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When Evan Dreyer was city editor for the Denver Post, I contacted him numerous times in regard to this column, but he didn't always reply when the questions touched on uncomfortable topics -- like veteran scribe Chuck Green's disappearance from the paper under did-he-jump-or-was-he-pushed circumstances in 2002. Now that he's acting as Governor Bill Ritter's communications director, however, selective muteness is no longer an option, as he acknowledges. "I will always attempt to call back," he vows, "even if I can only say 'No comment' or 'There's nothing new.'"
Plenty about Dreyer's position in the Ritter administration feels novel to him, including his sudden status as a media figure. Although it's common for candidates and officials to choose journalistic types to act as their official conduits, such politicos tend to lean toward those with a background in the electronic press; think of ex-Fox News blabber Tony Snow, the flack for President George W. Bush, and Dan Hopkins, Dreyer's predecessor, who worked at KOA and other radio stations prior to signing on with ex-governor Bill Owens. In contrast, Dreyer's a print guy who was seldom required to speak on the air or appear on camera. That changed dramatically once Ritter took office; on inauguration morning, Dreyer began his day by making the local TV rounds. He concedes that such appearances don't feel effortless quite yet.
"I still have to think about doing it before I go on," Dreyer says. "But I have to think about a lot of different aspects of this job -- because even though there are some skills that are transferable from journalism, there are others that aren't." For one thing, "the communications office is very much the public face, the public voice, for the activities of the governor's office. Our activities represent the work of the governor, and that's something very different from being a newspaper reporter, writing about somebody else's life."
A native of the Boston area, Dreyer attended the University of Denver and caught the journalism bug after taking a mass communications course taught by Jan Whitt, presently a member of CU-Boulder's faculty. Upon earning his DU diploma in 1988, he returned to Boston with future wife Melody Harris; today, Harris is president of Bad Boy Brands International, a product branding company. Dreyer subsequently landed at the Marlboro Enterprise, a small Massachusetts daily where he wrote "three to five stories a day," he recalls. Two years later, he and Harris relocated to San Diego, where he worked for a couple of suburban papers, most notably the North County Times. He rose to become the Times's projects editor and played a major role in shaping its coverage of the 1997 mass suicide committed in nearby Rancho Santa Fe by members of the Heaven's Gate cult -- a shocking incident that helped prepare him for an even bigger story down the road: Columbine.
By then, Dreyer was a staffer at the Post, where he was hired in 1998 as a night editor. He moved to the day shift the following year, and in April 1999, when the slayings at Columbine High School took place, the newly minted assistant city editor was assigned to work on the paper's attack reportage full-time. He did so for a year, helping to shape countless articles and penning quite a few about the family of victim Matt Kechter. These efforts were professionally rewarding -- the Post earned a Pulitzer Prize for its Columbine coverage -- but also "very difficult emotionally," he says. "My wife was pregnant with our second child [Benjamin, now seven] at that point, and our oldest child [ten-year-old Charlotte] was two and a half. So it was hard to push through."
Life at the Post didn't get any easier after he became city editor in early 2000. The demands of the gig were only compounded by 9/11, after which the paper ramped up its commitment to national and international news, and the 2002 switch from editor Glenn Guzzo to current head man Greg Moore. By the next year, Dreyer was thoroughly burned out from the combination of long hours and high stress. "I had been through some really big stories," he says, "and my family suffered and sacrificed more than any family should." When he left the paper in July 2003, his co-workers presented him with a list of the "Top Ten Things Evan Will Miss About the Post," including "Columnists whose names rhyme with Fuck" -- a reference, presumably, to the aforementioned Mr. Green.
According to Dreyer, he wasn't sure what his next career move would be, but he did know former Post reporter Mark Eddy, who'd made a successful move into the public-relations world. Eddy referred him to a couple of clients, which kept him afloat until 2004, when he was asked to handle press inquiries for the CU Independent Investigation Commission, a panel empowered to look into the university's recruiting scandal. He eventually wrote the commission's final report, as well as 2005's Moving Colorado -- Vision for the Future, the Colorado Department of Transportation's so-called 2030 plan. Eddy introduced him to Ritter a few months later, and by that fall, he was ensconced as campaign coordinator. Early on, many Democrats seemed singularly unenthusiastic about Ritter's candidacy, but other rivals fell away, leaving the former Denver district attorney to fend off a slew of particularly nasty assaults from Republican nominee Bob Beauprez. These charges didn't stick to Ritter, but Dreyer won't take credit for deflecting them. "Bill Ritter set the tone," he insists. "We were measured and disciplined in how we responded and in how aggressive we were in defining the true Bob Beauprez."
Dreyer considers the communication directorship he was offered after Ritter's victory to be a great opportunity, but he knows it has drawbacks. He resigned from the Post in part because the hours were keeping him from seeing his family, and working for the governor isn't exactly a nine-to-five gig. Fortunately, his employer is empathetic. "The governor has young children at home," he notes, "and he's told all of us that family comes first." In an attempt to strike a better balance than he did previously, "I'm trying to establish a Wednesday routine where I pick my kids up at school, take them back to the Capitol for a while, and then take them to piano lessons." He laughs before adding, "Let's see what happens when soccer season starts."
And if a call comes in during a game? Dreyer will return it, no matter how unpleasant it might seem. Doing so wasn't always a part of his job, but it is now.
False ID: Newspapers encourage readers to post comments on their websites -- but the ease with which such remarks can be put online brings its own risks. Take the case of an area woman who received a strange call about Scott Cortelyou, a longtime local radio personality arrested on January 23 for allegedly trying to lure a child into sex using the Internet. Cortelyou's name rang a bell with the woman, but she didn't know why someone would phone her about him until she discovered that a comment had been placed on a Canyon Courier article about the bust under her name. The message implied that she had a close relationship with Cortelyou and encouraged readers to phone. Her real number was included.
As soon as he heard what happened, Doug Bell, editor of Evergreen Newspapers, a group that includes the Courier, immediately removed the thread; he thinks it was visible for less than a day. Still, he admits that occurrences like this one can't be prevented entirely. Bell sets aside time in the evenings to check each day's posts and routinely removes anything objectionable -- and the presence of a personal phone number in the Cortelyou-related item would have doomed it. But because the Courier doesn't have enough staffers to moderate comments in advance, messages go live immediately.
The woman whose identity was briefly stolen filed a report with the Park County Sheriff's Office, but she doesn't expect anything to come of it; the web pretender probably didn't break any law. Nevertheless, she's removed online ads that contain information about a business she owns for fear of being victimized again -- and there's no guarantee that she (or anyone else) won't be. "Let's face it," Bell says. "We have no idea who's posting these comments." Onetime Post city editor Evan Dreyer has gone from covering the news to helping make it, as Bill Ritter's communications director.