By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
For part of Klinzing's reign, Minshall says he worked without a contract, and when he was eventually presented with one, it was for a duration of just six months and accompanied by several criticisms of his work, including complaints about his spelling ability -- not normally a key factor in broadcasting jobs. "They also wanted me to be more entrepreneurial and to do what they called 'younger stories,'" he adds. In retrospect, he feels all of this was done as a pretext for declining to sign him again once his contract expired.
As even Minshall concedes, his case is largely circumstantial; his evidence includes a comment allegedly made by an assignment editor -- "Old fuckers like you aren't going to run this newsroom" -- and a response Minshall says he received after being turned down for a vacation request toward his tenure's end: "As you will soon find out, seniority doesn't mean shit." At trial, he'll also confront information that some might view as contradicting his claims, including Channel 7's continued employment of Bill Clarke and Paul Reinertson, two onetime colleagues of Minshall's who haven't been able to get the student discount at movie theaters for a good while. (Minshall thinks his suit has provided Clarke and Reinertson with job security, since any station action against them might undermine Channel 7's position.) In addition, the removal of longtimers Bertha Lynn and Ernie Bjorkman from the marquee 10 p.m. slot given to Pujo, which Minshall considers to be part of a pattern of discrimination against older workers, could just as easily have been prompted by dismal Nielsens.
Both Lynn and Bjorkman offered depositions at the request of Minshall's legal team; Lynn, who's still on the Channel 7 payroll, says she doesn't feel comfortable discussing this topic. For his part, Bjorkman, now the co-anchor of Channel 2's weeknight newscast (and he's awfully happy to be there), says: "I felt Klinzing was there to bring in a lot of younger people, and I saw a lot of older people leave, like Ron Allen, who was the weather person, and Judy Miller, who was a reporter -- and then there was Bertha and I being taken off the ten o'clock news. But I couldn't prove whether any of us were victims of age discrimination or not. I understand the business, and if that means new personalities need to be brought in, people have to do what they have to do." He also puts into context another comment reportedly made by Klinzing -- "Old people should all die" -- that Minshall mentions. "Her dad had come to visit, and when she said that, she was obviously joking," Bjorkman admits, "although some people didn't take it that way."
There's plenty of debate about Minshall's odds of besting Channel 7 in court, with much of the speculation pivoting on another age-discrimination case against the station, this one filed by ex-employee Art Manning. In May 1997, four years after Manning's firing and less than two months after Minshall was shown the door, a federal jury determined that the former account executive should receive over $689,000 in back pay and damages. But this whopper of an award, which observers unsympathetic to Minshall say helped motivate the reporter's campaign (an accusation Minshall denies), didn't stand up to later challenges. Manning, whom David Lane, Minshall's attorney, helped represent, lost when McGraw-Hill appealed and also came up short at the U.S. Circuit Court level -- and the Supreme Court refused to revisit the controversy. No wonder Channel 7's Velasquez feels as she does. After pointing out that the station makes all decisions about personnel based on performance ("If we don't, we're not doing right by our newscast or our audience"), she says, "We intend to vigorously defend our right not to renew Dave Minshall's contract, and we expect to win."
Lane is equally confident that his side will prevail. "The only similarities between the Manning case and Dave's is that McGraw-Hill is involved," he says. "And we have a very strong case -- a nine-time Emmy winner who all of a sudden is supposed to be an idiot."
In the meantime, Minshall is running his own company, Minshall Media Strategies, which specializes in crisis communication and media training. "I bill myself as a media shark turned shark tamer," he allows. But he insists that his family is still feeling the ripple effects of his departure from Channel 7, and he fantasizes about hiring the Cherry Creek High School marching band "and have them lead a big U-Haul truck back to the house I had to give up because I couldn't afford it anymore, so we can move in and return my life to what it was before they screwed me."
Sign of the times: Can you imagine the shock of editorial employees at the Rocky Mountain News (as well as those at the Denver Post, who can see the Rocky headquarters from their offices) when they dicovered last week that the newspaper's logo had been removed from one side of its building at 400 West Colfax Avenue? Then you can probably guess how excited they were to learn that going up in its place (in a location a stone's throw from the U.S. Mint, appropriately enough) would be the words "Denver Newspaper Agency" -- and that a matching marker would be placed atop the venerable granite slab near the Rocky's entrance.