John Moore among 19 taking Denver Post buyouts, layoffs not expected

Update: At last, we've got the complete list of Denver Post employees who have or will be leaving the paper after accepting a buyout offer: nineteen staffers from various departments, including editors, reporters and photographers. Perhaps most surprising: John Moore, the paper's theater critic and online dynamo who just was named best arts blogger at the Westword Web Awards.

Here's the Web Awards blurb about Moore:

Although he started his career at the Denver Post as a baseball editor, John Moore has become both synonymous with and incredibly successful in the theater world since his beginning in 1993. Moore, who was recently named one of American Theater magazine's 12 most influential theater critics, has spent one of the past two decades maintaining painstakingly comprehensive and wonderfully creative coverage of local theater with none of the stereotypical pretension that would keep people from finding a niche, exploring it and ultimately loving it.

Moore didn't respond to a pair of interview requests from Westword. But he's posted an announcement explaining his decision to "invite chaos" into his life. Check out this fascinating excerpt:

This buyout is the gift of time -- many months of it -- to fulfill a promise I made more than 20 years ago to the wife of a friend of mine who committed suicide, leaving behind a young daughter. I have always believed there is the potential and need for a theatrical exploration of suicide that affords possible catharsis for the living, and revelation for the judgmental. What I am imagining would combine the percussive power of indie-rock music with modern dance to tell a universal story that never gets full and unfettered attention in the theater because it is presumed to be an unwatchable subject. I would like to disprove that theory.

So I am approaching this voluntary sabbatical as a self-imposed writing commission. Whether anyone sees it or produces it is, to me, secondary. I just have to write it. And even if the chaos I have invited into my life leads to financial ruin and prolonged, self-inflicted unemployment, I will never regret taking that risk.

As for the others joining Moore in exiting the broadsheet, Post editor Greg Moore provided the following list, supplemented by each staffer's time at the paper.

Mike Keefe, 36 years Jackie Feldman, 13 years Jan Torpy, 23 years Jeff Leib, 25 years Virginia Culver, 44 years Don Russell, 33 years Pete Names, 38 years John Moore, 18 years Sheba Wheeler, 15 years Kyle MacMillan, 11 years Robert Smith, 21 years John Prieto, 45 years Jonathan Moreno, 18 years Joyce Anderson, 32 years Jeanette Chavez, 27 years Joe Hudson, 21 years Bill Husted, 15 years Jim Carr, 8 years Natalie Meisler, 35 years

To put it mildly, the Post will be losing an enormous amount of institutional knowledge as a result of these moves, from every corner of the editorial department -- from transportation expert Lieb to Chavez, the managing editor/administration. Moreover, the number of people who took the deal -- including folks like Carr, who's only been at the paper for eight years, and Moore, who's nowhere close to retirement age -- suggests that staffers don't expect another buyout offer in the future. If additional belt-tightening is required, most people believe layoffs will be the first option, not the last.

This time around, though, more job cuts are unlikely, at least in the immediate future. As Moore notes via e-mail, "We achieved the goals with the buyout" -- the target had been fifteen to twenty employees -- "and I don't think we'll need to do layoffs, which is something we wanted to avoid. But even if I had a crystal ball I wouldn't use it to predict the future. I don't think anybody would."

True enough. In the meantime, Moore confirms that the paper has announced a search among current staffers for a new metro columnist. Less than a year ago, the paper had three such columnists, but Mike Littwin's work was moved to the op-ed section and Bill Johnson resigned in August, leaving only Tina Griego plying the trade. Now, with Husted leaving, the Denver and the West section will be light on personalities; Penny Parker's gossip-oriented coverage is currently appearing in the Business section. As such, the Post braintrust clearly believes it needs to put another face on the metro beat.

And the changes continue. Look below for our earlier coverage.

Original post, 7:48 a.m. November 28: Who's taking a buyout offer from the Denver Post? We should have answers soon.

This morning, Post editor Greg Moore noted via e-mail that he's hoping to know more today regarding the list of those who'll be moving on. But cartoonist Mike Keefe has definitely accepted the deal for which columnist Bill Husted has also applied, while society writer Joanne Davidson pulled out.

The word about Keefe comes from a nice tribute by Curtis Hubbard featured in Sunday's Post. The article's focus on Keefe's accomplishments was appropriate. However, Hubbard's one line about the buyout -- described as an offer made to "longtime employees as we continue to maneuver the industry's choppy financial seas" -- left out a sad truth about the situation. Papers across the country, including this one, have been laying off their cartoonists with increasing frequency, and Keefe undoubtedly knew that even his 2011 Pulitzer Prize for cartooning wouldn't prevent him from joining their number.

As for Davidson, local PR gadfly Randy Wren posted the following on his Facebook page last Tuesday:

What a heart-breaker! On the 16th Street Mall, I just ran into FB friend, and Denver Post columnist, Bill Husted and he informs me that both he and Joanne Davidson have accepted some sort of a buyout! And his last column is next week!

The de facto announcement prompted this reply from Davidson:

Earlier today, Randy Mack Wren posted right here on Facebook that I was one of those who'd accepted a buyout at The Denver Post. To set the record straight, I haven't. I had applied for one but in the end, the prospect of being part of a whole new era of newsgathering was much too exciting to pass up and I withdrew my application. The inevitable challenges and frustrations that will come as we staff a 24/7 newsroom and transition to digital platforms don't scare me; I have, after all, survived manual typewriters and mobile phones the size (and weight) of a cinderblock. Not being in the thick of things does.

So, it looks like y'all WILL have me to kick around for a while longer!

There's been no such retraction from Husted, whose plans we shared in late October. But just because someone has applied for a buyout doesn't mean he or she will definitely get it. The Post has reserved the right to say "no" in case too many people from a single department want to split. And the individuals themselves also had a week to change their mind.

Given that, we're hearing from reliable sources that lifestyles reporter Sheba Wheeler and arts and classical music writer Kyle MacMillan will be joining Keefe and Husted on the buyout list -- one that reportedly needs to reach a threshold of at least ten more names in order to prevent layoffs. When we learn all the monikers, we'll update this post.

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More from our Media archive: "Denver Post: If 15-20 newsroom staffers don't take buyout, layoffs could follow."

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts