As I write this, I am settling into my new desk in The Gazette’s stunning new offices at the Busy Corner of Tejon Street and Pikes Peak Avenue and enjoying a workplace with huge windows and tall ceilings that hint of its previous life as a bank lobby.
It is nicer than any newsroom where I’ve ever worked.
And I can’t help but remember what I was thinking the first time I drove up to The Gazette’s old building, its home for 56 years on the edge of the Hillside neighborhood on South Prospect Street.
It was 1994 and I was here for a job interview. I pulled up to the curb and thought: What a dump!
For a moment, I thought I’d driven to the printing plant, not the main business office and newsroom.
Of course, the Prospect Street facility was all of the above contained in a building most flatteringly described as steam punk, as the kids say.
It looked like a warehouse with its corrugated steel siding and patchwork of brick and cement blocks and poured concrete walls.
Then I walked inside, climbed the stairs to the second-floor newsroom and looked around. It had a low ceiling with dirty rectangular tiles punctured by dim light fixtures. The carpet was stained and threadbare. Walls hadn’t seen fresh paint in decades.
I revised my first impression: Dump was too nice a word.
But I was here to report and write the news, and I didn’t really care about the surroundings.
The Gazette Telegraph, as it was known then, had a great reputation nationwide for recruiting editors and reporters from much larger papers and turning them loose to do their best. In fact, the paper was just four years removed from winning a Pulitzer Prize, journalism’s highest honor. It was on the cutting edge of newspaper design and experimenting on that newfangled Internet thing.
Dump or not, I quit The Associated Press – the only job I’d ever known -joined the GT and never regretted it.
I settled in among 140 or so other journalists who were highly skilled, dedicated and usually pretty fun people to hang out with each day.
Many were as crusty as the building.
There was one guy, for example, who showered infrequently, wore shoes so tattered his toes hung out and whose desk was piled 3 feet high with papers and trash.
Another of my colorful colleagues liked to crawl under his desk and sleep.
A few were famous for expletive-laced outbursts, pounding pica poles on the desks and tossing newspapers around when angry or drunk, or both.
Telephones slammed from time to time.
A shouting match in the corner of the room was not unprecedented.
Heck, there were two editors who got along so poorly they were sent to marriage counseling to repair their relationship. (It ended in divorce, actually.)
In the back of the newsroom was a “smoking lounge” that got a lot of use in those days. (Gag!)
Summer lightning storms inevitably caused power surges that took down our stone-age computer system. (Can any computer be described as “stone-age”?)
And each afternoon when the presses fired up, the computers and lights all blinked and the building began to tremble and vibrate.
(Around 1998, I learned why the floor shook when the presses rolled or people simply walked across the room. During a renovation, they pulled out the old furniture and we could see the concrete floor. Dozens of holes the size of my fist are drilled in the concrete, giving the floor a spongelike quality.)
For the most part, people ignored the surroundings and concentrated on finding interesting stories, then writing and illustrating them well. That was our mission.
I like to think it’s the same goal Gen. William Jackson Palmer had in mind when he launched our ancestral newspaper, “Out West,” on March 23, 1872, as he was founding Colorado Springs.
But in recent years, it has been harder to ignore the surroundings.
Especially when the mood inside the room became more grim.
As the newspaper industry collapsed in the face of intense Internet competition for advertising and readers, The Gazette’s old owners, Freedom Communications, started laying off employees.
Over about five years, our newsroom shrank to about 50 full-time employees. It felt as if we were in a slow-motion death spiral. Along with the layoffs, we shed pages, even entire sections in the newspaper. We shrank from four daily sections – Main, Local, Sports, Features/Business – to just two sections and there was talk of not printing seven days a week anymore.
Meanwhile, the building deteriorated. Lights went out and were left off. From day to day, folks would sit in jackets and type wearing gloves, or they would pry open the windows and sweat because they couldn’t regulate the heating and air-conditioning system. Several times, work stations were consolidated because the sight of so many empty desks was so depressing.
The place, frankly, began to feel like a tomb. We, the guilt-ridden survivors, were losing hope.
But we never lost our fight. Perhaps our proudest moment came in June 2012 as our skeleton staff worked around the clock to cover the Waldo Canyon fire. Some of us paused only to evacuate our families as the fire exploded into the Mountain Shadows neighborhood, killing two and destroying nearly 400 homes.
By November 2012, I was actively looking for work. (I found a street corner and scrawled on a piece of cardboard: Will write for food.)
Hope finally came a year ago, when The Gazette was sold to Clarity Media, which immediately stopped the bleeding and began investing in the paper.
The new office is a tangible, obvious message from the folks at Clarity that they are committed to Colorado Springs and the future.
The new office is a commitment to quality, in the building where we work and in the product we produce.
Consider all the changes that have happened to The Gazette in the year since Clarity bought us and rescued us from our death spiral.
Hopefully, you’ve noticed them for yourself.
We’ve added staff, pages and entire sections to the print product. We’ve redesigned the online paper at Gazette.com. We’ve reconnected with readers by hosting public conversations about important issues facing the community.
I think you can see the impact of the changes in our work. We’ve done some amazing journalism in the past year, and we have lots of plans for 2014 and beyond.
So, while I was cautiously optimistic a year ago, I am a true believer now and convinced we are headed in the right direction. The new headquarters on the Busy Corner is confirmation, in my mind, of our commitment to readers and to that goal of finding interesting stories, writing and illustrating them well.
I view it as our return to what Gen. Palmer must have had in mind.
I know I’m certainly looking forward to resuming the quest in our new office. I hope you will join us. Come by and check out the new place. Say hi. Give me a suggestion for my column. I’ll be glad to see you.