I can’t believe that it has been more than 20 years since I sat down over a beer with Leland Rucker, Boulder Weekly’s founding editor, and let him convince me that I should work at this paper.
I remember Leland selling me on the idea by explaining that we’d have some good fun before the whole thing went out of business, which we both suspected would only be a matter of months, tops. We were right about the fun. But boy were we wrong about the longevity.
I had no idea back then that working with BW founder and publisher Stewart Sallo and the rest of that original band of misfit journos would mark the most significant turning point in my career, and life, for that matter. I owe a lot to the Boulder Weekly.
My first stint at BW lasted four years. I was the editor when I left after writing my first book. Many things transpired in those first four years that speak volumes to why the paper has been so successful for the past two decades, and also to why I returned to the Weekly as editor in 2011 after a 15-year hiatus.
Since its inception, the Weekly has focused on journalism, the kind of long-form journalism that most folks in this industry only dream about doing.
If you will indulge me for an admittedly prideful moment of name-dropping, I’ll try to put that last statement into context.
I was a journalist when I came to BW, but I had never done the kind of in-depth investigative and explanatory work for which the Weekly became known.
In those first four years, we broke environmental stories that caused major corporations to spend millions to clean up the contamination they had released into the environment. We were the first paper to print the contents of the previously secret Scientology papers. We beat the New York Times and Washington Post by nearly a week.
In addition, within 24 hours of the Oklahoma City bombing, BW became the first news source in the country to link the terrorist attack to the anti-government movement while also explaining that the bombing had been done in response to the federal government’s handling of its earlier standoff with David Koresh and the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas.
That story resulted in the national media and the FBI descending on our offices. It wouldn’t be the last time that would happen.
In those first years, we sent then-BW news editor Greg Campbell to Bosnia to cover the war because we knew that it was something that our readers were deeply concerned about. We also ran a series of exclusive interviews with fugitive Richard Keyes while he was on the lam and on the FBI’s 10 most wanted list. That was the first story to land BW on the morning shows, Good Morning America and Today. It wouldn’t be the last.
We wrote a six-part series that led to the permanent shutdown of a private prison in Texas that was holding Colorado inmates. There were many other stories during those early days that made a real difference locally and sometimes nationally.
Eventually I wrote a BW article titled “Harvest of rage.” It was the result of having spent months researching and living among anti-government activists around the country. It was that article that ultimately became my first book of the same name.
In my first four years here, we broke stories that put the Weekly on 60 Minutes, 48 Hours, Nightline, Today, Good Morning America, Fox News and the ABC, NBC and CBS nightly newscasts. Not bad for a small weekly paper in Boulder, Colo.
Where else could any of us at the Weekly, at that time, done such work? I suspect the answer is “nowhere else.”
I have lived a charmed journalistic life, call it grace. After I left the Weekly I had the privilege of writing more nonfiction books. My work has appeared in many national publications, such as New York Times Sunday Magazine, U.S. News & World Report, Mother Jones, Vanity Fair and others.
I’ve been subpoenaed to testify as an expert before a Senate subcommittee on domestic terrorism. I’ve been brought to New York to work on solutions to our broken criminal justice system by George Soros. For four years I was the head writer for and frequent talking head on the Editors, Canada’s version of Meet the Press hosted by Dateline’s NBC’s Keith Morrison. I’ve written a screenplay with actor/activist/author Peter Coyote, and I’ve had the privilege to work with Gore Vidal on several projects over the years. I published my own paper in Fort Collins and sold it at the right time. I’ve been fortunate, to say the least.
But I truly believe that my career would not have been possible had I not accepted Leland’s invitation to join the Weekly 20 years ago. Which is to say that I owe a good deal to the Weekly’s founder and publisher Stewart Sallo, who has always, for some unexplained reason, supported me in whatever journalistic venture I cooked up. And not once has he ever failed to stand behind one of BW’s stories, even when it would have been easier for him personally not to do so. In my world, that’s as good as it gets. And I think that explains the success of this newspaper.
I became BW’s editor for the second time in 2011 because I wanted to get back to doing long-form journalism where I lived and because I was excited by the opportunity of working with journalists Jeff Dodge, Elizabeth Miller and David Accomazzo.
Leland’s original promise of having fun still holds true, even after 20 years. But more importantly, where else can I do this kind of local journalism?
So I’d like to humbly say thanks to Boulder Weekly and to all my friends and current and former BW colleagues who helped shape my work and my life so many years ago: Leland Rucker, Kathy Kaiser, Greg Campbell, Wayne Laugesen and Stewart Sallo.