Littwin: It’s time for me to move on, but that doesn’t mean I’m going away

Mike Littwin in 1973 when he was working for now-defunct Times-Herald in Newport News, Virginia. Littwin is leaving The Indy after seven years to join The Colorado Sun. (Photo courtesy of Mike)
Mike Littwin in 1973 when he was working for now-defunct Times-Herald in Newport News, Virginia. Littwin is leaving The Indy after seven years to join The Colorado Sun. (Photo courtesy of Mike)

You say hello, and I say goodbye — Lennon-McCartney, but mostly Paul and not enough John.

 I’ve got news, and so I’ll just spit it out. This is, sadly, my last column for The Colorado Independent. But it’s also, happily, my first column for The Colorado Sun.

 My column will appear in The Sun every Wednesday and Sunday, 900 words worth or as many as I can get away with. And, thanks to the generosity of my new team, you’ll still be able to come to the Indy to find my column through the summer. Same Littwin column. Same irreverent take on Colorado and the world.

 I’m gone. I’m back. It’s a weird world, but you already knew that.

 But first an explanation. I’m leaving the Indy’s employ after seven years because my bosses, Susan Greene and Tina Griego, are going in what we call “a different direction,” which is great for them, great for Colorado, great for journalism, but not so great for me. They are out to help save local journalism in Colorado (they’d never use the word “save” — that’s my take, which I’ll explain in a bit). My mission — as I like to think of it — is not exactly to save the world, but to offer a twice-weekly alternative vision to the surreal one we’re stuck with today.

 As it turned out, this job search would be the easiest of my career. The Sun was clearly the best place, as LeBron would say, to take my talents. So I called Sun Editor Larry Ryckman to ask if he might be interested in me joining his team. He said he was, and here we are.

 As many of you already know, The Sun is among the leaders in the new online approach to cover local and state news, and one whose success has national implications. They (I mean, we) are regularly producing the kinds of stories that no one else in the state is doing — and producing them at a remarkably high level. It’s going to be an exciting place to work and one that may well change the course of journalism in Colorado. I’m all in.

 But fortunately for me in this new world, my new boss doesn’t want me to change much at all. He wants me to write the column in much the same way I did it at the Indy, which is much the same way I did it at the Post, which is the much the same way I did it at the Rocky, which is much the same way I did it at the Baltimore Sun, which is much the same way I did it at the LA Times. I could go back even further (my first job was covering the Virginia Squires and Dr. J in the old ABA), but, for those keeping score, I’ve been at this for a long, long time — working, in various iterations, as a sports columnist, news columnist, features columnist, op-ed columnist, everything but a men’s-fashion columnist. 

 If you want an idea of how long I’ve been doing this, the earliest mention of Donald Trump I could find in one of my columns was at the Baltimore Sun in 1986. Presciently, I called him a possible “threat to democracy.”

 Writing a column is a strange job. It’s unlike any other in journalism. You must have the gall to believe that your opinion is important enough or smart enough or entertaining enough to share multiple times a week and that other people should actually read it. It’s a humbling job or would be if hubris wasn’t always getting in the way. Columnists inevitably get too much credit and they get too much blame. The hard and important work in journalism is done by the reporters who cover and uncover the news, watchdog the politicians, break new stories. I know. Long ago, I used to be one.

 The best columns are like conversations, in which the writer and the reader agree to pretend they’re talking to each other on, say, a barstool (if, yeah, the bars ever open again). And to tell you the truth, after all these years, I still get a great kick out of the idea that there are people who start their day — or, in cyberworld, start any time of the day — reading and/or arguing about the column. 

 But if I’m excited to start at The Sun, I’m heartbroken to leave the Indy. The Indy was not just another job for me. Susan saved my life, or my career anyway, although I have too often confused the two. I was laid off at the Post in an illuminating, if by now all too familiar, story of journalism today. Editor Greg Moore invited me out to dinner to inform me the Post was being forced to take $500,000 in salary off the books immediately and that my salary (although not exactly approaching $500K) was a necessary starting point.

 For me, it meant the first time being without a newspaper job since I was 17, having to prove to the unemployment people that newspaper columnists aren’t fit for any other job, dealing with the shock of COBRA health care costs and living through a wilderness year trying to figure out what to do next.

 Susan, who had recently taken over the editor’s job at the Indy, approached me about working with her. We’re good friends, and we had worked at the Post together — as have most of my new Sun colleagues — and she had an idea for a different brand of independent-minded, nonprofit Colorado journalism. I jumped at the chance to write my column again. 

 The journalism worked. We developed what I like to think of as a cult following, but, in the end, Susan and Tina built on the Indy’s foundation to form an innovative way of renewing journalism around the state, in collaboration with the Colorado Press Association and The Colorado Media Project. They will take their talents on the road, working with small and midsize papers to help produce great stories as well as to help grow the potential for undersized but eager staffs.

 In my view, the best thing about this project is that Greene and Griego, two of the finest writer-reporters in the business, will be unleashed to write and report again. I can’t wait to see it. To get a taste of what’s to come, here’s Susan’s award-winning collaboration with the Rio Blanco Herald Times, in a story of mental illness, a police shooting and the inevitable coverup.

 And while my old bosses explore new frontiers, I am able to mine the same vein I’ve been working all my adult life, one that has allowed me to travel the state, the country and the world, cover Super Bowls and presidential campaigns, wars (from a safe distance) and terrorism (from up close), riots and wildfires, mass shootings (sadly a Colorado phenomenon) and undocumented immigrants (now essential workers), movies and books, politics and baseball, the tragic and the hilarious, but mostly human life both at its finest and and its most raw.

 I’m thrilled that The Colorado Sun has given me the opportunity to continue. See you Wednesday.

21 COMMENTS

  1. Gee, Mike, given the picture they used for this column, perhaps you ought to try out being a men’s fashion columnist — the hair part, anyway.

    Thank heavens you’re moving to the Sun. Your quite sensible (well, mostly) takes on both national and Colorado politics are needed in these weird times.

    Best of luck at your new venue!

  2. Good Luck to you, Mike! I’ve read your columns since your Rocky days. I already subscribe to the Sun, so I am looking forward to seeing your brilliant work there in the future.

    • Davebarnes, You can still comment on my facebook page, where all my columns run. The conversations get quite, um, lively.

      • And I join davebarnes in not “doing” Facebook — except for VERY small pursuits to try to keep up with a few relatives.

        I hope you will become an advocate for a comment feature at The Sun. Perhaps add it as a “subscriber” benefit, and limit each subscriber to some small number per day.

  3. Congrats, Mike!

    I look forward to continuing to read your biting, irreverent column at The Sun.

    I am a longtime reader of yours, and, as a former journalist — I didn’t have the cushy job of columnist ;-) — and current journalism professor at DU, I am glad to hear the good news about the Indy, you, The Colorado Sun, and local journalism.

    See you in your “next”, “sunny” life ;-)

    —Christof D-H

  4. Good for you Mike. I will certainly subscribe to the Colorado Sun now. I so enjoyed your columns at the Indy as I love your sense of humor. I’m so happy you are continuing to put out columns and the Sun really seems like a really good “newspaper”. Once I read your column (just last year), I was hooked on Indy. Yes, I am a newbie to these online papers. I wonder if Frank from Franktown comments on your facebook page as he is an interesting person. I don’t agree with his comments, but I sure do marvel at his arguments. Look forward to your next column at the Sun on Wednesdays. Thanks for all your hard work.

    -Nancy G.

  5. Have been reading the Sun’s coverage of the pandemic here in Colorado. What a pleasant surprise… genuine investigative reporting is still alive in a mainstream paper. Good for you landing there and how weirdly Colorado – a truly liberal paper in the heart of Christian-Fundamental Land… Best wishes… Rob P.

  6. Ye gods, Mr. Littwin, don’t scare me like that! That lead of “my last column” and I was already pulling the Kleenex. Oh dear God, he caught the plague and the Last Boomer writing the end of the world is not going to be here to cheer me up and keep me hopeful that journalism will survive the Orange Nero and on and on….. before the next sentence and RELIEF!!! I’m thinking of a small newspaper that won a Pulitzer and got weekly letters from grateful readers like me who are so happy to know I’m not alone! You deserve that Pulitzer! Now I’m going to donate a very modest sum to prove my gratitude. And then I’ll post this Penultimate Hurrah on Facebook so my friends in Wisconsin and Illinois and Maine can breathe again. Then I’ll print it out for my email collection–if it’s not on paper, it disappears. Thanks for the Keep Truckin’ attitude.

  7. Great to hear you are only migrating a bit, and going to another outlet I already support with a modest contribution. Perhaps you can prevail upon your new site to develop a search engine that will allow looking back to the multiple previous locations of your work.

    • Bummer is how hard it is to find Mike’s Rocky columns. They are available through Denver Public Library, but not easy to access online.

  8. That headline had me going! 🤬 Glad to see you will still be around in an accessible format, and since I already subscribe to the Sun, it won’t cost me any more to continue to read your column.

  9. Even though I seldom agree with you iin the political spectrum, I do enjoy reading your columns and I especially enjoy reading the comments. Sad to hear that the Sun doesn’t allow them so I guess I’m gonna have to get on your facebook page (to which I just sent a friend request.) Hopefully, the same group of thoughtful (and thoughtless) commenters will continue there…

    You and I are about the same age, I think although you have more hair than I do!

    Sincere wishes for continued success!

  10. I very much enjoyed your column.and will miss it. Local CO news is not a high priority here in western. WA.

  11. First the coronavirus, now this! Two historic, monumental, earth-shaking events that will change forever the course of mankind.

    OK, well at least one will.

    As a long-time and loyal reader I’m concerned that Mr. Littwin’s move to the Colorado Sun might be a mistake and I’m sure Mr. Littwin, as a former sportswriter, will forgive and even appreciate my unsolicited, self-serving, clueless advice and second-guessing.

    According to Wikipedia the Colorado Sun’s initial funding will expire in four months: “The Colorado Sun was initially started (on September 1, 2018)…….with two years of initial funding,” After that funding expires The Colorado Sun “plans to be supported by subscriptions and donations.”

    With over 450,000 Coloradans (and counting) currently unemployed because of the Wuhan virus pandemic the ability to attract and keep subscribers/donors is dubious and even Axios.com is reporting the media outlook is not promising, “ The pandemic is forcing dozens of major media companies, including newer, digitally-native media companies, to carry out layoffs and pay cuts.”

    And here from the Colorado Sun’s Ethics Policy is yet another indication that the Sun might not be a good fit for Mr Littwin, “We seek out, listen to and quote diverse voices.” Voices of those who are, well, not Democrats.

    There is another potential problem: A January 23, 2020 picture of the Colorado Sun staff indicates (and there’s no nice way to say this) a total lack of diversity. I know how important diversity is to Mr. Littwin and how bitterly disappointed he was at the outcome of the race for the 2020 Democrat presidential nomination, “We know the Democrats, the party of diversity, are left with two old white guys.” 

    It would be a shame for Mr. Littwin to have to say another goodbye in less than six months knowing in advance there were obstacles.

    So, how about Westword? It has been “the independent voice of Denver since 1977”. It has a forty-one year head start on the Sun. Or how about a podcast?

    You’re welcome.

    • Mr. Lopez, thanks so much for your concern. Let me see if I can address the issues you raised. I love working at a place featuring diverse voices. My favorite place to work in Denver — and maybe in my entire career — was at the Rocky, where the editorial page editor was my good friend, Vincent Carroll, whose editorial page was decidedly to the right and for whom I worked when I was still writing a sports column. When I joined the editorial pages at the Denver Post, the editor was my friend Dan Haley, not exactly a liberal. Three of my colleagues on the Post editorial page were Carroll, David Harsanyi and Chuck Plunkett. You may remember at the Indy where I put together my panel of electoral experts, I chose diverse voices — two Dems and two Republicans. As for Westword, like much of the alternative press, it has serious economic issues, which I hope they overcome. You can’t make a living doing a podcast. I agree about the diversity issue at the Sun. Sadly, it has been an issue at every paper I’ve worked for. The Sun drew its workers from the Post, which has the same problem. As for the Sun’s economic health, I have no inside information. But I suspect they wouldn’t have hired me if they thought they were going out of business. My guess is that the Sun’s future may well be brighter than the Post’s — a low bar, but, as you know, these are tough times in the local journalism world.

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