such as the annual hot-air balloon festival and the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb.

"The issue is that the City Council, by ordinance, has the authority to appoint a citizens committee to make recommendations about the expenditure of LART funds," Cox said. "The mayor's office would like the ability to appoint that committee."

The committee now includes a member of the Pikes Peak Highway Advisory Commission and the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, three representatives from the tourist industry and two residents, including one representing the business community.

Under the proposal from the mayor's office, the committee would include three city employees, two council members, two people representing the lodging industry and three at-large residents.

The makeup of the committee is also at issue.

"We were concerned about having staff and council members on a committee that's supposed to be a citizen committee," Cox said.

Donna Nelson, the mayor's economic vitality specialist, said the proposal was intended to streamline the process.

"We want this to be a better process, and we want it to be smooth. Right now it's not because there are several different recommendations," Nelson said.

"The LART committee makes a recommendation, then staff makes a recommendation. The mayor gets them both and then he makes his decision for the budget. So, you could have one, two or three sets of recommendations. That's the problem. We want to bring everybody to the table so the committee that we're proposing has council, city staff and citizens at large," she said.

The allocation of LART funds was a point of contention during the budget cycle last year, which is what prompted the two sides to meet to smooth things out.

"The mayor's recommendations were used, and they varied considerably from the LART committee's recommendations," Martin said. "We gave the mayor all his requests except we added $45,000 to the (Colorado Springs) Philharmonic."

Martin said a citizens committee has "worked well over the years," but the two sides are trying to resolve the best way to move forward.

"The proposal we received, we felt, wasn't addressing all of the issues we had discussed," she said. "We're just asking to let's sit down one more time and see if we can reach something that works for everybody."

Cox and Martin planned to tell their colleagues about their work with the mayor's office this week. But they decided to put it on the agenda of the Jan. 22 council meeting. The council will hold a joint formal and informal meeting Jan. 22 because of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

"When Jan and I saw the proposal, our thought was that this really needs a more robust conversation. This is a fairly significant change," Cox said.

"LART is one area where the city attorney has told council that it's their purview, so..."

The final few words of my copy of the article are obscured, but that's most of it.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Chapter 1: The lead up

The newspaper industry has been in decline for over a decade. In 2012 alone, print advertising revenue for newspapers fell 8.5 percent. For every $16 in print ad revenue lost, there's only $1 in digital revenue to replace it, according to the Pew Research Center. And from 2014 to 2015, advertising revenue declined a further 8 percent. 

In short, digital advertising "does not come close to covering the print ad losses," Pew concluded.

And The Colorado Springs Gazette has been affected just as much as any other newspaper.

"The breadth and the scope of the coverage of the paper is dramatically different from what it was even 30 years ago," former Gazette editor Jeff Thomas told me. "In the glory days, at one time, The Gazette was a $60 million a year business, just in terms of top line revenue."

Thomas, who worked at The Gazette from 1988 until he was laid off in December 2011, estimated that in his last year at the paper, revenue had shrunk to $20 million-$30 million, or "certainly less than half the top line (advertising) revenue."

"Thirty years ago, The Gazette was in the first few years of a major investment campaign. They deliberately grew their news operation aggressively," Thomas recalled. "We had a projects team, we had a projects editor. We had columnists in every section. Not only in sports, where they still do, but metro had different columnists most days of the week. Lifestyle, too, had columnists. So you just sort of contrast that with what you have today. Just by function of resources alone, you can't help but pronounce the news coverage of The Gazette today as dramatically diminished."

Starting about a decade ago, Thomas said, the longtime owners of The Gazette, the Hoiles family, began divesting from the paper.

"They leveraged themselves to the hundreds of millions of dollars, and bought out the shares of the family that wanted out. Most of the family was stuck with hundreds of millions in debt, and then the bottom caved," Thomas said.

The paper went through two rounds of bankruptcy, Thomas said, and "by the time the second round was done, the family was out. They basically had to walk away from all of their holdings in order to forgive the debt. So the family lost it all in all of that."

The owner at that point, a private equity fund, retained the name Freedom Communications. But newsroom layoffs had become almost an annual event every December, Thomas said, starting at the latest in 2005.

"I remember having this discussion (with the executive editor at the time), 'This is the first time we're going to have to remove someone from a position they are currently occupying,'" Thomas said. "It's difficult to count (the layoffs) as rounds, because it was more like a steady drip."

It has been precisely this entire industry downturn - thanks largely to the Internet - that is allowing Philip Anschutz and other wealthy individuals to snap up newspapers at rock-bottom prices. The result has been increasingly difficult times for traditional journalists who want to make a career out of telling stories, performing watchdog government journalism, and ideally serving the public in a time-honored fashion.

But the turbulent financial history and steadily declining revenues - of both The Gazette and the newspaper industry writ large - set the stage for what happened next.

Over the summer of 2012, Freedom Communications was purchased by 2100 Trust, LLC, a private company led by CEO Aaron Kushner. Many observers, including Thomas, believe Kushner bought The Gazette solely because he wanted The Orange County Register, which Freedom also owned.

Regardless of Kushner's motives, he sold The Gazette to Clarity Media in November 2012, just months after he purchased it.

To the reporters and editors at The Gazette, Anschutz appeared as a savior.

Reporter Daniel Chacon was hired at The Gazette in 2009, after the closing of The Rocky Mountain News in Denver. Chacon watched a number of rounds of layoffs during his time at The Gazette, before the purchase by Clarity three years later. It was an incredibly painful experience for those who lost their jobs, as well as for newsroom survivors.

"One of the most vivid incidents I remember is when the staff had already been shrunk down, and (human resources staffers were) going to people and just kind of tapping them on the back. And you just kind of looked around, like, you didn't know if you were going to be next," Chacon recalled.

"It was almost like a feeling of euphoria when Anschutz bought the paper, because all of a sudden, you knew you had stability," Chacon said. "You don't have to worry about people being laid off, more and more and more cuts. Finally, it was just like, we're on solid footing. And when they announced that Joe (Hight) was coming, it was like, 'Oh, this is a perfect combination,' because you have someone leading the paper who's a solid newsman, and you have Anschutz, who has very deep pockets."

Hight, a longtime editor at The Oklahoman (which Anschutz purchased in 2011), was famed for his part in covering the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, and had a reputation as a solid journalist. He was even inducted into the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame in 2013. That reputation preceded his entrance into The Gazette, and gave staffers like Chacon hope that things were really turning around.

Former Gazette business editor Barbara Cotter, who worked at the paper from 1988 to 2015, agreed with Chacon about the newsroom atmosphere that November, when the sale to Clarity was announced to Gazette staff.

"When Anschutz bought the paper that year, there was great hope. They talked about beefing up the paper and the staff. It felt good," Cotter said. "A new editor was brought in to replace one that had not been very popular. The hope was so high, and it's been hard to see what's happened. I feel like it's being run not as a product to produce great journalism as it is to convey a message, or to sort of control the message in a way."

Everyone I knew at The Gazette believed at the time that Anschutz's entrance signaled an end to the seemingly continuous cycle of layoffs and cuts, and that the paper had a billionaire benefactor who wouldn't care as much about the financial bottom line.

While Kushner owned The Gazette, perhaps the change he made that had the longest impact was when he installed his friend, Dan Steever, as the publisher (Kushner and Steever worked together at Marian Health Greeting Cards in Massachusetts). When Clarity bought the paper from Kushner's 2100 Trust LLC, Anschutz - despite the fact that Steever had no background in journalism - kept Steever as publisher.

"Steever was the only person (among Gazette executives) who survived the purchase (by Clarity). Why do you suppose that is?" asked Barry Noreen, a former editor and columnist at The Gazette, who retired at the end of 2013 but continued working occasionally at the paper on a fill-in basis until early 2015.

"I think it's because (Steever) doesn't know anything about newspapers, and Anschutz doesn't care to have anyone in that position who knows anything about newspapers," Noreen said. "What he's looking for in that position is somebody who's not very discriminating about the dark holes into which he'll place his tongue, and that's the chief quality - if you want to call it that - that they're looking for."

Before becoming publisher of The Gazette in 2012 - a post he still holds to this day - most of Steever's career was spent in marketing. He also spent six years as the head of the aforementioned Massachusetts greeting card company, working with Kushner. But he has zero journalism credentials.

Don't take my word for it. Steever himself admitted during a 2014 speech in downtown Colorado Springs that, until his appointment by Kushner, his knowledge of the newspaper industry extended to delivering papers as a kid (he starts talking about his own background at about the five minute mark in the linked video, and then jokes about his lack of journalistic knowledge at about six minutes).

That may be an amusing anecdote to Steever, but it wasn't funny to those of us who watched him at work as The Gazette's publisher.

"They got someone from the greeting card industry, because they don't care if that person knows anything about newspapers," Noreen said of Steever. "That's not really what they were looking for. They're looking for someone who will salute the underpants as they're going up the flagpole, without any reluctance or hesitation."

Perhaps it was because of this ignorance on Steever's part that he became a tool, used by Anschutz, McKibben, and their cronies to dismantle much of The Gazette's journalistic credibility and independence between 2013 and 2016. At least, that's how it appeared to many of us from inside the newsroom.

An early sign of the troubles to come happened in mid-2012, during a meeting between Steever, Chacon, and a few of the editors at the time, before Anschutz bought the paper. According to Chacon, his warning bells went off when Steever said during the meeting that it was the paper's job to be "an advocate for the city."

"At one point, Steever says that we are supposed to be an 'advocate for the city,'" Chacon recalled. "And the meeting continued. But when he said that, that we're supposed to be advocates, I was like, 'Whoa, whoa, whoa. What is he talking about? We're not advocates for the city.'"

Chacon, a 20-year veteran of the news business, earned his journalistic chops at the Santa Fe New Mexican and the Albuquerque Journal. In 2001, he moved to the San Diego Union-Tribune, and stayed until 2005 before graduating to the now-defunct Rocky Mountain News, where he worked until it closed in 2009. In both of those latter jobs, he covered city government, and when the Rocky shut down, he found a home at The Gazette, covering City Hall. (He returned to the New Mexican in September 2013, and is again covering City Hall, and winning awards for his work.)

I can say from firsthand experience that he was and is damn good at watchdog journalism.

That's why Steever's off-hand remark was so disturbing to Chacon. It struck a basic nerve.

"I see my role as providing news to people, and educating them about what's going on, and being a watchdog, but I'm not an advocate for the city," Chacon explained. "I'm not their spokesperson. I'm a reporter who delivers the news to the people. I don't advocate on behalf of anyone. If anything, I'm an advocate for the people, not the city."

"I just remember so vividly him saying it, and you kind of expect the editor to say, 'No, no, no,' and the meeting just kind of kept going. And then I had to stop the discussion, because it struck me as such an odd thing to say."

Despite Chacon's objections, however, he said Steever simply brushed it off and kept going with the meeting. Perhaps it was Steever's marketing background kicking in, combined with his ignorance of how journalism works. I have no idea, since Steever has declined to reply to any of my inquiries.

And while this in and of itself may not constitute a serious break from the traditional role of local journalists, it was a harbinger of things to come. Because this is just the beginning of the story.

Worth noting here as well is that The Gazette was not Anschutz's first nor his last foray into media ownership. As far back as 2004, Anschutz purchased Journal Newspapers Inc., the parent company of the Washington Examiner. By that point, he already owned the San Francisco Examiner, The Washington Post reported at the time.

Also in 2004, Anschutz founded Clarity Media Group, and former Denver Post president and publisher Ryan McKibben (who is now chairman of The Gazette) was brought on to run the company. In 2009, Anschutz bought The Weekly Standard, a longtime right-leaning publication.

In 2011, the Anschutz Corp. purchased The Oklahoman newspaper in Oklahoma City as part of a larger acquisition of the Oklahoma Publishing Company (OPUBCO), which owned The Broadmoor hotel in Colorado Springs and had many other holdings. Then in 2014, the Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) bought the "news" site, which lasted until the summer of 2016 before shuttering.

Anschutz's political leanings, however, have never really been in doubt. He's a longtime donor to various conservative political causes, including Republican presidential candidates. In 2009, newspaper analyst John Morton told Politico, "You have to look at what he's doing as partly a reflection of some of his political convictions... It was no accident that it was The Weekly Standard he bought and not The Nation."

And all of these purchases by Anschutz, even back in 2009, have "given him a megaphone for his right-wing views ... that the 130 or so companies he owns have not provided him," Politico reported.

Three years after Politico's report, The Gazette was next in line for the role of megaphone. All of which was made possible by the general decline of the newspaper industry.

Chapter 2 will be published Wednesday morning.