Denver Post staffer John Moore's Web Manifesto

The February 21 Message focuses on a memo written by Denver Post theater columnist John Moore entitled “Straight Talk About Latest Newspaper Space Cuts” – and the missive certainly lives up to its moniker.

The piece was originally e-mailed to folks inquiring about assorted theater-related trims in the physical newspaper’s entertainment section, in addition to appearing on the theater department’s MySpace page, Within hours after an inquiry by Westword, however, the essay disappeared from the MySpace address, as did eight accompanying comments – most of them wholly complimentary toward Moore, one of the finest scribes at the Post in any department.

The version of the memo reproduced below is slightly altered from the original. The first draft stated that “both the Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News had our editorial space slashed by another 20 percent” – a number that was subsequently disputed by the Denver Newspaper Agency, which handles business operations for the local dailies. According to Moore, the revised figures were provided to him by entertainment editor Ed Smith. He also softened some of the verbiage, dropping a reference to DNA chieftains that began “The suits are scared to death” and removing the adjective “cataclysmic” from a sentence about space reductions. Yet the salvo still manages to convey Moore’s passionately held belief that newspapers will not be able to support the abundant innovations that appear on their websites unless they start charging at least a nominal fee for access.

Read on to find out if you agree:

Straight talk about latest newspaper space cuts:

By now a lot of you have noticed that our Friday Entertainment section was noticeably lacking in all our usual listings, including theater productions and auditions. And no, I don't think they are ever coming back. It was Black Friday for us in a lot of ways, because as of Feb. 1, The Denver Post had our editorial space cut again. The percentages vary from day to day and section to section, but for our purposes it comes out to a 20 percent cut in the Sunday entertainment section and 16 percent in the Friday entertainment section. Paperwide, it's about 10 percent. (I've amended those numbers from my original posting with this new information).

Among the other immediate fallout:

*My Sunday columns have been halved. I now will be writing bimonthly, rotating every other week with another columnist. After having writing a column every Sunday but one for the past 6 1/2 years, you can imagine this was a tough one for me.

*As for reviews, it's yet to be determined, but I could be losing some print slots (currently I review three shows a week, Monday, Thursdays and Fridays). I may have to go to shorter, or combined, or online-only reviews in some cases. We'll see.

*We've lost our Friday "3 mores" – an opportunity to blurb about other shows opening on any given weekend – as well as our Sunday "critic's choice."

I don't feel that I – or the theater community in general – are being picked on. This is a paper-wide response to a national industry crisis. Frankly, I am one of the highest-producing writers at this paper, so when a big cut like this happens across the board, naturally it's going to come down harder on someone who's producing more than someone who's not.

No one is happy about losing the listings. It was a last resort. I am proud that The Post was the last major holdout on print listings and auditions. While Westword and the Rocky slashed those services years ago, we doggedly found ways to keep ours in print. But the space cuts have kept coming, and with this new round, they were vulnerable. Hopefully the enormous advances we've made in our ability to provide that same information online quickly and easily will salve the hurt a bit.

The news is not all bad. Here are some ways I intend to compensate for our print-space losses:

*An enhanced listings roundup of all currently running productions: click here

This comprehensive, constantly updated list will tell you every show that's playing in one click. Each listing will include run dates, address, phone, a direct link to the theater's home page and …NEW: They now include capsule summaries and star ratings if the play has been reviewed. Also direct links to any advances or reviews we may have written.

*Those handy-dandy schedules we've always offered you both by company and opening date are now going to be kept constantly current. Those links are: by company: click here

by opening date: click here

*Auditions: We now pledge to update direct auditions link several times a week: click here

(You might want to bookmark all four)

*This is all in addition to the searchable online events calendar you can find by going to the calendar home page.

If you've used the online calendar before and been frustrated, know that it's been recently replaced with a state-of-the-art software program. In other words, now it works.

(For those of you who market for your companies, please continue to submit your listings by email to [email protected] and they will be input by our staff. But keep in mind you can also input your own online listings information yourself. There's even a way to upload photos to go with them.)

*As for going every other week on columns, I'm toying with the idea of writing an online-only Sunday notes column on the weeks when I don't have a slot in the print edition. Mostly just announcement-type things I imagine, not hard news. We'll see.

So … why is all of this happening?

There are a lot of reasons, but we're right now in the eye of an imperfect, lousy storm of reasons. Perhaps more so than any other industry, a newspaper's economic health is directly reflective of the economy of the community in which it resides, and ours is not good. But exacerbating the problem for us is the surge in online readership, which has resulted in historic drops in ad sales and paid print subscriptions. The irony of the world: We've just received news that we are at an all-time high in combined print and online readership.

To put it bluntly: You're reading the newspaper (hooray), but not enough of you are paying for it (and that's our fault).

How much print editorial space we get every day is determined by a proportion of paid display ads that have been sold. The exact proportion ranges throughout the industry but the standard is about 62 percent ads to 38 percent editorial. When paid readership drops, as it is now, so then does display advertising, and so then do we get things like Friday's space cut.

True confession: We've hastened our own demise by developing such a thorough and convenient online product. I've been driving that train in my little corner of the 'net to a large extent. Sure, I get a lot of print space but I've gone nuts online with innovations like slideshows, podcasts, new-play samples, our myspace page and a lot more. I've even begun starting to write expanded versions of reviews for online since there is unlimited room and print space is finite. I have really put us in a lead position when it comes to evolving into a multimedia age.

And by doing so, I've been helping to kill my own newspaper.

Dozens of you have told me how pleased you are that you no longer need to subscribe to the print edition – that our web site is so convenient and encompassing, who needs the print paper? People by the thousands are canceling their subscriptions and just checking in online whenever it's convenient. The notion goes: why pay $90 or more a year for a print paper when you can get all of it – and more – online for free?

As much as that breaks my heart, it's a logical argument, and what a Catch-22 for me: Ever since newspapers went online, we've been training people to believe that information-gathering is free, and it's not. We have only ourselves to blame for making access to our web site free for as long as we have.

Eventually, if no one subscribes to the newspaper, and we don't come up with a compensatory revenue-generating model for the internet, there won't be a newsroom left to continue to produce the online product that everybody generally agrees is pretty darned good (for now).

So, you might be asking, why did I jump off the multimedia cliff when it's ultimately ruinous for my business? The truth is: Two years ago, we didn't have an online product worth squat. If we had gone to readership and asked people to pay for it then, it would have been an affront.

I believe that now, we DO have an online product that is worth asking readers to pay, say, $8 a year for full access. Think about it: Two pints of beer to get everything online, plus all of those extras? Or free if you actually hang on to your print subscriptions. Unfortunately, no one who runs the Denver Newspaper Agency (the third-party business that controls the finances of both the still separate and competing Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News) has come up with a working revenue-generating model for the internet.

Some are afraid that if we even ask you to pay $8 a year to go on our site, we'll lose 90 percent of current online readership – which is currently paying nothing. So to me, losing them would be like losing 90 percent of nothing. But online advertising is the only segment of the advertising revenue pie that is growing. So a fee to access our site is not even presently on the table. So for now, it remains free. While we in the past few months have undergone our first layoffs in 40 years, and we're now staring down another space reduction.

For those and other reasons, no, I don't think Fridays listings are coming back. The only way the print paper becomes a viable and comprehensive full-service product again is if people actually come back to it -- and pay for it. But all the trends say we're going in the other direction. I don't say any of this to guilt anyone into buying the newspaper – rather, in the interest, as always, of having an open and honest dialogue with readers about whatever is going on. Please feel to offer your feedback.

I never encourage organized reader response to these kinds of changes – editors can smell a campaign a mile away. But my bosses are interested in reader reaction. I mean, if no one complains about losing the listings or auditions, they might just think they were a waste of space all along.

If you feel the genuine urge to express your own individual reaction to this news, I'd love to hear it but know this was is not my call or my decision, nor do I have any power to reverse it. So the best place to email your thoughts is to [email protected] with a cc to [email protected]

john moore ... denver post

Thus far, Moore’s suffered only embarrassment for speaking out on these topics, and given how valuable he is to the Post as a whole, additional punishment is unlikely. In contrast, he’s apt to receive praise from journalists and non-journalists alike for his willingness to take on these topics in a public forum. Clearly, such subjects are on every newspaper employee's mind. Moore just decided to share. – Michael Roberts

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
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