The Message

Skin City

Temple's tone seems defensive in light of what happened next. Doyle found that two other sentences from the editorial evoked a July 12 Washington Post article that had been referenced on the Howler site. Here's one from the Post: "The panel found that Wilson's report, rather than debunking intelligence about purported uranium sales to Iraq, as he has said, bolstered the case for most intelligence analysts." The Rocky countered with: "The committee said Wilson's Niger report, rather than debunking intelligence about purported uranium sales to Iraq, as Wilson said, bolstered the case for most CIA analysts."

The Rocky couldn't ignore this evidence, hence Beal's resignation. But why did Temple describe the offense as "inappropriately duplicated wording" instead of plagiarism? Temple discloses that a "bad experience" in a previous arbitration case he declines to specify partly inspired his avoidance of the P-word. (Most likely, he's referring to a '90s faceoff with ex-music writer Justin Mitchell.) Even so, he doubts that any reader would be confused about whether Beal had done wrong. As for Brogan's portrayal of his blog intro as paranoid, he calls it "funny" and goes on to praise 5280 for locating a smoking gun. "I'm glad they did it," he says. "If readers can point out things to make us better, that's positive."

For everyone but Beal.

Dean's deal: On August 3, one of the most Byzantine newspaper transactions in recent memory shook the journalism biz -- and MediaNews Group head (and Denver Post owner) Dean Singleton was in the middle of it. The concord puts Gannett, a media conglomerate that owns Denver's Channel 9, in charge of the Detroit Free Press, formerly part of the enormous Knight Ridder chain, with MediaNews taking over the Detroit News, previously held by Gannett. Publications in Florida, Idaho and Washington shifted portfolios, too, in order to make the arrangement worth Knight Ridder's while.

The joint operating agreement that links the Free Press and the News, which went into effect in 1989, presented another complicating factor, since it's not nearly as even-keeled as the JOA in Denver. Whereas the Post and the Rocky have roughly the same readership Monday through Friday, the Free Press boasts a daily circulation of 347,447 as opposed to 218,841 at the News, according to the most recent findings of the Audit Bureau of Circulations, the industry's monitor. A similar imbalance exists with Seattle's JOA, where the Seattle Times is hoping to dump its weaker cohort, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Reports suggest that the disparity in Detroit is reflected in the renegotiated JOA, whose profits were once divided equally by Knight Ridder and Gannett. Singleton says the specifics of the split have not been revealed, but a Gannett spokeswoman told the New York Times her company will receive over 70 percent of the pie. Figures like this one have led to speculation that Singleton is essentially doing a favor for Gannett, with whom he has partnerships in California, Texas and New Mexico. Students enrolled in this school of thought predict he'll ease the News into the grave, leaving himself with a golden parachute and the Free Press with a monopoly in a town that can no longer support two daily newspapers, but is capable of sustaining one rather nicely.

Singleton scoffs at such theories. There's no comparison between the shaky JOA in Seattle and the Free Press-News match, he says, because "Seattle is ego-driven, and there's no ego involved in Detroit." He doesn't see layoffs as part of the picture, either: "We're buying a newspaper from Gannett, and Gannett is well-known for being efficient." (That's one way of putting it.) He adds that a JOA provision allowing the News to switch its publication schedule from afternoons to mornings should help narrow the circulation differences between the Free Press and the News. "But that gap is nothing more than keeping score," he insists. "The bottom line is, when you're part of a JOA, you're looking at the economics as a whole." For that reason, he argues, the News's survival benefits, rather than hurts, Gannett. "If Detroit doesn't have two newspapers, the penetration in the market would be dangerously low," he maintains. "There's a business need for two newspapers there, just as there's a business need for two in Denver."

Circulation at both Detroit papers is lower of late, as it is in Denver; both the Post and the Rocky have suffered Monday-Friday dips in the 6 percent range. Singleton says that the slide in Denver is part of a long-term strategy to rid the papers of "marginal circulation" dating to the penny-subscription war, when a year's worth of the Rocky could be had for around $3. He acknowledges, however, that this excuse is nearing its expiration date. "We're just about there," he says. "We'll probably cycle a small loss in September, and then we should be about flat." If circulation tumbles next year, then, the losses will presumably cut into meat, not fat.

Predictably, Singleton shows little concern about potential downturns in Denver, or those naysayers who think he took leave of his senses when he purchased the Detroit News. "I've been asked many times in the last few days, 'Why did you do this?'" he concedes. "And each time, I've said, 'Because this is what we do.'"

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