The Message

At 3 a.m., KOA's Rick Barber is the only game in town.

In addition to several Columbine-related articles in the main body of the paper, the Rocky Mountain News presented "Hope From Heartbreak," a sixteen-page special section (a contest entry for next year, perhaps?) dominated by moist-eyed profiles notable primarily for their redundancy, and a Sunday Spotlight in which each of the publication's critics contributed a thumbsucker on the "culture of violence." The latter project, a throwback to the days immediately following the shootings when some observers were seriously trying to blame the whole thing on Marilyn Manson, even forced classical-music scribe Marc Shulgold to drag out Adolf Hitler's admiration for Richard Wagner one more time. The poor guy deserves combat pay.

Meanwhile, the Denver Post, apparently emboldened by its recent breaking-news Pulitzer prize, actually wrote more about Columbine than the News -- a fairly startling turn of events. Front and center was the Post's own sixteen- page Columbine special section, "Voices of Columbine," which featured one of the worst layouts in modern newspapering history and a brand-new Columbine logo (betcha the folks at Jeffco schools are pissed that the Post isn't using the one they created). Moreover, the editors managed to get a Columbine piece (with logo affixed) onto the first page of virtually every segment of the paper: the main section, Denver and the West, Business, Lifestyles, Perspective, the Scene, even Sports (untold thousands are no doubt grateful to writer Jim Armstrong for revealing Denver Broncos media-relations director Jim Saccomano's take on the tragedy). Too bad they failed to get something on the Travel opener -- maybe about how Columbine students love to shout obscenities at goggle-eyed tourists who are still stopping by the school.

Of course, this blanket coverage might have been less suffocating had it contained something new. Unfortunately, the papers merely offered rehashes of tales that have been told over and over again during the past year. Get ready for more of the same.

Night moves: KOA's Rick Barber keeps the third shift hopping.
Susan Goldstein
Night moves: KOA's Rick Barber keeps the third shift hopping.

On April 15, Channel 31 finally relocated to its posh new facility at the intersection of Speer and Lincoln, a mere three weeks after its initial announced date for doing so. The day before the move, it was obvious the folks at Fox were serious this time; dialing the main number prompted a message revealing that the line would be out of service until the next Monday. Lucky thing the news operation, which is set to debut this summer, wasn't up and running yet, or else they would have had to put the whole world on hold.

Nonetheless, the timing of Fox's impending entry into the Denver news market is looking mighty fortuitous, if only because Channel 9, the longtime ratings frontrunner, seems more vulnerable than it has in ages. The departure of sportscaster Ron Zappolo, recently hired as the main anchor at Fox, has sucked much of the life out of 9's broadcast (pretty face Tony Zarrella, Zappolo's replacement, is also pretty vacant), and the reporting staff seems equally listless without the contributions of its longtime theatrical spark plug, Phil Keating.

A veteran of almost ten years at Channel 9, where he landed after gigs in Georgia, Washington and Ohio, Keating understands his talents very well. "My personality isn't the typical just-give-me-the-facts-ma'am personality that a lot of journalism schools produce," he says. Indeed, he actually considered ditching straight news for showbiz reporting along the lines of Entertainment Tonight following the expiration of his contract with Channel 9 and the strong implication that the station wasn't interested in significantly broadening his role there. But after a six-month search for intriguing opportunities came up dry, he received an offer from Channel 31 that fit the bill: anchoring the weekend broadcasts in addition to reporting three days a week. "It was perfect," he says. "Now I'll still be able to go out in the field and cover stories, but I'll also be able to utilize my personality as an anchor."

Keating is careful not to rip Channel 9: "My time there was very productive for my career," he says. But in talking about his excitement over his new post, he gives yet another indication that Channel 31 may be planning to buck the conservatism characteristic of Denver television.

"It's a good fit," he points out. "I've been wanting to work for Fox for years, because their style is much hipper and less stuffy than traditional TV news. And that's a good thing."

Channel 4's Vic Lombardi, the subject of last week's column, loves the cable sports channel ESPN but turned down the opportunity to join the team. But Denver Post sports editor Neal Scarbrough didn't give the operation the brush: He's been hired as football editor by the channel's print equivalent, ESPN: The Magazine.

Scarbrough's star has been on the rise for quite some time; ESPN: The Magazine romanced him two years ago, but he turned down the offer because he'd just arrived at the Post. More recently, Sports Illustrated dangled a senior-editor post in front of him, and when word got out that he was considering the proposal, ESPN contacted him again and won his services because of the multimedia opportunities it offered. "Since I'll be doing the NFL, which is what ESPN has the biggest stake in, I wanted to make sure I could be involved on the dot-com and TV network fronts," he says.

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