The Denver Post's announcement that it would be laying off thirty journalists, or nearly one-third of its newsroom staff, included a March 21 deadline for employees to voluntarily join those who'd be departing. The biggest name to do so was outdoor writer Jason Blevins, whose tweet about his decision put Alden Global Capital, the hedge fund that owns the Post and is bleeding it dry, on blast.
"After 21 years, I'm leaving @DenverPost," Blevins wrote. "I can't work for black-souled owners like Alden's [president] Heath Freeman who reward loyalty to a vital craft by hurling shit at dedicated journalists. I'm Sad/Angry/Scared. Ready to work for anyone w common sense, decency & respect #NewsMatters."
In conversation, Blevins is just as plain-spoken, but his initial focus is on the loss of others. Speaking about Kourtney Geers, the Post's director of digital news production, whose tweet about being laid off referenced her LinkedIn page, he says, "It's so sad to think about what's happening to all those bright kids. They have so much energy when they come in, all these news skills and great talent. It's just heartbreaking to think they're not going to be able to do this job just because somebody wants an extra house in Palm Beach."
This last comment may sound random, but it's not. Among those who tweeted at Blevins after his announcement was Jake Bittle, a writer for The Nation, who sent along a link to 2017 story about Alden founder and CEO Randall D. Smith and his sixteen Palm Beach mansions.
Alden reportedly seeks to make 20 percent profits or more from its newspaper properties and orders cuts to keep the cash flowing, no matter what damage it does to a publication's long-term prospects. That makes the slashing at the Post even more galling for Blevins.
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"There needs to be a balance in there," he allows. "There are plenty of billionaires who could take 5 or 10 percent off their investment and they'd be happy with it. But wanting the size of return Alden does is just greedy. From what I understand, they're trying to make up for bad investments — suffocating the paper to balance out a bad call on Greek debt or whatever."
Given such goals, Blevins continues, "I lost the incentive to do good work. When your owner disrespects you so hard, it's tough to stay motivated — to show up again and work ten-hour days because you want to get the story right and then get tossed out like garbage."
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Denver is losing just as much as the Post employees, Blevins stresses. "We need to be informed, and that was one of the true joys of this job — giving folks a glimpse into something they weren't expecting. Every time I open up the Denver Post, I learn something new about my community, my state, and I took great pride in being one of the people providing that. And when we lose that, it's sad."
Because Blevins has been based in Eagle during recent years ("I work at my kitchen table," he says), he doesn't feel he's the best person to comment about the morale among other Post workers in Denver, "but it can't be good," he suggests. "It can't be that cheerful of a place after they moved us into the back corner of the printing press [in Adams County] and started hacking at the limb with a dull blade."
The reaction to Blevins's departure has been strong and heartfelt from colleagues, readers and even higher-ups at the Post. Editor Lee Ann Colacioppo tweeted, "@jasonblevins made me ALMOST believe I could tear down a mountain at breakneck speed without, well, breaking my neck. A legend. #notcrying," while editorial-page editor Chuck Plunkett weighed in with this: "What a terrible development for us. I have always loved your work and sense of adventure and writing. For the way you care about your stories and the people in them. Godspeed Jason. What a body blow."
This last image captures the way Blevins sounds after everything that's gone down. "Twenty-one years," he says. "It's a bummer and it breaks my heart. It's not the way I wanted to go out."