Today in two cities, Denver and New York, Denver Post employees will be taking part in separate demonstrations against Alden Global Capital, the vulture hedge fund that has so gutted the newspaper that former owner Dean Singleton chose to resign as chairman and step down from the editorial board as a way of expressing his frustration and disappointment.
Noelle Phillips, a Post reporter and vice-chair of the Denver Newspaper Guild unit for the publication, understands Singleton's point of view. But she stresses that the sixty-plus newsroomers still employed by the Post (down from 310 a little over a decade ago) are ready, willing and able to fight for what they believe.
"I would say there's a lot of anxiety," she acknowledges. "But there are also a lot of fiery, passionate journalists who still want to do good journalism."
As proof, note that Phillips and three other Post staffers are participating in a noon Eastern/10 a.m. Mountain time protest at the so-called Lipstick Building, at 885 Third Avenue in NYC, where Alden Global Capital's offices are located. And at noon Mountain, another rally will take place at the 5990 Washington Street Post printing plant in Adams County where the paper's newsroom recently relocated. There, Post employees and representatives from the guild, supplemented by members of the community, will deliver a message that Phillips summarizes like so: "Invest in your newspapers or sell them."
This opinion is widely held. The Denver Newspaper Guild has released a letter protesting the treatment of Post editorial-page editor Chuck Plunkett, who stepped down after an executive with Digital First Media, which Alden controls, spiked a piece critical of the hedge fund. (Rolling Stone has now published Plunkett's description of the events.) The letter is on view below, along with a list of more than fifty signatories from the paper — though at least two, senior editors Dana Coffield and Larry Ryckman, recently left.
Theirs aren't the only departures. Also cutting ties with the paper is Steve Lipsher, a former Post staff member who's been writing a monthly op-ed column. In a goodbye note on Facebook, Lipsher wrote, "I wish nothing but the best for the survivors at the Post, and a pox upon the house of Alden Capital."
The following video, issued by the guild to illustrate the Post newsroom's shrinkage in recent years, helps explain why Lipsher and others feel so strongly.
In his recent Westword interview, Singleton talked about how diminishing resources at the Post meant there simply weren't enough bodies to send to all of the hearings and events that deserved coverage. One example: Denver Police Chief Robert White announced his plans to retire at a recent citizen-oversight board meeting, but the story didn't break until several days later, because no reporter was on hand.
Phillips, who specializes in law-enforcement coverage (she got the scoop on White's decision), stresses, "I still occasionally go to those meetings, but I just can't make them all — and I'll sometimes go to meetings where I'm the only media there. It just gets harder and harder to do when you have a smaller and smaller staff."
The personnel reductions mean those who remain face more chores than they can possibly complete. In Phillips's words, "Everybody works really hard. There are no slackers at the Denver Post. The slackers are long gone." She notes that on May 4, amid the rash of resignations, "there were still reporters there at 7 o'clock at night, finishing their stories, getting them done for the weekend — still doing their job."
In New York, Phillips and the Post contingent will be joined by representatives from the Communications Workers of America and a number of Digital First Media papers, including Minnesota's St. Paul Pioneer Press, Kingston, New York's The Daily Freeman and California's San Jose Mercury News. About 150 protesters are expected, and they'll deliver a petition with approximately 11,000 signatures from folks who want Alden to either provide its newspapers with enough resources to adequately cover the news or find buyers willing to do so.
If new owners materialize, Phillips says, they'll find plenty of journalists ready and raring to go. "Our DNA is to do a good job no matter the circumstances," she says. "We have an internal drive — and that's what I intend to do. I tell people, 'I want to continue to be a journalist and I want to stay in Denver.'"
Continue to read the Denver Newspaper Guild letter about the resignation of Chuck Plunkett.
Denver Post Newsroom Statement on Resignation of Editorial Page Editor Chuck Plunkett
To our readers:
Newspapers tell the truth.
They must. Always.
That is why we, the newsroom of The Denver Post, are outraged at the unconscionable censorship imposed on our now-former editorial page editor, Chuck Plunkett. Chuck told the truth, eloquently and pointedly. And in that our newspaper’s corporate ownership — Digital First Media and the hedge fund Alden Global Capital — saw something to fear, not to champion.
Chuck resigned Thursday after the chief operating officer of DFM, Guy Gilmore, blocked Chuck from publishing an editorial that forcefully criticized DFM and Alden. Chuck’s resignation followed the firing last month of the editorial page editor for our corporate sibling, the Boulder Daily Camera, who also spoke out against our owners. This censorship harms our readers, and we are concerned it also threatens the newsroom’s independence. It requires journalists to work in an unacceptable climate of intimidation, worried that telling the truth will lead to dismissal.
For years, the companies have blamed journalists and the reading public for the steady decline in their newspapers’ quality. In Chuck’s banned editorial, you can read the facts: According to an independent report, Alden and DFM reaped $160 million in profits from their newspapers across the country in 2017, including $28 million from The Denver Post.
In that time, the corporate owners — led by Alden bosses Heath Freeman and Randall Smith — slashed budgets and laid off reporters, editors, photographers, designers, producers, pressmen, advertising reps, customer service personnel and other members of the newspaper family. Journalism in those places withered, the powerful impact on community and accountability that newspapers provide did too, and only a handful of wealthy individuals benefited.
Those are not the actions of owners who appear to care about journalism or about Colorado.
Though Chuck’s province at the newspaper was opinion and we, the newsroom, operate with strict ethical rules for objectivity, we have always shared a common purpose. We tell the truth, even when it is difficult. We tell the truth, even when the subject hits close to home.
There was an inscription that decorated the front of one of The Denver Post’s earliest buildings that read: "O Justice, when expelled from other habitations, make this thy dwelling place."
For 125 years, that has been a solemn vow that The Denver Post has made to its readers, and it is one Chuck and we in the newsroom intend to keep.
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It has become vividly clear that Alden and DFM do not share in that vow. It has become vividly clear that they are undeserving of owning The Denver Post and of serving you. It has become vividly clear that they must either invest in the newspaper or sell it to someone who cares about Colorado, and they must do it immediately.
That is the truth.
John Aguilar, Suburbs Reporter
Joe Amon, Photographer
Torin Berge, Deputy Sports Editor
Dan Boniface, Digital Director, Sports
Amy Brothers, Digital Photo/Video Editor
Jennifer Brown, Investigations Reporter
Mike Chambers, Avalanche Reporter
Hyoung Chang, Photographer
Tamara Chuang, Technology Reporter
Dana Coffield, Senior Editor
Adrian Crawford, Digital Producer
Andy Cross, Photographer
Barb Ellis, Features Editor
Bruce Finley, Environment Reporter
Peyton Garcia, Community Journalist
Susan Gonzalez, Digital Producer
Sara Grant, Editor, The Know
Greg Griffin, Business/Investigations Editor
Kevin Hamm, Digital Producer
Elizabeth Hernandez, Breaking News Reporter
TJ Hutchinson, Systems Editor
John Ingold, Health/Enterprise Reporter
Mike Judson, Assistant Editor
Eric J. Lubbers, Director of Innovation
Mark Matthews, Politics Reporter
David Migoya, Investigations Reporter
Kirk Mitchell, Breaking News Reporter
Scott Monserud, Assistant Managing Editor, Sports
John Mossman, Copy Editor
Jon Murray, City Hall Reporter
Joe Nguyen, Digital Producer
Kieran Nicholson, Breaking News Reporter
AAron Ontiveroz, Visual Journalist
Chris Osher, Investigations Reporter
Jesse Paul, Politics Reporter
Noelle Phillips, Police Reporter
Lori Punko, Content Coordinator
Helen Richardson, Photographer
Chris Rickett, Politics Editor
Becky Risch, Digital Director
Dena Rosenberry, Deputy City Editor
Joe Rubino, Business Reporter
Larry Ryckman, Senior Editor
Mario Sanelli, Editorial Assistant
RJ Sangosti, Photographer
Patrick Saunders, Rockies Reporter
Daniel J. Schneider, Digital Producer
Megan Schrader, Editorial Writer
Kevin Simpson, General Assignment/Enterprise Reporter
Aldo Svaldi, Real Estate/Economy Reporter
Patrick Traylor, Photo Editor
Alicia Wallace, Business Reporter
John Wenzel, Reporter
Monte Whaley, Education Reporter
Danika Worthington, Breaking News Reporter