The Subject of a Lifetime

Gene Amole savors the opportunity to document his own demise.

On balance, Amole is managing to do so even as his vitality diminishes drip by drip. The October 26 column about his decision stands with his best work, but some of the followups have been comparatively scattershot, jumping from topic to topic without the benefit of transitions. (In his November 9 submission, Amole noticed this development: "I tend to wander some in these columns.") Also, Amole has thus far concentrated primarily on reminiscences, not the cold, hard facts of dying. But even the least of his recent prose finds Amole giving it his all -- and that's a lot.

His main goal now, beyond surviving until Christmas, is to honestly share his experiences in the hope that others will benefit from them. "This has turned out to be the best possible solution for me and my family," he says, "and it's been very helpful to me in dealing with my own sense of loss. Because, you know, I'm going to lose my life here."

Out-of-business decision: "Show Them the Money," the column that appeared here on November 16, 2000, concerned the high demand for business writers. In particular, the item focused on five veterans of the Rocky Mountain News -- Dan Luzadder, Dana Coffield, Richard Williamson, Bill Scanlon and Rebecca Cantwell -- who were hired away by Interactive Week, a burgeoning Ziff Davis publication that offered them salaries in the $80,000-a-year range and the opportunity to work from their homes.

Life story: Gene Amole at his home.
Brett Amole
Life story: Gene Amole at his home.
Life story: Gene Amole at his home.
Brett Amole
Life story: Gene Amole at his home.

What a difference a year makes. On November 5, Ziff Davis CEO Robert Callahan announced that Interactive Week would be folded into another of the company's magazines, eWeek. But since all 75 Interactive Week employees were pink-slipped, with only editor Rob Fixmer retaining a paycheck, it's a merger in name only. The statement was likely handled in this way in an attempt to justify shifting sizable advertising commitments made to Interactive Week over to eWeek.

Whatever the case, all five former Rocky hands are now looking for work in a job environment that couldn't be more dissimilar from the one that existed last November. A recent piece by the Village Voice's Cynthia Cotts quoted a claim made on the Web site that 100,000 jobs in the media sector have been lost in the past year or so -- and even if this figure is misleading, Cotts points out that pink slips have flown at loads of major newspapers, including the Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, the New York Times and the San Jose Mercury News. (There have also been layoffs at the Denver Newspaper Agency and at papers in the New Times chain, Westword's parent company.) Moreover, the rough sledding facing Internet-based industries, and the attendant fall-off of advertising related to them, means that some of the severest cutbacks have been made in the areas of business and technology reporting. Ouch.

In many respects, Interactive Week wasn't a classic dot-com publication. The mag primarily concerned itself with telecommunications, a business that seems likely to weather the economic storm better than some others. This has resulted in understandable bitterness directed at Callahan, a former president of the broadcast group at the Disney-owned network ABC who was named Ziff Davis's CEO less than two weeks before dumping Interactive Week. But there's no question that Ziff Davis is a company in a considerable state of turmoil. The firm's previous CEO, James Dunning, who was forced out in August, responded to his ouster by filing a $300 million lawsuit naming a slew of executives and investors.

None of these maneuvers will help Interactive Week writers, but both Luzadder and Coffield, who survived two previous rounds of layoffs before being canned, value their time at the magazine. "It was very dynamic," Luzadder says. "They hired real journalists, and we did real stories about the Internet."

Adds Coffield, "Interactive Week made me really have to dig down into telecommunications, and I understand massive amounts more about how the industry works. And that's a valuable thing to understand, particularly in this environment. I hate to hark back to September 11, but that changed the economics for all kinds of companies. It used to be cheaper to fly people to Chicago for a meeting, but now people are looking at telecommunications solutions to their travel issues, and these companies will benefit. That's the kind of thing we were covering, not But we were unfairly lumped into that."

Unfair or not, Interactive Week is gone. But at least there's still the Rocky Mountain News.

Everybody must get Stoned: As noted here on November 1, the Denver Post has spent big bucks to send correspondents overseas to cover aspects of the Afghanistan war -- an ambitious move that hasn't yet resulted in boffo journalism. In contrast, the Rocky Mountain News has relied on wire copy -- a defensible choice. But considerably more bizarre, given current events, was the Rocky's decision to ship film critic Robert Denerstein to London to see the debut of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, a flick that's been heavily hyped in major magazines for weeks, and which will start playing in nearly every American theater cineplex just six days after Denerstein's November 10 article appeared.

News boss John Temple wouldn't comment on the logic behind Denerstein's trip, restricting his remarks to Gene Amole only, and Denerstein didn't return a call. But people at the Post have plenty to say about it -- although most of their comments aren't suitable for family audiences.

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