Denver Post owner Digital First Media aggressively silent about layoffs

Journalism organizations frequently decry powerful enterprises that dodge questions about important issues. But media firms engage in such behavior, too -- although few do so with the tone-deafness currently being exhibited by Digital First Media, parent company of the Denver Post.

Multiple sources have told Westword about significant layoffs by the company, with many of them taking place in Denver. But DFM reps have failed to respond to our inquiries on the subject for days and also appear to be giving the more-or-less silent treatment to the Denver Newspaper Guild. Additionally, a national media blogger who posted a graphic from an internal memo received a cease-and-desist letter. Details below.

In an April 29 item about two Denver Post layoffs, we noted that ongoing rumors about a possible sale of the paper were being fueled in part by turmoil at DFM over the shutdown of Operation Thunderdome, described on a company web page like so:
Digital First Media's solution to providing content, support and coordination to its network of more than 100 local newsrooms, each with their own distinct communities and stories. Think of it as the wire service local newsrooms wish they had. Based on the strength of this network, Thunderdome is able to leverage the most-engaging news reports of the day -- produced by DFM journalists and through a growing portfolio of media partners -- for publication and distribution on all platforms.
Cut to last week, when we started receiving reports from multiple sources of major layoffs at Digital First Media, mostly in web-related positions. The numbers we heard were forty-fifty employees company-wide, with twenty-thirty of them in Denver.

Among those let go in Denver was Mike Noe, whose Facebook page lists him as having served as director of niche projects for DFM nationally. Along with the photo at the top of this item, he shared the following message:

It was fun while it lasted. If anyone needs a product manager/digital marketing expert/content director, let me know. Looking forward to the next adventure, and best wishes to my friends still at Digital First Media.
Noe didn't respond to an interview request from Westword. But his Facebook revelation attracted dozens of supportive notes, many from past or present employees of the Post. One summarized the situation like so: "F-ing horror show."

The next day, we reached out via e-mail to DFM Vice President Media Relations & Employee Communications Jonathan Cooper, triggering an auto-reply stating that he was out of the office through that day and passing along addresses for five other staffers who might be able to offer assistance in his absence. We sent another note to all five and followed up with an additional missive to Cooper and the quintet earlier this morning.

Thus far, none have contacted us. If and when someone does, we'll update this post -- but the company doesn't seem especially eager to talk, as evidenced by an exchange documented on Jim Romenesko's national media blog. On Friday, Romenesko posted a chart from an internal DFM memo that featured individuals to be cut. As you can see by this screen capture, Noe's name is among them:

A few hours later, Romenesko followed up by sharing a letter from a DFM lawyer demanding that he take down the chart -- which he ignored, as well he should have. Here's the letter:Meanwhile, even the Denver Newspaper Guild is mostly being left in the dark about the layoffs. Last week, the guild shared this item:
Four members of the Denver Newspaper Guild's Denver Post units were dismissed from their jobs as web software developers Tuesday by Digital First Media.

One of the members will return to his past job as a Denver Post newsroom employee and another has the contractual right to move back to his previous Post position as a technician. If the second member returns to the technician position, the least senior technician will be laid off. The other two displaced employees have no such options and were laid off.

DFM has been tight-lipped about the layoffs. One of the guild members who lost his job said between 20 and 25 DFM employees were laid off in Denver, with more elsewhere in the company.

Our take: Media companies ought to set the standard for openness and transparency, especially when the news is bad. By this measure, Digital First Media is falling woefully short, and its actions are likely to raise more questions about its ownership of the Denver Post and how long that relationship may continue.

One more thing: The most recent DFM news release came out way back on April 17 and involved Whoopi Goldberg agreeing to pen a column for the Cannabist, the Denver Post's pot blog. Goldberg's work is supposed to appear "about every two months;" thus far, only one has been published.

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.

More from our Media archive circa April 29: "Denver Post lays off two amid continuing sale rumors."

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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