Boulder Weekly is all grown up — but still young at heart. The newspaper is celebrating its 18th birthday tonight, Thursday, Aug. 25, with a public bash at the Boulder Theater.
The event, which begins at 7:30 p.m., will feature live classic rock from the band Hindsight, along with special musical guests like Cassie Taylor, daughter of Otis Taylor; pianist/singer Dave Grimsland, BW’s sales/marketing director; and Bella Betts, the young fiddle/ mandolin player who wowed the audience at last year’s BW anniversary party.
One’s 18th birthday is often associated with adulthood and responsibility, and Boulder Weekly Publisher Stewart Sallo says that’s appropriate in the case of BW, because in the past few years “Boulder Weekly really has matured and come into its own in many ways.”
After a publishing career in Santa Cruz, Calif., in the 1980s, Sallo came to Boulder after a devastating earthquake struck the area in October 1989 — and after he discovered that Boulder didn’t have a weekly paper.
In its infancy, Boulder Weekly’s computer firepower consisted of Sallo’s 30-megabyte Macintosh SE-30 and two other computers he bought for the production department.
“Everybody else who worked for Boulder Weekly had to bring their own computers into the office,” he recalls with a laugh. “That was one of the criteria for employment.”
The first issue was published on Aug. 19, 1993, with the help of about 10 staff members. The paper took its first baby steps financially when it turned its first profit in May 1994, thanks to Fey Concerts publishing a special “Summer of Stars” insert.
Sallo says the paper faced its biggest challenge as a toddler, when a well-financed weekly competitor, the Boulder Planet, came on the scene in 1996.
“Never has the phrase ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ been more true than in the battle we had with the Boulder Planet,” Sallo says. “It was a David versus Goliath kind of matchup.”
There were regular rumors of Boulder Weekly going out of business, he says, and Boulder Planet ad sales representatives would advise clients against advertising in BW because the Planet was on more solid financial ground. But Sallo says people realized that investing in a harder-working organization that was under more pressure to be creative was better than advertising with a financially comfortable entity.
By the time Boulder Planet folded in 2000, Boulder Weekly had grown up, “and developed a confidence that nothing can stop us now,” Sallo says. He acknowledges that when he first started the paper, he considered it simply a great business opportunity. But Sallo says he discovered that what emerged was “a vehicle for social change” and a more noble journalistic cause: “a means of changing the world, making a difference in the world. Championing the cause of the underdog, comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.”
He attributes Boulder Weekly’s record-setting revenues in recent years to the decline of the daily newspaper industry, which, despite popular belief, was not due solely to the Internet.
“Actually, mainstream newspapers started failing decades ago when they stopped doing their jobs,” Sallo says. “When you start reducing expenses to meet diminishing revenue, you wind up diminishing the quality of the product. The rise of the Internet is only an exclamation point. And over the past few decades, alternative media grew and prospered because we are committed to higher principles of journalism abandoned by the mainstream press.”
Boulder Weekly has won numerous awards, including 16 Society of Professional Journalists awards since 2005. The paper has uncovered stories on topics as varied as the treatment of pregnant prisoners, election campaign shenanigans, AIDS and autism in Boulder County, Rocky Flats, free speech, teenage inmates’ suicide rates and the sustainability movement.
The number of full-time staff members has doubled since 1993, and the paper has embraced digital delivery of its content, including launching a new website in 2009 and an iPhone app this summer. It has also broadened and improved its local content, including the addition of special editions like Boulderganic (with a weekly column of the same name) and, starting today, a CU sports section.