In October, the Aspen Daily News announced with great haughtiness that it was no longer going to participate in the journalistic frenzy of the nearby Kobe Bryant trial. The Colorado paper sniffed that "there are stories out there that need to be told -- stories about people, stories about politics, stories about science, stories about education -- stories that could really make a difference in people's lives."
At first blush, the News' stance seemed like yet another case of an uptight, monopolistic daily newspaper refusing to give the people what they want. In actuality, it was a great publicity stunt in a surprisingly competitive two-newspaper market. "I guess you're familiar with Andy Kaufman and all of that," Daily News Editor Rick Carroll says with a chuckle.
The Eagle County, Colorado, courthouse where the Lakers swingman is being tried for rape is about 75 miles from the famous, star-studded ski resort. "We'd been running A.P. coverage every day for a while," Carroll explains, "and then we just decided one night in a moment of clarity, 'Screw this.'"
The 12,500-circulation Daily News gets by with just two full-time reporters and two editors who write a lot of copy. After the paper's announcement -- which came on October 9, the day of Kobe's pre-trial hearing -- half the staff could be found defending their decision on Fox News or in the pages of the Los Angeles Times. In a clever twist, the paper's owner, Dave Danforth, publicly criticized the move in a column and in various interviews, accusing his employees of practicing "Groundhog Day" news judgment: poking their heads up and reacting to the media scene around them, instead of covering nearby news of international interest.
"I object to the editorial's rationale that we are no longer covering anything that attracts too many journalists, which would also mean we are no longer covering Arnold Schwarzenegger or the World Series," Danforth wrote to his staff. But if reaction to the stunt is any indicator, the owner might change his mind.
"We've had about 10 or 15 people who want to subscribe to our paper now who don't live here," Carroll says with a laugh. "I mean I think they're gonna get a little bored reading about the Aspen budget and ski stories and court activity around here, but we'll send them a copy I guess."