This issue the “10 Questions” are for Doug Claussen, owner of the I-70 Publishing Company, Inc., headquartered in Strasburg in Eastern Colorado. The company’s weekly I-70 Scout on Tuesdays and Eastern Colorado News on Fridays top 10,000 in circulation throughout the I-70 Corridor, in addition to their online community. Claussen lives on five acres near Bennett with his fiancé, Patty Malone, a big goofy Newfoundland named Walter, and three cats – Magoo, Hannah and Baba (as in Baba Wawa). Here is his take on community journalism on the Colorado plains:
1 – You’re from the farming community of Gilmore City, Iowa, north of Des Moines, and went to Central College southeast of that capital city, earning your B.A. in English. How did your transfer to the University of Colorado Boulder for your master’s in journalism happen?
I came to Denver right out of Central College in 1984 for the creative writing program at the University of Denver, but I was burned out and I quit after one quarter. I never went back, but I liked Denver, so I stayed. I ended up doing menial work – pizza delivery, general labor, maintenance, sorting at UPS, for example – for a few years.
By 1989, I realized I had to get something going, so I started classes in technical writing at CU-Denver. Within a year CU-Boulder hired me as a part-time research assistant doing tech writing, and the job eventually led me into the journalism program. By the time I graduated in 1993, the humanity of journalism had overtaken the lure of money offered in tech writing, and I went to work for the Eastern Colorado News later that year.
2 – Your website says you founded The I-70 Scout in October 1994, incorporating later on. Your website launched in August 2000, and you acquired your legal newspaper, the Eastern Colorado News, in July 2001. How did you wind up in charge?
Having come from a small town, I loved my job with the Eastern Colorado News, but I didn’t love my boss, who insulted me and my family with “jokes” behind my back about my brother’s death from AIDS in 1993. I quit when I found out about it, then went to the Greeley Tribune for a part-time job as a copy editor. The Tribune laid me off after about six months.
Needless to say, my career was not going well, but I still loved Strasburg (which sits on a county line and is named after a railroad man, just like my hometown of Gilmore City) and it had become apparent to me that there was a lot of unspent advertising revenue in the area, not to mention the growth potential given the proximity of Denver International Airport, which opened four months after I went into business.
With a small loan from a local truck stop owner, I founded The I-70 Scout, and the newspaper war with the Eastern Colorado News was on! The I-70 Scout was an immediate and stunning success, and I’ve never looked back.
3 – What’s different about community journalism in rural communities, and what are the biggest challenges, both news- and revenue-wise?
There’s definitely a slower pace to rural community journalism. We don’t have any news competition really, so stories that otherwise might run immediately are often held for more information or for space considerations.
We still call a spade a spade, but we’re a little more diplomatic about it. At the same time, it can be difficult because everyone knows you, and that can be an issue when they become involved in a news story that might not be flattering. For example, the local school board president got popped for drag racing with kids. He also was one of the people who helped us take photos of sporting events. I got pressure from him to kill the story, and he quit when I ran it.
Oddly, growth has been a double-edged sword. More people mean more businesses, but some of them are big corporations, which do little or no advertising with us because we’re too small in their eyes. At the same time, they put a lot of pressure on small businesses that might be inclined to advertise if circumstances were different. Like everyone, the classifieds aren’t anything near what they used to be, but the other revenue sources are stable or growing.
4 – Your staff includes yourself and a managing editor, two staff writers, an office manager, two ad designers and a web master – to serve the communities of Watkins, Bennett, Strasburg, Byers, Deer Trail and Agate, stretching 46 miles along the I-70 Corridor. How do you coordinate covering all that territory for editorial as well as advertising? Do you have freelancers, part-timers or volunteers to help get it done?
First, only three of those listed are full-time: my managing editor, my office manager and myself. The others are part-time. We use a mix of part-timers, freelancers and volunteers, such as parents who take photos at high school sporting events. High school sports is a big issue because there are four high schools in a large area and that’s a lot of territory to cover.
5 – How do you think community journalism might change or need to in the next few years?
Other than the ongoing challenge of making the transition from newsprint to internet, I don’t think it’s going to change much.
6 – What have been your favorite and least-favorite things to do at newspapers?
Doing business is my favorite thing. Wheeling and dealing is tons of fun. Reading, writing and layout are my favorite production things. I like being the editor and the little bit of prestige that comes with the job. I am well-regarded by the community and I find a lot of comfort in that.
I want the local kids to win, of course, but I otherwise tire of high school sports. I wish I didn’t have to deal with employees; I never sought to be a boss but I ended up one anyway. The stress of the business can be a downer, too.
7 – You use a logo picturing an Old West scout. Where did the image come from, is it someone from history?
It’s from a clipart book that I bought in the mid-1990s, when we all still used clipart books.
8 – Your Linked In page notes that you have an interpersonal skill of public speaking. Are you active in that?
That’s a bit of an overstatement. I’m not afraid of public speaking but I don’t do much of it.
9 – You’ve played with the Strasburg High School Big Band for such events as its annual fundraiser, Jazz on the Plains. What do you play, how often and with whom?
I play alto and tenor saxophone. I am a member of a community concert band called the High Plains Music Ensemble. And I still play at Jazz on the Plains every year.
10 – Neat desk and office, or not? And what would we see there?
I’m on the neater side. My work area includes: A wonderful, complimentary letter from J. Ivanhoe Rosenberg, the longtime owner of Barnum Publishing, the Southwest Denver Herald-Dispatch and La Voz. A photo of my ex-boss leaving town after selling the Eastern Colorado News to someone else. I was coincidentally driving by as he was pulling away, which gave me the opportunity to take the shot.
And a drone hunting license from Deer Trail, if anyone remembers that story. A photo of Kurt Warner, the greatest sports hero to ever come out of the state of Iowa, as an Arizona Cardinal. An amethyst. And an urn with the words “Ashes of Problem Customers” on it.