The only surprise in yesterday afternoon's announcement that Harry Whipple would no longer be in charge of the Denver Newspaper Agency was the identity of his successor: former Denver Post publisher Gerald Grilly, who's coming out of retirement to take the gig. Indeed, the February 26 press conference announcing that the Rocky Mountain News would shut down the next day provided graphic evidence of Whipple's fading power. Instead of appearing on the stage at the Denver Newspaper Agency auditorium along with the other major players -- MediaNews Group CEO Dean Singleton, E.W. Scripps CEO Rich Boehne, etc. -- he sat anonymously in a seat toward the back of the room. At one point, someone at the podium asked him a question without identifying him for the collected media. Whipple answered it briefly and then slumped back into his essential anonymity again.
The differences between two online pieces by Post staffers about the transition also carry a not-so-subtle message about Whipple, whose lovely parting gift is a position on the executive committee of MediaNews Group.
The first article to appear -- "Ex-Post Publisher Grilly to Head DNA," which ran sans byline -- contains the usual puffy tribute to a fallen leader, issued under Singleton's name:
"Harry Whipple did a remarkable job of working with the owners of the Rocky Mountain News and The Denver Post when the business was a 50-50 company," Singleton said in a statement. "Both the E.W. Scripps Co. and MediaNews Group appreciated his even-handed, impartial management of the business operations of both newspapers, and MediaNews looks forward to continued association with Harry."
However, "Ex-Post Publisher Returns to the Fold," a lengthier report authored by David Migoya, contains no such Whipple salute, and a quote Singleton offered to DNA employees while revealing the switch contains implicit criticism of his leadership. "This war needs to be as intensely fought as the old war," he said. "With your new leader, I assure you no grass will grow under your feet."
Whipple, who's headed the agency since 2006, wasn't known as a firebrand, and the various initiatives and promotions he's overseen have done little to staunch the revenue bloodflow in the succeeding two years-plus. Then again, it's likely that no one could have successfully defeated the historic forces currently battering the newspaper industry. In that sense, Whipple may well be something of a scapegoat for the problems leading to the Rocky's collapse and financial difficulties so severe that, according to a document unearthed by former Rocky reporter David Milstead, the Post had to borrow $13 million the DNA couldn't really afford to lend out simply to pay newsroom expenses last year.
On the other hand, at least Whipple doesn't have to try to come up with a workable business model for the Post amid the worst newspaper market in living memory. Grilly's in charge of that now, and best of luck to him. He'll need it.
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