The Message

New Deal

When Greg Moore took over as editor of the Denver Post in June 2002, staffers predicted plenty of changes at the paper, and they were right. However, most of them probably didn't anticipate that shifts would continue to take place at a speedy rate throughout the nearly two years to date that Moore has held the reins.

The biggest recent alteration came courtesy of a sweeping redesign introduced on May 4; that topic will be tackled below. Yet there have also been many personnel moves, with a gaggle of prominent names transferring to different positions within the Post and quite a few others leaving under a wide variety of circumstances -- some happy, others less so.

Veteran journalists have been involved in a slew of the transitions, with males generally getting the better part of the bargain. For instance, Michael Booth stopped writing a lifestyles column in favor of a plum assignment as an entertainment reporter and movie critic, and Dick Kreck saw the focus of his well-regarded city-side column narrow to the lively subject of media news and happenings. Also, reporter Kit Miniclier hung up his keyboard after an astonishing 47 years in journalism, 26 of them at the Post. In an April 18 e-mail to his colleagues, Miniclier wrote, "I've decided it is time to retire and give others a chance to have half the fun I've had."

Meanwhile, four longtime female employees -- former national editor Michelle Fulcher and reporters Carol Kreck, Cindy Brovsky and Gwen Florio -- resigned under complicated circumstances during the past year or so.

Examples? Brovsky, who's currently writing for the Associated Press, quit the Post last spring on the cusp of the runoff election between Denver mayoral candidates John Hickenlooper and Don Mares, which she had been covering in her capacity as a political scribe. She didn't return calls for comment at the time, but Moore said that "the retooling of our political team" may have motivated her to split ("Post Toasts," May 29, 2003). Florio, for her part, was a star at the Post under Glenn Guzzo, Moore's predecessor, even traveling to Afghanistan during the early months of the conflict there. Under Moore's leadership, she drifted from the news section to features, where, in January 2004, the onetime war correspondent found herself writing about an obsessed John Denver fan. She only got back to newsier stories after abandoning the Post in favor of the Rocky Mountain News, where her byline has been on view since late March. In an e-mail exchange, she points out that "I'm probably working twice the hours here, and having about ten times the fun."

Florio is cautious in describing her reasons for jumping to the Rocky, but she manages to make several sharp points anyway. "I had some wonderful opportunities at the Post, and I loved my job there," she writes. "But I think the relentless management churn hampers a terrifically talented staff. My interests lie in strong coverage of regional issues, and in good storytelling. Those are strengths that the Rocky, with the advantage of engaged leadership and stability, exhibits daily." Regarding those female journalists who've left the Post, her included, she casts no stones, but concedes that "I'm always concerned when high-profile women reporters and editors leave or are demoted."

When asked about these observations, Moore, who has kind words for Florio, denies that members of any particular group have been singled out when it comes to hiring or promotion. "There isn't any pattern," he says. "We're interested in recruiting and keeping the very best people we can." He adds, "If you look at the people who are covering important beats, many of them are the same people we found when we got here, because they're very good people."

That may be true, but musical chairs remains a popular game at the Post. In a single January memo sent out under the signatures of managing editor/news Gary Clark and assistant managing editor/news Jeff Taylor, no fewer than five changes were announced. Allison Sherry moved from a health-care focus to the Denver Public Schools beat; Eric Hübler, who had covered DPS, headed to the business section; Marsha Austin went from business to metro, with a concentration on medical writing; Monte Whaley took over the Post's bureau in northern Colorado; and Karen Rouse settled into Whaley's previous bailiwick, the kindergarten-through-twelfth-grade assignment. Can't tell the players without a program.

Another internal e-mail, this one sent by deputy editorial-page editor Bob Ewegen and Perspective editor Todd Engdahl, informed Posters that legislature reporter Julia Martinez was "selected from a very able field of candidates to fill the editorial writer position left open by Angela Cortez's departure." The timing of this announcement closely followed "CU President: Rape Didn't Occur," a February 3 article in which Martinez wrote about comments CU President Elizabeth "Betsy" Hoffman allegedly made about a 2001 party attended by football recruits; student Lisa Simpson says she was raped at the gathering. According to Martinez, Hoffman said "that while students drank alcohol and did 'very irresponsible things'...no sexual assault occurred." Hoffman immediately denied making this statement, and the next day, the Post ran an odd quasi-correction on the front page, even though Martinez stood by her reporting ("Correction Detection," February 12). Martinez didn't respond to e-mails asking if the correction helped motivate her to take the editorial writing gig, but she's now working at the one part of the paper not overseen by Moore.

On the surface, switcheroos like these appear to fit Florio's definition of "relentless management churn." But just because someone is in a new position doesn't mean he or she is upset about it. Take Linda Castrone, who went from being the Post's feature editor to serving as a travel writer last year. Then, in April, she became an assistant business editor charged with overseeing presentational aspects of the business section, and, she says, "I'm really happy to be in the job. It was my choice, and it's a great opportunity." Dana Coffield, who had been the assistant business editor, is now a feature writer, and she, too, maintains that she drove the job-swap process, with the assistance of business editor Stephen Keating. "Both Stephen and I requested some kind of move, though not concurrently," Coffield notes in an e-mail. "I'm very happy with the trade Stephen worked out."

Still, the most conspicuous addition to the Post is likely to be David Harsanyi, a new metro columnist slated to fill the spot previously occupied by Cindy Rodriguez. Harsanyi, who, taking Moore's advice, asked to put off an interview with Westword until after he formally starts working at the Post later this month, is a New Yorker who most recently served as press secretary for the Republican Jewish Coalition. Nonetheless, he has an extensive journalism background, having written opinion pieces for the likes of the Wall Street Journal and the Christian Science Monitor. Harsanyi's website, www.davidharsanyi.com, provides a sampling of his oeuvre, which is well-written, erudite and philosophically conservative. Take "The Secret of Bush's Appeal," a salute to George W. published in late 2002 by Capitalism magazine.

To put it mildly, such views differ from those expressed to date by Post metro columnists Rodriguez, Jim Spencer and Diane Carman. During the first months of his regime, Moore talked about the need for "ideological diversity" ("Calling All Columnists," December 12, 2002), but Rodriguez and Spencer, whom he hired shortly thereafter, are left-leaners whose takes on most issues are all but indistinguishable from those voiced by Carman. Eventually, Moore decided that this was a problem. "Within a couple of years, I've realized how important it is for us to have a more conservative columnist in the mix," he says.

The rub was Rodriguez, whom Moore lured from the Boston Globe, where he'd previously served as managing editor. Rodriguez arrived at the Post around the same time as two other major hires, Washington bureau chief John Aloysius Farrell and film critic Lisa Kennedy ("Coming Attractions," May 15, 2003). Farrell's received criticism from right-wingers who regard him to be too liberal, but politics aside, his writing has been consistently skillful and enlightening -- and if Kennedy hasn't revolutionized the paper's film coverage, she has proven to be a solid, steady presence. Rodriguez, on the other hand, immediately raised eyebrows within and beyond the Post for columns that ranged from thuddingly obvious to unintentionally wacky.

Granted, Rodriguez has had her moments, particularly during columns in which she convincingly accused DPS of fiddling with statistics to make its dropout rate look better. As for efforts in which she declared that Columbus left a lot to be desired and that the war in Iraq isn't over, they weren't exactly fonts of original thought. The same could be said of an offering last summer, when Rodriguez acted as if she was breaking a long-hidden story by revealing that folks from other countries have a big presence in the restaurant industry. (The Miami Herald, which reprinted the column, labeled it with the hilarious headline "Immigrants Cook Our Food.") Just as nutty was a January column in which she announced that she hadn't watched television for four years -- and when she tuned in during a sick day, she discovered that there wasn't anything good on. A month later, she sang the praises of Sex and the City -- guess she agrees with the slogan "It's not TV, it's HBO" -- in a sex-and-dating piece loaded with bon mots such as "Some things should be savored, like a good latte, a home-cooked meal, or the butterflies you feel when you meet someone who wows you."

Advice like this works better in a lighter format -- and by moving Rodriguez's column to the features section, Moore avoids the embarrassment of having to admit that his experiment was a flop. Even so, convincing Rodriguez was no easy task, as is shown by her version of events, communicated by e-mail.

Moore "approached me about it over drinks at Zengo," Rodriguez writes. "I wasn't receptive at first. I was defensive about it. I viewed it as me being pushed aside to make room for a conservative columnist

"I didn't tell him that, though. I played it cool.

"Greg asked me to think about it. He kept saying that it was an offer and that I didn't have to accept it.

"And I kept saying, 'Really?' So I thought about it for a few days and then went into his office and told him I wanted to stay put."

Rodriguez was pleasantly surprised when Moore let her verdict stand without complaint. Then, during a vacation in Puerto Rico, she mulled over the pros and cons of the transfer, concluding that "either way, I would be happy.... So that's why I decided to take the job. I've played it safe my whole career, and I decided now is a good time to do a zigzag." Her new gig started on May 11 with a zany treatise on porn, capped with the aphorism "For women, at least, watching strangers have sex beats having sex with a stranger any day."

For Rodriguez, being in features "will allow me to write about the kind of stuff that I talk about with my friends, except now my friends will include all these people I don't know who are sitting at their kitchen table in their underwear." She says she'll write about "pop culture, fashion, dating, trends, food, books, music, gossip, politics, and maybe even about the Westword media critic." (That last idea is a sure dud.) She anticipates the job will be a lot of fun, "but it's like anything else in this business. If I like it, I stay. If I don't, it means I've got to move."

Join the crowd.

Remake and remodel: Luck was on the side of the folks who oversaw the Post's redesign. Because the paper has looked so crappy for so long, there was nowhere to go but up. For that reason, it's no shock that the new-look Post is a significant improvement. A relief, definitely, but not a shock.

From first page to last, the Post is brighter than it was before, thanks to a cannier use of space, borders and the like, not to mention typefaces that are easier on the eyes. Also beneficial in this regard are the extra decks that appear on headlines in many parts of the paper. They may not add a lot of value for people who actually intend to read the articles, rather than skimming them, but they provide auxiliary gaps between blocks of words. As a result, many readers will comprehend for the first time that the Post is printed on white paper, not gray.

In an interview for a column that previewed the Post's makeover ("Nip/Tuck," April 22), Damon Cain, the Post's managing editor for presentation and design, noted that the redesign was flexible enough to allow each part of the paper to have its own personality. This approach means differences from section to section. At this point, Perspective may actually be too spare, whereas the Food section, which launched on May 5, suffers a bit from visual overload. Fortunately, the layout is improved across the board, thanks to a greater emphasis on photos, graphics and color, which, even when it's muted, is more vibrant than it's been of late.

Not that the redesign is especially radical. The most twisted facets are new snapshots of columnists such as Carman, Spencer, Woody Paige and Bill Husted, who, strangely enough, are all shown slump-shouldered. Apparently, the Post is reaching out to a previously ignored demographic: hunchbacks. In other ways, the approach is fairly conventional, seldom breaking with traditions that have developed at dailies over the course of the past fifteen years or so. Consider that the strip containing references to stories inside the paper that now appears above the Post's front-page flag has been a staple at other dailies around the country for years. No wonder one wag greeted the redesign with the comment "Welcome to the 1990s." But at least the paper's moving in the right direction -- visually speaking, anyway. Now if only the content would follow suit.

Channel 9's new set, which debuted the first week of May, is shooting for the future, not the past. Seen from a distance, the gleaming anchor desk looks like the deck of the starship Enterprise. The excuse for the upgrade was the station's conversion to HDTV, a development that's been ruthlessly pimped via on-air promos for months now. Another influence, albeit an unacknowledged one, was the revamped studio design introduced late last year by Channel 9's principal rival, Channel 4 ("The Joy of Sets," November 27, 2003). Channel 4 took the unexpected step of replacing the typical cityscape backdrop seen on most news programs with a simpler, more natural environment dominated by the color blue. The improvement immediately made most other local news broadcasts look stodgy by comparison.

Well, guess what? Channel 9's set supplements an array of video monitors placed behind its anchors with plenty of blue -- so much, in fact, that many of the talking-head shots used in, say, the popular morning newscast are all but indistinguishable from those on Channel 4.

I guess that's why they call them the blues.

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