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Denver Post chairman and MediaNews Group CEO Dean Singleton responds to this week's Message column

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Say what you will about Denver Post chairman and MediaNews Group CEO Dean Singleton (and plenty of his critics have, and will continue to do so): He's among the most accessible and engaged of all media magnates -- and he's not afraid to push back when he feels he's been misinterpreted in some way.

Today's example -- a long note from Singleton in response to "After the Rocky Taps Out, the Post Acts Like it Won By a Knockout," this week's Message column, which chronicles the closure of the Rocky Mountain News and offers early opinions about the new-look Denver Post. Singleton clearly didn't enjoy many aspects of the piece: In the e-mail accessible below, he accuses me of being prejudiced against the Post, questions assumptions based on a letter from E.W. Scripps executives unearthed by former Rocky Mountain News business writer David Milstead, and suggests that my reading of a house ad that stated "We feel a little like Ali without Frazier" was unfair.

Click "Continue" to read the note in its entirety:

While I usually like and respect your analysis of the media, I think your bias against The Denver Post is showing through this week, as it always has.

First, you haphazardly buy into David Milstead's incorrect assertion that "The Denver Post borrowed $13 million from the Denver Newspaper Agency to fund its newsroom...but the DNA couldn't repeat this feat......" Both assertions are incorrect.

As MediaNews Group's press release clearly said at the time:

"The Joint Operating Agreement, as written when the venture was created on January 20, 2001, provides for the Agency to pay editorial costs for the newspapers and the Agency has paid the Denver Post newsroom costs from the beginning. Those costs are then subtracted from the Agency's distributions to The Denver Post.

The owner of the Rocky Mountain News, also from the beginning, chose to pay its newsroom costs directly rather than choose the option provided in the agreement, and receive a full distribution from the Agency, when distributions are made. Nothing has changed since the Agency was formed and there is no "violation" of the Joint Operating Agreement as the story suggests.

On any given day, there are receivables and payables between Denver Newspaper Agency and its two partners. That will continue until the Joint Operating Agreement ends, which appears to be eminent."

I should add that, contrary to your assertion, DNA has continued to pay the Post's editorial costs, as contractually contemplated, and will continue to do so as it always has.

Secondly, your take on the ad that ran Saturday is curiously misplaced. For the record, the ad was created by an ad agency representing Denver Newspaper Agency without nput from The Post but it was ultimately approved by Post management.

It was designed to show respect from one challenger to the other and to mourn the fact that one respected opponent had disappeared; you curiously failed to note the tag line, "It was a privilege to compete with a newspaper as great as the Rocky Mountain News."

I fail to see how anyone, save perhaps you, could call this somber, respectful statement "less gracious" than my statements.

While economic reality was faced last week, nobody at The Denver Post, especially its publisher, was in a boastful mood about the loss of a 150 year-old institution and the job losses of 200 dedicated journalists. The ad was designed to show sorrow and respect.

Your long-standing bias against The Denver Post, Greg Moore and the newsroom staff is getting old. They do, after all, continue to produce an excellent newspaper every day. And they make me proud each day that they do.

Dean Singleton

MediaNews Group

101 W. Colfax, Suite 1100

Denver, CO 80202

Rather than attempting to undermine the assertion that I'm predisposed to dislike the work of editor Moore and the Post by including dozens of links to columns or blogs in which I've praised various aspects and achievements of the paper (which would be boring in the extreme), allow me to share a couple of lines I wrote to Singleton in response to this note: "For the record, I have no bias against the Denver Post. I'd like nothing more than for the Post to become the great paper I know you want it to be."

One other point: Singleton quoted a bit of text from the aforementioned house ad that didn't make my column's final cut -- but he, too, left out a portion. The entire line reads: "It was a privilege to compete with a newspaper as great as the Rocky Mountain News. It helped make us great, too." Clearly, the reference is extremely kind to the Rocky -- but it asserts that the Post is also great.

Does the paper actually deserve this descriptor on a day-in, day-out basis? In attempting to answer that question, I keep coming back to a comment Singleton made in our 2001 profile of him, "Press For Success." At the time, Singleton said one of the reasons he decided to enter into a joint-operating agreement with the Rocky was because he wanted to make the paper among the nation's very best -- on par with the New York Times, the Boston Globe and so on. Here's how he put it at the time:

"I want the Post to be a great newspaper, and the Post today is a good newspaper, not a great newspaper," he says. "I wanted to spend the money to make it a great newspaper, but I knew that I could never spend enough to make it great while the newspaper war was going on. And I didn't want my kids to make it a great newspaper. I want to make it a great newspaper.

"I'm going to be fifty, and I do have some health issues," he adds, referring to the multiple sclerosis with which he's dealt for many years; he says the ailment only slows him down about one day per month. "But I expect to live a long time, and I wanted to get on with my life. And the JOA allowed me to get on with the business of making the Post a great newspaper."

If the Post has reached this point in the seven-plus years since this article, the news hasn't reached many press observers around the country. When they talk about the country's best newspapers, they regularly mention the Times, the Globe, the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times -- but seldom the Denver Post. Perhaps the Post is great anyhow (depending on how that term is defined, of course). But as I wrote in the aforementioned column, now is not the time for the paper to rest on its laurels, its self-proclaimed greatness notwithstanding.

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