Moore Than Before

The Denver Post's new editor wants to help the paper realize its potential.

I see us picking and choosing our spots. But it was a big, big deal for this newspaper to rise to the occasion of 9/11 and to rise above maybe lowly expectations. They didn't know how to get a fixer in Pakistan and how to make their way around Afghanistan, but they learned. They're more experienced than they were on September 11, 2000. Will we continue to do that? My hope is that we'll have a bureau in a year or two -- hopefully in the Middle East, or in Mexico. My first priority, of course, is day to day to make the paper better and have a first-class local report. But I want to make sure we bring the world to our readers in an intelligent way, where we can make a contribution and build expertise for the future.

Was one of the most important things about the coverage the message it sent to your own staff?

This is a newsroom that thinks it can do a lot of things now. So it was a big message to our staff; it was a message to the community; it was a message to the industry; and it was a big statement about how the paper sees itself. It sees itself as a major metro. A major metro. And getting out of the so-called cowtown mentality is a big plus here.

Is the step beyond "We can do it" to be able to say "We can do it really well"?

Right -- to do it really smart and really well. We did some really good things after 9/11. But we're going to continue to build on quality and do it even better. Every time a bomb goes off in Israel, we're not going to get on an airplane and cover it. But people recognize when it's the right time to go, when we can add some value to how people perceive and understand these events.

The first day you arrived at thePost, the Hayman Fire really blew up. That wasn't the type of story you were accustomed to at theGlobe, but did you find that your experiences covering different stories were applicable to covering something like that?

There are certain elements of covering a big story that are pretty universal, like trying to have it organized and trying to make sure you have layers of coverage: the straight-ahead stuff, the human stuff, the explanatory stuff, the helpful-hints stuff. So I felt comfortable with that. But understanding what the next stage of the story was is something I had to learn. When we had a story saying this fire could burn for ninety days, I was like, "What? Ninety days? You mean for the next ninety days, we're going to have front pages that will look like this?" I wasn't used to something like that. But I read every word we published every day, and that really hastened my learning curve. I learned a lot -- and if there's anything that kind of got away from me, it's that we probably had a little bit more coverage than we should have, like the sixth and seventh and eighth day into the story. But it was just so big: It wasn't just Hayman, but Missionary Ridge and Coal Seam. There were nine other fires. So in a certain sense, if you want to serve your readers, you just have to say, "We're going to give it to you."

That's interesting, because in one of John Temple's columns in theRocky, he seemed to imply that thePost backed away from the fires sooner that it should have.

I don't think we backed away from the coverage -- and I think John ought to just worry about his own newspaper. We were cognizant that all of Colorado wasn't burning and that there were a lot of other things going on in our readers' lives, other important stories that needed covering -- and the fire needed to share the page with those other stories. But we had some really good enterprise stories, and we had a nice special section that I felt was very important for our readers to put into perspective what had happened. Years from now, when this fire is over with and these people are rebuilding their lives, they're going to look back on this incredible moment, and I think they'll be looking at our paper and not the Rocky Mountain News. Nobody tried to tally what the loss was from the Hayman Fire, but we did. And no one had tried to document every single house that had been lost in the Hayman Fire but us. We did it, not the Rocky Mountain News. So did we back away from the story? I don't know.

In my conversation with him, Temple used the special sections to contrast thePost and theNews. He said theNews's section was more immediate and was designed to give people the information they needed right away. But thePost waited a couple of weeks and took an approach he called "encyclopedic" -- a newspaper-of-record approach in which thePost looked at the fire from a greater distance.

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