Ward Hauenstein delivers an extensive statement in support of recently terminated editor of The Aspen Times, Andrew Travers, calling him a man of “character” and calling on the community to “save Aspen” during Tuesday’s Aspen City Council meeting. 

Aspen Councilman Ward Hauenstein used his time at the top of the regular meeting on Tuesday to make an impassioned plea — one he’d taken the time to prewrite — to the community to rally around a local tradition of free press.

“My comments are my own,” he clarified Tuesday during the time dedicated to councilors’ comments, following public comment. “They’re not associated with the city; they do not represent a position the city has made — these comments [are] from my heart and my love for Aspen.”

He then went on to quote President Theodore Roosevelt’s famous statement now known as the “Man in the Arena.”

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds … Who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

In quoting Roosevelt, Hauenstein was demonstrating his vocal support for the recently former arts editor — and would-be editor-in-chief — of The Aspen Times, Andrew Travers, who was terminated from his post before he formally began it on Friday for publishing a column by Roger Marolt about the opinion writer’s experience of having previous submissions go unpublished because of the decisions from executives at ownership group Ogden Newspapers.

“My termination as editor of the Aspen Times resulted from a resort town newspaper columnist expressing opinions about luxury hotel developers. Much of what an Aspen columnist does — and is expected to do — is express opinions about such development. But this speaks to the deepening crisis for American press freedom,” Travers said in a statement Tuesday.

In his comments during the council meeting Tuesday evening, Hauenstein unequivocally came to Travers’ defense.

“The fabric of our community is compromised — if a man is offered a promotion, and he reportedly conditioned his acceptance of that position on the ability to exercise honor, integrity and transparency, he’s showing character,” he said.

Following a controversial $76.25-million purchase of a near-acre parcel of land on Aspen Mountain initially intended to be developed into an 81-room boutique hotel, the Gorsuch Haus, The Aspen Times published a series of content — from a letter to the editor to a column to an editorial from the newspaper to news stories — delving into the identity of the buyer, Vladislav Doronin. Doronin was born in the Soviet Union, emigrated in 1985 and renounced his citizenship the following year, earning him political-refugee status from the United Nations before getting Swedish citizenship.

He went on to amass a $1 billion net worth, founding Moscow-based Capital Group in 1993 and selling his shares of the business in 2013, when he turned his attention to luxury resorts. By 2014, he was chairman and CEO of the Aman resort group. 

Ultimately, Doronin sued The Aspen Times for defamation and libel, which both parties settled out of court in May. Then, on June 2, Allison Pattillo, publisher of the Times, penned a note to the community assuring that “the Times’ reporting of what’s happening in our community, including on the west side of Aspen Mountain and of the parties involved, will continue with the journalistic integrity readers expect from the upstanding and award-winning editorial team at The Aspen Times.”

Travers said he took that — along with “specific assurances” from Pattillo — as the signal that the newsroom’s editorial integrity would remain under his watch, and so he accepted the leadership position he’d been offered.

“She acknowledged that there had been restrictions in there and that they had been lifted, and that was the go-ahead for me to go ahead and take the job. I was excited,” Travers said Tuesday. “I had a plan I had been pretty open about, about establishing credibility with the community. The first step of that was letting Roger publish his column.”

The rest, as they say, is history — an Ogden executive subsequently deleted the column from The Aspen Times website and fired Travers. It’s a story Hauenstein urged community members to fight against.

“Now it appears as though we have an out-of-state business that controls the Aspen press,” he said, in clear reference to West Virginia-based Ogden. “You all must do something to stop it. …We’re blessed to have many people living in Aspen with great means — I’m appealing to them now. Help save Aspen by funding the purchase of freedom and truth by buying the Times or funding a new paper for truth.”

The Aspen Times was founded in 1881. Bil Dunaway, a U.S. Army 10th Mountain Division veteran, purchased the newspaper in 1956 and ran it for the next 35 years before Swift Communications purchased it in 1995. Ogden acquired Swift in December. 

Dave Danforth started the Aspen Daily News in 1978 as a single-sheet “missive.” He sold the publication, after growing it into a full-blown newspaper, to his publisher David Cook and Cook’s business partner, Spencer McKnight, in 2017. The two had compiled an investment group to make the purchase a reality. 

“I can assure the Aspen community every one of my partners were men of integrity and never once tried to interfere in the business of news. I have nothing but respect and admiration for each and every one of them,” Cook said. 

Still, he and McKnight bought out their ownership group in September last year. Part of the challenge — and a sacred one, he said, especially in the midst of extensive “news deserts” across the rest of the country — is having a meaningful daily competitor.

“I respect and admire our entire media community. In fact, my media career started with The Aspen Times family here in the Roaring Fork Valley,” he said. “But it needs to be said that there are independently owned and operated voices and media companies.”

As for Travers? He’s still reeling, but in the days since his firing, he’s spent most of his days responding to an outpouring of support from the community.

“That’s been overwhelming. Everybody in town, from all the people you’re going to hear from — a judge and the heads of pillar organizations in town, everybody in the arts world, of course … and the ski bums and freaks and those folks as well,” he said. “That’s what I’ve been doing, and that means a lot to me.”

Megan Tackett is the editor for the Aspen Daily News. She can be reached at megan@aspendailynews.com or on Twitter @MeganTackett10.