It's Black and It's Proud

In the Black isn't seeing red anymore.

There are many types of niche magazines that might seem to have a shot at thriving in the Denver marketplace -- ones focusing on, say, Broncos worship, sport utility vehicles or constructing a wardrobe exclusively by shopping at Eddie Bauer. Few observers would have expected, though, that a glossy African-American business mag would find an audience in a place known for being home to relatively few African-Americans. And yet somehow, someway, Denver's In the Black recently marked its second anniversary -- and odds are good that it will celebrate more of them in the future.

The quarterly publication's achievements thus far shouldn't be overstated. In the Black remains a fairly modest operation: Its circulation is currently 10,000 per issue, and the entire undertaking is run from a single Five Points office. But according to publisher Ellsworth Grant, the periodical has nearly 1,000 subscribers scattered across the U.S. and distribution via the Anderson News Company that reaches far beyond Colorado.

"We're in stores all over the country now," notes Frances Grant, In the Black's co-publisher (but not, as most folks assume, Ellsworth's wife; they're related by neither marriage nor blood). "We're in seven or eight Barnes & Nobles in Atlanta alone."

Ellsworth Grant and Frances Grant are  In the Black.
Ellsworth Grant and Frances Grant are In the Black.

"And we sell out every issue," Ellsworth interjects, revealing that In the Black's pick-up rate at newsstands is approximately 95 percent, "which is just amazing to us."

Such success in far-flung locales isn't entirely incomprehensible. Although most of its articles spotlight Coloradans, the magazine seldom mentions the state on its cover. Just as important, In the Black looks mighty professional, with eye-catching graphics and quality photography. And because there are few publications like it out there (the best known is New York's Black Enterprise), In the Black is blessed with a reasonably open playing field and a potential readership that's growing at a steady clip, even in Denver.

Admittedly, Ellsworth didn't realize this until fairly recently. A native of the Bahamas, (which helps explain why each issue of In the Black this year has included a travel feature about the islands), he moved to Denver in 1996. While working for MCI, he became associated with the local branch of the National Black MBA Association and was soon put in charge of the group's newsletter. The response he received from the latter convinced him that local African-Americans were ready for a business magazine. But when Ellsworth pitched his scheme to Frances, whom he'd met shortly after his arrival, she was underwhelmed. Having lived in the area for years, she'd watched several previous African-American publications, including Odyssey West, sink like the Lusitania. "We certainly had a lot of discussions about, 'Do we have the population to support this?'" she says.

Ellsworth got a similar response after bouncing the notion off some community leaders. "The feedback was not positive," he concedes. "But that just made it a challenge. I thought, why not?"

As it turns out, there were plenty of reasons -- but the duo avoided many of them by lining up support from US West, Coors and other major corporations, many of which have subsequently used the magazine as recruiting tools to convince African-Americans from outside the region that they won't be completely alone if they relocate here. They also secured the assistance and advice of 5280's Dan Brogan, whose staff put together the first couple of issues.

Frances and Ellsworth have worked hard to build a credible African-American writing staff, gaining contri-butions from commentator Dani Newsum and onetime KDKO sports director Jon Bowman, among others. But they haven't instituted a color line, as demonstrated by their hiring of a Caucasian editor, Nancy Clark.

According to Clark, whose resumé includes stints at a gaggle of defunct publications, including Denver magazine, "They're trying to bring in the best people, period, and I think it shows. The magazine is really maturing."

Nonetheless, the tone of In the Black remains rather homogeneous; most articles are relentlessly positive. In the Fall 1999 offering, a back-page tribute to the late Colorado Secretary of State Vikki Buckley doesn't so much as mention that she was in hot water more often during her political career than the average packet of Ramen noodles. And the Summer 2000 copy (the most recent) is built around profiles (of an IBM administrator, heavy-hitters in the Denver sports business, and so on) that glow like Chernobyl from beginning to end. Granted, several smaller pieces touch on other issues, but they generally steer clear of anything that even hints at controversy. The glass isn't just half full; it's overflowing.

Ellsworth acknowledges that the magazine doesn't have much of an edge at present. "We'd definitely like to do more in-depth kinds of stories," he says.

At the same time, however, Frances believes that In the Black owes much of its popularity to its all-inclusive sunniness. "We see the magazine as a way of creating a community for African-Americans. It's a way of bringing people together."

"And it's also a way of creating role models," Ellsworth goes on. "It's so important to give readers a chance to say, 'This person did it -- and I can, too.'"

He hopes his personal experiences will provide similar inspiration. Right now he envisions In the Black doubling its circulation in the next year, and if the magazine eventually finds a way to balance its local character with national concerns (as well as branching out to include features on other parts of the minority workforce), he sees no reason why things should stop there.

"A lot of people are surprised that something like this is coming out of Denver," he says. "They think it should have come from Chicago or someplace like that. But we're in Colorado -- and we're not alone."

Out of ranger: On March 19, amid considerable ballyhoo, Denver Post head man Glenn Guzzo wrote a "letter from the editor" announcing that he was bringing back the "Rocky Mountain Ranger." The idea, a Post staple from 1950 until the late '80s, called for a reporter to roam the region in search of those tales that everyone else had missed, and Guzzo was clearly high on the man he chose to revive it: Mike Ritchey, a former columnist at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (where Guzzo had also toiled) who'd become a publisher based in Telluride. But what seemed on the surface to be a heavenly match wound up in divorce court mere months later. Ritchey, whose last bit of Ranger-speak ran on July 2, has packed his bags, and Guzzo, who'd promised that his old pal would be writing "romantic stories about the vestiges of the Old West and the urgent stories of the New West, with a special sensitivity for the collision between the two," is currently searching for a replacement.

Guzzo declines to say whether Ritchey jumped or was pushed, and Ritchey didn't return a call seeking comment. But reliable sources say neither side was satisfied with the situation, which makes perfect sense given the mediocrity of the copy Ritchey churned out. His first piece, about a dispute over the Glen Canyon Dam in Arizona, added precious little to the many stories that had previously been written on the topic, and its successors were even lamer. A March 27 effort about Monument Valley, Utah, offered the patently untrue contention that filmmakers hadn't shot movies there since 1973 as a way of honoring the late director John Ford (the Post later printed a correction), and an April 2 report about Bob Dylan's tour of smallish western cities was so staggeringly corny ("It has to be understood that artists, artists who matter, are first and foremost brave") that it should have come with its own cob.

Ritchey never sank so low again, but his dispatches about rural publishers not unlike him (the subject of four separate columns) and other ephemera provoked about as much interest as Darva Conger will twenty years from now. The columns' placement in the paper suggested that editors shared this opinion: By the end, Ritchey's well-intentioned but hackneyed scribblings were being relegated to the pre-print sections that most Posters regard as the newspaper's graveyard.

Even so, Guzzo is actively looking inside and outside the Post for someone new to wear the Ranger badge. "I'm excited about the concept," he says. "I think it adds personality and character to our coverage."

In theory, anyway.

Meanwhile, the proposed joint operating agreement between the Post and the Rocky Mountain News continues to garner support from organized labor; last week, the Post reported that the national office of the Communications Workers of America had urged the Justice Department to give the pact a thumbs-up. But there's some irony in this vote of confidence given a June 30 ruling by the National Labor Relations Board. In a case previously cited in this space ("Look for the Union Label," June 8), the NLRB determined that the Los Angeles Newspaper Group, a property in the portfolio of Post owner Dean "Dinky" Singleton, "was intentionally deceptive and untruthful" in its dealings with a local under the umbrella of (guess who?) the Communications Workers of America. As a result, the Newspaper Group has been ordered to pay 21 sacked workers over two years' worth of back wages.

Of course, Singleton would never do anything like that here. Right?Dialing for answers: The radio shakeup prompted by the divestiture of eight Denver Clear Channel-owned stations ("Clearing the Channels," March 9) was a real bombshell. But because the Federal Communications Commission hasn't signed off on the deals, many of which have yet to be finalized, there's been no explosion yet. A case in point is 96.5 FM/The Peak, which has been peddled twice -- first to Hispanic Broadcasting in a transaction that was later nullified, and later to Indianapolis's Emmis Communications. Peak insiders report that they've been promised no changes before the dawn of 2001, but Joe Schwartz, the outlet's new general manager, won't confirm that, because "nothing's been finalized." He adds, "We're presently doing research to determine any holes in the market, and getting that research done will take a while. So things might stay the way they are until the end of the year -- but they might not."

That clears everything up.

More questions will be raised about a special event planned by Alice, at 105.9 FM: From 5 to 7 p.m. Friday, August 11, at the Rock Bottom Brewery, during the afternoon show helmed by Greg Thunder and Bo Reynolds, fans will get a chance to rub elbows with former Alice morning hosts Frosty Stillwell and Frank Kramer, whose partnership with yakker Jamie White was abruptly severed last year ("White on White," February 3). Alice program director Jim Lawson calls the event "a chance for Alice to give closure to our listeners," adding that there are no plans at this time to bring back the pair, who are now free from a contract binding them to AMFM (Alice's former owner), on a more permanent basis. But if you think that will stop the speculation, I've got a bridge I'd like to sell you.

It's in my mouth right now, but I promise to wash it off.

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