About the author: Andrew Travers is the former editor of The Aspen Times.
Here in aspen, the air is thin, the snow is perfect, and money is everywhere. This is a singular American town in many respects. Among them is this: Aspen had, until very recently, two legitimate daily newspapers, The Aspen Times and the Aspen Daily News. At a moment when local newspapers face manifold threats to their existence and more and more American cities become news deserts, Aspen was the opposite: a news geyser. The town’s corps of reporters covers small-town tropes like high-school musicals and the Fourth of July parade. But Aspen’s journalists are also the watchdogs and chroniclers of one of the richest towns in America and a site of extreme economic inequality, the exemplar of the phenomenon that academics call “super-gentrification,” where—as the locals often say—“the billionaires are forcing out the millionaires.”
I joined The Aspen Times as an editor in 2014, after a seven-year tenure at the Aspen Daily News. The Times has published since 1881, when Aspen was a silver-mining boomtown, through its postwar rebirth as a ski resort, and now as the home of ideas festivals, wine festivals, $50 entrees, and an awe-inspiring collection of private jets, many owned by billionaires deeply concerned about climate change. The paper, which was based for much of its history in a purple-painted building between a drugstore and the Hotel Jerome, developed a reputation for shoe-leather reporting and accountability journalism.
On Thanksgiving 2021, the start of ski season, the Times editorial team numbered 13, including four reporters who had been covering our town since at least the 1990s. We were treated well by our parent company, Swift Communications. Our paper was profitable, owing largely to real-estate advertising. We seemed to be a safe harbor for small-town journalists.
We were wrong.
My story is populated by blue bloods and thin-skinned billionaires, including the owners of the Pittsburgh Pirates, a litigious Soviet-born developer, and the wealthy cousin of a U.S. Supreme Court justice. Its drama unfolds in a superficially idyllic mountain community where a 1969 mayoral candidate’s slogan, “Sell Aspen or Save It,” still sums up its core conflict. (The following year, Hunter S. Thompson mounted his “Freak Power” campaign for sheriff; upon losing, he gave a concession speech at the Hotel Jerome in a Founding Father–style wig. “I proved what I set out to prove,” he said, “that the American Dream really is fucked.”)