Media, Printing & Graphics  May 31, 2024

Amundson to retire from BizWest after 51 years in journalism

LOVELAND – He’ll still be writing and still be involved in his community. But after 51 years of meeting daily news deadlines, including a decade at BizWest, Managing Editor Ken Amundson is easing into retirement.

BizWest reporter Lucas High moves into the position in June, but his predecessor will remain busy.

“I have some stories I want to tell, some very personal stories,” Amundson said. “I’ve got a book that’s largely written. I’ve got a couple of biographies that I want to work on. I’ve got a crime story that needs to be told in the form of a book.”

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BizWest co-owners and publishers Jeff Nuttall and Christopher Wood were united in their praise of Amundson’s work.

Ken Amundson
Ken Amundson

“Ken Amundson has been a consummate professional through the years, always responsive and thorough in his communication, both internally at BizWest and externally via his award-winning stories, as well as his reputation in the marketplace,” Nuttall said. “He will be sorely missed at BizWest and in the community.”

“Over more than 51 years, Ken has built a legacy of journalistic excellence that is remarkable,” added Wood. “Citizens in Colorado and elsewhere have benefited from his tireless promotion of open government and community journalism. He will continue to inspire long after he files his last story.”

A Minnesota native and an honor student in high school, Amundson was prodded into journalism by teachers and counselors who urged him to seize on his proficiency in English and writing.

Southwest Minnesota State University “didn’t have a journalism program, but it had a college newspaper, The Impact, and its adviser became one of my mentors,” Amundson said. “He worked at a Minneapolis daily newspaper and was from a newspaper family, so I learned a lot about deadlines from him.”

After becoming editor of The Impact as a freshman, then eight years of writing sports and community news at the Marshall Independent in his college’s town, his destiny in the news business was set, he said, “and I never looked back.

“I started out in community journalism, and I’ve always declared myself a community journalist, which I define as someone who lives in the community covered, experiences all the things that are happening around in that community, sees the same issues as everybody else in that community and writes stories about them and helps find solutions to those issues,” Amundson said. “That’s the type of job I’ve tried to do my entire career. That might have been done through news stories, through writing editorials, and trying to be a leadership voice in the community. That’s where I’ve been my whole career, and that hasn’t changed.

“One of the things that kept me going in the business was the impact that you could have on the lives of people that you wrote about.”

The pounding of manual typewriter keys made newsrooms noisy places in those days, he said, “but the paper’s capital correspondent would call from St. Paul and ask for me because I was a fast typist” and could easily take dictation.

Front-end computer systems were just beginning to creep into newsrooms in the 1970s, and even though Amundson had no experience with computers, he took on a leadership role in installing the technology at the Independent. “I ended up having to be a technician as well as a journalist,” he said, “because when the system would go down, somebody had to fix it, and no one else was there.”

At an American Press Institute seminar, Amundson met Steve Kent, who was editor at the daily  newspaper in Yakima, Washington, as nearby Mount St. Helens rumbled to life. On May 18, 1980, the day of the volcano’s cataclysmic eruption, Kent was airborne on the way to Iowa and a new job at the helm of the Dubuque Telegraph-Herald.

“I called to congratulate him,” Amundson said, “and he said he had an opening there as regional editor. So I did that for a while,” starting in 1981, “and after the city editor left I took that job, and it was the best management experience I ever had.”

After six years in Dubuque, Amundson said, “I got a call from Bob Rummel, who had been my boss in Minnesota. He had moved out to Loveland and had been promoted to editor and general manager of the Loveland Reporter-Herald.”

So began Amundson’s 25-year association with the Lehman family’s publishing empire, which included Loveland as well as the Longmont Times-Call, Cañon City Daily Record and community newspapers. He spent 10 years as managing editor in Loveland, eight as Ed Lehman’s assistant in Longmont, a year as general manager in Longmont before returning to the Reporter-Herald as editor and general manager when Rummel retired.

“I’ve known Bob for 50 of my 51 years in the business,” Amundson said. “He’s been an incredible mentor for me over the years, almost always very calm but very apologetic when he’d lose his cool. He challenged me to be the best I could be and allowed me to be active in the industry.”

That activity included involvement in the Colorado Press Association, where he served a term as president and another as board chairman. 

Amundson included the Lehmans when he said a high point of his career has been “getting to work with some newspaper families that understood community journalism. As today’s newspapers attempt to re-establish this connection with communities, they could learn a lot from what some of these families have done over the years. They’re very much embedded in the community, understanding the problems, writing about the problems, helping the community move past them. That’s the job.”

Amundson’s first experience with the business journals owned by Nuttall and Wood was as a direct competitor.

“The Lehmans decided to start a business journal called Today’s Business,” he said. “It was a beautiful publication that started the same day as Jeff’s and Chris’ Northern Colorado Business Report, as well as another journal in Larimer County. That last one only lasted three months, so NCBR and Today’s Business slugged it out for two or three years. By all rights, Today’s Business should have won because the Lehmans had far deeper pockets than Jeff and Chris, but Jeff and Chris had the expertise. So their business plan finally won out, and finally Today’s Business folded.

“NCBR (later) agreed to be printed at Lehman Communications, and still is.”

In May 2011, shortly after Lehman Communications was purchased by Prairie Mountain Publishing Co., Amundson left Loveland to spend two years overseeing newspaper publishing operations for Ballantine Communications Corp., the Durango-based operator of newspapers, telephone directories and digital services in southwest Colorado and New Mexico. When Publisher Richard Ballantine retired and a new CEO wanted his own team, Amundson returned to Loveland, where he and his wife, JoEllen, owned a dual-branded Curves and Jenny Craig health and fitness facility from October 2007 to May 2023.

In spring 2014, Nuttall and Wood merged NCBR with the Boulder County Business Report to create BizWest and hired Amundson to fill a new position, vice president for operations.

“They had big plans for various things to happen, but the company really wasn’t big enough for someone as head of operations because Jeff and Chris are very hands-on, and they very quickly realized there was probably something better I could be doing,” Amundson said. “I did sales for a year and then started working in news again,” becoming managing editor and assisting in the sale of the Wyoming Business Report, which has just discontinued its print edition and now publishes only online.

“I would hope that BizWest’s printed product continues on, because there is something about seeing ink on paper. It’s real,” Amundson said, “but I know people’s habits change. The challenge is maintaining the audience in whatever delivery system you have.”

The rise of online news “can be good if savvy readers can align themselves with publications that are legitimate and worthy of their attention,” Amundson said, “but there’s so much crap out there and people aren’t very discerning sometimes. It’s a little scary, because what they want to believe is not necessarily what is true. Having a broader base of information is important, and we’re losing it.”

During his time at the Reporter-Herald, he said, the newspaper had a peak print circulation of 17,500, multiplied by a 2.5 “pass-along rate,” which referred to the average number of people to which each newspaper was passed along. “Now, its print circulation is less than 5,000, and Loveland is 75,000 people,” Amundson said. “Where are people getting information? They’re getting it from sources that are not necessarily legitimate.”

That’s why he’s happy that he finished his daily news career at a business-targeted publication such as BizWest.

“One of the great attributes of business journals is data,” Amundson said. “We spend a lot of time digging into the data that the general-circulation newspaper doesn’t. So we have hard information behind the stories we’re writing, and that’s something society needs in all sectors, not just business.”

Amundson said one of the things he’ll miss most is “the sense of obligation of telling the story, letting people know what’s really happening. Sometimes it overwhelms me when there aren’t enough hours in the day to do it, and there aren’t enough people left in this business to do it. I feel this obligation to keep working and keep churning things out when it’s physically impossible to do it. So at some point you walk away from it, and that’s sort of what I’m doing at this point.”

How does he hope to be remembered?

“I would hope that people would say that I remained true to the principles of the industry and maintained objective, accurate reporting throughout my career,” Amundson said, “even though sometimes it could be extremely difficult if you were dealing with something close to you personally.”

Read Ken’s columns reflecting on his career:

Amundson: Career focused on community journalism

Amundson: Truth stranger than fiction

Amundson: Collaborative journalism: A joint effort to protect a community

Amundson: Not always what it seems

Amundson: Stories some don’t want told

Amundson: Local events take a toll

Dallas Heltzell
With BizWest since 2012 and in Colorado since 1979, Dallas worked at the Longmont Times-Call, Colorado Springs Gazette, Denver Post and Public News Service. A Missouri native and Mizzou School of Journalism grad, Dallas started as a sports writer and outdoor columnist at the St. Charles (Mo.) Banner-News, then went to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch before fleeing the heat and humidity for the Rockies. He especially loves covering our mountain communities.
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