I Am Curious, Yellow Journalism

That airplane banner flying overhead Monday, proclaiming the unfairness of Denver Post management to all of downtown Denver, wasn't the only sign that Denver Newspaper Guild negotiations are under way.

The stickiness of those negotiations, which affect up to half the employees of Denver's two daily newspapers, also explains the Rocky Mountain News's reluctance to follow through on an earlier plan to spy on its staffers through their computer files.

Earlier this fall, Justin Mitchell, who'd become a copy editor at the paper after he lost his post as the News's longtime music critic (for plagiarism, but that's another story), was fired by the paper for violating workplace rules No. 4 and No. 15. That means he allegedly employed the paper's phones and electronic systems for his own personal use--he and probably anyone who's ever worked at an office that had phones and electronic systems. (He may have taken home a few pencils, too.) Nevertheless, in its eagerness to document Mitchell's offenses (among other things, he reportedly created a parody Kim Franke-Folstad Mother's Day column--but who could tell?), the News last month took a "snapshot" of its entire electronic database.

That act--and the paper's purported desire to examine the database--inspired the Guild to file a grievance against the paper (see memo at right); it also inspired a group of union negotiators to walk out of a session with the paper's management a few weeks ago. At last report, the paper had refrained from perusing its employees' files pending further discussions with the Guild. Good move: Look what embarrassing stuff I managed to dig up in just a few minutes of hacking:

From the directory of Michael Balfe Howard, former editor and current star columnist:

Column ideas:
1. Barney, part II
2. How Russian novels mirror today's society
3. Raffi
4. Hilltop: A fit location for a mayor's home, or really Helltop?
5. More famous people I almost met when I was a real journalist

From the directory of Kim Franke-Folstad, current star columnist:
Column ideas:
1. Tis the season to be jolly, part II: More fun with puff paint
2. Thanksgiving leftovers: More reason to be thankful
3. Virgin Mary: Thanks to the mother of all mothers!

From the directory of Bill Johnson, current star columnist:
Things to do:
1. Fill out expense reports
2. Hang up on someone

3. Discover the mean streets of Denver by interviewing girl who makes my sandwich at Subway sub shop

4. Write a column about the warmth and closeness of families
5. Finish filling out separation papers and call wife's attorney

From the directory of Norm!, current star columnist:
Things to do:
1. Fill out expense reports
2. Decide: Could Dreamworks be lying about Steven Spielberg?
3. Figure out a way to explain that Spielberg thing
4. Avoid Santino's
5. Go to SingSing
6. Misidentify Bronco
7. Write notes on matchbook
8. Decide: Can I turn in matchbooks as receipts?

To: John Temple, managing editor
From: Norm!
Re: Expense reports
If I can't turn in matchbooks as receipts, what about cocktail napkins?

Date: September 21, 1997
To: The Denver Post Sports department
From: W. Dean "Dinky" Singleton, owner
Re: Story idea

While visiting with Pat in his owner's box, I learned that John Elway has a nipple ring. Alan Shefter will try to get a close look when he hits the showers after today's game, but be sure and save some space in tomorrow's column. We want to beat the News on this one!

To: The Rocky Mountain News Sports Department
From: John Temple, managing editor
Re: The September 22 Post

We hear the Denver Post has launched an investigation to find out how the fictitious nipple-ring item made it into their computer system and into print. If any one of you was involved, please report to my office immediately. Good job!

To: The Rocky Mountain News Editorial Department
From: Bob Burdick, editor
Good news! Although the actual Colorado Press Association awards won't be determined until February, I am proud to announce that the Rocky Mountain News has swept the editorial awards in its circulation class! (When sharing this information, there is no need to mention that both the Denver Post and the Colorado Springs Gazette, the only other two papers that qualify in the class of large dailies, did not enter this year's contest.)

To: The Rocky Mountain News Marketing Department
From: Larry Strutton, publisher
Re: The latest circulation figures

Good news! We have carefully analyzed the most recent ABC audit figures, and realize that what looks like a 13,000-paper loss is actually a much richer demographic gain for our advertisers! In the crucial six-block area of Cherry Creek in which we have decided to focus our circulation, we outsell the Post three to one (on days when their truck breaks down).

To: Department Managers
From: Larry Strutton, publisher
Re: Electronic surveillance

Until this Guild annoyance is resolved, please disregard Special Order 666-2 in your Management of Employees manual regarding weekly surveillance of electronic files and home wiretaps.


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