It sounds trite to say, but it’s astonishing how fast 20 years can fly by. And while we’re issuing platitudes, never has it been truer for me that time flies while you’re having fun. The last 20 years have been a gas, gas, gas, with no two days even remotely resembling each other, overflowing with more rich experiences than I could have possibly imagined on the day I packed everything that didn’t fit on the moving truck, along with my two dogs, into my silver Honda Accord and set sail for my soon-to-be new home in Boulder, Colo.
Reflecting back on the Californian who rolled into town on Arapahoe Avenue on a wintry November day in the year 1992 as 18 inches of snow fell, it feels like there are literally two of me: the crazy guy who walked away from three acres of mountaintop property in the Redwood forests of Santa Cruz and risked everything to start the Boulder Weekly, and the seasoned veteran of more than a thousand editions who runs a professional media organization that has become a fundamental component of the Boulder community over the course of two decades.
In a true “Back to the Future” moment, and on the occasion of Boulder Weekly’s 20th anniversary, I’ve journeyed back in time to come face to face with myself 20 years ago and ask that guy from Santa Cruz, Calif., what the hell he was thinking when he started the Boulder Weekly and how he feels about the way the whole thing turned out.
Boulder Weekly: The first and most obvious question is: How did the Boulder Weekly come to exist?
Stewart Sallo: Well, that’s a really big question. There were so many things that led to the birth of Boulder Weekly, but there are really two main events from my life — both calamities that were completely independent, yet inexorably connected — that created the perfect storm through which Boulder Weekly was born.
The first was the Loma Prieta earthquake, which occurred on Oct. 17, 1989. The earthquake is commonly referred to and remembered as the “World Series Earthquake,” because it occurred right before Game 3 of the World Series between the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland A’s, but the epicenter was in the Santa Cruz Mountains at the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park, which is very close to Loma Prieta Peak, the highest point in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
After graduating from University of California, Santa Cruz with a degree in sociology, I got my first job in advertising at a now-defunct weekly paper called the Santa Cruz Express, selling ad space. (Laughs). The first ad I sold was for $20, which netted me a commission of $4. That was in May of 1981. Just a few months later I was met with the opportunity to purchase a quarterly publication called Student Guide that was still in its infancy, and although I had no clue about running a business, let alone newspapering, I scraped together $10,000 — most of which I had received in a settlement from a car accident the previous winter (so, now that I think of it, Boulder Weekly was the result of three calamities) — and bought this tiny business called Santa Cruz Advertising.
Over the course of the next seven-and-a-half years I worked tirelessly building the business. Student Guide grew enormously — it was 20 pages when I took over and reached 100 pages by 1988 — and in 1984 I started another publication, Summer Santa Cruz, a summer monthly that reached the large number of tourists that visited Santa Cruz during the summer months. I also started an advertising agency and had a number of good clients. The operation was then called Santa Cruz Advertising & Design.
Then the earthquake hit. The entire downtown — the Pacific Garden Mall — was devastated. Just imagine what would happen to the local economy if an earthquake hit Boulder and 80 percent of the Pearl Street Mall was destroyed. Business was down, and my first wife, Susan, and I started thinking about the possibility of relocating. We made a list of places we would like to live and, having visited and loved Boulder in 1979 and 1980, I added Boulder to the list, and we sent away for more information from the chambers of commerce in these various places. When the package from Boulder arrived, Susan was reading through it and noticed a list of local media. “How weird,” she commented, “they don’t have their weekly listed here. Maybe they don’t have a weekly.”
“No, they must have a weekly,” I replied.
“A cool, progressive town with a university must have a weekly.” It turned out there was no weekly paper in Boulder, Colo.! So, in the spring of 1990 we visited Boulder to decide if we wanted to move here and start a weekly paper.
BW: How did you make that determination?
SS: During that visit I spent hours and hours poring over the newspaper archives in the Carnegie Branch Library for Local History on Pine Street. They literally had a copy of every periodical that had ever been published in Boulder. I was suspicious as to why there wasn’t a weekly in Boulder, and I was curious about the other efforts to start one and why they had failed. What I discovered was that not one of them was modeled after the “alternative weekly” concept that began with the New York Village Voice and that was sweeping the nation, including such notable titles as LA Weekly, Chicago Reader, Phoenix New Times, San Francisco Bay Guardian and, of course, Denver’s Westword.
After visiting Boulder I was possessed. I knew in every bone in my body that I had to go to Boulder and start the Boulder Weekly, and I spent the ensuing two-and-a-half years getting to Boulder — which required selling my business and my house in a market that was depressed, due to the earthquake — and another nine months creating a business plan, hiring staff, renting office space, lining up financing and preparing to publish the premiere edition on Aug. 19, 1993.
BW: You said there were two “main events” that led to the existence of Boulder Weekly, and that both were “calamities.” The first was the earthquake. What was the second?
SS: Right. Well, the second was my divorce. My marriage did not survive the move to Boulder, and despite my wife and I having shared the intention of moving to Boulder to start Boulder Weekly together, we wound up divorcing shortly after moving here, and I was faced with the prospect of abandoning the project or going it alone. Obviously, I chose the latter.
Experiences like earthquakes and divorces serve to define us and direct us toward our destinies. The earthquake led me to Boulder, and my divorce supplied the added drive and determination that was needed to succeed against long odds with the Boulder Weekly. So, in a very real sense Boulder Weekly was the Phoenix that rose from the ashes of the Loma Prieta earthquake and my divorce.
BW: What was the start-up like and how long did it take before the paper was profitable?
SS: When I think back on all the challenges I have faced over the course of Boulder Weekly’s 20 years, there is nothing that even comes close to the start-up period. As confident as I was in the Boulder Weekly concept and as well-positioned as I was with 10 years of success under my belt as a publisher, there is nothing that can prepare you for the marathon of starting a business as ambitious as a weekly paper. Nothing.
From an economic perspective, I can’t even fathom how we survived it. We were spending $10,000 or more a week and bringing in revenue of as little as $2,000. Having just gone through a divorce — which, it turns out, isn’t the best way to establish financial security — it didn’t take long before I had run out of money. There wasn’t one bank that would even talk to me, so I wound up borrowing money from my family and a private investor to keep the Boulder Weekly ship afloat long enough to reach profitability. My parents, Jerry and Jane Sallo, were enormously supportive and demonstrated an unwavering belief in me that ignored the very risky nature of the project. They supplied a good portion of the “seed money” for Boulder Weekly and were not paid back until many years later. Perhaps more importantly, my dad, who has had a very successful career in the business world himself, was tremendously helpful to me as I was crafting and continually revising my business plans. Boulder Weekly probably would not have survived without the support and encouragement I received from my family.
While all of that was going on, the Boulder business community was very slow to warm up to Boulder Weekly. One thing I miscalculated was how conservative the local business community is. Or, put another way, how reluctant to try something new local business owners would be. Santa Cruz and Boulder have a long list of similarities, but this isn’t one of them. My experience in Santa Cruz was that local business owners were anxious to have a new way to promote their business. I figured Boulder would be the same, but that wasn’t the case. There was a very stubborn “show me” mentality. In fact, one business owner literally said to me, “This has been tried before and it has never worked. Come back and see me in a year if you’re still in business.”
BW: That must have been discouraging.
SS: Yes, the first year or two were pretty tough. We had to keep expenses as low as possible, so we had a small staff of very dedicated people. In fact, they were so dedicated that they all brought their own computers to the office so that the company didn’t have to spend as much money on computers. And, of course, they all worked for a pittance, because they believed so much in the Boulder Weekly mission. That’s one thing that has never changed: The Boulder Weekly is about changing the world, not about making money, and it attracts people who share that priority.
To answer your question about profitability, on May 10 of 1994 we published our first profitable edition. We partnered with Fey Productions, which was the area’s leading concert promoter at that time, and published a “Summer of Stars” special section inside the paper that generated enough advertising revenue to earn a small profit. Of course, the next week we were back to writing “red ink,” but that one week was glorious, and it served to buoy our spirits by demonstrating that it was possible for the Boulder Weekly to make money.
BW: Where was your office at the time of the start-up?
SS: That’s a good question and it brings up one of the best stories of Boulder Weekly’s early years. In the spring of 1993 I began looking for office space after spending the first six months or so working out of my home. I felt it was important to be located downtown, and found a space right on the Pearl Street Mall at 1320. It was great being downtown but the rent was expensive and parking was an issue, of course. But we had a multi-year lease — I believe it was for five years — so we were stuck. In the fall of 1994, about 18 months into our lease, the landlord called and said that another tenant in the building was growing and wanted to expand into our space. Would we be willing to break our lease and move out early? I said, “I’m listening.” After consulting with the tenant, I was told that they would give us $5,000 to move. I sensed that there was more money than that in play, so I prepared a worst-case scenario of how much it was going to cost Boulder Weekly to relocate, and the figure was $35,000, which I presented as the minimum we could accept, and we got it!
That money was a godsend at a time when we were barely scraping by, and we began searching for a new office space. On Nov. 1, 1994 we moved into our current office building at 690 South Lashley, and we have been there ever since. Going “back to the future” for a minute, after being a tenant on Lashley for 14 years we were able to purchase the property in the spring of 2008 and plan to own the property free and clear within a few years. I would add that this event was doubly significant at the time, as it coincided with the Daily Camera’s well-publicized sale of their property in downtown Boulder. Here we were growing, prospering and buying real estate, while our competitor was downsizing, struggling and selling off their property. It was a clear juxtaposition of two businesses that were moving in opposite directions and added plenty of wind to our sails in a way that could be observed by the entire community.
BW: Was the Daily Camera always your main competition?
SS: You know, it was kind of like a video game where we had to get through the first few levels before taking on the Daily Camera. The first level was the Colorado Daily, which, at the time we arrived, was the alternative to the Camera. But the Daily was not “alternative” by the definition that the alternative weekly industry, papers such as the Village Voice and Westword, had established, and that Boulder Weekly aspired to be a part of. It was simply a second choice, mostly for businesses that wanted to reach a very young, college-age audience.
There were a couple of things that happened at that particular time in the Weekly’s evolution that firmly cemented our identity as an alternative weekly and that differentiated us from the Colorado Daily. The first was Joel Dyer’s emergence as an environmental journalist. Joel was Boulder Weekly’s founding photographer during the Weekly’s start-up and worked during the editorship of Leland Rucker, who left his position as the entertainment editor of the Colorado Daily to become the Weekly’s first editor. After a few months, Joel began writing deeply investigative pieces that exposed corporate polluters, such as Syntex and Beech. These groundbreaking stories gave the Weekly a direction as a muckraking paper doing investigative journalism that was permanently determinative in our direction. Joel soon became the Weekly’s editor and has had an impressive, award-winning career as a journalist/activist, including writing two nationally acclaimed books, starting and selling the Fort Collins Weekly and returning as Boulder Weekly’s editor a little more than two years ago. (And it is also worth mentioning that Leland has also recently returned to the Weekly as a columnist.)
BW: What was the other thing that happened at that time?
SS: Thanks. I do have a tendency to get off track. The second thing that happened at that time was the Weekly’s acceptance, during our first year of application in 1995, into the AAN (Association of Alternative Newsmedia), a prestigious organization with rigorous standards for membership, headlined by journalistic excellence and commitment to the highest journalistic standards.
BW: You alluded to multiple competitors. Who was next after the Colorado Daily?
SS: Having made it through the start up, Boulder Weekly had emerged as Boulder’s alternative to the Camera by both definitions and had really begun to hit our stride as we approached our third anniversary in 1996. At that point possibly the greatest threat to Boulder Weekly’s survival arrived in the form of the Boulder Planet, a weekly paper founded by a very wealthy local businessman who appeared to be willing to sink enormous sums of money into the business, including hiring Boulder Weekly’s managing editor, Wayne Laugesen (who later returned to Boulder Weekly to serve as editor), and several Daily Camera staffers — all at salaries that far exceeded what they were currently earning.
After struggling for more than three years to navigate the Boulder Weekly ship in a forward direction, we braced ourselves for our biggest challenge yet as the first edition of Boulder Planet hit the streets on July 11, 1996. It was quite impressive: 80 pages, multi-section, full color and filled with ads. My heart sank as I looked through it, and I remember having to close the door to my office to gather myself as I considered the possibility that everything I had worked so hard for was about to be wiped out.
We had a staff meeting a few days later, and as the leader of the organization I was called upon to deliver some sort of confidence-building statement to my employees, and this is what spontaneously came to me: “Our success or failure will not be determined by what the Boulder Planet does. Rather, it will be determined by what we do. We are doing something good and right with Boulder Weekly, and I believe in what we are doing. Let’s not make the mistake of focusing on what the Boulder Planet is doing; just focus on what we’re doing and do it really well. If we do that, everything will work out.”
What I came to recognize about the Boulder Planet is that it was exactly like all of the failed weekly papers I had pored over in the Boulder Public Library archives in 1990 when I was assessing the viability of the Boulder Weekly project. They were all weekly versions of an old-school daily newspaper model that failed to recognize the trends that were afoot in the media, trends that gave birth to the alternative weekly industry that was taking hold in virtually every city and town across the country.
Further — and I think this is the most interesting thing of all — the Boulder Planet proved that money alone is not enough to sustain the wrong business model. Sure, being well-financed is helpful, but at a certain point along the way the wealthy businessman who started Boulder Planet got tired of losing money and issued a mandate that expenses be brought into line with revenue, and at that point the business began to fail. Whereas Boulder Weekly had started small and gained the confidence of the community as it grew, Boulder Planet started big — buoyed by its wealthy owner — and lost the confidence of the community as it began to shrink, once the mandate was issued. Consequently, the last edition of Boulder Planet was published on Feb. 16, 2000.
And one footnote to the Boulder Planet chapter in Boulder Weekly’s history: In their efforts to compete for advertising budgets that had been previously awarded to Boulder Weekly, Boulder Planet sales representatives told customers that they should invest their money in Boulder Planet because the paper was better funded and more likely to emerge as the victor. While there is a certain logic to that, the opposite is actually true. Picking the guy whose entire life is wrapped up in the success of his business — the guy who put his whole future on the line, borrowed money from his family and sacrificed enormously for his business — is a better bet because that guy will do what it takes to succeed, whereas the guy with millions to fall back on will have an easier time pulling the plug and moving on. And that’s exactly what happened.
BW: Who were your most important community partners during those early years?
SS: There are two that immediately come to mind: Planet Bluegrass and the Boulder Theater, et al. The 1993 Rocky Mountain Folks Festival was the first event that Boulder Weekly ever sponsored, and the Boulder Weekly banner has been proudly hanging on the silo at Planet Bluegrass in Lyons ever since. I just can’t say enough good things about the Planet Bluegrass organization — particularly Steve Szymanski, Craig Ferguson and Brian Eyster. They are truly fine people running a great organization that has done so much for so many musicians, and delivered so many good times to our community. My heart broke when I learned of the devastation of the Planet Bluegrass property during last September’s flood, and I encourage the entire community to rally around Planet Bluegrass — as well as the entire town of Lyons — as they rebuild. As we discussed earlier, Boulder Weekly is, in part, the result of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, and I am confident that Planet Bluegrass will come back stronger than ever in the wake of the flood of 2013.
Back in 1993, when we were first getting around to the community to create relationships in anticipation of the premiere edition of the Weekly, Cheryl Liguori and Don Strasburg of the Fox Theatre were enormously supportive. The Boulder Theater was closed at that time and did not reopen until 1995, but when Cheryl became general manager of the Boulder Theater her support of Boulder Weekly continued. In 1998 the Weekly celebrated its fifth anniversary with a huge party at the Fox that was attended by hundreds of people. It was so successful that we decided to make it an annual event, holding our sixth anniversary at the Fox before switching over to the Boulder Theater in 2000. We also began holding a Best of Boulder Awards Party at the Boulder Theater in 2012 and plan to continue that as an annual tradition for many years to come. Don is now the vice president and senior talent buyer for AEG Live and has continued his support of Boulder Weekly through the years. Boulder Weekly has sponsored hundreds of shows at the Boulder Theater, Fox Theatre, Red Rocks and numerous locations in the Denver metro area in partnership with Cheryl and Don, and we couldn’t be more grateful for their support.
BW: Boulder Weekly received a lot of attention toward the end of 2001 for your controversial decision to eliminate the so-called sex ad section from your paper that appears in most alternative weeklies, such as Westword. How was that decision made?
SS: That was a tough decision, as it involved the loss of more than $100,000 in annual revenue, but on every level it turned out to be the right thing to do. As you mention, most alternative weeklies have large sections that promote various “adult services.”
Shortly after our launch we began to receive inquiries from various marketers wanting to promote adult services in the Weekly, and given our need for revenue we were, of course, welcoming of any ads they wanted to send our way. One day a guy walked into the office and asked to speak to me. He told me that he had contacts in the adult services industry and that he could bring in several thousands of dollars of advertising every week if I would allow him to create a “sex ad” section in the Weekly. I had a “hell, yeah” attitude toward this initially, and he and I reached an agreement which ultimately resulted in a two- to three-page section in the back of the paper that was bringing in as much as $3,000 a week.
However, within a short period of time the nature of these ads — specifically the way in which they objectified women — began to trouble me. And on top of that we began to receive some criticism from the community regarding this part of the paper. It was a real dilemma because we had become dependent on the revenue and were following what other alt-weeklies were doing in other markets, but on the other hand the presence of such a large number of these ads was creating an identity for Boulder Weekly that was increasingly undesirable and, ultimately, inconsistent with our opposition to the objectification of women. And yet, to censor — and there really is no other work for it — those ads would be a breach of the First Amendment, the upholding of which is another fundamental principle of the BW mission.
Several meetings were held with the Weekly’s management staff in which this very complex issue was debated, and at the end of the day I decided to eliminate the section and allow only line ads that did not include pictures of women in various stages of undress.
BW: What was the response to that decision?
SS: It was overwhelmingly positive. In fact, it was picked up nationally and covered in various national news sources, probably the most notable of which was an interview that Editor & Publisher magazine did with me shortly thereafter. Although it was a completely unintended consequence, I was made out to be a hero for being a businessman who placed ethical considerations ahead of profit, which I suppose was true. But ultimately I just wanted to do the right thing, and I believe I did.
BW: Speaking of doing the right thing, or, rather, not doing the right thing, you have had a reputation for having, shall we say, a mercurial personality, and for having anger management issues. Do you care to comment on that?
SS: One thing about Boulder Weekly that I am most proud of is the way that our organization honors individuality, tolerates unique personalities, and provides a unique environment for personal and professional growth.
Numerous employees have found in Boulder Weekly a place where they can be authentic and be supported in becoming their highest selves, and I am one of those employees.
There are certain things that are unique about me that have represented significant assets and liabilities to the organization. You used the word “mercurial” and, while I wouldn’t reject the accuracy of that word — and have used it many times to describe myself — I prefer the word “fiery.” I have a fiery personality. Or, put another way, I am a passionate individual, and there is nothing I feel more passionately about than the work we do at Boulder Weekly and the success of the operation.
However, I am very quick to acknowledge — and anyone who really knows me can attest to this — that my passionate nature has been an ongoing issue at Boulder Weekly and has, at times, been as much of a liability to the organization as an asset. Consequently, I have been engaged on a very serious level in a deep interpersonal struggle to master the art of channeling my passionate nature in a positive way, while limiting — and even eliminating — its negative potential.
My journey at Boulder Weekly has been one of intense struggle within myself to become a better leader and a better person. My failures to live up to my own standards have been unspeakably painful for me, and I have plenty of regrets. But I am also extremely proud of the growth I have accomplished over the years, and while the reputation I have among those who have witnessed my darker moments is probably deserved, I am pleased to say that in the present tense I have succeeded in putting my “anger management” issues in the past, and I believe the current staff at Boulder Weekly would back me up on that claim.
And I would add that my success in this area has provided Boulder Weekly with a better leader than it has ever had before, which has, not surprisingly, coincided with a period of greater accomplishment and prosperity than the organization has ever experienced.
BW: What are some of Boulder Weekly’s proudest accomplishments?
SS: As a media organization dedicated to doing real journalism in a world where most of the media has fallen under corporate ownership and, consequently, abandoned a journalistic business model in favor of one that prioritizes profitability, I am proud of the way Boulder Weekly has stayed true to the highest journalistic principles. Our last three editors, Wayne Laugesen, Pamela White and, particularly, Joel Dyer are award-winning journalists that do amazing work that literally changes lives and, in some cases, saves them. Most recently, Boulder Weekly won 28 state SPJ (Society of Professional Journalists) awards and two national AAN (Association of Alternative Newsmedia) awards — by far the most journalism awards we have ever received in one year. As a media organization, Boulder Weekly has really hit its stride and we have a “nothing can stop us now” swagger of confidence.
BW: You mentioned that Boulder Weekly has enjoyed a period of prosperity most recently. What do you attribute that to?
SS: In mid 2006 I made one of the biggest blunders of my career when I hired a CEO who promised to take Boulder Weekly to the next level — a level that he convinced me the company would never reach as long as the founder continued to serve as CEO.
By the beginning of 2007 the company was out of money, carrying a maximum amount of debt and in crisis. Plus, the Weekly’s editor at that time, Pamela White, had submitted her resignation, citing her unwillingness to compromise the organization’s editorial integrity to accommodate a corporate-like business model. It was at that point when I took back the reigns of the company, reassured Pamela that Boulder Weekly would continue to maintain high journalistic standards, rolled up my sleeves and committed myself to turning the company around. As I took on this challenge, I was very fortunate to have Benecia Beyer as my accountant/controller, and she continues to be Boulder Weekly’s accountant/controller to this day. Benecia and I created agreements with vendors, implemented strict budgetary policies and developed a plan to eliminate the debt that had accrued. At the same time I resumed a leading role in our advertising sales department that helped to increase revenues. Thus began a dramatic turnaround that resulted in the company’s rapid return to profitability. By the middle of 2008 we had paid off all of the excess debt that had accrued and generated sufficient cash to purchase the property we had been a tenant at for 14 years.
Contrary to the changes afoot in the “newspaper” business — where mainstream newspapers were descending into bankruptcy (as happened with the owner of the Denver Post and Daily Camera) — Boulder Weekly entered its period of greatest prosperity and had the two best years in our history in 2010 and 2013.
So, in reality what I just described as “one of the biggest blunders of my career” turned out to be the best thing that could have ever happened to Boulder Weekly in that I became fully reengaged with a fresh, renewed commitment and something to prove. This turned out to be a powerful prescription for success.
BW: Were there any other primary factors that contributed to this rapid turnaround?
SS: There were a number, but one in particular is worth mentioning. During the summer of 2007 Cal Winn was hired as Boulder Weekly’s circulation manager and ushered in a new era of professionalism in the way Boulder Weekly was distributed. Up until that time, Boulder Weekly was distributed primarily indoors at high-traffic locations. Cal recognized the untapped potential for circulation through outdoor boxes and has increased our presence in the community exponentially by strategically acquiring and placing boxes throughout the county. This has made the publication, as well as all of our special editions — Kids Camp, Boulderganic, Best of Boulder, Summer Scene, Winter Scene, Gifts — more widely available and has served to increase readership tremendously. Cal is a stickler for details, and every single copy of Boulder Weekly that goes out is tracked and meticulously counted. We know exactly how many papers are read each week and, as a result, are able to provide reliable, trustworthy information to our advertisers. This kind of data is simply not possible with “paid circulation” papers, which can only report how many papers were deposited in driveways, and it certainly isn’t possible with free papers which we have never done. They think their customers are their advertisers; we think our customers are our readers. And more specifically, our readers are people who live and/or work in Boulder County. We provide content that our readers can’t get anywhere else, and they know they can trust us because we don’t choose content that is designed to sell advertising but, rather, to build readership, which that are wrapped up and thrown at in the end winds up providing the the doorsteps of businesses before they open. So, under Cal Winn’s leadership Boulder Weekly’s distribution and readership data is the most reliable of any publication in town, and this added level of confidence among our advertisers has served to contribute mightily to our success.
The other thing about Cal — and this is true of Benecia, as well — is that these two individuals have professionalized the operation in ways that go well beyond their specific areas of expertise. For example, Benecia has also served as the company’s IT specialist, having built and implemented a proprietary CRM (customer relationship management) system; and Cal has built a terrific relationship with Boulder Weekly’s printers, as well as engineering an organic vegetable garden on our property and serving as the de facto property manager. I can’t say enough about the positive effect the arrival of these two fine individuals has had on the business.
BW: How do you account for the fact that so many newspapers are struggling these days, yet Boulder Weekly is prospering at unprecedented levels?
SS: That’s a big question and one that I addressed in my 2009 trilogy, “Newspaper of the Future” (http://boulderweekly.com/ archives/20090101/stewsviews.html). The overarching answer is that Boulder Weekly is not a “newspaper.” You see, daily newspapers have lost sight of who their customers are, greatest value to our advertisers.
Independent businesses like Boulder Weekly work harder to provide value and earn the money we receive from our advertisers. I personally maintain relationships with as many of our advertisers as possible, and I never take them for granted.
BW: I understand your daughter, Julia, has been working at Boulder Weekly. Will she be taking over the business someday?
SS: Julia is an amazing person and has done an incredible job for Boulder Weekly. She began writing a column for the paper when she was still a Fairview High School student, I believe it was called “Next Gen,” and she became my personal assistant during the summer of 2007 after graduating. After her freshman year at Sarah Lawrence College, Julia returned to her job at Boulder Weekly and decided to enroll at the University of Colorado, where she got her undergraduate degree, holding down a full-time job at Boulder Weekly the entire time she was in college.
Most recently she began working toward her teaching credential and is currently student teaching at South High School in Denver during the spring semester. Consequently, she has had to cut back on her hours at Boulder Weekly. It looks like Julia will be moving on to full-time teaching, rather than staying with the Boulder Weekly, but you never know what the future might bring.
In many ways the six years that Julia has been on staff represent my happiest time at Boulder Weekly. Not only has she played an enormously beneficial role at the company — ultimately ascending into the organization’s management ranks — but her presence has had a very positive effect in my efforts to become a better leader. A parent must be mindful of how his behavior is setting an example, and knowing that Julia was a witness to my every move at Boulder Weekly really caused my to step up my game.
BW: How has the budding (pun intended) marijuana industry in Colorado benefitted Boulder Weekly?
SS: There’s no question that we have benefitted from the advertising we have received from MMJ (medical marijuana) dispensaries, but we have had to proceed very carefully to make sure that particular source of revenue did not wind up defining Boulder Weekly, like it has other publications, like the Rooster. MMJ operations realize that Boulder Weekly’s audience is a weed-friendly audience, but our audience is also music-friendly, automobile-friendly, furniture-friendly, restaurant-friendly, outdoor adventure-friendly, etc. We couldn’t allow our friends in the MMJ industry to take over the paper and squeeze out our other advertising partners, so we developed some very strict guidelines under which we would accept pot ads. This served to weed out (two can play at this pun game) the fly-by-night elements of the MMJ industry and maintained our identity as a media organization serving the entire Boulder County community. I think we’ve achieved a good balance.
BW: After 20 years at Boulder Weekly and 32 years as a self-employed publisher, how much longer do you plan to continue at the helm of Boulder Weekly? Do you ever think about moving on?
SS: I will admit that the stress of my position causes me to wonder how much longer I can keep it up. There are days when I swear I’ve had enough. But at the same time, there really isn’t anything else I could imagine doing that would provide me with the same sense of purpose that Boulder Weekly has. I was having lunch with my friend Len Barron recently — Len is a bit of a Boulder icon who is recognizable for being an Albert Einstein look-alike and who has been doing a series of theater arts pieces that focus on the wisdom of Einstein and Niels Bohr — and we were getting into some heavy philosophizing, as we always do. Len commented that everyone wants to feel, at the end of the day, that they lived a life that mattered, that made a difference. “And you’ve got that covered,” he said, in connection to my life as the founder/leader/owner/publisher of Boulder Weekly. That’s what I’m most grateful for, and it is at moments like that, moments of deep gratitude, when I feel like I could keep Boulder Weekly going forever.
My greatest source of inspiration at Boulder Weekly is our art director, Susan France. Sue has been with Boulder Weekly for all of our 20 years, with the exception of the very first edition. She has taken maternity leave twice to create a family and faithfully returned to her post each time. Sue is without question the most dedicated, hard-working individual I have ever known, and she is as humble and kind as she is talented as an artist and photographer. During the early years there were plenty of times when the paper didn’t go to press until the wee hours of the morning, and Sue always did what was necessary to get the job done, and never once complained.
When I think about leaving Boulder Weekly I think about Sue France and the tremendous dedication she has shown for 20 years, and I ask myself how I could ever leave while she is still here. So, I guess the best answer I can give you is that I plan to stay at Boulder Weekly as long as Sue is still here.