This Sunday, August 4, the Denver Post is scheduled to publish the final column for the paper by Joanne Davidson, who's been writing about nonprofit events since 1985. According to Davidson, she's still not quite sure why.
"I received a phone call from Barbara Ellis, the features editor and the editor to whom I've been reporting," she notes. "She said, 'I hate to have to tell you this, but this is going to be your last column.' I said, 'Oh,' and that was it. She said they weren't going to reassign a staff reporter to cover my beat, nor would they be hiring anyone to take it over. I understood her to say it was because of budget cuts, and that's what I put in my Facebook post about it. But then Barbara called back and said, 'It has nothing to do with the budget.'"
What was the actual reason? "She offered no other explanation," Davidson replies.
We reached out to Ellis, Post editor LeeAnn Colacioppo and senior editor Cindi Andrews about the decision, Davidson's long tenure and the future of nonprofit events coverage at the publication. In response, Andrews, corresponding via email, wrote, "LeeAnn is out of town until the middle of next week, so we can't provide a comment at this time."
The type of item in which Davidson specializes has long been referred to as a society column, since many of the happenings she covers tend to focus on powerful members of the community who gather to raise funds for charities. However, she's long pushed back on that characterization, as exemplified by her comments in our 2002 piece "Social Studies."
Back then, both the Post and the Rocky Mountain News, which shut down in early 2009, were filled with columns that dished about fun and frivolity in Denver, and she was pleased to provide an alternative to more dire topics of the day. "I've had people come up to me and say, 'If it wasn't for your column, or for [fellow columnists] Bill Husted and Dick Kreck, I wouldn't read the paper anymore, because it's nothing but war, terrorist attacks, yadda, yadda, yadda. I need some diversion,'" she pointed out. But she also stressed that event coordinators credited her and colleagues such as Glory Weisberg and Dahlia Jean Weinstein with helping make gatherings more successful, resulting in additional cash for worthy causes.
Since then, of course, the newspaper industry has changed dramatically, with the transition to greater online readership resulting in plunging revenue and brutal downsizing — and columnists were some of the first to exit. Husted, Kreck and plenty of their brethren were long gone by 2015, when Davidson accepted a buyout and prepared to leave the Post.
But a funny thing happened on her way out the door. "When I took the buyout, I assumed that was it for me," she concedes. "But then an editor who's no longer at the paper called and said, 'Would you still like to contribute? We can pay you to write one column a week'" — a far cry from the six she once penned over the same span, but a lot better than nothing. "I did that for a couple of years, and then she left the paper and Barbara came in and bumped me up to two columns a week, which was really nice. Then, about two years ago, she cut me back to one again."
Because of this shrinking platform, coverage of some events might appear in print a week or two late. "I would sometimes get little digs about that, because I ran everything in chronological order to be fair to everyone," she recalls. "But every time someone would say something, I would tell them, 'If you increase my presence in the paper, I can be more timely.'"
That's not going to happen now, and in response to her Facebook announcement, plenty of major players shared their distress, including recently profiled U.S. Senate candidate Alice Madden, who wrote, "Am so sorry. Thanks for all you have done!" Added Denver Art Museum curator emeritus Dianne Vanderlip, "You have been a beacon! How foolish of them to let you go. Thanks for all your years of good comments and ongoing interest in the Denver community. Hopefully you will find a way to keep your hand in the game!! All best to you."
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Just as meaningful to Davidson have been all the kind words from folks involved with more modest fundraising groups. "I feel for nonprofits that are small and struggling, including ones that are from communities of color," she says, "and I got quite a few comments from the African-American community saying how much I would be missed. Will they be able to get publicity in the future? I hope so, because I've had nonprofit executive directors say they depend on that to get sponsorships and donations. They've told me, 'You have no idea how important it is to include a clipping from one of your columns when we contact people. You legitimize us.' I take a lot of pride in that."
Davidson will continue to do her part. She already freelances for Colorado Expressions Magazine, and since word got out regarding her impending departure from the Post, she reveals that "I've had two other publications get in touch and say, 'Let's talk.' So we'll see what happens. I guess I'm part of the gig economy now!"
In the meantime, she continues to suspect that budget cuts played a major part in the Post's move, despite assertions to the contrary. "I really don't think the pittance I was paid to write one column a week made that big of a dent in the overall budget, but I haven't made any mistakes or had to make any corrections or pissed anybody off in the community who might have precipitated this. So it makes you think Alden Global Capital" — the Post's parsimonious hedge fund owner — "probably put the squeeze on them again as far as freelance expenditures go."
Still, she's not complaining. "I got an extra four years I had not expected to have," she stresses, "and I love the Denver Post. I met some wonderful people and got to experience a lot of things I wouldn't have gotten the chance to otherwise. It will remain part of me for the rest of my life. But I really hope they rethink coverage of quote-unquote society events."