By Alan Prendergast
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Earlier this month, the Society of Professional Journalists' Colorado branch lauded the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News for "keeping alive the spirit of competition" after the papers entered into a money marriage via a joint operating agreement. In truth, the Rocky deserves more credit for fighting on, since the paper could easily have thrown in the towel upon losing its Sunday edition. However, the News lags well behind the Post in another prominent category: gossip production.
Indeed, the Post often generates more unexpected, quirky and downright startling stories behind the scenes than appear in the average issue. As the trio of tales below demonstrates, journalists at the Post could spice up their story lists merely by reporting on themselves.
Post Toast No. 1 -- The race is off: This year's Denver mayoral campaign, which comes to a close on June 3, has been a largely tedious affair, with skunk-haired, guitar-strumming auditor Don Mares failing thus far to knock goofy brewpub boy John Hickenlooper off his bar stool. The only thing that might stop the Hick at this juncture is if the observation one local television viewer shared with yours truly gets around. After realizing that Hickenlooper stares at himself in mirrors for extended stretches during two of his TV commercials, the caller concluded that he must be a narcissist. Love the city, love yourself.
The Rocky has missed this angle, but not many others. Aside from a few stumbles, like a too-prominent May 22 piece about an Aurora fifth-grader devoted to Hickenlooper (no wonder Big John's a narcissist), the Rocky has regularly offered up fresher, cheekier, more trenchant election-season coverage as a whole than has the Post. Consider that the Post's campaign-notes section, Spin Cycled, is essentially a graphically underwhelming, less amusing homage to a can't-miss News feature dubbed The Stump.
To make things worse, Cindy Brovsky, a veteran reporter who gave needed perspective and heft to the Post's reporting of mayoral matters, abruptly quit her job just as the runoff between Mares and Hickenlooper was getting under way. Also due to depart soon is Ryan Morgan, who's been on the campaign beat, too.
Rumormongers hint that Morgan, who didn't return a call on this topic, is being let go because of several recent errors. Post editor Greg Moore says this theory has no foundation. After disclosing that Morgan won a Colorado Press Association award in February for journalistic creativity (and not of the sort the New York Times's Jayson Blair practiced), Moore emphasized that "Ryan Morgan isn't a full-time staff member. He was an intern here, then filled in temporarily for a succession of people on maternity and book leave. Now that time is up, and we just don't have a full-time slot for him. The music stopped, and there was no seat."
Like Morgan, Brovsky failed to reply to Westword's interview requests, but Moore offers some tantalizing clues about her choice to split. "The retooling of our political team may have been a precipitating event," he reveals. "What we wanted to do was reorganize ourselves a little for the general election and have people with specific responsibilities, including designating a lead writer, Karen Crummy, and having Cindy and another reporter cover the trail -- what the candidates were doing and saying." Brovsky "seemed fine with" this assignment at first, Moore allows, yet shortly thereafter, "she turned in her ID card and her laptop and said she was resigning. And she did."
With Brovsky gone, is the Post now in an even weaker campaign-reporting position vis-à-vis the News? Moore isn't wasting his time worrying about the potential repercussions. "It's always tough to lose somebody right in the midst of coverage," he says, "but we've got a lot of good people at the Post, and we're pushing forward."
So, too, are the candidates -- although, luckily, not for much longer.
Post Toast No. 2 -- On the frontlines: Recently in this space ("Coming Attractions," May 15), Diane Eicher, who pens a bi-weekly media column for the Rocky, stated that she and her writing partner, Joe Bullard, shied away from printing the name of Claire Martin, a Post staffer whose obituary writing they had criticized, because they'd been asked by their editors to avoid getting unnecessarily personal. Apparently this recommendation didn't prevent them from specifically fingering the work of Martin's significant other, Post international-affairs scribe Bruce Finley, in a March 22 salvo. After picking apart a pair of articles penned by Finley in Syria and published just before the beginning of the war against Iraq, they concluded with a "reader alert: If you want one-sided views on the Middle East situation, Finley's stories are for you. If you seek a more balanced report, look elsewhere."
This opinion is substantially justified. Finley's writing in the pieces seized on by Eicher and Bullard slanted leftward, but it wasn't labeled as analysis; some observers of departed Rocky internationalist Holger Jensen had similar gripes. At the same time, the perspectives Finley sought out were being largely ignored by other media outlets in the heavy breathing lead-up to the Iraq attack. Viewed independently, the articles weren't especially evenhanded, but they went a ways toward offsetting the preponderance of reporting, especially on cable television, that listed in the opposite direction.