More Messages: Digging Out

For the past decade-plus, I've used vacation time during the Christmas season, and prior to 2006, I've missed precious few significant news developements. The reason is simple. Newsmakers (and plenty of those covering them) tend to lay low during the last half of December and the first few days of January, knowing that members of the general public have more important things on their minds -- like, for instance, gluttony, avarice and (I'm sure there are examples of the phenomenon) a renewal of religious faith.

This time around, though, this typically barren period for news overflowed with memorable incidents, led by a pair of snowstorms that came close to paralyzing the city; the death of Gerald Ford, who had more Colorado connections than any former president since Dwight Eisenhower (whose wife, Mamie, grew up in Denver); and the murder of Denver Bronco Darrent Williams -- arguably the most high-profile celebrity slaying in the state since French popstress Claudine Longet plugged famed skier Vladimir "Spider" Sabich in Aspen in March 1976.

Being home for the holidays, I had ample opportunity to observe how Denver television stations covered the weather onslaughts. I live in the Ken-Caryl Ranch area, in a cul-de-sac that is frequently ignored by snow-removal crews -- and because I don't own an SUV or four-wheel-drive vehicle, I was unable to get my car beyond my driveway from midday on Wednesday, December 20, until Saturday, December 23. This situation essentially repeated itself beginning on Thursday, December 28, when the family van got stuck twice: once just past the curb of my sister-in-law's house, four blocks from my address, and again as my wife tried to pull the van into our garage.

Oh, yeah: The first plows showed up on New Year's weekend, but only got to within about twenty yards of our house. This path resulted in a wall of snow that we had to bust through, Starsky and Hutch style. Cue the theme music.

Local TV outlets documented stories like mine with ferocious relentlessness -- particularly Channel 9, which offered up wall-to-wall snow coverage on its main dial position and that of its sister signal, Channel 20, for day after frigging day. After a while, the numbing repetition of these broadcasts left the on-air talent on the edge of insanity (and banality). Low point: forecaster Nick Carter putting a knit cap on a wooden replica of anchor Adele Arakawa placed behind the station's headquarters to measure snow depths -- sinking to other depths in the process.

The Denver dailies struggled to put out editions amid the conditions; like most locals, I received my copies of the December 21 Post and Rocky on December 22. Their reporting wasn't bad considering that both papers were short-staffed, and their websites were updated regularly. Even so, the dailies couldn't match the immediacy of broadcasting. The delay was particularly evident when it came to the killing of Williams, who died after a Hummer limo in which he rode was ambushed during the wee hours of January 1. As TV stations aired information about this shocking tale, the Post offered the front-page banner "IT'S BYE-BYE BRONCOS" (about the Broncos' loss the previous day) and a cover article headlined "Limousine Drivers End Year on a Roll." Ooof.

Such stories aren't supposed to break at this time of year. But in 2006, news didn't take the holiday off. -- 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