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Dave Minshall doesn't get recognized on the street all that often these days, even though he spent well over two decades as a featured journalist on Denver television. But once a day or so, he says, someone will approach him and ask, "Didn't you used to be...?" His stock answer: "I'm a reporter in remission. I'm not retired; I'm just tired."
Minshall intends this remark to seem humorous, but on a basic level, he's deadly serious. On March 10, 1997, he was told that his contract would not be renewed by his supervisors at Channel 7, where he'd worked since 1982, for reasons that he contends had nothing to do with "performance issues" and "work habits," as the station's then-news director, Melissa Klinzing, told the Denver Post, and everything to do with the 53 years he'd spent on the planet. So Minshall filed an age-discrimination lawsuit against the station, and ever since, he's been fighting for his day in court in the face of what he sees as delaying tactics on the part of McGraw-Hill, Channel 7's parent company. "They try to starve you out," he charges.
But the waiting game is finally nearing its end. In March, U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch shrugged off dismissal requests from McGraw-Hill, thus allowing the case to proceed. A pretrial conference is set for May 16, and David Lane, Minshall's attorney, expects a jury to start hearing testimony before summer is out.
A spokesman for Littler Mendelson, the law firm representing McGraw-Hill in the Minshall matter, offered no comment regarding the suit, and Klinzing, now the news director of KYW-TV, a CBS affiliate in Philadelphia, did not return a call seeking an interview. As for Cindy Velasquez, Channel 7's vice president and general manager, she was not employed by the station at the time of Minshall's sacking and declines to go into specifics, citing the pending litigation. But she does say this: "It is my understanding that this station fulfilled its contractual obligations to Dave Minshall. He was not fired; he was at the end of his contract, which the station fulfilled. And I am told that the decision not to renew his contract was based entirely on his performance."
Predictably, Minshall begs to differ -- and he eagerly supplies details about what he characterizes as a crusade for justice. "These guys broke the law. They fired me illegally, they ruined my career and they hurt my family," he says, "and I'm not going to let them get away with it."
After a stint at the University of Wyoming, Minshall, a Wyoming native, arrived in Denver in the early '70s and landed a job at KBTR, an all-news radio outlet affiliated with KBTV, as Channel 9 was known at the time. He subsequently became part of the KBTV crew, serving as a general-assignment reporter before moving first to Channel 4, where he worked in legislative, consumer and investigative reporter capacities, and later to Channel 7 just prior to the departure of anchor Bob Palmer, whose defection threw the station into a ratings tailspin from which it has yet to recover. While at Channel 7, Minshall regularly helmed major reports, including a lengthy Rocky Flats series and a look at security at Stapleton, Denver's now-closed airport: "I was arrested doing that one," he says. In the process, he won nine local Emmy awards.
Things began to sour for Minshall in 1994, when news director Arlin Stevens, who'd joined the Channel 7 staff three years earlier, gave him the choice of accepting a 30 percent pay cut or leaving the station. Around this same time, the Post's Joanne Ostrow wrote an article headlined "Newsroom Shift to Young Staffers Puts Emphasis on Infotainment," in which Stevens offered his very public opinion about the Minshall negotiations: "I'm not happy to pay somebody like Dave Minshall an anchor salary, which, in my opinion, is what he was getting paid." Minshall interpreted this statement as meaning that Channel 7 wasn't going to budge on his salary demands, and he also felt that it poisoned his chances of leaping to another outlet in Denver, where he was determined to stay because of his kids. (He has four children -- three currently attending high school at Cherry Creek, the other in middle school.) As a result, he took the deal.
Stevens, who was unable to boost Channel 7's anemic viewership numbers, resigned in late 1995; his successor, Melissa Klinzing, immediately embarked on an ambitious campaign to reinvent the station's newscast. The result was "Real Life, Real News," a flashy, fast-paced but short-lived broadcast hosted by Natalie Pujo, an anchor fond of short skirts and daring décolletage, at least by local standards. (Pujo is currently appearing on KCOP, a UPN affiliate in Los Angeles.) Minshall argues that these changes led to a lowering of standards -- "It was Pujo in, journalism out" -- and an all-encompassing focus on attracting a youthful audience. "Melissa Klinzing would ask me my age and ask, 'Do you think you can connect with the younger demographic we're trying to hit?'" he notes. He believes that the decision to remove him from at least two high-profile stories -- the murder of JonBenét Ramsey and the Oklahoma City bombing -- in favor of younger correspondents illustrates the conclusions Klinzing reached.