Letter to the Editor

Here's our top-ten list of ways the Post's new leader can make his paper better.

Critics of Denver Post owner Dean Singleton see him as a skinflint, but over the past several years his words and deeds regarding the capstone of his newspaper empire belie this tag. He's spent money freely to boost the paper's "We Cover the World" reputation, albeit with just a modest amount of success thus far, and he doesn't seem ready to turn off the simoleon spigot anytime soon, the recent downgrading of his corporate credit rating notwithstanding. And when editor Glenn Guzzo failed to turn the ship as quickly as his boss wished, Singleton reeled in Greg Moore, longtime managing editor of the Boston Globe, who's widely regarded as a rising star on the national press stage. Moore will take the Post's wheel on June 10.

In the remarks he's made since his hiring was announced, Moore has been uncommonly clear-eyed about the Post's attributes, as well as the flaws that prevent it from reaching its potential on far too many days. "I think there are some really good writers here," he said in a recent interview ("Changing of the Guard," May 9). "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."

These comments imply a willingness on Moore's part to do whatever it takes to transform the Post into the publication of Singleton's dreams. And as fans of good journalism, we at Westword want to help. That's why we've pulled together a handful of suggestions that we think would make the Post more readable, more useful, more informative, more enjoyable.

Rich Barry

Of course, some of the proposals we came up with may not be entirely practical -- like, for instance, "Put hallucinogens in the coffeepot before editors' meetings to help spark creativity." In addition, there are plenty of good notions that didn't cross our minds, including this plea from a Post insider: "Ask the new editor please not to assign a series on 'What is Colorado?', 'What is the West?', or 'Who is Denver?' Seems as though every time there's a new guy at the top, he decides he has to tell us who and what we are. Spare me."

So, Mr. Moore, please consider the ten nuggets of advice below -- but understand that they only scrape the surface.

1. Give the Post a beauty makeover: Is there an uglier big-city newspaper in these United States than the Denver Post? If there is, we haven't seen it. The paper's design is consistently horrendous, particularly on the front page, which is plagued by too many stories, icons, plugs and Lord knows what else crammed into too little space. As a result, it's often difficult to find intriguing articles on those occasions when someone actually writes one.

For example, take David Olinger's May 12 pieces on tobacco-industry spying, which included, among many other things, references to documents about the smoking habits of Colorado journos. The series was filled with fascinating information of presumably high interest to the Post's readership at large, and it richly deserved a prominent spot on page one. But instead of starting any of the segments there, the art department stuffed an incredibly lame photo-illustration (a cigarette smoldering in a dime-store ashtray) into the cover's left-hand column under the banner "Smoke and Dagger" -- and an attempt to make the heading's first word appear as if it was smoking was so badly botched that it seemed like a printing error. Even worse, Olinger's main story was placed on the second page of a two-page spread; preceding it was an Olinger sidebar jammed into the upper quarter of a page, atop a full-color advertisement for Sofa Mart. Betcha more people bought a recliner than saw this part of Olinger's opus.

This is an extreme example of the Post's design ineptitude, but hardly the only one -- and even when the editorial decisions aren't so obviously wrongheaded, the paper's layout almost always is. What's more, there's no decent reason for this shortcoming. After its joint operating agreement with the Post was blessed by the Justice Department last year, the Rocky Mountain News had only a few months to come up with a Saturday broadsheet, yet the one that emerged is infinitely more eye-pleasing than the product distributed by its competitor, which has had ages to get it right.

Tackling this problem is job one -- because how will anyone know if the Post is worth a damn if they can't stand to look at it?

2. It's a large world, after all: In the wake of September 11, the Post powers sent a slew of reporters to foreign locales -- an action the paper has been crowing about in an obnoxious house ad. (Its claim that the Post is one of America's great newspapers is too much for even Singleton to unreservedly endorse.) Months later, however, the majority of the material these correspondents are churning out remains competent but unremarkable, especially when it comes to terrorism-related subjects. For the most part, the stories have been features that provide background color and context -- the sort of stuff that should be played deeper in the paper, behind more newsworthy items. But since they have Post bylines, these submissions are commonly put in the spotlight, while more substantial stuff, from real content providers like the New York Times and the Washington Post, often winds up in the shade.

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