Denver Post CEO Mac Tully Gives Up Ship Amid Paywall, Newsroom Shifts

Mac Tully took over the leadership of the Denver Post in 2013.
Mac Tully took over the leadership of the Denver Post in 2013.
Last night, January 16, Denver Post CEO/publisher and Digital First Media executive vice president Mac Tully announced that he will resign from his positions effective January 31. His announcement to staff, included below in its entirety, follows the reintroduction of a paywall at the paper for the first time since the Aurora theater shooting trial and the ongoing move of most newsroom journalists from the Post's longtime downtown Denver headquarters to a printing plant in Adams County.

We've reached out to Tully for additional comment and will include his comments in this space when and if he gets back to us. But the timing of his announcement undoubtedly spawned mixed emotions among Post employees, whose numbers have shrunk by at least two-thirds since the newsroom's peak occupancy of more than 300. Mere hours before Tully revealed his planned exit, we published an item in which editorial-page editor Chuck Plunkett expressed excitement over the paywall and suggested that its return was something of a morale boost amid the frustration of reporters having to leave their base in Denver proper because, in his words, the paper "can no longer afford the rent."

In his staff note, Tully, who'd served as the president and publisher of the San Jose Mercury News prior to taking the Denver gig in 2013, stressed that he wasn't retiring, but was eager to find a position that was less "stressful," and that's understandable. Our Alan Prendergast laid out the challenges faced by the broadsheet in the 2016 feature "Can the Denver Post Survive Its Hedge Fund Owners?" They include constant pressure from Alden Global Capital, the aforementioned hedge fund, to earn revenues — and as of that year, as we reported at the time, the Post was still making millions and profits were rising. But the stat sheets stayed marginally positive thanks largely to multiple rounds of buyouts and layoffs in 2015, 2016 and 2017.

Among the successes at the Post cited by Tully are the launches of The Know, The Cannabist, Insights Lab and AdTaxi, an in-house ad agency that wound up in the headlines last year when the paper sued three of its former sales executives. He also admits that the firm has "launched some initiatives that haven't succeeded," but doesn't name examples such as Denver Post TV, an ambitious effort that was smothered last year.

The most interesting assertion in Tully's goodbye involves "the long sought strategic 'crossover'" — the moment when revenues from digital advertising will surpass those from print. He predicts that will happen this year. But the implication that this achievement represents a financial panacea is contradicted by the paywall decision, which has already underperformed once. In a 2013 interview with Westword defending the initial erecting of this barrier, which was pulled down two years later before being rebuilt this month, Tully told us, "Let's be clear, paid digital subscriptions are not a long-term strategy. They don't transform anything; they tweak. At best, they are a short-term tactic. I have said that often enough in the past. But it's a tactic that will help us now."

The Post and the newspaper business in general need all the help they can get. Here's Tully's memo:

Molly Hughes was the anchor of Denver Post TV. - DENVER POST VIA YOUTUBE
Molly Hughes was the anchor of Denver Post TV.
Denver Post via YouTube
Dear staff:

I'm writing to let you know that I've decided to move on from my job as CEO of the Denver Post and EVP of DFM. It has been a tremendous honor and a great pleasure these four plus years to have had the opportunity to work with you at the Denver Post.

Even in this challenged transitional environment, we have accomplished much and launched many significant initiatives. Some have been great successes such as The Know, The Cannabist, Insights Lab, The Enterprise team, etc. We've also launched some initiatives that haven't succeeded, but the point is that we've tried a lot of different, cutting edge things over the past few years in an effort to grow/diversify our audience and revenues. The Denver Post is clearly one of the most innovative media companies I've ever had the great fortune to work for. That innovative spirit started many years ago with the development of AdTaxi, and that same spirit has continued on through today.

Achieving our long sought strategic goal "crossover" is probably the most significant accomplishment that will occur in 2018. I'm proud to say that we're now directly on a path where our fast growing digital advertising revenues will surpass our challenged print legacy advertising revenues. That significant accomplishment will go a long way toward stabilizing our company.

I'm proud of the transition we have undergone from print-centric to a platform-agnostic media company. The transition has clearly been a journey and one that will certainly continue as the media landscape will continue to evolve. Our advantages are The Denver Post's trusted brand and the unique, relevant and valued content that people will continue to seek out.

The hard work that all of you contribute to this organization translates into The Denver Post being valued as a trusted news source. Every day we provide an important check to the balance of power by exposing corruption, mismanagement, mistreatment and other problems to our reader. We provide our readers with the information they need to make educated decisions on important issues facing our community and nation. What they choose to do with that knowledge isn't up to us, but I sleep better at night knowing that we have done our job providing them with that information. I'm proud of the fact that we are Colorado's most trusted news source for information that enlightens, entertains and inspires our audiences in the communities and marketplaces we serve.

Additionally, I'm proud of naming the first female editor of The Denver Post, Lee Ann Colacioppo. After 125 years — it was about time. Lee Ann is doing a fantastic job by the way.

I'm not ready for retirement yet, but after 40 years in the industry I'm ready for something a little less stressful. I'll miss the stellar and most talented people I've had the great fortune to work with at The Post and throughout the rest of the company. I've always believed the only real asset is your people and I've been blessed to work beside some of the best in the business. My last day will be January 31st. Meanwhile please take care and best wishes to each and every one of you.