Adrian Dater Flames ESPN

Online blogs supposedly give newspaper writers a greater opportunity to express themselves personally and creatively — but as Denver Post sports writer Adrian Dater recently learned, freedom has its limits.

Dater recently penned "Here's a Shout-Out to ESPN Sports Reporters, Another Name for Leach or Lamprey or Something Much Worse That I'll Have a Little Class and Won't Say Here," a classic online rant in which he blamed ESPN for a slew of sins, including undermining the newspaper business in general. At one point, the piece asks, "Wanna get mad at me for saying that, my bosses out there and anybody else in this business we call newspapering?" The answer to this question was "Yes." When Dater's superiors caught wind of the ill breeze, they stripped his rash/hilarious words from the Post's site — but not before they came to the attention of a reader who shared the essay with yours truly, as well as AOL Sports's Greg Wyshynski, who described the missive in his online column as "a Jerry Maguire moment, if Jerry Maguire hated ESPN with every fiber of his being."

The moment has passed for Dater. "I wrote it as a personal thing," Dater says. "But I'm a hockey writer, not a media critic, and I guess I can understand why the bosses wanted to take that down."

Indeed, Dater is the Post's hockey specialist, providing strong, opinionated coverage of the Colorado Avalanche, who figure prominently in his most recent book, Blood Feud: Detroit Red Wings v. Colorado Avalanche: The Inside Story of Pro Sports' Nastiest and Best Rivalry of Its Era. But during the NHL off-season, he reports about other sports, and when the New York Yankees arrived in Colorado on June 19 for a three-game series against the Rockies, his number was called. After the Rockies won the contest (the first victory in an eventual sweep), he sat down at his keyboard and invited "Blog Nation" to weigh in on a topic that came up during a post-game conversation with a media peer, who contended that "I, Adrian Dater, respected member of the Denver Post sports department the last sixteen years, am not all I can be because I'm not a talking head on ESPN."

His take on this assertion? "You can take your ESPN and all the alleged superiority that comes from being on it every day and you can shove it in that little space where there is very little sunlight, ever," he declared, shortly before taking it to "the people that helped ruin" the newspaper business.

"You know all those stories that we broke with our hard work, with real reporting and real journalism?" he went on. "Yeah, ESPN decided it would be a neat trick to see it on the wire and call up their so-called 'expert' in whatever sport the news broke and then put on the little scroll at the bottom of their screen that it was 'ESPN's so-and-so expert that reported that the news story someone else actually broke was really broken by our lackey expert here.' Do you hear me, Ed Werder? Do you hear me, Rachel Nichols? Do you hear me, Chris Mortensen? Do you hear me, Marc Stein? Do you hear me, ESPN producer schmucks? You didn't break JACK SQUAT."

There's much more material like this; read the entire offering at Yet the meat of Dater's argument is encompassed by this paragraph: "We newspaper people — the real journalists out there still — do not need to feel inferior to a bunch of made-up clowns with microphones in hand. Cash your paychecks and feel superior if you need to. But remember this: You'll never be half our equals when it comes to being able to write and really report a story. Oh, and good luck making it in your business when the wrinkles start to show a little."

Obviously, Dater's decision to take on ESPN puts the Post in a prickly position. The paper's featured columnist, Woody Paige, actually left the paper for several years to work at the network full-time, and he continues to appear regularly on programs such as Around the Horn. Moreover, when Paige is unavailable, fellow wordsmith Jim Armstrong has filled in for him on more than one occasion, utilizing a mini-ESPN studio that's part of the Post's newsroom. The set demonstrates that decision-makers at the Post want to strengthen their relationship with ESPN, not snuff it out in a blaze of recrimination.

David Wright, the Post's deputy sports editor, who pulled the trigger on the blog post, declined to comment — an extremely dubious position for a journalist to take. Dater, meanwhile, is trying his best to cool the flames. "I named some names at ESPN, which I am sorry about," he notes, adding that he "didn't mean to impugn their work or them personally, so I'm sorry to them."

In the end, Dater feels he's learned a lesson — one that plenty of fellow pissed-off late-nighters should take to heart. Rather than ditching his inner filter and letting every ounce of frustration spew forth, he says, "I should have gone to bed."

As the dust settles: Elsewhere at the Post, staffers are trying to figure out how their jobs will change in the wake of belt-tightening, buyouts and position cuts — and they may not know definitively for some time to come. Editor Greg Moore isn't sure when newsroom reorganization will be completed, and he remains uncertain about how large a role assorted freelancers will play at the paper moving forward. And while he feels the Post has tried to be "as transparent as possible" throughout the process, he hasn't run play-by-play pieces informing readers about who's going, who's staying and why.

"I don't see a lot of newspapers writing about that, and I don't think Qwest publicized the names of the 12,000 people that left the company during [Richard] Notebaert's tenure," he allows. But after conceding that some of those leaving, such as longtimer Dick Kreck, qualify as public figures, he says, "I'm not infallible. I could be making a mistake on that."

Whatever the case, the most prominent buyout- and layoff-related offerings to appear in the broadsheet in the immediate aftermath of recent developments were columnist Jim Spencer's June 15 goodbye, which didn't mention anyone else other than him, and a June 17 Woody Paige offering that spent as much space bidding farewell to already-gone Rocky personnel as it did honoring some, but not all, of his departing colleagues at the Post. As for Jenny Deam, she wasn't even name-checked in Moore's June 19 memo to employees about the last of the "involuntary separations." Deam, the wife of first-rate Post reporter David Olinger, had no union protection because she wasn't officially a full-timer — but she was mighty close. "I made the decision seven years ago to work 32 hours rather than forty because at the time I had a five-month-old, a toddler, a pre-schooler and a husband who worked long hours at the paper," she reveals in an e-mail. "It seemed like the only sane thing to do to both be able to do good work but still preserve our family. I love what I do, but I love my family more. Even though I lost my job, I would make the same decision tomorrow."

Full-time employees received severance. In contrast, Deam was told that she would be paid through June 30, "and I could either come into work or not." Guess which option she picked.

The travel budget was high on the list of non-human resources trimmed, despite the fact that Moore couldn't find any recent examples of egregiously wasteful trips, and "peer lunches" that found the Post sometimes picking up the tab for colleagues lunching together are headed for extinction. However, Moore resisted the urge to totally drain dining critic Tucker Shaw's reviewing funds. Numerous papers around the country are taking this tack due to the cost of buying lots of often-pricey meals at posh restaurants, but Moore believes such coverage is "a very, very important part of the Denver Post.

"I think most of the newspapers are trying to cut in judicious ways that still preserve ambition and the watchdog function we all value with a free press," he goes on. "These are really difficult times, but I like where we're sitting for the moment. I've done this the best way I know how, with a lot of counsel from a lot of people — and I'm still optimistic."

Thank goodness someone is.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts