The February 26 announcement that the Rocky Mountain News would close was accompanied by word that the Denver Post had hired a handful of Rocky notables. This move was a positive development for readers, as well as for the staffers in question -- but combining these forces can present internal challenges.
Case in point: Penny Parker's addition to the Post roster. Parker actually worked for the Post from 1993 to 1999 prior to being snapped up by the Rocky, where she spent almost a decade writing the tabloid's gossip column. This role meant she had to compete directly with Bill Husted, the Post's chief gossip -- and the experience didn't inspire a lot of love between them. "To put it mildly, we were not friendly with each other," Husted says. "We at one time were very good friends, but we are not friends now." Parker echoes these remarks. In her words, their friendship was "ruined" over the years, "and it will never be revived."
Now, however, Parker and Husted not only have to work together, but they must coordinate their reporting on a daily basis in order to avoid redundancy and help establish distinctions between their columns. The result, at this writing, is "a sort of détente," Parker says. And while both are confident they can maintain peace, their tone suggests that it won't be easy for either of them.
In the beginning, Parker says, she and Husted were kindred spirits. According to her, "There was no one more excited about him coming to the Post when I worked there. And when I was recruited at the Rocky in '99 to take Norm Clarke's job, Bill and I were still fine. We were friendly competitors. But as the trenches became wider, we got more and more competitive. My job every day was to beat him, and I understood that and took it very seriously."
Things changed when Husted "started taking shots at me in his column," Parker continues. "People who supported me wanted me to fire back, and I refused to do that. He chose one way and I chose another. I chose the high road, as I'd tell anybody. But that ruined our friendship -- absolutely ruined it."
For his part, Husted isn't interested in dissecting his past conflict with Parker. "That's beside the point now," he says. "We have to be colleagues and work together -- and we're both grateful that we have jobs. It could have worked out a lot worse for both of us."
Even so, Hustead and Parker are having to make adjustments in order to accomodate each other. The current concept calls for Husted, whose column appears in the local-news-oriented Denver and the West section, to focus on more traditional gossip. In contrast, Parker is concentrating on more business-oriented items, like the opening and closing of restaurants, in order to justify her column's placement in the Business section.
Problem is, some items overlap these lines, and the huge number of sources who share info with Husted and Parker may have trouble understanding where one territory ends and the next one begins -- hence the need to communicate on a regular basis. With that in mind, Husted and Parker sat down this past Thursday with their respective editors, Ray Rinaldi and Steve McMillan, to map out a plan going forward. Both columnists promised to alert the other if they get a good tip. "I've definitely steered things toward her," Husted says, "and I know she's doing that with me."
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And when coverage is less clear-cut? The ex-rivals are negotiating who gets to write about what. For instance, "The Rockies always throw an opening-day party, and both of us have covered it in the past," Parker allows. "But we discussed it and decided I would cover it, simply because it attracts captains of industry, which is way more of a business angle -- and Bill was completely amenable." However, celebrity sightings, a onetime Parker specialty, "will be completely a Bill thing," she maintains.
Repetition remains possible, though, as evidenced by columns published this past Friday. The last line in Husted's offering was a quote from Michael Karolchyk, the controversial owner of the now-defunct Anti-Gym, who co-starred on an episode of People's Court -- and a page or two later, Parker's main item told the tale of...Karolchyk's appearance on the same show. But they say their editors were aware of the dual mentions and didn't see a problem with them, particularly since Husted, who'd written extensively about the program previously, tossed in the comment as a closing punchline, while Parker got into more detail.
In general, Parker says her new colleagues at the Post have been very welcoming. She especially enjoyed a wine, cheese and fruit reception for the Rocky refugees staged on March 2 by Dean Singleton, who, as chairman of MediaNews Group, is the Post's de facto owner. But after hours, she and Husted probably won't be hanging out anytime soon. "We will work as colleagues, and we will respect each other out of a ruined friendship," she pledges -- and she believes Husted feels the same way. At the aforementioned meeting, "Bill said, 'We don't have to like each other, but we have to talk to each other.' And I said, 'You're right.'"
"Sometime, one of us will get a really juicy story that belongs on someone else's beat, and we'll just have to give it up -- and that probably won't feel good," Husted concedes. "But I don't think what's going on here will be that difficult. It's like competing against someone in a sport, and then all of a sudden, you're on the same team. That's the new reality here."