When on Rome...

A syndicated sports talker and a local station run afoul of the Colorado Rockies PR department.

"There's no question that people in Colorado will be hurt tremendously by a JOA," he goes on, "and I'm amazed, having known a number of people in newspapering in Colorado from teaching there, that we haven't heard from more heads-up publishers, ethical editors and community organizations. If these guys don't recognize what is about to happen to them, then God doesn't believe in Vaseline."Letters, we get letters: As was reported by the Associated Press earlier this month (and on July 16 in the Denver Post), Larry Burrough, a onetime reporter for the Rocky Mountain News who most recently served as deputy editor of the Orange County Register, has been named managing editor of the news operation at the Post; he'll be at his new desk beginning in mid-August. But while the AP blurb didn't mention that Burrough has a two-year-old son whose middle name is Hawk, Post editor Glenn Guzzo did so not once, but twice -- first in a June 30 memo to his staff, and later, in a July 3 e-mail to a couple of heavy hitters in the Denver Native American community.

Why might this seemingly mundane fact matter so much? For some context, flash back with us now to October 28 of last year, when Post columnist Diane Carman criticized Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell in a column that concluded with the line "A pimp's a pimp, after all, even if he looks good in a headdress." The comment enraged David Cournoyer, director of public education for the American Indian College Fund, who led a call for the newspaper to apologize. On December 12, he got his wish in a manner that dumbfounded many veteran journalists: Instead of a straightforward apology presented in a news context, the Post devoted a full page to an adlike letter to readers signed by Post president and publisher Gerald Grilly. In it, Grilly said the pimp reference "crossed a line of insensitivity that is uncharacteristic of this newspaper's coverage and its many deep roots in Colorado," adding, "We are sorry for offending, for insulting. We are determined to prevent this episode from dividing our community, and to prevent it from damaging excellent relationships that have taken generations to establish" ("Live From Denver -- Almost," December 16, 1999). Around this same period, Post higher-ups met with Cournoyer, who urged them to hire more Native Americans.

Cut to Guzzo's late-June memo, in which the editor noted that Burrough is a member of the Native American Journalist Association, had a grandfather who was Blackfoot Indian, and gave his son Max the "Hawk" moniker. Guzzo went into even more detail in his e-mail to Cournoyer and Dee St. Cyr, who was also part of the Carman protest, revealing that he intended to groom Burrough as his successor "should that ever be needed," and divulging that Max answers to "Little Hawk." (Given that Post staffers have long had a love of nicknames, expect Burrough to become "Big Hawk" before long.) In addition, Guzzo wrote that "other journalists who started work at the Post this month include an Asian assistant city editor (Helen Hu), an Asian photographer (Glenn Asakawa) and an African-American reporter (Karen Rouse), as well as several minority interns who are making strong impressions here."

When asked about the memo and the e-mail, Guzzo emphasized that Burrough's credentials (he helped oversee the winner of the investigative-reporting Pulitzer Prize for 1996 --misidentified as 1997 in the Post piece) were the primary reason for the appointment, not his ancestry. "He was hired for his skills," he says, "and it's an added advantage that he helps us diversify our newsroom." (He rejected any taint of tokenism in regard to the other new staffers as well.) But Guzzo acknowledges that the discussions with Cournoyer have had an influence on the paper's hiring policies.

"We want to diversify in terms of gender as well as race -- and not only in hiring, but also in content," he notes. "But we're not doing it because it's the morally right thing to do. This is about being a better newspaper, because we'll have a newsroom where backgrounds are more complete and more representative of all our readers."

Cournoyer, for his part, sees Burrough's hiring as "a step in the right direction." Which means Grilly may be able to give those full-page apologies a rest for a while.

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