Fired editor slams Aspen Times over exposés on local oligarch
DENVER (CN) — The former editor-in-chief of the Aspen Times sued its publisher Odgen Newspapers on Tuesday claiming he was fired for doing his job as a watchdog journalist in one of the nation’s wealthiest communities.
“Ogden Newspapers and its leaders should be held accountable for destroying the Aspen Times, muzzling coverage and violating the public trust,” journalist Andrew Travers said in a statement provided by civil rights attorney Darold Killmer. “Along with abandoning their journalistic responsibility, Ogden clearly violated my legal rights.”
Travers said he took the job on the condition that he be allowed to do it right. That included being able to publish a series of columns that were pulled by upper management about the business dealings of a Russian oligarch in Aspen.
A coveted acre of land on the west side of Aspen Mountain had come under controversy when developer Jeff Gorsuch — second cousin to Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch — submitted an application to rezone and develop the property. Without giving public notice, Vladislav Doronin, a wealthy Russian businessman, purchased the lot on March 4, 2022 for $76 million. The lot last sold for $10 million less than a year earlier.
According to the District Court for Pitkin County complaint, Doronin “amassed a billion-dollar fortune transforming Soviet real estate into office space for Western companies like IBM and Philip Morris." He now builds luxury resorts.
Doronin therefore meets the criteria of an “oligarch,” as typically defined by the dictionary, Travers argues.
A story of local importance, the fate of the Aspen Mountain property had been a regular feature in the Aspen Times.
But Ogden upper management killed two opinion columns about the sale of the Aspen Mountain property after Doronin took issue with being called an oligarch, and sued the newspaper on April 13, 2022 for defamation.
Before taking the position of editor-in-chief, Travers sought assurance that the paper would be allowed to report on Doronin and other business dealings of importance — and that the paper’s legal team would back him up.
Upon taking the helm in June, Travers immediately published the previously killed columns on Doronin and spoke transparently about the censorship efforts. Ogden swiftly fired him.
"Ogden fired Mr. Travers for simply attempting to do his job as a watchdog journalist of one of the richest towns in America, and its billionaire residents,” the lawsuit contends.
Founded in 1890, Ogden Newspapers now owns 40 dailies including several in Colorado.
Founded in 1881, the Aspen Times was purchased by Swift Communications in 1975 and then by Ogden in 2021. The paper famously published resident gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson for decades.
Claiming negligent and intentional misrepresentation, as well as breach of contract and wrongful discharge, Travers asks the court to grant damages and reinstate his employment.
Representatives for the Aspen Times and Ogden Newspapers did not immediately respond to inquiries for comment.