Dusty Saunders Hits the Trail

The Rocky's veteran broadcasting critic is the latest casualty of the paper's financial troubles.

The same goes for television — but daily broadcasting writers produce as many, if not more, column inches on reports about local stations and personalities as they do on critiques of network programs or cable fare. Nevertheless, these chores haven't inoculated them against being disappeared. Saunders points to his friend Ed Bark, the Dallas Morning News TV critic for more than a quarter-century, who took a buyout last fall because he feared he'd be laid off if he didn't. Bark subsequently launched a website, www.unclebarky.com, that covers media in Dallas and beyond far more thoroughly and enjoyably than does the Morning News circa 2007.

Bark's example demonstrates the risks of looking at entertainment coverage mainly from the perspective of expense. Pinching pennies while allowing the product to deteriorate can cause even loyal readers to look elsewhere — like, for instance, other Internet sites. Temple, though, thinks the web shows how exciting and useful criticism can be when the number of opinion-providers expands. He lauds the way Amazon presents information about books: a synopsis followed by comments about the tome from readers of every description. "That's a more interesting environment than if you only have professional writers talking about them," he says.

Temple isn't suggesting that this approach makes paid reviewers obsolete; he likes the idea of juxtaposing the views of experienced pros with just plain folks. Denerstein concurs, even though he sees a distinction between these forms of expression. "Hopefully, a critic will have a different type of writing skill than someone who doesn't write all the time," he says. "They're different games. One game is criticism, and the other comes under a different heading. Maybe 'group discussion.'"

Dusty Saunders is bidding the Rocky adieu — along with a few of his colleagues.
Mark Manger
Dusty Saunders is bidding the Rocky adieu — along with a few of his colleagues.

According to Denerstein, who's 64, he probably would have worked for another couple of years had the buyout not come along. Similarly, Saunders says he had been planning to call it a career in late 2008, following the Democratic National Convention in Denver and the presidential election. Neither seems resentful that his plans were pushed up, and both note that they plan to occasionally freelance pieces to the paper. Granted, Crecente said the same thing, and his byline hasn't appeared in the paper since he left two months ago. But Saunders expects he'll wind up with some fairly steady obituary duty. "When you've covered the beat as long as I have, there's always somebody dying," he says, laughing.

Despite all the doom and gloom surrounding it, the Rocky still has plenty of life left, particularly on the local-news side. The paper continues to turn out strong enterprise pieces exemplified by a May 30 offering about the distressing graduation rates of Hispanic males who attend Denver Public Schools. Newsroom restructuring intended to break down barriers between the print edition and the website seems promising, too. "The irony is that at the same time we're having to rethink how we're using our resources and resize ourselves based on current economics, we're actually able to be doing more," Temple says. "And we need to be doing more."

The entertainment section may benefit from this line of thinking. Or it could be a victim of it.

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