What’s going on at The Aspen Times?

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The following transcript has been edited for clarity. To hear the broadcast version of this story, tap the audio above.

Halle Zander, facilitator:

The new editor of The Aspen Times was fired last week, shortly after accepting, but not yet starting, the top job in the newsroom. Before officially starting, he made a decision that seems to have cost him his job. Andrew Travers has been fired after eight years as arts and culture editor at The Times. His departure comes six months after the newspaper changed ownership. It was a tumultuous time for the Times. This is editor Allison Pattillo.

Allison Patillo: Yeah, I’m not going to lie. Morale is not at the top right now.

Zander: We are now joined by our own editor and arts and culture reporter, Dominic Anthony Walsh. Hi, Dominic.

Dominic Anthony Walsh, signed: Hi Halle.

Zander: Andrew Travers is a household name in Aspen. He is a respected journalist and editor. Why was he fired?

Walch: Yes, everyone I spoke with described him as incredibly talented. His dismissal is a complicated story, and we have to step back a bit. It was sparked by the publication of a somewhat unusual column that his boss’s boss deemed problematic. That would be Scott Stanford — he’s the publisher of Swift Communications Group, now owned by The Ogden Newspapers in West Virginia. Backing up, the Times was sued by a property developer for defamation earlier this year. This case was settled recently. While it was in progress, Ogden withheld coverage and commentary on the lawsuit. Here’s columnist Roger Marolt, who says he’s withheld stories about this developer, talking about a conversation he had with former Times editor David Krause.

Roger Marolt: My editor informed me that he liked my column, but said, unfortunately, that they could not publish it – because they were in a lawsuit – and that they had to settle this before they could publish the column.

Walch: By the time the lawsuit was settled, Krause had resigned — and he listed Ogden ownership as the reason, in addition to a health issue. Travers was offered and accepted the editor-in-chief job last week, but hadn’t officially started when he was fired. After accepting the position, he took over Marolt’s column modifications. Marolt’s most recent article included the two columns that had been withheld and email correspondence regarding the decision to withhold them. Travers was fired — unexpectedly, he says — after it was published. The city’s other daily, the Aspen Daily News, first reported this storyand we confirmed it.

Zander: So there are a lot of moving parts here.

Walch: Yeah. Aspen Public Radio has confirmed that Stanford, the regional group’s publisher, is the person who called for Travers to be fired. We contacted Stanford, who declined to comment on personnel matters and did not want to have an official interview recorded – but said the Times would continue to report on the property developer at the heart of this story, which means that there is, apparently, no editorial sway. And, he said, quote, “We have no problem with Roger Marolt” — again, he was the columnist who wrote the piece Travers was fired for posting.

Zander: You say Travers got fired unexpectedly. He didn’t expect this section to cause him trouble?

Walch: Yes, he says he was assured – by his editor and by Ogden officials – that after the lawsuit was settled, the Times would be able to continue covering this property developer, whose name is Vladislav Doronin. By the time Travers took on the job of editor, rumors of the removal were doing the rounds. The the mayor of Aspen had even publicly criticized the Times to delete stories. Travers says he thought telling the story of what happened with Marolt’s columns was essential in order to maintain — and, really, regain — trust with the community. We spoke a few days after he was fired.

André Travers: The assurance I have been given is that when the settlement is reached–some discussions were still ongoing at that time–we can get back to work and start making the reports and the comments which we always do.

Walch: And, he says, he got permission from his Times boss, Pattillo, to go ahead with Marolt’s hybrid column. But he says that on Friday, a few hours after the column went up, Stanford walked into the office and informed him that his job was terminated, and Pattillo did not support him. We spoke with Pattillo, and she says she was aware of the general concept of the unusual column but not all of the details. The only part she had read was the previous two pieces he had included in this new column – not the new copy.

Patillo: I didn’t read Roger’s new column that featured them, nor was I aware of the scope of emails that were going to be included. It was a misunderstanding on my part. And the fact that I didn’t ask – didn’t ask to read the whole column was a big mistake, and I admit that. It was a communication breakdown, and that’s something I really regret.

Walsh-Pattillo interview: I have to ask you, do you agree with the decision to fire Andrew Travers?

Patillo: I’m not going to talk about — yeah, it’s not appropriate for me to talk about personnel issues.

Walch: Marolt’s Friday column has been removed from The Times website. Again, Stanford and Pattillo say there’s no editorial sway, no censorship, and they just can’t go into detail about exactly why Travers was fired because ‘they can’t discuss personal matters.

Zander: For example, editor David Krause resigned last month because of Ogden. The Times’ new editor, Andrew Travers, was fired before he had even really started work, albeit after making an important decision. This is a 141 year old Aspen institution. What do you think the Times has in store for us?

Walch: Krause and Travers aren’t the only ones gone. Other staff left because Ogden hasn’t kept housing for its employees and has yet to find new accommodation – a perk several staff had taken advantage of before the takeover . Pattillo says they’re working on housing, but for Travers the biggest concern here is what he describes as Ogden’s suppression of news.

Through: I think it’s clear that Ogden is acting in interests other than the public interest, and that’s very disappointing.

Walch: Again, Stanford, the group’s publisher, says there is no censorship — editorial takeover is over — and Ogden is focused on making quality community newspapers work. But Travers’ dismissal is a blow to the paper. As you mentioned, he is a long-time journalist in this community. He also worked at the Aspen Daily News before joining The Times. This is Marolt.

Marol: Andrew Travers is a true professional. He’s one of the most talented people I’ve ever met in the press world… for me, that was the biggest shame of it all. Andrew was just trying to do the right thing.

Walch: Travers says the Times newsroom wants to get back to the news and is pained by the current situation. Rick Carroll is the acting editor and he declined to comment. Pattillo also says she wants the paper to focus on news reporting.

Patillo: It’s a tough time, and it’s just going to take time to get through it. Really. Going back to what I said earlier – ideally I think not being part of the news would help, but I know we are, that’s why I agreed to do it – just so we could try to answer more questions.

Walch: And she talks, at the end, about agreeing to do an interview with Aspen Public Radio. She says the newspaper is struggling to hire, at the moment, but is working to increase benefits, including employee salaries and housing. Even with recent departures, The Times still has some of the most experienced reporters in the Roaring Fork Valley, and it remains one of the largest newsrooms in the valley. In the shorter term, Aspen Times Weekly, which Travers also edited, remembered the late Bob Braudis — the former Pitkin County Sheriff — this week. Travers signature is enabled cover story. This will likely be his last for The Aspen Times.

Zander: This is Dominic Anthony Walsh with our Arts and Culture Office Edlis Neeson. Thanks, Dominic.

Walch: Yeah. Thanks Halle.

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