Changing of the Guard

The arrival of a new editor shakes things up at the Denver Post.

A reminder, folks: The Denver Post came out ahead in last year's joint operating agreement. Unlike the Rocky Mountain News, whose status as a failing newspaper was ratified by the U.S. Justice Department, the Post reportedly turned a profit over the past decade -- and thanks to the JOA, it received sole custody of the city's Sunday newspaper franchise, which is a bit like being given the keys to the Denver Mint. Couple that with a Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the shootings at Columbine High School, and you've got a deck seriously stacked in the Post's favor.

Nonetheless, the Post has managed to lose more than its share of hands lately, suffering public humiliation over a series of high-profile gaffes and finishing a poor second to the feisty, suddenly energized News in two of the state's most important journalism competitions, the Colorado Press Association contest and the Colorado AP Editors and Reporters, or CAPER, awards. Indeed, the Post is flabby and dull more often than not -- a fact that its owner, Dean Singleton, all but admitted last week by canning Glenn Guzzo, the editor who guided the paper through the JOA, and inking Greg Moore, most recently managing editor of the Boston Globe.

In conversation, these editors are as different as different can be. Guzzo is low-key and cautious, meticulously clearing each sentence of any mines before letting it out of his mouth. Moore, for his part, comes across as confident enough to simply let his opinions fly on just about any topic -- even the quality of the Post.

"I think there are some really good writers here," he says. "I think our sports coverage is energetic and comprehensive and quite good, and there are places where our photography is strong. But overall, I want us to have a bolder presentation, be less predictable and formulaic. We want to elevate the writing and the quality of ideas; we want to be much more aggressive on local coverage and more dominant in the region."

Moore's hiring has gotten plenty of attention, in large part because he's black -- which shouldn't be a big deal but is, thanks to the predominantly pale hue of Colorado's media power structure. On the day he took the job, Moore instantly became the most prominent African-American in the history of Colorado journalism. Opening this door is "a point of pride," Singleton says, but he emphasizes that race "played absolutely no role whatsoever in my decision to want him in Denver. What's important to me is that he's a born leader who knows how to evaluate talent and knows how to lead it."

Dan Kennedy, longtime media columnist for the Boston Phoenix, a weekly alternative newspaper, underlines this point. "It's not surprising that a lot of people have dwelled on Greg Moore being black, but he's also an editor, and a damned good one. Although being an African-American is important to who he is, it's strictly incidental to the fact that he's a very good editor."

Moore's qualifications appear to be quite strong. Born in Cleveland, he is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University who joined the staff of the Dayton Journal Herald in 1976 before jumping to the Cleveland Plain Dealer four years later. After shifting from reporting to editing, he signed up as assistant metro editor with the Globe in 1986. At the time he was named managing editor at the paper, in 1994, he was a regional director of the National Association of Black Journalists. But Matthew Storin, then the Globe's editor, told the NABJ Journal that he would benefit from doing the right thing every bit as much as Moore would: "This is a high-profile job we've given him, and when I announced it, I presumed that some people might wonder if he got the promotion because he's a person of color. I said, 'Sure, in a way he did. If you had someone that good and you could also add to the diversity of your senior staff, you'd be crazy not to promote him.' People understand what I mean, because they know he's that good."

The worst moment of Moore's stint as the Globe's managing editor took place in 1998, when columnist Patricia Smith, whom Moore edited, resigned after it was discovered that a number of her subjects were wholly fabricated. (Smith was one of two Globe scribes to leave the paper under such a cloud. Mike Barnicle, a columnist not edited by Moore, was the other.) Moore couldn't duck the connection with Smith; his name is in the first sentence of a tell-all she wrote for Essence in September 1999. But his career wasn't hurt too badly by this embarrassment because, according to a knowledgeable source, the failure was seen as systemic. Prior to Storin's arrival at the Globe, the source says, columnists received shockingly little oversight, and while Storin improved the process somewhat, dumping a day-to-day editing job in the lap of a managing editor swamped with other responsibilities meant only a small increase in supervision.

Even so, Storin, who left the Globe last year and was recently named associate vice president for news and information at the University of Notre Dame, doesn't entirely absolve Moore of culpability. "Greg would be the first to admit that he had a supervisory role he did not fulfill quite to the degree that he or I would have wanted, in retrospect. But he met his responsibilities when it came time to deal directly with Patricia, and also in terms of recovery. He's very optimistic, very upbeat, and that helped us recover much more quickly."

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