By Garrett Ray
In 1978, the board of the Colorado Press Association agreed that someone ought to write a history of the association to mark the CPA’s 100th birthday. Marshall Sprague, a respected and prominent Colorado author, was invited to write the history. He decided he wasn’t interested. Given the tortuous history of the idea over the next several decades, Sprague made a wise decision. But he suggested a young, ambitious writer who had worked with him on some now-forgotten project. Later that year, the board agreed to hire the young man.
During the next year, the would-be author interviewed many Colorado newspaper editors, producing literally a ream of typewritten interview notes, including his own opinions on newspapers, editors and life in general. Occasionally, he would show up at my office at the Littleton Independent to report why the manuscript seemed to be proceeding so slowly. Then, telling me that he needed some solitude to re-think his project, he left for France and disappeared, taking with him the notes – as well as the advance money from the press association.
I thought that was the end of the proposed history. But 10 years later, Jane C. Harper of the CPA staff adopted the project. She began collecting documents and notes, squirreling them away in boxes in the basement of the CPA building. Colorado Publisher Robert F. Sweeney’s persistence kept the project alive, and Wilbur Flachman of The Publishing House honored his early commitment to produce and print the book at his own expense. It has now been published as Colorado Newspapers: A History & Inventory, 1859-2000.
Although the history is organized county-by-county – a potentially dull collection of ancient dates and forgotten names – it is not just a useful tool for historians. It is also far more interesting than I would have expected. Even a brief prowl through the more than 400 pages produces anecdotes about the early days of Colorado newspapering. (Is Wheatridge one word or two? It “seems to depend entirely on who wields the paint brush,” The Denver Post noted. Aspen was the third largest city in the state in 1884. The first name of the gold-mining settlement of Ashcroft was Chloride. The Japanese relocation camp of Amache functioned as “a medium-sized city” from its founding in 1942 till the end of World War II.)
The book properly carries three names as authors – first, of course, the late Jane Harper. Then Craig W. Leavitt, a University of Colorado Denver master’s degree candidate, who pared Harper’s 700,000-word manuscript to about 275,000 words, fact-checked it, filled gaps, and contributed his own insights. Finally, Thomas J. “Dr. Colorado” Noel, prominent professor of history at the University of Colorado Denver and our state’s best known historian. Noel not only recruited Leavitt, but also did some of his own editing and fact-checking. Essays by Leavitt and Noel are worth reading for their own lively perspectives on Colorado journalism. Noel notes that the book is “the first attempt to describe every last Colorado newspaper published before roughly 2000,” adding that “sadly, an estimated 90 percent of all Colorado newspapers have completely disappeared.”
This book helps fill that knowledge gap, and historians will appreciate it. As a Colorado native who worked for more than two decades on local newspapers, I am surely not the only small-town Colorado journalist who will be grateful for the work and affection poured into this book by Jane Harper and what turned out to be a remarkable team.
Interested in purchasing Colorado Newspapers: A History & Inventory, 1859-2000?
Email your name, address, phone number and if you plan to pay with credit card (we will call you to collect info) or by a check to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The book is available for $49.95 (add $6.70 for shipping and handling). If paying by check, please make it out to Colorado Press Association, which you can either send to or drop off at:
Colorado Press Association
1120 Lincoln St., Ste 912
Denver, CO 80203
We will send the book once we’ve received payment. Proceeds: Book sale proceeds go to the CPA’s Foundation, which is run by the Denver Foundation. Foundation funds are used for educational purposes, such as scholarships, trainings and other programs that promote journalism. If you have any questions, please contact Lisa at 303-571-5117.