The Message

Saint John

Paige says he turned down Shapiro three times before finally accepting his offer. "I love Colorado and I love being what I am, a columnist here," he insists. "I was very comfortable. But a friend of mine said, 'You've been in your comfort zone for a long time. It's time for you to challenge yourself' -- and he was right." If the newspaper war was still going on, Paige doubts the Post would have granted him a leave, but he says Post owner Dean Singleton, editor Greg Moore and sports editor Kevin Dale "were all very receptive to the idea." He expects that a new columnist will be hired to fill his weekday slots, and while he has no idea who might be chosen, its likely the Post will seek to diversify a lineup dominated by Caucasian males such as Mark Kiszla and Jim Armstrong.

In the meantime, Paige prepares to embark on his new adventure with a mix of anticipation and anxiety. "I'll be on ESPN more than anybody else," he says, unbelievingly. "They're putting a lot of faith in me, which kind of scares me. I'm afraid they'll look at me after a while and think, 'What the fuck did we do?'"

The later shift: On June 10, assorted editorial employees at the Rocky Mountain News received a startling internal e-mail. The message was penned by city editor Tonia Twichell, and its subject line bluntly stated, "We're Broke...;"

Christopher Smith

In the body of the message, Twichell wrote, "The overtime budget for cityside is flat broke. That means barring the Granbys, Columbines and Hayman Fires of the world, we won't be approving any more -- at least through the summer. Please work with your ACE [assistant city editor] if you feel you're edging into OT territory."

This note sent such a shudder through Rocky journos that Twichell quickly composed a sequel. "I'm sorry for the confusion created by my memo concerning overtime," it began. "I attempted to address a serious subject in a less than serious manner and I would like to clarify. The overall city desk budget is fine. But we do need to make certain that we are following company policy in dealing with overtime. As you know, the Guild contract requires that overtime be approved in advance by your supervising editor or myself. Our goal is to minimize unnecessary overtime through better planning, and thus use overtime for the greatest benefit to our news coverage."

The gulf between "flat broke" and "fine" is a wide one, even taking into consideration Twichell's reference to "unnecessary overtime" in the second e-mail. Aforementioned Rocky boss John Temple attempts to bridge the gap. "We're trying to better manage overtime," he says. "We just did 'dozer rage" -- the act of slow-motion suicide committed by Granby's Marvin Heemeyer -- "and obviously, that involves a lot of overtime. It's what overtime is for. But there should be really good communication when you're deciding to use overtime. We need to ask, 'Do I need to do this? Should somebody else do it?'"

Temple doesn't want anyone to suspect his paper of skimping on coverage to save a buck or two. He points to "The Healing Fields," assistant business editor Jane Hoback's twelve-part series about a Cambodian- American couple devoted to freeing women sold into prostitution in their native land. The narrative required a significant outlay, since the paper paid for Hoback and photographer Ellen Jaskol to visit Cambodia last November, but Temple says the expenses, which fell into the previous budget year, haven't put the squeeze on the overtime fund. He credits the paper's good financial health to the joint operating agreement that links business operations at the Rocky and the Post. "The Rocky has more money to operate its newsroom today than pre-JOA, and we're more ambitious than we were pre-JOA," he says.

If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Little ado about plenty: The Denver Post spent the better part of 2003 and the first portion of this year developing, revising and massaging a new ethics policy intended to update the paper's standards for the morally ambiguous 21st century. The proposed guidelines, shaped by committees made up of managers and their underlings, stirred debate among staffers, many of whom felt that rules intended to further objectivity on the job might restrict their privileges as citizens off it. For instance, the October 10 draft of the document stated that employees "should not participate in rallies, demonstrations, marches and the like," and "may not, in public, wear political buttons, post political signs or attach political bumper stickers to their vehicles." (Bumper stickers on cars that never left the garage were apparently okay.) Moreover, the manifesto's last sentence -- "Any editorial employee of the Denver Post who violates this policy will be subject to disciplinary action, which may include termination" -- raised the possibility of the regulations being administered in ways that contradicted contracts approved by the Denver Newspaper Guild.

Against this backdrop, the paper finalized the policy, and in the months since its spring unveiling, it's gone from a major controversy to a relative non-issue. "There was a lot of talk about it before it was finished," says Tony Mulligan, who heads the Guild. "But I haven't heard a word since."

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