Press for Success

At fifty, William Dean Singleton has dozens of newspapers and all the money he needs. But what about respect?

From where Singleton sits, the same can be said about the Denver JOA. It was announced in May of last year ("Don't Bogart That Joint," May 18, 2000), became official in January and was formally implemented on April 7, when the first combined weekend edition of the new era was published. The Justice Department declined to stage hearings that might have slowed the agreement's implementation; protests from advertisers like Jake Jabs were only temporary irritations, and, on six of the seven days per week, circulation numbers aren't plummeting as quickly as some observers predicted. That leaves only the Saturday edition of the paper -- the weekend issue handled by the Rocky Mountain News -- as a major problem. The newspaper has already been redesigned once since its April bow, and a reliable source hints that the Post and News may be considering an amendment to the JOA to allow both papers to publish on Saturday. Ken Lowe, CEO of E.W. Scripps, the Rocky's owner, flat-out denies that, and Singleton won't comment. But Singleton does say, "Saturdays have not worked out as well as we had hoped. Post readers lost their newspaper on Saturday, Rocky readers lost their newspaper on Saturday, and both newspapers were replaced by a new newspaper unfamiliar to both sets of readers, which is why Saturday has met with so many complaints from both readers and advertisers. It's the only part of the JOA that hasn't gone as planned, and we'll obviously have to monitor that as time goes on."

Even if a potential conflict over Saturday is brewing, the decision makers at the Rocky have nothing but laudatory things to say about Singleton -- for public consumption, anyway. John Temple, the paper's editor and president, responded to a query from Westword -- for the first time ever -- in order to pay homage via e-mail. "I wish Dean the best on his fiftieth birthday," Temple writes. "He's a remarkable figure in American journalism and a worthy competitor. No one can doubt his incredible business acumen or his passion for newspapering. I, at least, share the latter trait."

Lowe, for his part, says that in the last year, much of which he spent working in close contact with Singleton, "I've developed a great deal of respect for Dean. I think he's almost a throwback to the publishing entrepreneurs who started family-owned newspapers at the turn of the century: Very solid, a fierce competitor, tremendously loyal to his people and his product, and a lot of fun to be around. Dean takes a big bite out of life no matter what he does.

"I know not everyone has wonderful things to say about him," Lowe acknowledges. "And when someone pulls themselves up by their own bootstraps, as Dean has done, I'm sure they've bruised a few people along the way and had their share of skirmishes. But I think that's just a process of growing up and maturing into the person he is today. He's truly viewed as one of the leaders of newspapers today. He's assuming the mantle, and I think he's wearing it well."

To illustrate the turning of this particular worm, Singleton is currently serving as the vice chairman of the Newspaper Association of America, the most influential organization of its sort in the country, and he will take over as chairman in April 2002. Earlier this year, he was the keynote speaker at the NAA's Nexpo convention in New Orleans, and in discussing the industry downturn, he said, in apparent contradiction of many past dealings, "I urge you to be careful in cutting costs. Cutting isn't always the best answer." A month or so before these comments were made, in March, Singleton eliminated delivery of 18,000 Sunday Posts to North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Utah and Arizona. "When we were in a death struggle with the Rocky, those 18,000 papers were important, but they're not so important now," he says. "And it saved us $6 million a year."

In Singleton's mind, the next big change in the media industry will be the elimination of the cross-ownership rule: FCC chairman Michael Powell, son of Secretary of State Colin Powell, has strongly intimated that this regulation is on the way out as early as the end of this year. Once that happens (and Singleton is certain it will), MediaNews will instantly begin buying TV and radio stations in markets where it already has newspapers, first and foremost in Denver; by this time next year, Denver Post Radio could be on the air. Singleton says this shift in policy will allow him to accomplish even more than he has thus far. Much more.

"To me, it's not just news coverage," he maintains as Good Friday ticks away, inching ever closer to Easter and the day the Savior will rise again. "It's making something happen that will make the community a better place. The Denver Post played a major role in the Pepsi Center happening, a major role in getting the airport built, a major role in getting the new Mile High built. And that's what I want to do. I want us to be an advocate for things that are good, and I think most of our newspapers do that. And I like that. I want to do more than just sit on the sidelines covering meetings. I want to take an active role. I want to make a difference."

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