WAR OF THE WORDS
These had been dull days in Denver's newspaper war, marked primarily by a slide in circulation for the Rocky Mountain News, a slide into somnolence for readers of both papers, and the continual murmur from industry analysts that the city's status as a two-newspaper town couldn't last. And then last week, fighting suddenly broke out on several fronts. The heaviest volley came from Scripps Howard, which announced it was moving News editor Jay Ambrose upstairs--but announced the shift only after a call came into the newsroom from a Denver Post reporter sniffing into the story. Versions of Ambrose's departure vary from paper to paper (see the News's sagging distribution figures for a real clue), but one thing remains clear:
There's now one less reason to get up in the morning.
Since Ambrose introduced his daily "editor's note" two years ago, digesting those tiny, page-two missives has provided enough guilty pleasure to nourish readers through the rest of their humdrum existences. In just a hundred words (or less), Ambrose proved himself to be a master of the obvious, a golly-gee booster of the city (and, incidentally, the News) who brought a Rotarian's glee to his introduction of the most inane topics. No one who read it could forget his stunning tribute to the light bulb made out of cheese that graced one day's "Spotlight" section. His hackery was so hearty that the long-suffering copy desk took to referring to its editor's notes as "Lookee here."
Ambrose's oeuvre can be divided into several subsets, including his elevation of the incredibly incidental over the truly newsworthy. Take a lookee at the classic Winery on Tap from February 9: "Yes, Denver Interna-
tional Airport is opening this month, Coors Field is nearing completion, Elitch's amusement park is being built, a new Denver Public Library is under construction, but did you know, were you aware, had you heard that Denver is about to get its first winery? It's true, it's exciting and it's the topic of a story..."
Or lookee at his May 1 offering, Season for Scavengers: "Colorado is many things. It is rich, it is poor, and it is the poor, or at least the not so rich, scavenging what the obviously rich have left behind at the ski resorts, which is to say, lots and lots of very nice stuff. Don't discount garbage as garbage until you've read our story on page 6A." Anything you say, Jay.
Then there was Ambrose the chronicler of the seasons, who kept his eye on the calendar--particularly when deadline was approaching and a blank hole remained on page two. Exhibit A, the April 11 A Seasonal Hazard: "This past winter, we had spring. This spring, we are getting winter. I love seasons, couldn't stand living in a place where the weather seldom changes, but I'd like to have seasons stay more or less where they belong and not play hopscotch with my expectations and plans. For our stories on the snowstorm, see Pages 5A, 6A."
Exhibit B, the July 4 It's Our Day, Patriots: "Bang the drums loudly, whistle and cheer and wave the flag. We Americans have freedom, and we have certain inalienable rights. So celebrate July Fourth and our Declaration of Independence, which began to define what we are. And see our stories on Pages 5A."
When he wasn't celebrating the Fourth, Ambrose was celebrating the city, boosting civic projects in which the paper just happened to have a proprietary interest, either as owner (the Rockies) or sponsor (the Cherry Creek Arts Festival, as if you couldn't guess from the amount of positive coverage the event received).
On June 15, it was Rockies Have Our Number: "A million is a lot of anything, and it is especially a lot of fans to have gone to a baseball park this early in a season following a strike. And yet Coors Field registered that high number Wednesday at a game that also saw the Rockies beat the Reds and on a sunny day that seemed sent from heaven. Stories on Pages 5A, 1B."
On July 1, An Artistic Fourth: "In just a few years the Cherry Creek Arts Festival has become Denver's favored way to spend the July 4th weekend. If you've done it before, you don't need me to tell you it's fun. If you've never done it, give it a try. Page 10A."
An eternal optimist, Ambrose was never more upbeat than in February 28's DIA's Day Is Here, at Last: Forget the investigations. Forget the delays. Forget even, the malfunctioning baggage system. Denver International Airport opens today, and that's a major historical event for this city and state. You'll find 17 pages of news coverage..." And by all means, forget the fact that you are the editor of a major metropolitan daily that fell down on the job. Had reporters covered the airport project more aggressively, some of those delays and boondoggles might have been avoided.
And finally, there is Ambrose the editor/explorer. Just returned from his stint in a Montana sweat lodge (a trip that received full-page treatment rather than a lousy box on page two), he chirped in the July 9 LoDo's Big Comeback: "LoDo is people seeking fun, finding fun, making fun. It is a ballpark, an amusement park, condos, restaurants and bars. It is a symbol of Denver's urban resurgence and current dynamism, and it is the topic of a package of stories today that aim to capture its energy and flavor. You can join the fun by turning to Spotlight, page 51A." (And then, if you have the slightest familiarity with the real LoDo, you can wonder how a team of repor-
ters managed to miss such landmarks as the Terminal Annex, the last few bums now sharing the alleys with puking frat boys, and the bottle-breaking sprees that mark the area at bars' closing time--when the News had already left the area.)
True connoisseurs, however, will always savor this vintage Ambrose from September, titled Pass the Mushrooms: "We call the section Western Adventure," Ambrose wrote, "and boy do we have an adventure for you! I mean, are you brave and daring enough to try some mushroom hunting? Hey, I'm not putting it down; I like to eat mushrooms, and I'd like to know enough about plucking them out of the woods to be assured I wouldn't be poisoned come eating time. Enough fishing, hunting, river-rafting, mountain-climbing, hang-gliding and the rest. Turn to Page 24B and get into mushroom hunting."
The man who penned those immortal words has been "promoted" to Washington, where he will have an Eastern Adventure as chief editorial writer for the Scripps Howard News Service. Imagine the insight he'll bring to the 1996 elections. Think what he can do with the latest news of Newt.
Pass the 'shrooms.
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