Top Ten

The Sunday Denver Post is one of America's most widely circulated newspapers. Does it deserve to be?

That's not to say the Denver Post should call its people home and exclusively run wire copy, even if doing so might better serve readers in the short term. With another six months or a year under their belts, Post staffers on the international beat may be keeping pace with the veterans on the scene, thereby justifying their boss's investment. But they've still got a considerable way to go -- and if the Post keeps rotating reporters in and out of the area, as it's been doing lately, improvement will be that much tougher to achieve.

The race for the finest lead columnist will be even harder to win. The October 14 column by the Post's Chuck Green wasn't quite as atrocious as one a week later about a Diane Carman piece from the previous day's paper that he seemed not to have fully understood, but it came close. Green has spent most of his time since the World Trade Center's collapse rewriting George W. Bush speeches, and in "Voters Chose Wisely in 2000," he praised citizens for electing Dubya instead of that "phony," Al Gore. Along the way, he tried to demonstrate the superiority of the United States over Afghanistan by noting, "Afghan kids have no cars to wash, or lawns to mow, or newspapers to throw." They can't pick up porno rags at the neighborhood 7-Eleven, either, but mentioning that might have screwed up his thesis.

However, the plain truth is that several columns in the other top-ten newspapers on October 14 were even lamer than Green's. Take "Let's Fight War of Nerves Being Lost on U.S. Soil" by the Detroit News's Pete Waldmeir, which was as clumsy as its headline, and "Let's Show Afghans Heart, Soul, Beauty of America," in which Tribune Media Services vice president John Twohey, writing in the Chicago Tribune, listed cultural artifacts that might give civilians in Afghanistan a better opinion of America, such as "any 10 Calvin & Hobbes strips, except for the ones in which they conspire to keep Susie out of the treehouse." Green'll have to be on his game to do worse, but I have confidence he can do it.

In other respects, the Denver Post holds its own against the weaker half of the circulation leaders. The "Denver and the West" section: average. "Perspective": average. "Business": average. "Sunday Lifestyles": slightly below average. "Arts & Entertainment": slightly below average. "Travel": below average. "Sports": above average. In fact, the Post's sports coverage is more expansive than that of any top-ten paper other than the New York Daily News. And the Post is undeniably atop the heap in one category -- comics. If the folks on the Pulitzer Prize committee create a "best-funny-pages section" award, the Post is a lock.

Remaining in the top five for Sunday circulation has already proven to be more difficult. On October 29, the Audit Bureau of Circulations, the organization that tracks publication totals, issued final figures for the six-month period that ended on September 30, and they showed that the New York Daily News inched past the Denver Post, likely as a direct result of 9-11. A Daily News source says the paper's circulation, whose weekday sales in the last audit were just under 700,000, is now often more than a million, and once hit the 1.4 million mark on a single day.

But even if the Denver Post regains the position it briefly held, its decision-makers would do well to remember that the newspaper war may be over, but the fight to produce a world-class publication is not yet won. Size matters, but it isn't everything.

A Colorado life: Just when you think you've got Rocky Mountain News columnist Gene Amole pegged, he surprises you. For instance, those who see him as a simple nostalgist were likely floored by September 10's "WWII Had Its Share of Bad Boys and Brothers," in which he juxtaposed the rosy-colored Hollywood nobility of programs like HBO's Band of Brothers with wartime memories of a grunt who forced a German girl to perform oral sex on him in front of her parents.

Amole, 78, was just as clear-eyed and candid on October 27, when he revealed on the News's front page that he is dying and will stop penning a regular column in favor of diary entries detailing his final months, weeks, days. "I am not retiring, just taking on a new assignment," he wrote -- and if the articles to come are anything like his most recent one, they'll be terrific. What a classy way to go out.

Unit of measure: On October 29, the day after Arizona Diamondbacks hurler Randy Johnson threw a three-hit shutout in game two of the World Series, most newspapers in the country made use of Johnson's colorful nickname, the Big Unit: Witness the Associated Press's "Big Unit Big Problem for Yankees." But not the Denver Post, which has a policy against referring to Johnson as a unit, big or otherwise.

Why? Post sports editor Kevin Dale was on vacation and unavailable for comment, but insiders say the phrase has been nixed because it "sounds dirty." By those standards, writers should stop scribbling about the pitcher entirely. After all, he is a six-foot, ten-inch Johnson.

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