A Failure to Communicate

Is the media to blame for Tom Sanchez's dismissal?

Apparently, Sanchez wasn't overwhelmed by gratitude for this gesture. After his return to Denver, he refused to be interviewed by Maass or anyone else at Channel 4. When Channel 4 news director Angie Kucharski complained about this to Hudson, he told her that Maass could have interviewed Sanchez at the airport. But that wouldn't have been the right thing to do, Kucharski says: "At that point in our fact-gathering, our objective was simply to gather information and not necessarily do anything that would alter or change the course of action in the story."

The focus of the tale now is on the selection of Sanchez's replacement, which is expected next week. Political maneuvering within the police department is already at a fever pitch. "We're getting anonymous memos, anonymous phone calls about this candidate or that candidate and something or other they're allegedly involved in," Hudson says. "It's just really, really sad."

Predictably, Hudson won't say who the mayor favors. But he hopes the winner has an abundance of the communication skills that Sanchez lacked. "You have to be able to effectively, proactively promote your organization," he says. "You've got to be able to tell the good stories and have relationships with members of the press that help you do it. And if you can provide accurate information and be as up front as you can with reporters, you can avoid a lot of the rumors and speculations and negative stories. That's just common sense."

Former PIO Wyckoff says that Mayor Webb's use of these techniques is a big reason he has survived so long and so well in this town: "The mayor realizes that there has to be give and take with the media, and he knows you can't close down those doors of communication." Good timing doesn't hurt, either. On February 14, when the news broke that two Columbine students had been shot to death at a Subway restaurant just blocks from the school, Webb already had a press event planned for that afternoon decrying "the death toll" of gun violence since the Columbine massacre.

The local media seems to prefer such savvy over cold shoulders. To a person, the journalists contacted by Westword said that they didn't want to have an adversarial relationship with the Denver Police Department -- but neither do they want to make do with the bare scraps of information they've been handed of late.

"There are a lot of things the mayor is going to want in a police chief," says the News's Ensslin, "and I hope one of them is that whoever it is will be able to communicate well. It's not the most important thing, but it is important."

Adds Wyckoff, "The only way people can hear about all the good things we do is through the media. And when you shut off communications, it's kind of like driving a nail in your own coffin."

Have comments, tips or complaints about the media? E-mail "The Message" at Michael_Roberts@westword.com.

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