Calling All Columnists

A writer's departure from the Post raises questions about the paper's commitment to metro columns.

Shortly after his June arrival in Colorado, Denver Post editor Greg Moore declared that his paper was overstocked with columnists -- a point he elaborated upon during a subsequent interview with Westword ("Moore Than Before," August 8). As he put it then, a surplus of columns "gives the paper a decided lack of urgency. An opinion is never urgent. When you have material in the paper where, if you saw it, great, and if you didn't, so what, that's a recipe for not having a compelling product. I want people focused on breaking news stories and not spending a day and a half or two and a half days to write a column -- and I'm not even sure people are spending that much time doing it."

To that end, Moore eliminated some columns, including one by KOA military analyst Bob Newman, and reduced the frequency of others, most prominently the showcase for broadcasting authority Joanne Ostrow. But the largest changes in this respect have taken place among metro columnists, whose jobs are widely seen to be among the paper's most prestigious.

When Moore was hired, the Post had three city-side specialists: Chuck Green, Tina Griego and Diane Carman. However, Green flamed out before Moore officially took hold of the paper's wheel ("Three the Hard Way," May 16), and longtime sportswriter Jim Armstrong, announced as Green's replacement, lasted only a few weeks in the Denver and the West section before he skittered back to his old playing field in late October. Then, at the end of November, Griego, the wife of Westword staff writer Harrison Fletcher, elected to return to the Rocky Mountain News, where she'd worked until two years ago. Carman was on an extended vacation at the time Griego made her move, and by the time of the former's scheduled return to print on December 15, around a month will have passed since the Post published a metro column -- a remarkable, arguably embarrassing gap for a paper that's made such a big deal about its aspirations to journalistic greatness.

Some observers have speculated that Griego fled the Post partly because Moore wasn't terribly interested in columns. Griego refutes that conjecture, although she does so in a manner that hints at a lack of support, editorial or otherwise. "The Post has many good people working in its newsroom, but for whatever reason, I never quite found a home there," she says. "I guess the position isolates a little bit; I think some of it is the nature of the job. And I'm not used to that."

Griego's leaving couldn't have thrilled Moore, especially because he's spoken so frequently about his interest in diversity; as a Latina, Griego was the paper's only metro columnist with an ethnic background. But in speaking about her departure, Moore has only compliments to pass along. "I like Tina, really respect her and her talent," he allows. More intriguing are his remarks about filling the Post's vacant slots. He says he's "possibly" looking for two new metro columnists, but "I haven't fully made up my mind."

Why not? Moore points to recent experience. Several months ago, he ended the Post's practice of intermittently publishing two city columns on the same day because "it's not an opinion journal; it's a newspaper." This dictate meant that Carman, Griego and (briefly) Armstrong would be able to write only twice a week. This light schedule may have been nice for the columnists -- "We were like, 'Woo-hooo!'" Griego jokes -- but Moore concedes that it worked against any of the trio building significant momentum.

"We have to make some decisions about where our columnists are going to be," he says. "If you only have six days to publish [as the Post has since formalizing its joint operating agreement with the News], two days a week might not be enough to gain a following, to put your stamp out there." As such, he's considering hiring just one columnist, not two.

If this is the direction Moore heads, it will set up a clear distinction between the Post and the News, whose editor/publisher/president, John Temple, loves, loves, loves columns. He writes one himself -- an often uneasy blend of opinion and pro-Rocky drumbeating -- and energetically touts specialty columns by the likes of features editor Mike Pearson and sentimental human-interest scribe Gary Massaro. With the addition of Griego to a contingent that includes Mike Littwin and Bill Johnson, the paper will be back up to three metro columnists for the first time since the May 2002 death of Rocky longtimer Gene Amole. Moreover, Temple has no problem spotlighting more than one of these three on the same day in RockyTalk, the portion of the News devoted to columnists.

"I don't understand why you shouldn't do that," Temple says. "Is that like some health formula, where you should only have one -- that if you have more than one column a day, you'll get sick or demented?" Temple guesses that Moore wants to restrict metro columns to one a day "because it's a traditional practice in journalism to run a vertical column on a broadsheet front; that makes it look punchy. But I think unique voices are far more important to a daily newspaper. Of course, if we're not covering the news, that would be a problem -- but we are. And I think it's positive for the newspaper to have more than one voice."

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