Penny Parker, Mike Littwin layoffs linked to YourHub changes at Post
Update: The Denver Post's decisions to lay off newsroom stars Penny Parker and Mike Littwin, and end Chuck Murphy's metro column, have gotten a lot of attention from folks tracking changes at the paper; get details below. But another person lost her job, too: Dacia Johnson, 23, who worked for YourHub, a community journalism project that, like Littwin and Parker, has roots in the defunct Rocky Mountain News.
YourHub was launched by the Rocky in 2005, and in a Message column from that year linked here, John Temple, the tabloid's editor, described it in positively altruistic terms. "We can fulfill a role of helping to connect the community," he said. "Readers will be able to share their lives -- and we're giving them a platform to do it."
Of course, the concept was also seen as a profit engine -- a way of corralling dollars that otherwise would have gone to then-bustling neighborhood and community newspapers with zoned editions largely filled with user-generated copy that cost little or nothing. And over time, YourHub proved to be quite a sturdy offering, surviving the death of the Rocky and becoming a Post staple. In an August 2009 item headlined "YourHub.com: A local-media success story," I wrote, "YourHub still isn't a must-read -- at least for me. But I can imagine plenty of other folks finding the paper and its web component to be useful, informative and enjoyable. It's not the journalistic revolution Temple implied, but the paper/site has carved out an old-fashioned place for itself in the new-media marketplace."
YourHub has also served as an entry point for new recruits into the journalism industry, with Johnson, a community manager for the operation, serving as a perfect example.
"The community manager position was a brand new position when I started six months ago," she notes via e-mail. "Five of us were hired for this position (all young, I was the youngest. I am only 23. This was my first job out of school. I graduated from Metro State in May 2011).
"I was the only one of the five of us laid off due to the fact that I was the last one hired," she adds, "though we were all hired within weeks of each other."
An open community journalist position at YourHub is also being eliminated, as editor Greg Moore pointed out in a memo to staff on view below.
Regarding the layoff, Johnson concedes that "I'm sad. This was my first job and I was completely blindsided by the news." She's also "concerned for my fellow YourHub community managers. I thought we were doing great things with YourHub, increasing page views and getting more user generated content to our sites."
The problem, of course, is figuring out how to monetize all those clicks, and it's one that still hasn't been solved despite the Herculean efforts of newspaper execs for the past couple of decades at least. In the meantime, though, young journalists like Johnson -- the lifeblood of the profession, and the best way for it to stay relevant into the future -- are finding it tougher and tougher to get their foot in the door, and to stay inside once they're granted entrance.
One more thing: At the bottom of Chuck Murphy's column today, he appended the following: "This is my last column. I have been called back into management to work behind the scenes on The Post's burgeoning social-media efforts. But our conversations can continue at facebook.com/denverpost, facebook.com/Cmurphydenpost, on a soon-to-be established blog and at twitter.com/cmurphydenpost. Thanks."
Look below to see our earlier coverage.
Update, 11:56 a.m. March 22: Just heard from Denver Post editor Greg Moore regarding our interview request following the layoffs of Penny Parker and Mike Littwin, the end of Chuck Murphy's column and other changes at the paper. He didn't answer our questions in detail, but he didn't sugarcoat money woes or the unpleasantness associated with downsizing.
Speculation is rife that the cuts at the Post were made at the behest of the paper's creditors; MediaNews Group, the paper's parent company, emerged from bankruptcy two years ago this week with a reported debt level of $165 million. Moore has no knowledge of such an edict, but he does stress that the changes were financially motivated.
"It's strictly about the money, it's strictly a budget issue," he says. "Our expenses are out of line and our overall performance is not good."
He adds that "company-wide, there are a number of expense-control measures being taken, and unfortunately, they involve people. And it's never good when that happens."
We've also heard from multiple sources that Murphy, who has only been a columnist for a few months after spending the previous eight years in editorial roles, might have been laid off under a last hired-first hired provision had the columnist position not been eliminated. He'll now work as a social media editor.
To that, Moore offers no comment. But he does stress that "I respect the [Denver Newspaper] Guild and I try to operate within the framework of our agreement. And with their cooperation, we've been able to do a lot of things over the ten years I've been here. I'm not looking for fights."
Continue reading for our previous coverage.
Update: Yesterday, news broke that the Denver Post had laid off two big names, Penny Parker and Mike Littwin; for details, read our original item below. In an interview yesterday morning, also seen here, Parker told us to expect more changes, and she was right. A member of the YourHub staff has also been laid off, and new metro columnist Chuck Murphy is being returned to a mostly behind-the-scenes role according to an internal memo we're sharing.
Murphy spent eight years as an editor, most recently under the title of public affairs team leader, prior to the December announcement that he would become a metro columnist in tandem with veteran scribe Tina Griego; his first piece didn't appear until several weeks afterward. Now, however, Murphy will give up the column he's only been penning for a short time to serve as social media editor.
Also gone is YourHub community manager Dacia Johnson, and an open position in the YourHub operation has been eliminated.
We've placed an interview request with Post editor Greg Moore. When and if he responds, we'll update this piece. In the meantime, here's Moore's memo describing the layoffs of Parker, Littwin and Johnson, as well as other changes. That's followed by our earlier coverage.
I regret to have to report developments that you may have already heard. Because of the company's difficult financial situation, we have had to make tough budget cuts that include the layoff of columnists Penny Parker and Mike Littwin. Obviously, this was done strictly to meet budget cuts. It is no reflection on them personally or professionally. Both of them have contributed mightily since joining The Post after the closing of The Rocky Mountain News three years ago. I appreciate everything they have done. I wish it didn't have to happen. We will all miss them.
In addition, we have had to make cuts in the YourHub staff, laying off community manager Dacia Johnson, who has been a key contributor since joining the operation in September. We also are eliminating an open Community Journalist position in YourHub.
It is important to know that reductions are happening in every division at The Post in an effort to cut expenses and improve our performance. You will be hearing more about these challenges in coming days. I had hoped to have a chance to explain some of this before it seeped out, but personnel issues are delicate.
Chuck Murphy will be rejoining the exempt ranks as Social Media editor working with our growing social media team, which is so critical to our continued digital growth. Chuck will work with Dan Petty, who has taken on greater responsibilities with Digital First Media. The move is effective April 1. During Chuck's brief stint as a metro columnist, he did a wonderful job bringing to the fore critical issues and delightful diversions in the metro area. But given the tough choices we are making it is better to turn his considerable talents to these other pressing issues.
Tina Griego, who has for much of the past year shouldered the responsibility of being our sole columnist, will do so again bringing to our readers her fresh perspective and urgent reporting on underserved communities.
This is a difficult time for us all, but we will get through it. Thanks for your support and understanding.
Update, 9:47 a.m. March 21: Earlier today, I reported that the Denver Post has laid off two of its most prominent staffers, Penny Parker and Mike Littwin; see our original post below. Shortly thereafter, I was able to reach Parker, who was blindsided by this unexpected move and still struggling to process it. From what she hears, though, more big changes at the paper could be on the way, and soon.
"Apparently, more is coming down today," Parker says.
To put it mildly, Parker didn't see the layoff coming. "Kick me in the head, seriously. I knew nothing, nothing. My poor, 33-year-old boss" -- business editor Kristi Arellano -- "had to tell me. I feel really bad for her. This is not what she signed on for."
She adds that "I would have expected Greg Moore," the Post's editor, "to have called me. He didn't, and I'm disappointed."
Why does she believe she was let go? "I'm extraneous," she replies. "If you look at newspapers that still have a business columnist, well, they can be axed." She's a member of the Denver Newspaper Guild, and while she hadn't spoken to a union representative prior to our conversation, she suspects that she was vulnerable under a last hired-first fired provision.
Parker stresses that she has "no bitterness" against the paper. "I will forever love the Post, but I'm sad about my own situation. They had to do what they had to do. I don't feel like this hugely high-paid person that they had to let go of. But it's a business decision. I wouldn't want to make those decisions." And despite previous thinning of the staff via buyouts, she believes the paper has continued to publish good work: "We've been doing more stories that have connected with real people, on a really personal level. I really applaud the Post for that."
A lot has changed in the three years since she and other star attractions at the Rocky Mountain News were brought to the Post immediately after the Rocky's closure -- a move accompanied by a great deal of hoopla.
"I thought we were brought over to add a personality to the paper that they thought was missing -- because I thought the Rocky had that personality, that connection to the public," Parker notes. "So they brought us over to help them make the paper a little more personable for their audience. And now I'm gone -- and I am, in a word, devastated.
"I never sought out to be Penny Parker Incorporated," she allows. "I never thought I would be anything other than a reporter. Then I was elevated to the job I got at the Rocky" -- as an around-the-town columnist -- "and then I came to the Post, and Greg Moore invented my job," which combined her previous style with business-and-restaurant focus.
Right now, the response to the news on her Facebook page and via other social media outlets is helping her cope with the situation. "When I went through cancer, I could not believe the outpouring of kindness, and the support people gave me. I never knew it was there. And I am more than grateful for anyone who's going to miss me. How could I not be grateful? I'm the luckiest human being on the planet. That's how I feel. I had the time of my life."
Look below to read our previous coverage.
Original item, 6:36 a.m. March 21: Following the February 2009 closure of the Rocky Mountain News, the Denver Post hired a handful of high-profile Rocky scribes. Three years later, many of them are gone, including metro columnist Bill Johnson and sports expert Dave Krieger.
The latest? Sources say business scribe Penny Parker and columnist Mike Littwin, two of the paper's biggest names, have been laid off.
Parker, who prides herself on breaking stories, did so in regard to her own departure from the Post, tweeting the following:
Signing off on a sweet ride at The Denver Post. Laid off today, too bad, so sad. Love you all!— Penny Parker (@denverpostpenny) March 21, 2012
She also shared the development on her Facebook page, prompting messages of dismay from a slew of notable Denver names and PR types.
No wonder. Parker, who wrote an around-the-town column for the Rocky, adapted her style to fit the Business section upon her arrival at the Post, but she still fit in plenty of news about happenings and Denver celebs. Bill Husted, her colleague at the Post, did likewise. However, Husted took a buyout from the Post late last year, more or less ceding the beat to Parker -- temporarily, as it turns out.
As for Littwin, he was moved from the main section of the paper to the editorial page in early 2011. The lower-profile nature of this spot couldn't help diminishing his impact to some degree. But he remained a must-read for anyone interested in current events here and nationally, even for those infuriated by his progressive slant.
Could other layoffs or staffing changes be in the works? We've requested an interview with Post editor Greg Moore, as well as with Littwin; when and if they respond, or if we get more information from other sources, we'll update this item. In the meantime, it appears the Post braintrust believes that those Rocky lovers who subscribed to the surviving paper in order to keep up with their favorites won't bail even if those writers are gone. Or perhaps those readers have already moved on.
Follow and like the Michael Roberts/Westword Facebook page.
More from our Media archive: "Denver Post yanks Doonesbury, Peanuts and few readers complain -- so far."
Get the Weekly Newsletter
Our weekly feature stories, movie reviews, calendar picks and more - minus the newsprint and sent directly to your inbox.