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Joey Bunch on Leaving Denver Post, Hedge Fund Treating Paper Like ATM

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The exodus of big-name talent from the Denver Post  — a major theme of Alan Prendergast's current feature article about the Post  — continues. And after the departures of longtime sports columnist Woody Paige and sports reporter Troy Renck (the fifth Broncos-beat writer to split in four years), it's the politics team's turn to take a hit.

Joey Bunch, a strong journalist and a Post mainstay for the past fourteen years, has accepted a Denver-based gig with the Colorado Springs Gazette — the same paper where Paige landed. He gave his notice at the Post on September 12 and is scheduled to start at the Gazette on October 3.

"I'm not leaving the Post because I'm mad at anybody or because they did anything in particular to me at all," Bunch emphasizes. "It's just that the Gazette offered me a great opportunity. [The Gazette's] Vince Bzdek, who came from the Washington Post, is a tremendous editor. I liked his vision, and I really wanted to work for him."

At the same time, however, Bunch is honest about the situation at Denver's Post, which has been on the block for just over two years and appears to be caught in a dispiriting cycle of staff-shrinking buyouts and layoffs that most observers blame on the paper's current owner, Alden Global Capital.

"As far as things go with the hedge fund in New York, they're robbing the Post blind," he maintains. "I question their commitment to journalism. I hope somebody buys the Post soon, so they can invest in journalism instead of the hedge fund using us like an ATM."

Because the November election is fewer than two months away, the timing of Bunch's decision to switch gigs seemingly couldn't be worse for the Post, which was trying to do more with a lot less even before he split.

"In 2008, I think we had eight people covering the election," he recalls. "This time, we had me, John Frank and Jon Murray covering seven congressional races, a hot Senate race, 83 state races and nine ballot initiatives. And you just can't do that without picking your battles."

Nevertheless, Bunch says he wasn't asked to stick around until after the November vote when he told the Post of his plans.

"Lee Ann [Colacioppo, the Post's editor] was at a conference, so I went to [managing editor] Linda Shapley," he says. "I laid it out and told her it was a great opportunity, and she was completely gracious about it."

The Gazette first approached Bunch in June, around the time of the most recent buyout deal at the Post. Because of the offer's last-minute nature, he didn't feel he had the time to properly weigh the pros and cons then, but he became more receptive after getting additional details about the direction in which Bzdek is moving. He's excited about the Gazette's plan to expand its coverage of politics, and while there's already been a bump along that particular road (he was going to be paired with Megan Schrader for State Capitol coverage until she accepted an editorial-page gig with, yes, the Post), he relishes the opportunity to work with newly hired managing editor-news Jim Trotter, whose past credits include the Rocky Mountain News and Rocky Mountain PBS. "It's a chance to do new things and have more of a leadership kind of role," he allows.

At the same time, Bunch acknowledges that seeing so many great journalists move on from the Post has been difficult — especially so in the case of Lynn Bartels, whom he describes as a friend and mentor. (Bartels is now the spokeswoman for the Colorado Secretary of State's Office.) And he was personally shaken by the death of reporter Colleen O'Connor, who was struck by a suspected drunk driver and killed on August 31. "She and I were really close," Bunch says. "With all the people I've seen walk out the door, and then for that to happen on top of it — well, that was just one more thing."

There are still plenty of fine reporters and editors at the Post, Bunch stresses, and he calls Colacioppo "a godsend." But the Gazette is giving him "the chance to create something new, and at 53, those opportunities in newspapers don't come along very often. And I'm lucky I get to stay in Colorado. All that's really changing is my e-mail address."

There's also a significant difference in newspaper ownership. Billionaire Phil Anschutz holds the deed to the Gazette, and he's lately shown a willingness to spend money on the paper rather than cut, cut, cut — a stark contrast with Alden Global Capital at the Post.

"Other places where newspapers have closed or gone to three days a week, people have protested," Bunch notes. "That hasn't happened here, because it's death by a thousand slashes. But at what point do people start saying to this hedge fund, 'Sell to a responsible owner who cares about journalism and cares about Colorado?' And I have no problem saying that, because it's being said in the newsroom every day."

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