The Rocky Mountain News's home page features the usual items most surfers look for on the websites of mainstream dailies: links related to breaking news, business, entertainment and sports stories, etc. But a box labeled "Lifestyles" contains something unexpected: a photo of a bikini-clad babe to the right of a heading that reads "Calendar Girls." Folks who click anywhere near her mommy pillows are immediately whisked to a section headlined "2005-06 Swimsuit Calendar Wallpaper," which is dominated by snaps of eight bathing-suited women, two similarly attired men, and a pair of ready-for-wetness boy-girl couples in images themed to each month. September finds a twosome playing a mildly naughty game of touch football, while October spotlights a giggling gal in orange pretending to fend off a creature with a scaly green claw. If, nine months from now, Miss Halloween gives birth to a bouncing baby Swamp Thing, no one should be surprised.
What the hell?
The photos, which have cumulatively been downloaded over 5,600 times, were originally taken for a fashion spread that ran at the outset of swimsuit season. Shortly thereafter, Rocky editor/publisher/president John Temple received a batch of complaints that struck him as coordinated. "I felt there must have been a church or some other religious organization that felt that it was too sexual -- that young boys would look at them and be aroused in a way that parents didn't want from a newspaper," he says. At first Temple was caught off guard by the gripes, noting that he "didn't anticipate there would be any controversy." In retrospect, though, it made sense, since "we get complaints about bra ads." He personally e-mailed every critical reader, and he stresses that he took their concerns seriously. "I have a teenage son and two daughters, and the issue of objectifying young women is not something I'm completely insensitive to," he points out. Still, he regards the shots as "well within the bounds of good taste. They were meant to be fun, and I think they are."
Temple approved using the photos as online wallpaper in the same spirit, and says he doesn't recall hearing about any objections from website visitors -- and no wonder. Given the prevalence of nudity in cyberspace, as opposed to the family-friendly Rocky, the only folks likely to be upset are those who consider the models to be overdressed.
Posting a Howl: Temple probably had a lot more fun dealing with inquiries about pinups than he did assembling his editor's note on August 5. In "Editorial Did Not Meet Standards of the News," Temple wrote that an unsigned July 16 opinion piece titled "Joe Wilson's Howlers" had "inappropriately duplicated wording from a Washington Post article." He also pointed out that a phrase from the Daily Howler website (www.dailyhowler.com) had turned up in the piece as well, prompting a July 21 correction. Finally, he revealed that "Deputy Editorial Page Editor Thom Beal, the author of the editorial, has resigned and said he regrets his actions. I personally apologize for this breach of our trust with you, our readers."
This admission is admirable, but it leaves out plenty of key details. As it turns out, the story took nearly three weeks to resolve and probably would never have come to light were it not for a local blogger and the tenacity of the folks at 5280 magazine, who kept pursuing the matter even after Temple essentially dismissed their concerns.
The aforementioned blogger is Lisa Jones, who regularly criticizes all things Rocky on RockyWatch, accessible at http:// rockywatch.typepad.com. According to her, the July 16 editorial initially stuck in her mind because "it was so nasty." She reacted by railing on RockyWatch, and shortly thereafter, a reader commented that the editorial was strongly reminiscent of a July 13 Wilson attack on DailyHowler.com. Jones soon discovered that the Rocky's headline nod to "Howlers" was appropriate. In a second entry on her blog, she juxtaposed a Rocky sentence that read "It's impossible to revisit here all of Wilson's stretches, misstatements and howlers" against this Howler assertion: "There's no way to revisit all of Wilson's stretches, outright misstatements and howlers."
Among those who saw the RockyWatch items was 5280 editor Dan Brogan, and he asked assistant editor Patrick Doyle to dig deeper. Doyle came up with some other passages that didn't smell right to him and contacted Temple about them. As Temple pointed out in his July 28 blog submission, the Rocky, alerted by Jones, had already printed a correction. Instead of defining the problem as plagiarism, though, the Rocky merely stated that the line should have been attributed to the Howler. Doyle's clues about other copying were more ambiguous than the one spotted by Jones, and not only didn't Temple buy them, but he hinted in his blog that 5280 had an agenda. He led off with, "In this business, when I hear from other local news organizations wanting to ask me questions, it's usually because they think they've got something on the Rocky Mountain News" -- a statement Brogan characterizes as "paranoid." Later, Temple wrote that 5280's "angle became clearer" after Doyle asked why the Rocky is so eager to accuse CU professor Ward Churchill of plagiarism, yet was unwilling to fess up about a staffer.
Temple's tone seems defensive in light of what happened next. Doyle found that two other sentences from the editorial evoked a July 12 Washington Post article that had been referenced on the Howler site. Here's one from the Post: "The panel found that Wilson's report, rather than debunking intelligence about purported uranium sales to Iraq, as he has said, bolstered the case for most intelligence analysts." The Rocky countered with: "The committee said Wilson's Niger report, rather than debunking intelligence about purported uranium sales to Iraq, as Wilson said, bolstered the case for most CIA analysts."
The Rocky couldn't ignore this evidence, hence Beal's resignation. But why did Temple describe the offense as "inappropriately duplicated wording" instead of plagiarism? Temple discloses that a "bad experience" in a previous arbitration case he declines to specify partly inspired his avoidance of the P-word. (Most likely, he's referring to a '90s faceoff with ex-music writer Justin Mitchell.) Even so, he doubts that any reader would be confused about whether Beal had done wrong. As for Brogan's portrayal of his blog intro as paranoid, he calls it "funny" and goes on to praise 5280 for locating a smoking gun. "I'm glad they did it," he says. "If readers can point out things to make us better, that's positive."
For everyone but Beal.
Dean's deal: On August 3, one of the most Byzantine newspaper transactions in recent memory shook the journalism biz -- and MediaNews Group head (and Denver Post owner) Dean Singleton was in the middle of it. The concord puts Gannett, a media conglomerate that owns Denver's Channel 9, in charge of the Detroit Free Press, formerly part of the enormous Knight Ridder chain, with MediaNews taking over the Detroit News, previously held by Gannett. Publications in Florida, Idaho and Washington shifted portfolios, too, in order to make the arrangement worth Knight Ridder's while.
The joint operating agreement that links the Free Press and the News, which went into effect in 1989, presented another complicating factor, since it's not nearly as even-keeled as the JOA in Denver. Whereas the Post and the Rocky have roughly the same readership Monday through Friday, the Free Press boasts a daily circulation of 347,447 as opposed to 218,841 at the News, according to the most recent findings of the Audit Bureau of Circulations, the industry's monitor. A similar imbalance exists with Seattle's JOA, where the Seattle Times is hoping to dump its weaker cohort, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
Reports suggest that the disparity in Detroit is reflected in the renegotiated JOA, whose profits were once divided equally by Knight Ridder and Gannett. Singleton says the specifics of the split have not been revealed, but a Gannett spokeswoman told the New York Times her company will receive over 70 percent of the pie. Figures like this one have led to speculation that Singleton is essentially doing a favor for Gannett, with whom he has partnerships in California, Texas and New Mexico. Students enrolled in this school of thought predict he'll ease the News into the grave, leaving himself with a golden parachute and the Free Press with a monopoly in a town that can no longer support two daily newspapers, but is capable of sustaining one rather nicely.
Singleton scoffs at such theories. There's no comparison between the shaky JOA in Seattle and the Free Press-News match, he says, because "Seattle is ego-driven, and there's no ego involved in Detroit." He doesn't see layoffs as part of the picture, either: "We're buying a newspaper from Gannett, and Gannett is well-known for being efficient." (That's one way of putting it.) He adds that a JOA provision allowing the News to switch its publication schedule from afternoons to mornings should help narrow the circulation differences between the Free Press and the News. "But that gap is nothing more than keeping score," he insists. "The bottom line is, when you're part of a JOA, you're looking at the economics as a whole." For that reason, he argues, the News's survival benefits, rather than hurts, Gannett. "If Detroit doesn't have two newspapers, the penetration in the market would be dangerously low," he maintains. "There's a business need for two newspapers there, just as there's a business need for two in Denver."
Circulation at both Detroit papers is lower of late, as it is in Denver; both the Post and the Rocky have suffered Monday-Friday dips in the 6 percent range. Singleton says that the slide in Denver is part of a long-term strategy to rid the papers of "marginal circulation" dating to the penny-subscription war, when a year's worth of the Rocky could be had for around $3. He acknowledges, however, that this excuse is nearing its expiration date. "We're just about there," he says. "We'll probably cycle a small loss in September, and then we should be about flat." If circulation tumbles next year, then, the losses will presumably cut into meat, not fat.
Predictably, Singleton shows little concern about potential downturns in Denver, or those naysayers who think he took leave of his senses when he purchased the Detroit News. "I've been asked many times in the last few days, 'Why did you do this?'" he concedes. "And each time, I've said, 'Because this is what we do.'"
Reputation reality: For years, now, Singleton has repeatedly said he's dedicated to turning the Denver Post into one of America's premier newspapers. If a recent article is any indication, though, the paper has not yet convinced folks at the Los Angeles Times, a broadsheet that's long occupied that territory. The July 21 Times piece focused on the revelation that its editor, John Carroll, would exit this month to make room for managing editor Dean Baquet, whose promotion "will make him the first African-American to run a top-level American newspaper." This declaration subtly disses the Philadelphia Daily News and the aforementioned Seattle Post-Intelligencer, both of which are edited by African-Americans (Michael Days and Kenneth Bunting, respectively). And the Post, which is overseen by another African-American, Greg Moore? The Times apparently feels it falls short of the top level as well.
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Up, up and away.
No guv love: KOA talk-show host Bob Newman is on the warpath. The former Marine gunnery sergeant is currently awaiting permission to be embedded with the Second Marine Division, his former unit, in Fallujah, Iraq, and he's been invited to talk immigration and terrorism before U.S. Representative Tom Tancredo's congressional immigration-reform caucus on September 21. But this last visit looks to be as close as he'll come to the higher office he recently targeted.
Last November, Newman, a self-proclaimed independent, said in this space that he was thinking about joining the race for the state's governorship, and even created a committee to explore his odds. The conclusions reached by his experts were decidedly negative. "They made it very clear to me that I have no chance of winning that seat unless I joined a registered party, and I have no intention of doing that," he says. "And I'm also not going to take a bunch of money from people and just waste it. So I'm announcing that I'm withdrawing myself from consideration."
Rest easy, Colorado.