And then there were none. The Denver Post recently laid off metro columnist Mike Littwin and reassigned newly minted fellow columnist Chuck Murphy to a social media job. That left Tina Griego as the Post's sole metro columnist -- but as she announced today, she will soon be moving with her family to Virginia. This decision has created a swirl of emotions and thoughts aplenty about the importance of columnists in today's shifting print-journalism landscape.
Griego grew up in New Mexico, but she's been in Denver for fourteen years, with two stints at the Post book-ending a run at the now-defunct Rocky Mountain News. "Fourteen years is actually not that long of a time," she allows, "but my work has taken me out into the communities and neighborhoods of Denver so much that I feel very connected here. And that part of it is really hard to leave. Really hard.
"I called a few people and said, 'I'm calling to tell you by phone because if I see you in person, I'll start crying' -- and then I start crying anyway. So many people have become very close and very precious to me, and it's hard to leave that. I'm 48 years old, and that's kind of the age where you think you're settling in: This is going to be my life, and it's a good one. And then this happens."
"This" is a job offer to Griego's husband, former Westword reporter Harrison Fletcher -- a tenure-track position at Virginia Commonwealth University. Gigs like this one "don't come around very often," Griego notes, and while relocating won't be easy for their thirteen-year-old daughter and ten-year-old son, the decision was made to take the leap. According to Griego, "My son's very roll-with-the-punches. He said to Harrison, 'I think this is going to be a great opportunity for you, Dad.'"
As this prospect was presenting itself, news broke that the Post planned to lay off two-thirds of its copy editors -- approximately sixteen from a crew of around 25. But the severance package offered to these staffers with an eye toward exits at month's end was subsequently opened up to others at the paper, and we hear that as many as five non-copy editors accepted it -- including Griego.
At this writing, Griego has a few weeks left at the Post, and she concedes that being at the paper amid the disappearance of so many other columnists (including business-section scribe Penny Parker, laid off at the same time as Littwin), "has been hard. The columnists are voices: They're voices of a city, they're voices of a newspaper. And I think it's a loss anytime that goes away."
"We are part of the personality of the paper, and whether you write to us because you really liked what we had to say or you write because it made your blood pressure rise, it was the way you connected to the newspaper, and to the rest of the city through the newspaper. So I think it's very difficult to lose."
Will the Post designate a columnist to replace Griego? If so, will it be Murphy? Littwin? Another member of the paper's staff? An outsider? Or will the paper become metro-columnist-free?
Responding via e-mail, Post editor Greg Moore writes, "I have not decided what we will do regarding replacing her." However, Moore understands the loss. In his words, "We are all going to miss Tina and her special insights and relationships as a columnist in the Denver community. Personally, it has been rewarding to work with her for a second time in my near ten years at The Post. She is dedicated, meticulous and often surprising and she brought many voices into The Post that otherwise might not have been heard. So we'll really miss her. I was surprised when she told me she was leaving, but we understand and wish her the very best."
While Griego says she hasn't had conversations with management about a possible successor, she definitely has opinions about the need for one.
"We're still a large metro daily, and it would be a weakness to have a large metro daily without a columnist," she believes -- and indeed, she makes an argument for more than one. "We're in tight money times, but in the brief period when I was the only city columnist, it was very difficult. We're living in a city, and we have an enormous amount of ground to cover, and I write a very particular thing in a very particular way. So I missed not having somebody who had a harder voice, a more challenging voice. In the brief time Chuck was a columnist, he did that very well, and it adds balance. It gives readers somebody else to turn to, another perspective." She laughs as she says, "To be the only columnist is to be constantly plagued with feelings of inadequacy."
She rejects the theory that in today's Internet-driven, SEO-obsessed newspaper world, columnists are no longer necessary. "Mike Littwin drove a lot of politics, because he wrote about politics and he could engage in that debate. That's more difficult if you do what I did, which was a very local column. But I think that newspapers are making calls about how to balance the two -- how to get the online traffic and drive the online revenue and still have the local voices. How to fill that niche that readers want."
Whether Griego will be able to do something similar in Virginia is an open question. She realizes that landing a columnist position there will be a difficult task. As such, she says, "I'm open to other possibilities. I've been a journalist for 24 years and I still love it. I'm not a burned-out journalist in any way. But journalism jobs are hard to come by, and even though I haven't even made any inquiries in that direction -- my first focus is finding schools for the kids -- I'm not counting on that."
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As for her exit from the Post, which is likely to take place in the next couple of weeks, she says, "I won't do a goodbye column. My final column will just have a little note at the bottom saying it's my last one. But I'm not quite ready to say goodbye for good."
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More from our Media archive: "Denver Post layoffs estimate: 16 copy editors, nearly tenth of staff."