Can the Denver Post Survive Alden Global Capital, Its Hedge-Fund Owner? | Westword

Can the Denver Post Survive Its Hedge-Fund Owners?

Two years ago, Woodrow Wilson Paige Jr. flew to New York in a state of keen anticipation. He had been summoned by the top management of MediaNews Group, the parent company of the Denver Post, to a sitdown at Thunderdome. Paige, better known to Denver sports fans and ESPN viewers...
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Two years ago, Woodrow Wilson Paige Jr. flew to New York in a state of keen anticipation. He had been summoned by the top management of MediaNews Group, the parent company of the Denver Post, to a sitdown at Thunderdome.

Paige, better known to Denver sports fans and ESPN viewers as Woody, had moved his popular sports column from the Rocky Mountain News to the Post in 1981, six years before the paper was purchased by MediaNews. During the subsequent decades, he’d become good friends with MediaNews co-founder and CEO Dean Singleton. But Singleton had stepped down as CEO in 2011, just as MediaNews was emerging from reorganization in bankruptcy court. By 2014, though still listed as “chairman” on the Post masthead, he’d retired completely from the company, which had become the second-largest newspaper chain in the country.

Paige was less familiar with the brain trust now running the operation — which was why the trip to New York was such a treat. Rebranded as Digital First Media, the company had launched a national newsroom in lower Manhattan called Thunderdome that was the talk of the industry; it was reputedly working on generating whiz-bang digital content that could be effortlessly disseminated to the company’s dozens of daily and weekly newspapers in fifteen states. And Digital First CEO John Paton, a veteran newspaperman leading the charge from a declining print audience to the brave new cyberworld, wanted to talk to Paige about a related venture.

Yet when Paige arrived at Thunderdome, he was surprised to find the place a lot less grand than he imagined it to be. It reminded him of a college classroom; twenty or so young people sat staring at tablets, smartphones and flat-screen TVs. “John Paton was sitting in a corner,” he recalls. “He didn’t have an office; you could walk right up to him. They were running 75 newspapers or whatever from this place. I felt like I had gone behind the curtain in The Wizard of Oz.”

One of the tools the Thunderdome crowd wanted to develop was a social-networking service called Tout, which allows users to send and view fifteen-second videos. Paige, a regular on the ESPN sports-chat program Around the Horn, had been approached about putting together on-camera quick takes with leading sports personalities. Intrigued, Paige suggested they call the new service Thunderball. The brain trust wanted to call it Spout, short for Sports Tout.

By the end of the meeting, Paige had the impression that Digital First was planning to invest millions in Spout. But before he left New York, he decided to venture even further behind the curtain. He knew that Thunderdome wasn’t where the bottom-line decisions got made; that would be done by the board of directors of MediaNews Group, which would reflect the will of the company’s largest shareholders — which now consisted of a secretive, privately held hedge-fund group, Alden Global Capital, known for investing in distressed companies.

So Paige dropped in on Alden Global’s Manhattan office. He told the receptionist he didn’t have an appointment. He just wanted to see who owned the company he worked for, maybe get a tour or something.

“She looked at me like I’m a fool — which I am,” Paige says. “She picked up her phone, and a security guard showed me the way out. That was my first indication that this was not a newspaper-centric company.”

A few weeks after Paige’s visit, Digital First shut down Thunderdome. There was no more talk of Spout. A few months later, digital guru Paton was out the door, replaced as CEO by longtime MediaNews exec Steve Rossi. The hedge-fund masters have since sold off some of their media holdings — Digital First, which boasted of “75 million monthly readers” in 2014, now claims about half that many — and have embarked on wave after wave of buyouts and layoffs at the rest, cutting costs to the bone.

At the Denver Post, the chain’s flagship paper, the newsroom has been pruned of more than a third of its employees since June of last year. Fifteen years ago, in the heyday of Denver’s daily newspaper war, the “Voice of the Rocky Mountain Empire” had legions of reporters fanning out across the Front Range and the region, backed by squads of photographers and editors; now barely a hundred staffers remain. Bureaus have been closed and most local arts coverage scrapped or turned over to freelancers, with an increasing reliance on copy from other MediaNews papers (such as the Boulder Daily Camera or the Longmont Times Call), wire services and other organizations to fill the news hole. The editorial page is a ghost of its former self. And the critical tasks of covering breaking news and watchdogging state and local government in all its permutations have fallen on a dwindling pool of overworked, multi-tasking, Facebook-conscious and ever-tweeting diehards.

“We’re hanging on by a thread,” says Kieran Nicholson, who’s been at the Post since 1986 and serves as the staff’s union representative. “It’s really close to that tipping point, where I fear if there’s another round of cuts next year, you can’t keep up. You don’t do more with less; you do less with less. I think we’re still relevant. But if it comes to the point where we’re missing a lot of stories and we lose our relevancy, it’s going to be awfully hard to get it back.”

Downsizing is, of course, a current fact of life in the newspaper business. Newspaper advertising revenue peaked in 2005 and has been plummeting ever since; it’s now 60 percent less than what it was a decade ago. The industry’s workforce has shrunk by about 40 percent — 20,000 jobs — in the past twenty years. According to the Pew Research Center, there are a hundred fewer daily papers in America than there were in 2004, and those that survive haven’t exactly been unscathed by the downturn; even a weekly like Westword is a notably leaner operation than it was a few years ago.

But the cost-cutting at the Post is fundamentally different from reducing your workforce because you’re losing money. The paper, like virtually all of the properties in the MediaNews empire, is still showing a profit. In fact, thanks to the relentless layoffs, it’s probably more profitable now than it’s ever been in its history; as my colleague Michael Roberts first reported in May, several sources have confirmed that the paper’s profits in its most recent fiscal year are “north of $25 million.” The whittling down of the news-gathering operation is part of a strategy to maximize those profits, not because of some red-ink problem.

“I felt like I had gone behind the curtain in The Wizard of Oz.”

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On Wall Street, the strategy is known as “harvesting cash” — an unabashedly ghoulish process of sucking all the value out of a company, stripping assets and spending as little as possible to keep it going until you’ve squeezed out all that’s left, like a vampire working an old folks’ home. It’s a practice that Alden Global Capital excels at, and one that’s triggered protests at MediaNews properties around the country. One rally outside the Post last June brought out several dozen staffers wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the hashtag #NEWS MATTERS and applauding speeches about “vulture capital firms” and the need for new ownership.

Although Singleton was known for taking a hard line with the employees’ unions, life under the current regime has made many staffers nostalgic about those days. “Toward the end with Singleton, the ownership was taking a smaller profit margin and putting some of the profit back into the product,” Nicholson says. “Hedge funds don’t do that. I think the Post is extremely profitable. I think they shrunk everything down to where they’re making a lot of money. But instead of putting that money back into the product, they’re stuffing their pockets. We need a local owner who loves Denver, loves Colorado and wants what is best for the community.”

Reporters at another MediaNews property, the St. Paul Pioneer Press, have gone so far as to take out an ad in the rival Star Tribune, searching for a white-knight owner to rescue them from the insatiable thirst of Alden Global. Even if a suitable local owner could be found for the Post, though, it’s not clear what might be left to purchase by the time the current ownership is done with it. The paper has already experienced a substantial exodus of journalistic talent and institutional knowledge, starting with editor Greg Moore — who resigned this past spring, after fourteen years and four Pulitzers. Buyout recipients have included veteran political journalist Lynn Bartels, movie critic Lisa Kennedy, TV critic Joanne Ostrow, and longtime reporters with expertise ranging from complex investigations to elegant feature writing, including Claire Martin, Steve Raabe and David Olinger. And two months ago, Woody Paige decided it was time to go, too. Although the Post claimed he “retired,” he’s now writing for the state’s second-largest daily, the Colorado Springs Gazette — whose billionaire owner, Phil Anschutz, has been beefing up staff and has also expressed an interest in acquiring the Post.

But there are compelling financial reasons why Alden Global, which was shopping the entire Digital First portfolio not long ago, might choose not to sell the Post to Anschutz or anyone else, preferring to drive its flagship into the ground. The media landscape is changing rapidly, buffeted by forces that have little to do with the sacred tenets of journalism — something that Paige began to appreciate after his trip behind the curtain. What lurks there may be more lizard than wizard, he quips.

“I love newspapers,” Paige says. “I grew up with newspapers. But they don’t love me anymore.”

For the first 87 years of its existence, the Denver Post was locally owned. Its first owners were political hacks, scoundrels and con men, but that didn’t stop them from putting out an interesting paper.

The Evening Post, as it was originally known, began operations in 1892 as a poorly funded Democratic paper. Three years later it was picked up for a song by hucksters Harry Tammen and Frederick Bonfils, who quickly shaped it into a loud, scandal-mongering money machine. The pair had a penchant for promotional stunts, lurid crime stories and red-letter headlines. (One jaw-dropping front-pager posed the question, DOES IT HURT TO BE BORN?) The headlines may have been emblazoned in red ink, but the books remained firmly in the black.

Bonfils died in 1933. The Post remained under his family’s control, growing steadily more respectable, boosterish and boring, until the death of his daughter, Helen, in 1972. “Miss Helen’s attorney,” Donald Seawell, became the new chairman and began to pump the paper’s profits into the creation of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. At the same time, the rival Rocky Mountain News, a longtime also-ran, began to show new signs of life, attracting readers among the city’s growing corps of young professionals with its aggressive coverage of politics and development issues. In 1980, the Rocky passed the Post in circulation for the first time in generations; Seawell responded by selling the bloated, cash-poor broadsheet to Times Mirror for $95 million.

One of the premier newspaper chains in the country, Times Mirror spent lavishly to sweep the cobwebs out of the Post operation. The new regime switched from afternoon to morning delivery, brought in talented investigative journalists and feature writers, expanded regional coverage — and continued to lose ground to the Rocky. After seven years of fruitless tinkering, Times Mirror announced that it had sold the paper to MediaNews for the same price it had paid for it. (Actually, MediaNews had to cough up only a $25 million down payment in the creatively financed deal, discounted much of the rest of the debt, got new printing presses in the bargain, and generally made out like bandits.)

At the time, many observers figured the Post was doomed. MediaNews was already in the process of losing newspaper wars in Dallas and Houston. Singleton had a reputation — ironic in retrospect, given the current ownership and direction of the company — of extracting the last drop of profit from a media property and then closing up shop. But he surprised everyone. After his Texas papers failed, Singleton moved the company headquarters to Colorado and made the Post his flagship operation — and Denver’s only “locally owned” daily again. He brought in a stable senior management team and paid attention to the basics of reliable delivery and quality printing. The Post rode out a nasty recession that claimed some of its biggest advertisers and embarked on a decade of steady circulation growth.

In 2000, the owner of the Rocky, the Cincinnati-based E.W. Scripps Company, sued for peace. The company agreed to pay $60 million to put the Rocky into a Joint Operating Agreement with the Post, an arrangement that required the tabloid to abandon its Sunday edition. Filings connected with the JOA revealed that the Rocky — still the leading paper in circulation, thanks to absurdly cheap subscription deals, and dominant in winning national and regional journalism awards — had suffered $123 million in operating losses over ten years while the Post was ringing up $200 million in profits.

With the business operations of the two newspapers now combined, the “war” creaked along for nine more years. But Scripps had lost its appetite for the fight and for newspapers in general, preferring to concentrate on its broadcast properties. After failing to find a buyer for the tabloid, the company shut down the Rocky in 2009. Denver joined the growing ranks of major cities with only one daily newspaper.

“You don’t do more with less; you do less with less.”

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Winning the war was supposed to leave the Post in a dominant position in the local market; in theory, the paper could now hike subscription and ad rates and watch the dollars pour in. But larger industry trends dictated otherwise. Print circulation was in a tailspin. Millions of dollars in classified ad revenues had evaporated overnight, thanks to Craigslist, and many of the paper’s brick-and-mortar advertisers, from department stores to car dealerships to big-box stores, were under siege from online competitors themselves. Digital revenue was growing, but at a fraction of the pace that print revenue was falling.

There was also all the debt that MediaNews had taken on while Singleton was building his empire. The company had always been heavily leveraged, relying on increased revenue from its acquisitions to keep ahead of the game. “Dean’s company chose to use debt as an important part of their capital structure,” observes David Milstead, a former Rocky business reporter who now writes for the Globe and Mail. “If I could buy a newspaper that has a 20 percent profit margin, and the returns that come from that, I’d borrow money at 11 and 12 percent, too.”

But as those returns declined, the debt became unwieldy, soaring to $930 million. Less than a year after the Rocky folded, MediaNews opted for a “pre-packaged” bankruptcy filing, in which its lenders agreed to swap most of the company’s debt for stock in the company. It was a quick and strategic move that wiped out $765 million in obligations but also greatly reduced Singleton’s equity stake, leaving him with what one analyst described as only “theoretical control, in the form of the power to appoint a majority of the board.”

Although Singleton bowed out as CEO, he retained the titles of “executive chairman” and publisher of the Post and the Salt Lake Tribune. But his actual decision-making ability within the company had been greatly diminished, along with his equity. One former Post employee recalls visiting the chief in his office during that period.

“He was just sitting in there, and the phone never rang,” the ex-employee recalls. “This is one of the most powerful men in journalism. I was kind of shocked. I had known he had sold off part of his company, but they kind of pushed him to the side.”

Singleton stepped down from his remaining duties late in 2013, citing personal reasons, including his long-running battle with multiple sclerosis. By that point, the ownership structure of MediaNews had changed substantially from what it had been before the reorganization. The stock-for-debt swap had initially involved dozens of entities, but over time, a substantial block of the stock ended up in the hands of one group: Alden Global Capital. Alden owned outright another bankrupt chain, the Journal Register Company (now known as 21st Century Media), and created Digital First Media to jointly manage both companies.

Alden Global keeps an exceptionally low profile, even by the standards of the opportunistic, deeply shrouded world of hedge funds. Its founder, billionaire and former Bear Stearns partner Randall Smith, hasn’t given an interview in thirty years, even though his younger brother Russ was the founder (and garrulous conservative-libertarian columnist) of the now-defunct New York Press. Alden Global’s website is accessible only to qualified customers — that is, those who have put up a minimum investment of $100,000, and usually much more. The company manages more than $2 billion in assets for its elite pool of clients but releases little information about the specifics of those investments, which range from junk bonds and third-world debt to Chinese real estate, infrastructure-related ventures in India and distressed companies in the United States — including, at various times, positions in several major newspaper chains.

Four years ago, Alden had a sizable stake in Gannett, the largest surviving newspaper chain. Randall Smith spoke highly of the potential of newspapers to a gathering of investors. “The first thing you need to accept is that print is declining,” he said, according to a report on a distressed-debt blog. “What’s good, though, is the digital migration. The decline in print revenues is being offset by the increase in digital. In addition, newspaper companies have a lot of assets that probably aren’t being fully utilized and could be sold off.”

Project Thunderdome was supposed to speed that digital revenue stream along, with new CEO Paton priming the pump. But several industry observers were skeptical about the venture from the first. Why operate an expensive nerve center out of Manhattan, when the papers using the content are elsewhere? Why provide generic content that local editors disdain, when the true strength of community dailies is to provide local, original reporting that readers can’t get anywhere else?

Pulling the plug on Thunderdome represented a turning point in the direction of Digital First. Disenchanted with the kind of long-term commitment (and hefty up-front investment in new technology) that a sophisticated digital play would involve, Alden Global began to focus instead on cutting costs and selling off those under-utilized assets. At one point, all of Digital First Media was up for sale, but the only serious interest came from another private-equity fund, and the offer evidently wasn’t high enough to persuade Alden Global to sell. Instead, the firm pursued its “harvesting cash” endgame, jettisoning employees and properties like so much excess baggage.

“If you believe newspapers are going away, the only strategy left is to harvest the cash.”

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Although Alden Global isn’t as enamored of the newspaper business as it once was, it continues to acquire other beleaguered newspapers that reek of opportunity. Last spring, for example, Digital First unloaded its interest in the Salt Lake Tribune at the same time it was scooping up the Orange County Register and Riverside’s Press-Enterprise for $50 million. Digital First then sold off the real estate included in that deal for $34 million, meaning that the company had picked up two large (albeit struggling) dailies in Southern California for a mere $16 million — a price that news-industry analyst Ken Doctor has described as “astoundingly low.” It also commenced axing jobs.

Doctor has written frequently, and with some perplexity, about Digital First’s manic staff-slashing and asset-stripping. It’s a great way in the short run to extract value out of a cash cow, but the sustainability of such an approach hasn’t been demonstrated. Or, as he put it in one piece, “Is there anything more to the strategy than milking the company as much as possible?”

Doctor didn’t respond to a request for comment for this article. Another analyst, who asked to remain anonymous, suggests that the lack of a long-term plan is a good indication of how Alden Global rates the prospects for the industry as a whole. “If you believe newspapers are going away, the only strategy left is to harvest the cash,” he says. “They don’t live in the local communities. All they care about is return on investment.”
It wasn’t all that long ago that the business of putting out two daily papers occupied seven floors of the Denver Post headquarters in the heart of the city. Now what’s left of the Post leases just one floor in the building that bears its name but that it doesn’t own — half as much space as another tenant, a financial-services company that offers online small-business loans.

The somber, quiet newsroom is a grim contrast to the bustling, raucous dens of reporters seen in movies about newspapers from the 1940s — or the 1970s, for that matter. Amid a smattering of empty desks, #NEWS MATTERS T-shirts are draped across many of the still-occupied chairs, a kind of mute protest against the ongoing shrinkage of the paper.

“We’re certainly a much smaller operation than we were,” says Post editor Lee Ann Colacioppo. “But we still do capital-J Journalism. You would have left here by now if you didn’t want to do this work. The people who are out here now, they just don’t blink at writing three or four quick stories, then doing some social-media work, then thinking about what would be a smart follow-up story. I admire their work ethic.”

Colacioppo, who’s worked at the Post for seventeen years, took the helm after Greg Moore’s resignation — just in time to preside over this year’s round of buyouts and even a few layoffs, an experience she’s described as “the worst day of my entire career.” The current newsroom count stands at between 100 and 110 people, but there are frequent fluctuations. Political reporter Joey Bunch, who stirred a hornet’s nest this campaign season by poking around the arrest record of Senate candidate Darryl Glenn, recently jumped ship for the Gazette; education reporter Yesenia Robles recently left for Chalkbeat, a nonprofit whose reporting on education issues is frequently carried by the Post. Colacioppo is in the process of replacing them and bringing in a few other new hires.

Like just about every editor of every daily in the country, Colacioppo faces the challenge of how to hang on to an aging, increasingly disaffected print readership while also grabbing and retaining the attention of a vast but elusive — and fickle and demanding — digital audience. It’s an industry-wide conundrum, but one that may be particularly difficult for the Post because of its ownership’s insistence on ratcheting down the workforce and maximizing the returns.

Take the print product. It may be lean or tissue-thin, depending on the day of the week, but delivering it to your door is still a costly, labor-intensive business. Yet the Post can’t afford to abandon the morning-paper crowd; the print edition still accounts for the bulk of its revenue. So management has chosen to soak its core of loyal print readers, more than doubling subscription rates over what was available a year or two ago. The current rates may not seem outrageous by national standards, but they’ve generated plenty of grumbling from longtime readers accustomed to cheap deals. (At $30 a month for seven-day-a-week print delivery, subscribers are paying more than they paid for a year of delivery in the heyday of the newspaper war.) The Post has also started charging subscribers extra for quarterly “special editions,” such as a recent Denver Broncos preview insert, unless the recipient bothers to opt out — in effect, nickel-and-diming the print following to death.

If some of those paper-loving pigeons get fed up and fly the coop, so be it. The Post may have lost tens of thousands of print readers in the past few years, but it’s gained hundreds of thousands of digital subscribers — who don’t pay as much, but they’re not likely to call and complain about a missing paper or a vacation hold, either. The Post has boasted of strong gains in overall online traffic, including 5.1 million unique visitors at its recently retooled website in July, a 40 percent jump from the year before. But whether “unique visitors” are as valuable as print readers, particularly when most of those visitors stay on the site for fewer than five minutes and may not return for weeks or months, is a question the industry is still debating.

Colacioppo believes the Post is well ahead of many dailies in its efforts to attract a younger online audience. The paper has supplied reporters with equipment and training to shoot videos, do Facebook Live chats and incorporate other social-media components into their projects. The newsroom has an impromptu studio for quick video updates on breaking stories or “Ask the Editor” segments as well as podcasts from the Cannabist, the paper’s all-things-weed venture.

“There are papers that are still thinking first about print,” she says. “We moved away from that a long time ago. We still have stories that we save for print; we want to honor our print audience with smart stories. But it wouldn’t be unusual for us to launch a Sunday story on a Thursday online, because traffic is lower on Sunday. Most of the staff grew up in a print world. It’s hard to get them thinking about the digital audience first, but we’re getting there.”

At the same time, the Post’s ability to attract Denver’s gold rush of millennials has been somewhat hamstrung by the staff cuts. Most of the paper’s arts and entertainment writers took the buyouts, leaving the “life and culture” section on life support. “A vibrant, growing city on its way to being a significant cultural contributor needs reporters, critics and writers to bring attention to percolating ideas and trends, to encourage discussion and identify the issues,” says Joanne Ostrow, the paper’s former TV and theater critic. “The hedge-fund folks are not interested in content. They are interested in increasing profits year to year.”

Many of the feature writers were encouraged to take the buyout, with the implication being they would be prime targets for layoffs if they didn’t. Several of them, including Ostrow, now freelance for the Post — for considerably less than they were paid as staff. “Corporations want ownership, but they don’t want anybody working there,” union rep Nicholson says. “They want to contract out everything because it’s cost-effective. They don’t have to pay benefits. They don’t have to own office space.”

Colacioppo says the painful cuts have freed up some funds for her freelance budget. “It doesn’t fill up a desk in your newsroom, but it does give you a lot of flexibility in responding to what we see is important to readers,” she says.

The paper is also in the process of outsourcing its design team. Colacioppo regards such decisions as “a matter of trying to run the business where we’re the size we need to be to maintain a level of profit.... Do I wish [the owners] would say, ‘Here’s a four-year break, we’re going to keep investing while you figure out what you need’? Sure. But the owners of the business, that’s not where they want to go. I understand that.”

The current newsroom, she explains, is divided fairly evenly among three areas of concentration: sports, breaking news and enterprise reporting. The Denver Broncos continue to be a top priority, the stuff readers expect and demand; while the coverage may not be as overwhelming as it was in the days of the Elway Watch, it’s still pretty substantial, compared to the skimpy college and prep reporting. Breaking news is the purview of what Colacioppo calls the Now Team — the reporters who are expected to cover the big story of the day as well as a barrage of quick shorts and essential beats.  

“We still do capital-J Journalism. You would have left here by now if you didn’t want to do this work.”

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For enterprise, the Post still has an investigative-projects teams, consisting of three reporters and an editor, looking into stories such as a recent front-page report on flaws in rafting company regulations. But other reporters also get the opportunity, as time allows, to squeeze in a longer piece about toxic mines or the heroin epidemic in southern Colorado or social-services breakdowns.

The re-emergence of longform journalism — even the occasional series, such as this week’s four-part report on safety issues in the oil-and-gas industry — is one of the more surprising developments of the kind of nimbleness Colacioppo is seeking in the coverage. The paper has to pick its battles. It can no longer cover every suburban government folly, as it did in the days when it had one reporter in Aurora, two in Arapahoe County and two more in Douglas County. But it does have John Aguilar roaming the suburbs, looking for roundup stories about fracking, construction defects and other pervasive issues that Colacioppo hopes “will resonate across larger communities.” It can’t cover all the high-country hijinks, either, but it has Jason Blevins roaming the mountains and reporting on tourism nightmares, billionaire conservationists and extreme climbers.

A few months ago, a newsroom announcement that every Post reporter is expected to crank out one story a day, and some at least two, produced some grumbling about quotas. “The reaction in the newsroom was, ‘Now we’re a widget factory,’” Nicholson recalls. There hasn’t been much talk of quotas since, possibly because so many members of the Now Team seem to be generating multiple stories a day. Among several staffers who spoke to Westword anonymously, though, there appears to be growing anxiety about management’s obsession with page views and online traffic in general, concerns about prizing clickbait over quality journalism. Colacioppo insists those concerns are overstated.

“Google Analytics tells you something,” she says, referring to the popular web-traffic tracking tool. “It helps inform when you launch stories, what headline is best. But you would be crazy to base your entire news operation around what those analytics said.”

Inevitably, though, amid all the quick hits and “talk” stories of the day, less buzz-generating topics are likely to fall into the gaps in the paper’s shrinking coverage, from local theater to school-board elections to skullduggery in the suburbs. Colacioppo would like to see more suburban coverage, possibly a revived transportation beat. Most of all, she says, she wants to bring in “people who know how to dig and find those stories that aren’t at all obvious to anyone else and tell them in interesting ways.”

While their editor tries to keep some community resonance in the Voice of the Rocky Mountain Empire, others in the newsroom are still hoping for a well-heeled newspaper buyer, a Jeff Bezos or a Phil Anschutz, to rescue them from Alden Global; hell, they’d settle for Pat Stryker or Jared Polis. But unbundling the Post from the rest of the MediaNews properties is more complicated than one might think. Several months ago, Anschutz reportedly made a serious offer for the Post and related MediaNews papers in Colorado, including the Daily Camera, and was rebuffed — either because there was still too much cash to be harvested, or because untangling the flagship from the rest of the company’s infrastructure posed too many operational and financial liabilities, or both. (MediaNews CEO Steve Rossi did not respond to an interview request.)

“The profit margins are still good enough that they’re not in a hurry to sell,” Nicholson says. “But if the product gets so diminished that nobody wants to rescue it, then they’ll lock the door — and probably make money out of bankruptcy and write-offs.”

A persistent rumor in the newsroom has it that more layoffs are coming, perhaps early next year. Colacioppo says she hasn’t heard of any looming cuts. “It’s hard to imagine what it would be like if we were smaller,” she admits. “But I would have said that before the last buyout and the one before that. You adapt.”

She quickly adds, “Our energy has to be on what lies ahead. There are still a lot of opportunities for us. This city is packed with good stories. Our job is to make the smartest decision possible about which of those stories we’re going to chase.”
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