Irony alert: The Denver Post's internal communication about employees taking a buyout offer announced in April included a correction.
The first memo, sent out yesterday evening by new Post editor Lee Ann Colacioppo (she took over from Greg Moore, who resigned in March), featured eighteen names.
A few minutes later, managing editor Linda Shapely issued a followup noting that an additional two names had been omitted "because of an editor's error."
That makes twenty editorial types who accepted the buyout — six short of the announced goal, 26.
Does that mean additional layoffs are possible? Thus far, Colacioppo hasn't responded to a Westword inquiry about that issue; if and when she gets back to us, we'll update this post. But whatever the case, the newsroom will be down to around 100 people — about a third of its peak number.
Here's the message from Colacioppo. Note that we've added the two names accidentally omitted the first time.
We have come to the end of the buyout period. I don't even want to know how many years of service, how many awards, how many hours of work, how much heart is included in this list.
Several of these people left earlier or slipped quietly out today. Others will leave over the next week or so. I have spent a lot of time studying this list and considering the contributions made by every person on it. I am well aware of what we are losing even as we proceed with plans for what I am confident is an exciting future with opportunities for everyone here to grow and experiment and do important — and fun — work....
Many of these journalists will be familiar to longtime Post readers — particularly those who enjoyed the features section, which has clearly taken a major hit. But arguably the two biggest names on this list are editorial page editor Vince Carroll and longtime TV and media columnist Joanne Ostrow.
The Post announced Carroll's exit on June 22 in a piece that revealed his successor, Chuck Plunkett. This news prompted a passionate, strongly worded tribute from Lynn Bartels, who took a 2015 Post buyout and is currently the spokesperson for Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams.
Like Carroll, Bartels came to the Post from the Rocky Mountain News, which shut down in 2009. Her take reads:
The worst thing to happen to Colorado journalism since the closure of the Rocky Mountain News just happened. Vincent Carroll, the editorial page editor of The Denver Post, has taken the buyout and is leaving the paper (but not Denver). I was always truly amazed at how much reporting he did. Despite being the so-called conservative paper, the Rocky opposed the passage of TABOR in 1992. Do you know why? Because Vincent read the fine print and understood it contained a dreaded ratchet effect. I didn't always agree with him, but he is a great writer, a great mind and a great friend. I'm not sure Denver can recover from this one although I am friends with his successor, Chuck Plunkett, who cares deeply about our state.
Even before the Carroll news broke, however, Ostrow informed her Facebook friends that she, too, would be accepting the buyout.
Her June 20 item on the subject reads: "Moving on: After 32+ years at the Denver Post, I'm riding the latest wave of buyouts. It was more fun than a job is supposed to be until the hedge fund masters took over.... Out at the end of June to start my next act. Thanks to all the smart editors, generous colleagues and kind readers."
Ostrow's mention of "hedge fund masters" is an allusion to Alden Global Capital, the financial firm that controls Digital First Media, the Post's current owner. AGC, the subject of a protest at the Denver Post headquarters building on June 17, is largely seen as driving the buyouts even though a source told us in May that the paper is making millions and profits are rising.
Why, then, is further slashing necessary? This was our summation of the source's theory: "Alden feels confident that print will be going away over the course of the next ten years or so, and given this eventuality, the only logical course of action is to squeeze every last dime from the operation while such coins are still available. That includes jacking up subscription prices on a regular basis, even if doing so hurts overall circulation, as a way of getting maximum profit out of longtime subscribers (the paper's core audience) for as long as possible before eliminating print entirely."
Ostrow, who added the theater beat to her workload following a previous staff cut, admits that she considered earlier buyout offers — "but the timing was right for me this time."
One reason: "They're eliminating the critics category," she says. "So it's not like I had a choice."
Others needed more convincing. Last week, sources told Westword that only between seven and ten people had signed up to take the buyout, likely because there have been so many similar offers over recent years. The figure Ostrow heard was eleven — "and at that point, I think they started seriously letting people know that they were going to move to layoffs if they didn't get their numbers."
Such talk clearly had an impact on morale, Ostrow acknowledges. "I think this is a very difficult period. The folks who are staying are kind of seeing the paper being stripped down. But they really want to be there, and that's good, and some of the veterans are going to stay, and I'm glad to know that, because they really need it. But it's been tough."
She's upbeat about her personal situation. Having had either daily or weekly deadlines since 1974, when she began working for Broadcasting magazine in Washington, D.C. (she mentioned some of this history in a farewell column "I have no idea if they're going to publish"), she's looking forward to taking it easy for a while — and she's got plans for traveling and cycling. "I enjoyed some of the best years at the paper and also some of the most interesting years covering television," she says. "No regrets."
Among our favorite Ostrow moments: the cool way she handled herself after being ambushed by one of Bill O'Reilly's minions circa 2007. Here's that video:
Still, Ostrow feels for members of the theater community, who are worried about what's to come:
"Good or bad reviews, they need the attention," she says. "If you're going to have a city, you need some cultural reporting, and I don't know what that's going to look like.
"The folks in Denver have really tried their best to keep the thing going," she emphasizes. "So I think this is about the Alden Global folks, whose names I don't know.... This is happening for the whole industry, not just our paper. This is the way it's going.
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"It does feel like the newspaper is becoming a different animal. The future is uncertain. So it's a bittersweet time for me.