Owner cutting staff at several newspapers, including Free Press

The group that owns the Grand Junction Free Press and newspapers in Glenwood Springs and Aspen is cutting several positions at those papers and has shut down more of its weekly publications.

The Grand Junction Free Press has laid off two of its five reporters, in addition to at least two more staffers in recent weeks.

The Glenwood Springs Post Independent, also part of Colorado Mountain News Media, laid off at least five people Tuesday, including two reporters and a photographer.

Bob Brown, president of the newspapers’ parent company, Nevada-based Swift Communications, said declining revenues from their newspapers around the Western Slope made the layoffs necessary. Cutbacks were considered during the summer, but the Western Slope’s economy was still buoyed by a thriving natural gas industry.

Brown said readers may not notice a difference in the Free Press because staffers will be asked to work harder, and the paper will continue to focus on people stories and features.

Jenna Weatherred, publisher of the Aspen Times, said that paper laid off some people this week. Altogether, it has cut staffing by about 20 percent, or six positions, over a few months, partly through attrition.

Also, Colorado Mountain News Media has decided to close down the Leadville Chronicle and La Tribuna, a Spanish-language weekly. The newspaper group last week closed its Valley Journal weekly newspaper in Carbondale, and recently shut down the Vail Trail weekly.

The group reportedly has been cutting back its staffing by as much as 20 percent. Publisher Andrea Porter in Glenwood Springs declined to comment, and Free Press publisher Valerie Smith did not return calls for comment.

The cutbacks come at a time of difficulties for newspapers nationwide, because of factors including the recession and increasing competition on the Internet. Locally, the Aspen Daily News, the Aspen Times’ rival, has ended circulation west of Glenwood Springs and ceased publication of a weekly sports edition.

Weatherred said the Aspen Times is suffering from some of the factors being experienced by the industry nationally, and by a local economic slowdown that has hurt real estate and help-wanted advertising.

She said the layoffs are difficult for the Times and across Colorado Mountain News Media, but that she’s doing what’s needed “to keep the Aspen Times safe” and protect the jobs of as many employees as possible.

Glenwood Springs City Council member Dave Sturges said he’s saddened to hear of the Glenwood paper’s layoffs, particularly in reporting staff. That reduces the government and public policy information some people receive, he said.

“And I really believe that an informed citizen is far more active in community issues, in trying to solve the challenges all the local communities have,” he said.

Sturges said Swift seems to have invested heavily in trying to make its local newspapers successful. Like others in the industry, the company might be struggling to come up with a model to compete with the Internet, he said.

Madeline Osberger, editor and general manager of the company’s Snowmass Sun weekly newspaper, said that paper has had a good year, but she laid off a reporter “just in anticipation of perhaps some trying times ahead.”

She said the paper has made money for several years.

“We’ve had great support from the local businesses, and that will help sustain us in the future,” she said. “My heart goes out to everyone who has suffered, all the journalists who are suffering through these hard times. It’s really hard to see.”


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