This month, “10 Questions” checks in with Vince Bzdek, a veteran newspaperman who took over as editor of The Gazette in Colorado Springs in April.
The former news editor of The Washington Post and author of two political biographies, Bzdek is back in his native Colorado at the helm of one of the state’s major dailies. Here’s what he had to say about his career and his plans for The Gazette:
1 – You were born in Rangely in northwest Colorado and grew up in Denver. In 1976 your family moved to Brush, where your father bought the Brush News-Tribune newspaper from your grandparents. How early did they put you to work, and can you put a price on that early education?
At the age of 16, I was writing stories, running presses, developing pictures, pasting up type, sweeping the floor, delivering papers. When you have a soup-to-nuts immersion in a business like that, in a family setting, work becomes an avocation rather than a job. It truly gets in your blood. It becomes more like a long-lasting marriage to a way of life than a career. Your work becomes a cause, your colleagues family.
2 – As far as formal education, after Brush High School you earned an English degree at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, where you also worked on the school newspaper. Seems like you were still on track to join the newspaper industry as a professional. Did you ever consider another line of work or were you truly born with ink in your veins?
Was about to go to law school in Washington after graduating, but came to realize I was running away from the family business more than running toward a career in law. Once I got over the fact that newspapers were the family biz, I realized I kind of loved everything about them as a career – writing, speaking truth to power, exposing the bad guys, combining words and pictures and video and artwork to tell great stories.
3 – You started out as a reporter for the Colorado Springs Sun, which was later bought and closed by The Gazette. So you moved on to The Denver Post, working as an assistant news editor, then news editor and deputy managing editor, running both the Sunday edition and the revival of Empire, the Sunday magazine. What major achievements do you enjoy recalling at The Post, and what prompted your move to Washington, D.C.?
Well, we won the newspaper war against the Rocky (Mountain News) while I was there, and that was the most fun I ever had under the great editor Gil Spencer.
Competing head-to-head every day with other writers and editors out to kill you off sharpens your competitive instincts, makes you better at your job, gives you something to shoot for and a clear sense of mission and accomplishment. It was like playing in a daily basketball game, with a score at the end of every day.
Cities that once had competing newspapers were the luckiest cities in the country. I moved to Washington to get married really – my future wife lived there. Getting a job at The Washington Post sealed the deal.
4 – After you went to Washington, D.C., in 1998, you worked in many capacities for The Washington Post: news editor, front-page editor, digital political editor, features writer, editor-at-large. How do you sum up in one paragraph what it’s like to work at The Post and in that city?
It’s like the entire newspaper and town are one big campus, and everyone has an interesting, intellectually stimulating job, and you really do feel like you’re changing the world at times.
It’s also a place of extraordinary intellectual vanity and non-stop one-upmanship, but that’s a fun spectator sport too, for a while. After 17 years, you want to come back to the mountains and America.
5 – You’ve said you think The Gazette is poised to become the best newspaper in the state. Was bringing in award-winning journalist Jim Trotter (of Rocky Mountain PBS, AP & the Rocky Mountain News) as your new managing editor-news part of a plan to make that happen, and what else do you have planned?
We’ve also brought in Pulitzer-winner Joey Bunch from The Denver Post, whom I think is the best political writer in the state, and Peter Marcus from the Durango Post, whom the Washington Post calls one of the best political correspondents in the state.
Woody Paige has joined us as a sports columnist, two-time Pulitzer winner Lou Kilzer is helping us out with investigations, and Jim Trotter has launched us on some ambitious enterprise reporting that we simply weren’t doing before.
We’ve launched a brand new website and blog, ColoradoPolitics.com, which we hope will drive the political conversation in Colorado. We’ve enlisted a large cadre of thought leaders around the state to write regular columns for us. We’ve begun an ambitious partner program with other media sites throughout the state to run the best of what they do, adding to the heft of our report and increasing our statewide influence.
We’ve created a Continuous News team to cover more breaking news for our daytime digital audience. We’re planning to beef up our coverage of veterans issues, small business in Colorado Springs, and religion and morality as well. We’ve also launched other businesses, like Out There Colorado, which is a digital, 360-video guidebook to all-things Colorado, and coloradosprings.com, a guide to the city of Colorado Springs.
6 – You believe in print journalism, and in the evolution of newspapers. Along those beliefs, what current changes are happening at The Gazette, and how do they follow the flow of the industry?
Every succeeding newspaper right now, including the Gazette, is pivoting into a media company, with multiple digital businesses under its umbrella and an entrepreneurial spirit replacing its institutional one.
That willingness to experiment and embrace technology, I think, is the key to that evolution. That’s still a story being written.
7 – Can you tell us your top three mentors, in or out of journalism, and how they influenced you?
Len Downie, editor of The Washington Post, who edited the Watergate stories and helped edit my books, and every day was the ultimate example of enthusiasm and care for our craft.
Gil Spencer, editor of The Denver Post, who made every day at the paper seem like the most fun a person could have. And John Simons, English professor at Colorado College. John taught me a love of language and the idea that your heart is as important as your head in doing your work.
8 – You're a published author of two books, “The Kennedy Legacy: Bobby and Ted and a Family Dream Fulfilled” (2010) and “Woman of the House: The Rise of Nancy Pelosi” (2009), which you wrote while at The Washington Post. As everyone asks, do you have another book in you?
Right now, all my energy is invested in The Gazette, so the next book will have to wait a bit.
9 – As you work family time into your schedule, what do you and your wife, Kelsey, and your two teenagers, Zola and Xavier, do for recreation and fun in the area?
We’re in exploration mode, so a lot of sightseeing, hiking, shopping, visiting friends and relatives, making new friends, and event-going right now to try to figure this place out.
10 – Neat desk or office or not, and what would we see there?