By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
That's an exaggeration, but not by much. In 2000, high-tech business publications, then among the hottest properties in journalism, were desperate to staff up, and many did so by raiding the biz departments at dailies. Typical was the now-defunct Interactive Week, a Ziff-Davis mag whose readership had quadrupled since its 1994 founding. In a matter of months, Interactive Week lured away five Rocky business employees by offering higher salaries and the opportunity to work from their homes ("Show Them the Money," November 16, 2000). Numerous Post types left under similar circumstances, and Lewis understood why: "People didn't see a lot of stability here. And they thought, 'I can make $85,000 a year working at home in my underwear.'"
Getting folks to work for less dough in a clothing-mandatory office was tough. "You just couldn't hire people," Lewis says. "They'd laugh at you. You'd call and tell them, 'I've got an opening for a business reporter at the Denver Post,' and they wouldn't even return your calls." So Lewis improvised. Instead of engaging folks with five or ten years' experience, as is common at the Post, he reached out to a couple of interns, Andy Vuong and the aforementioned Kristi Arellano, then a junior at the University of Denver, as well as to Kelly Pate Dwyer, who'd served as a temporary reporter under Knox. He also brought along Louis Aguilar, with whom he'd worked at the Colorado Springs Gazette, and convinced Hudson, a colleague during his Rocky days, to cross the street because "he was kicking my ass." During his first six months as editor, Lewis "hired or promoted two-thirds of the people here," and, in his opinion, "I got lucky. Most of the people turned out to be really great, and I got a lot of diversity on top of it -- a staff that was roughly 50 percent female and 25 percent minority."
Lewis also started writing columns, and although they were regular highlights of the section, they provided ammo for the likes of former Qwest head Joe Nacchio, a frequent Lewis target. As Lewis wrote in an October 10 column, Nacchio griped about the "negative tonality" of the Post's reporting during a 2001 meeting with him and Hudson -- but the conversation went further than that. "One of his arguments was, 'You say you're objective when you're business editor, but you're writing this crap,'" Lewis recalls.
In the end, Lewis is confident the Post met any and all objectivity standards, and assorted investigations into Qwest's activities bolster his argument. But Moore felt Lewis the writer was limited by the need to strike this balance. "He was drawing a box around himself as a columnist," he says. "A lot of the subject matter was national stuff; he wasn't really writing about local things, because he was trying to steer clear of conflicts. And I thought it would be better to let him do the full windup and just let it go." Lewis ultimately agreed. He stopped searching for a full-time business columnist and took the job himself.
This decision opened the door for Keating, who worked as a Post business reporter from 1994 to 2000. During that span, he became known as a writer who didn't stop at the surface of a story, a quality that served him well when he chronicled some of Colorado's cable cowboys in Cutthroat: High Stakes and Killer Moves on the Electronic Frontier, a book published in 1999. As its title implies, the tome was no puff piece, but it didn't scare off Liberty Media's Peter Barton, a longtime associate of TCI kingpin John Malone. Barton, who died of cancer in 2002 at age 51, hired Keating as executive director of the Privacy Foundation, a non-profit organization affiliated with DU that, among other things, tracks the development of technology that may be monitoring your activities at this very moment. (Last week, DU professor John Soma was named to replace Keating at the foundation.)
Thanks to the Barton connection, Keating got to know some of the people he once reported on in a new context. He doesn't want anyone to think the Post will go easy on movers and shakers he once moved and shook with if they get into trouble, because it won't. But because these encounters allowed him to "have conversations and build relationships with people in a more relaxed setting than you're able to do as a journalist, because everyone's worried that you're going to quote them," he suspects they'll contribute to deeper and more complete coverage. Likewise, he trusts that his duties as a Privacy Foundation spokesman, which led to interviews for the likes of USA Today and even a guest spot on The O'Reilly Factor, have helped him better understand the necessity of conveying sometimes complicated information in accessible ways. "The reason why the Wall Street Journal has such a broad readership is because they make the complex understandable," he says, "and that's something I try to do as a reporter and would hope to do as an editor."
He's less willing to spell out changes in the offing until he's gotten to analyze things from the inside, but Lewis has a few ideas about what's needed. "Some people have probably been on their beats a little too long," he says, "and some beats are either under-covered or over-covered. We really need to restructure. Not everyone is going to be happy with the way it comes out, but it needs to be done." There's also the matter of space. The Rocky makes more room for business, and one way of closing the gap would be for the Post to cut back on stock listings, whose usefulness in an era when most investors get updates online is open to question. Early evidence suggests that cuts wouldn't prompt an uproar. To start a Sunday real estate page, Lewis cut out a quarter of the company listings and girded himself for an onslaught of griping. He wound up receiving a grand total of three complaints from people wondering where specific updates had gone. After he directed that those companies be relisted, the problem was solved.