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Unkind Cuts

Ethan Wenberg

After the Rocky Mountain News reduced its once-extensive stock listings to a single page, business editor Rob Reuteman spoke with dozens of unhappy readers -- and few were reassured to learn that the data is still available on the Rocky's website.

"I was talking to ninety-year-old guys who've been subscribing for 44 years," Reuteman says. "And they're not getting on the Internet."

Backing up Reuteman's thesis: The Rocky received approximately 150 complaint calls during the week of February 7, when the stock-listing announcement was made, and around 35 more the following Monday morning, as opposed to just fifteen or so e-mails. This contrast suggests that computer-literate people weren't nearly as cheesed off as were older members of the Rocky's demographic pool, who refuse to become entangled in the World Wide Web.

A similar split was evident in an even louder uproar about a week earlier, after the Rocky slashed its daily television listings; today the paper only prints schedules for twelve local stations, skipping popular cable channels. In the era of digital cable and satellite TV, the majority of viewers use remotes that provide on-screen listings, explains Rocky editor/publisher/president John Temple. Some folks, many of them seniors, are left out of this equation, but Temple says, "You've got to ask yourself, 'Where are we in that cycle? And is it time to change?' And my answer was and is 'Yes.'"

Of course, the newspaper industry's own transition precipitated the listings alterations. Americans are increasingly obtaining their news online, with sites such as the Rocky's generating impressive traffic. Yet these eyeballs don't pay nearly as well as the ones that scan physical publications, and with Internet revenues failing to make up for shortfalls in traditional ad sales and the cost of newsprint skyrocketing, papers are losing pages. A January 28 Rocky article commemorating the five-year anniversary of the joint operating agreement linking the two Denver dailies noted that the news hole -- the amount of space allotted for editorial content -- was reduced by 5 percent last year and will dip by the same amount in 2006. Media organizations around the country (including this one) have attempted to make such downsizing less noticeable by migrating some listings to the Internet, even though such information is a big reason that people still pick up newspapers.

The shrinkage of the Rocky's stock listings mirrors this phenomenon. When Temple became editor in 1998, the paper ran seven and a half pages of stock tables, but by last year, five of those pages had vanished. Reuteman says most individuals who phoned to gripe after previous cutbacks were upset that specific stocks they followed were gone, so employees simply reinstated them and removed others. Now that there's just one page of listings, however, this approach won't work. And while the people who bent Reuteman's ear generally understood the economics behind the reductions, 54 of them canceled their subscriptions anyhow.

Reuteman hopes these readers will return soon, but he understands that change is hard. "I've heard the sentiment that 'I don't have the Internet, I don't want the Internet, I'm not going to get the Internet, I hate the Internet,'" he says.

That does not compute.

Yours, mine and ours: On February 4, days before the stock-listings hubbub, Rocky business types dug themselves a hole over coverage of Colorado's Newmont Mining Corp. Near the front of the section, the paper printed a pro-Newmont piece penned by Patrick Moore, a onetime Greenpeace bigwig turned environmental pariah who consults for the company. The piece's deck identified Newmont as "the world's biggest gold producer" and noted that "an Indonesian court dismissed a case alleging pollution against the firm." But a New York Times reprint that appeared a few pages later shared details of an ongoing Indonesian trial focused on none other than Newmont.

Contradictory? You bet. The trial highlighted in the Times offering was criminal, while the one alluded to in the Moore deck was civil -- but both dealt with essentially the same subjects. Moreover, the civil dispute continued despite the dismissal, which happened in November 2005. On February 15, Newmont wound up paying Indonesia $30 million to squash the civil litigation.

It gets worse. On January 21, the Rocky had printed a piece from Bloomberg News with a deck stating that Newmont had lost its status as "the world's biggest gold producer" because of an acquisition by a rival company, Barrick Gold Corp. And much of Moore's submission was actually culled from a rebuttal to a New York Times series that's been sitting on the Newmont website since October 2005.

The journey that led to this train wreck began with the best intentions, Reuteman says. Moore's representatives sent in the essay, and after Reuteman double-checked the author's Greenpeace background, he agreed to use the piece on the Rocky's "Business Talk" page, which specializes in opinion (although it's not specifically marked as such). The "Business Talk" page had been pre-printed prior to the arrival of the Times article about the criminal case, but Reuteman decided to run the latter anyway, to deflect potential charges of favoritism. "I don't want to be accused of being on one side or the other," he asserts.

Accusations of confusion are another matter.

Macho mouth: Dino Costa, who hosts a Radio Colorado Network talk show and Raw Sports, a Fox Sports Net television program, looooves publicity, and he received oodles following his February 9 Westword profile. After the next night's Denver Nuggets-Dallas Mavericks match-up, he got into an F-bomb contest with Nuggets forward Kenyon Martin, who'd been accused days earlier of using profane language in front of fans -- an act that earned him a $15,000 fine from the NBA. The Associated Press covered the story, which hit major news websites around the country. But several people who saw the exchange feel that Martin reacted only after Costa went out of his way to provoke him.

As Costa tells it, he was among a group of reporters gathered around Martin in the Pepsi Center locker room, and when he asked for an interview, K-Mart growled, "Back the fuck up while I get dressed," and employed a similar phrase to keep Costa at bay a few seconds later. Costa says that when he tried to lighten the mood by citing the 34 points Martin had scored that evening, K-Mart muttered something unintelligible, and after Costa asked him about it, he reacted first by barking, "Did I fucking stutter?" (he does on occasion) and then declared, "Go fuck yourself." In response, Costa delivered a "Fuck you" that Martin returned, and unleashed more as he was led out by Nuggets director of media relations Eric Sebastian. Costa adds that Sebastian subsequently demanded that he return his media credentials, and he did so, throwing them down like Dirty Harry chucking his badge.

A thrilling tale -- but other witnesses tell it differently. They say the typically surly Martin was civil by his standards when asking the press to let him get dressed before starting the interrogation (most maintain that he initially avoided profanities), and he still wasn't clad when Costa came at him a second time. They feel Costa further violated locker-room etiquette by ignoring the first two rebuffs and escalated the situation the first chance he got.

Predictably, Costa, who had delivered anti-Martin rants in the episode of Raw Sports he taped before the Mavericks game, can't believe anyone would think he orchestrated the dust-up. In his words, "Nothing could be further from the truth.Š Never did I go into the locker room with the intent of getting into a fight."

The Nuggets' Sebastian keeps his opinions about this claim to himself, aside from insisting that he never demanded that Costa surrender his credentials; he recalls saying only, "You're done here," at which point Costa bounced the laminates off his chest. Days later, Costa spoke with Teri Washington, another Nuggets PR staffer, and he was left with the impression that he might get the credentials back soon. But Washington won't go there. She confirms only that she and Costa spoke.

Costa, meanwhile, remains in prime egocentric form. He wouldn't mind smoothing things over with the Nuggets, but not if it means admitting any personal culpability. "I have no regrets," he blusters, "because at least I've got my self-respect."

Not to mention more of the sweetest nectar there is: attention.


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