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Calling All Columnists

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Mike Littwin, who's far and away Denver's best metro columnist, feels the same. In his view, the power of columnists has faded since the glory days of Mike Royko and Jimmy Breslin, because metropolitan newspapers in general have become more of a middle-class medium as opposed to a predominantly urban one. But, he says, "I think people still like to read columns. All the surveys show that. And I don't want to sound corny, but it's an honor to know that people read you over breakfast in the morning and discuss what you've written, whether they like it or they hate it. To become part of another person's conversation is a fantastic thing."

There's no telling if Bill Johnson, the most erratic of the News columnists, feels the same, since he didn't respond to interview requests. Gossips may interpret that as evidence that Moore will try to get back at the Rocky for swiping Griego by luring Johnson to the Post, as the grapevine buzz currently has it. But Moore dismisses this hypothesis. "I've seen Bill twice in the last six months, and every time I do, rumors start going around just because there's two black guys in a place talking. There's nothing more to it."

With Johnson on board, the News seemingly has the sort of columnist mix that most appearance-conscious dailies would envy: a Caucasian man, an African-American man and a Hispanic woman. But despite its mainly conservative editorial tone, the Rocky's three columnists all lean to the left, raising the specter of redundancy. This situation cropped up earlier this year at the Post, when Griego and Carman repeatedly had similar takes about matters related to Jesus Apodaca, a Mexican-born student who wound up in the crosshairs of fervid immigration reformer Tom Tancredo. Nonetheless, News editor Temple isn't worried.

"If I had the right conservative columnist that I thought other people would connect to, I would be interested in that," Temple says. "But the reality is, the first reason you connect with a columnist is not ideological. You connect with them because they're a human being who you can relate to. So what I'm interested in is columnists who can communicate at an extraordinary level -- and that's what we've got."

As for Moore, he's willing to throw philosophy into the pot when discussing the perfect Post-columnist candidate. "I'm looking for diversity here, and that includes ideological diversity. There's no litmus test, but I want someone who can talk to both sides of the audience -- someone who's not going to be all the way to the left or the right, but who can move across the spectrum and has a broad view of things, some ideological range. I'm looking for someone who can get around the city and write about it with a sense of discovery. And I'm looking to see that we have someone who can represent the views of the little guy, the outcast, the in folks and the out folks."

That Moore doesn't use plurals when talking about columnists may mean nothing at all. Then again, it might.

Reversal of fortune: In 1999, just three years before Greg Moore came to the Post, Dennis Britton, a veteran of the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Sun-Times, held the editor's job, much to the chagrin of many employees. Several of his more disgruntled charges channeled their displeasure into an Internet site dubbed the "Dennis Britton Go Home Page," and when he eventually did so, few tears were shed. Fewer still are apt to fall today, despite the fact that Britton has gone from running a big newspaper to running around for a much smaller one.

After he was given the heave-ho at the Post (the same fate that befell his successor, Glenn Guzzo, this past spring), Britton became editor of ChinaOnline, a Chicago-based Web service. Yet earlier this year, he and his wife, Tere, moved to Palm Springs, California, where Britton took a business-reporter position at the Palm Springs Desert Sun, a paper with a circulation just north of 50,000 -- a mere shadow of the Post's total. His recent articles identify his beats as "tourism and gaming."

"I started here last month, though Tere and I have been living in the desert since midsummer," Britton wrote in an e-mail exchange. "I am greatly enjoying the opportunity, and once the rust is off, it will be even more fun. I think I would have been a far better editor if I had been a reporter immediately before taking the job. The perspective is quite different."

Britton calls the hiring of Moore "an inspired choice. Given adequate resources and staff support, he should enjoy great success. He is inheriting a wonderful newspaper with a committed staff, from the composing room to the circulation trucks to talented reporters and editors."

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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