Kevin Kaufman, who poured his passion into leading the Daily Camera in a variety of pivotal roles for a quarter of a century, died Sunday morning at his Louisville home of complications from cancer. He was 62.
Kaufman, known for his tireless work in maintaining the Camera in its role as Boulder County’s paper of record and tenacious watchdog over local governments, most recently held the titles of executive editor at the Camera, as well as the vice president of news operations for Prairie Mountain Media.
“Simply put, Kevin Kaufman walked the Earth to serve his profession and his family. What he accomplished will never be forgotten,” said Albert Manzi, president and CEO of Prairie Mountain Media.
Thad Keyes, who worked his way up from reporter in the late ’70s to serve as managing editor at the Camera from 1997 to 2001 and who is now retired from the news business, said, “I want to say that Kevin was a fighter, but there are some fights where you can’t push back, and this was one of them.”
Kaufman joined the Camera in 1994 as an assistant city editor, subsequently serving for a number of years as its city editor. In 2005 Kaufman was named managing editor, and in November 2006, Manzi appointed him as the newspaper’s executive editor.
He helped steer the newspaper through challenges ranging from adapting to the digital age to directing its coverage of challenging stories including the ouster of controversial University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill and the murder of JonBenet Ramsey, in which the newspaper battled international competition for the latest developments in the case.
More recently, Kaufman spearheaded the development of the Camera’s Boulder offices as a digital design hub where all 13 papers in the Prairie Mountain Media family — as well as the Denver Post, the St. Paul Pioneer- Press and the Boston Herald — are laid out daily.
He did so in the midst of an increasingly harsh business climate that has seen thousands of newspaper jobs — and entire newspapers — disappear from the media landscape as editors and publishers are forced to do ever more with fast-diminishing resources.
“Even after Kevin got sick, he cared about the Camera and the community it serves,” said Julie Vossler-Henderson, central news editor for the Camera. “It was always clear how much he supported and cared about the journalism being done by his staff.”
‘A fierce advocate’
Kaufman’s death came the same day he was announced as recipient of the Keeper of the Flame Award from the Colorado chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, for his contributions to the profession in Boulder and across Colorado.
The Keeper of the Flame Award is given annually by the Colorado SPJ chapter to honor longtime journalists for their contributions to the profession and for leading and mentoring young journalists.
“Kevin has made an immeasurable impact on journalism in Boulder County and Colorado since arriving at the Camera in the mid-’90s … helping train and mold a generation of Colorado journalists,” said Matt Sebastian, former longtime city editor at the Camera and now senior editor for enterprise at the Denver Post.
“Kevin has been a fierce advocate for the public’s right to know, holding public servants accountable and, above all, doing the invaluable job of local journalism.”
Kaufman was a Littleton native, a graduate of Heritage High School, and held a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Colorado State University. He previously worked for the Pekin Daily Times in Pekin, Ill., and the Northwest Colorado Daily Press in Craig. He had also worked in construction and physical therapy, and served in the Navy.
He is survived by his wife, Deanna; two adult daughters, Emily and Molly; and five brothers and sisters.
Manzi called Kaufman the finest editor he had worked with over his 37-year career in media.
“His leadership was felt across all of the 19 publications in Prairie Mountain Media. It was his creativity and vision that helped develop the content sharing that added to the digital and print publications across the company,” Manzi said. “That was especially on display as PMM purchased the Lehman Media Group in 2011.
“While not trained in technology, he became the leader in developing the content and the style of our digital sites, in addition to the newsroom system.”
‘Salty journalist’s journalist’
Some staff members from the Daily Camera gathered for a photo on the last night the paper was headquartered at its Pearl Street location in downtown Boulder in January 2011. Executive Editor Kevin Kaufman, standing third from left, died Sunday at 62 of complications from cancer at his Louisville home. (Courtesy photo)
Keyes said he wanted Camera readers to know how hard Kaufman fought to continue to deliver them a quality product at a time when global market forces make doing so an increasingly tougher challenge.
“I don’t think most readers think about their local paper as someone fighting for them, but he fought for them. He was fighting each year, with a more and more slender budget to keep hiring quality people into that newsroom, and to produce a quality paper for people here in Boulder County,” Keyes said.
And he recalled Kaufman’s low tolerance for the empty posturing of the powerful.
“Kevin absolutely abhorred bullshit,” Keyes said. “He abhorred bullshit, and what he called ‘blather,’ usually in reference to politicians. I must have heard the word ‘blather’ from him a thousand times, with great gusto in his voice and a smile on his face. But he knew it when he heard it.”
Elizabeth Clark spent 15 years at the Camera, the first few as a reporter, and another dozen or so as deputy city editor.
“I would say that from Kevin I learned pretty much everything I know about what it means to be a good journalist but also a good leader,” said Clark, now a background investigator for the federal government.
She noted that Kaufman “took a little bit of pride, I think, in being a salty journalist’s journalist, but that he had a softer side, a level of compassion that spoke to his belief that the newsroom was family.”
That was highlighted, she said, in the wake of the sudden death of Camera reporter Chris Anderson, who was killed by lightning while on vacation in 2001.
“He didn’t want anyone to have to write that very difficult obituary, so he compiled anecdotes from around the newsroom, and wrote it himself and made sure that anyone who needed to not be there at work, didn’t have to be there,” Clark said.
“He was always the first person I went to, when I was having trouble with the work-life balance and needed a little guidance and support.”
Sue Deans worked with Kaufman about four years, during her time as Camera editor from 2003 to 2007, her second stint at the paper.
“No matter what time I got there in the morning, he was already there,” Deans said, “And often when I left in the evening, he was still there. And I worked pretty long hours, myself.”
But for Kaufman, there was another dominant drive in his life; his family.
“He was so proud of his daughters. He was crazy about his daughters,” Deans said.
Keyes said the same thing.
“Beyond the newspaper stuff, beyond what a terrific editor he was… first and foremost, he loved his family. He absolutely adored his girls, and Deanna.”
‘A gift of enthusiasm’
Sebastian, the former Camera city editor, spent about 20 years of his career working under Kaufman.
“Kevin was a fighter, a fighter for truth, for journalism, for keeping Boulder County informed — and its leaders accountable — even as an increasingly heartless news industry has made that harder and harder to do,” said Sebastian, who noted that Kaufman was forceful and direct; his employees always knew where they stood with him.
Sebastian said as he tries to mentor journalists, much of what he seeks to impart comes from what he learned from Kaufman — lessons in listening, questioning everything and being firm in what one believed
“One of the things he and I talked about most often, even as the industry turned grim, was just how fun journalism can be. The rush of beating deadline, the thrill of breaking news, the complete uncertainty of what any given day will bring,” Sebastian said.
“Kevin loved being a journalist, and he gifted that enthusiasm to a generation of journalists who passed through the Daily Camera’s newsroom.”
Kaufman will be long remembered by his staff and colleagues as a staunch cheerleader, who used a direct and personal approach with everyone from other top-ranking editors down to the countless callow interns who passed through the news operation over his many years in charge.
His management style of being both supportive and down to Earth in the manner with which he cheered on his staff was captured best by the two short words that ended hundreds of his emailed missives over the years to his troops:
Charlie Brennan: 303-473-1327, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/chasbrennan