In crisis, a beleaguered newsroom staff will do just about anything to find hope and in the summer of 1996, we turned to the Good Doctor for a dose of it.
Having gone through too many editors to count, myself and some other young journalists at the Daily News were once again without leadership. We turned to our comrade, Hunter S. Thompson, to fill in as a guest editor while we searched for the next victim to run the shit show that was the Daily News newsroom.
We had initially envisioned an interim presence from Hunter, who agreed to the job. But Hunter wasn’t the type to hold regular office hours, so our hope for around-the-clock guidance was quickly stymied. In hindsight, it was better that way.
Instead, we worked on one issue for weeks. We held story meetings at the J-Bar and in his kitchen. There was some shady shit going on in Woody Creek having to do with sewage at the trailer park, and a developer with a sordid past who was attempting to develop a mini-city on McLain Flats near W/J Ranch.
So, of course, those were the stories Hunter had us focus on. We started getting documents dropped off at the office anonymously and sources were coming out of the woodwork. There were other classic features, like “Jilly,” the “page 3 girl,” that filled out the paper’s content. Some of it hit the cutting room floor, however, after we sobered up and realized not all of it was suited for the masses. We still had to be our own censors, because in reality we still didn’t have any adult supervision.
Our lead story was going to be the fact that Hunter had taken over. Hunter, accompanied by his attorney and friend, Gerry Goldstein, and his videographer, Wayne Ewing, came into the newsroom for production of the Monday, Aug. 19, 1996 edition on a Saturday night. (We were smart enough to know we needed a night to sleep on whatever we were going to print).
In the wee hours of the morning, Hunter killed the lead story and said he didn’t want to be part of the news. We were pissed at first, then disappointed, but we moved on, scrambling to fill the hole. “We gotta get flogging in that god damn headline!” he barked at us over a key story in that edition.
As the sun started to come up, Hunter’s work was done. He returned to his home at Owl Farm and we walked around like zombies for a while before we got back to work, putting out our HST edition.
In the newspaper business, rarely does anything go smoothly. And when it goes terribly wrong, it’s at the worst possible moment. Such was the case on Aug. 18, 1996 when the entire power grid in downtown Aspen went black and we were at a standstill. It was nearly midnight and the power hadn’t come back on, and we started searching for a generator. Like always, we figured it out and the “Aspen Daily Miracle” once again hit the streets.
Hunter sent us a fax the day the edition hit the streets, along with champagne for the newsroom. The note, with his classic letterhead at the top (“Vultures Attack Funeral — And Eat the Corpse”) congratulated us on a “bitch of an issue.” He went so far to suggest that it should be submitted for a Pulitzer.
“The Monday issue is a fine piece of work and far more effective, I think, without any public breast-beating from me,” he wrote.
He signed off by saying, “Okay, the fat is in the fire. Watch yr. backs ... I shall return.” Sadly, he never did. But it makes that summer of ’96 all the more special.