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Small town newspaper wins court fight with politicians who didn't like critical coverage

This week, the county settled with the Wet Mountain Tribune, reinstating it as the paper-of-record for the next four years.

CUSTER COUNTY, Colo. — Custer County's elected leaders may not like working with their small-town paper, but they've got no choice. At least for the next four years.

The Wet Mountain Tribune settled a lawsuit with the county over a lost bid that the paper said was retribution for critical reporting.

Earlier this year, the Tribune lost a bid to print legal notices for the town of Westcliffe. despite having a higher circulation than their only competitor.

County commissioners voted 2-to-1 against the Tribune, saying they didn't want to support the paper because it "didn't support the county."

Jordan Hedberg, the owner and publisher of the Tribune,  filed a lawsuit that said the vote retribution was for their reporting on the county's public health director.

This week, the county settled with the Tribune, reinstating it as the paper-of-record for the next four years. 

Hedberg said he hopes the settlement sends a message about the role of local journalism.

"There's been a lot of case law in the United States Supreme Court, even in the Colorado Supreme Court, that says governments can't retaliate against newspapers for what for honest and accurate reporting," he said. "This is us just making a stance. And even though we're a tiny little newspaper, we are going to go to the courts and the courts upheld our First Amendment rights both as an individual as myself, but also as a newspaper publication."

Hedberg said the lawsuit and settlement won't affect the paper's reporting on government leaders.

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