Off Limits

Fat chance: Hmmm...if rumors were running rampant that Scripps Howard had a March 15 deadline for purchasing your newspaper, would you call a March 12 staff meeting--without telling staffers why? Denver Post editor Dennis Britton would, and when he announced the mandatory meeting this past Monday, he threw Nervous Nellie newsroom employees into fits of job anxiety. That's because for days they'd been hearing scuttlebutt that their paper had been offered to the company that owns the Denver Rocky Mountain News for $60 million.

"It's absurd. It's absolutely absurd," says Dean "I'm Not Selling My Paper" Singleton, who paid more than that for the Post a decade ago. "Desperate people do desperate things. You analyze the newspaper business in Denver, and one is consistently profitable while the other is draining cash like crazy. The News has acknowledged to its own stock analyst that it could lose up to $30 million this year. They've got a parent company with deep pockets, and they're clearly capable of losing money for a few years...but shareholders won't put up with that forever."

"Denver Is My Home" Singleton says he laughed when he heard the rumor and tracked it straight to the Rocky. "I just wouldn't be surprised at anything that comes out of there. But they never stick with anything very long, and this, too, will pass."

So what's the meeting for? Maybe to cheerlead for the March 14 special health-and-fitness section dedicated to former reporter and current freelancer Kerri Smith, who's dropped over a hundred pounds and snagged the paper a lot of attention during the fifteen months that she's chronicled her fight against fat. Smith herself will be back in town from California for an event March 20--which has been named "Kerri Smith Day" by both Governor Bill Owens and Mayor Wellington Webb.

Colorado's top pols aren't the only ones pumped about Smith's progress. So is Lynnie Wirth, who's been marketing the section for the Post--until recently, from a desk in the newsroom. "We're going to have Kerri write a couple new stories and run what she's already written," the perky Wirth told one prospective advertiser (all right, already--a Westword reporter posing as a fat-farm owner). "It's a great, great marketing tool...I work closely with all the editors."

Not anymore. After a Denver Newspaper Guild grievance regarding blurred lines between editorial and advertising, Wirth was moved out of the newsroom.

More pressing engagements: Contrary to our prediction last week, the News did not change its cover tag to "Judged Colorado's best newspaper for the fourth straight year." Instead, on Sunday, February 28, the paper trotted out the line "Most awards in Colorado for the fourth straight year"--possibly because the Colorado Press Association couldn't give a Best Newspaper award in the 100,000-plus circulation category this year since the News was the only paper in it. But the News deserved a Silver Lining award for the story inside, headlined "Denver Rocky Mountain News sweeps Colorado press awards," boasting that "the newspaper won all categories" at the previous day's awards ceremony--but not mentioning until the fourth paragraph that neither the Post nor the Colorado Springs Gazette had entered the CPA contest.

The Post offered up its own careful wording in a February 27 correction that happened to run alongside the continuation of an article about Lawrence Schiller, author of Perfect Murder, Perfect Town--the book about JonBenet Ramsey's murder that was the focus of the correction. The paper had been severely spanked for running Perfect excerpts in its February 17 spread on the book's scoops--because of a "misunderstanding of the scope" of what the paper could do with the advance copy sent to columnist Chuck Green--and promised not to publish such excerpts again. (The News was supposed to have exclusive rights.)

Thus far, the best review of the book--and the town it tweaks--comes from New York attorney Darnay Hoffman, who's been critical of the murder investigation from the beginning and had even sued to force the naming of a special prosecutor. In his piece sent to amateur Web sleuth Mrs. Brady, Hoffman quotes at length from journalist Janet Malcolm, who argues that journalists are con men and journalism essentially the "art of betrayal."

"If you follow Malcolm's analysis to its logical conclusion, you are left with the realization that the greater the work of journalism, the greater the act of betrayal," Hoffman says. And judging from all the Boulderites whining about the book, Schiller's stands as one of the greatest. Adds Hoffman, "Anyone who appreciates true-crime journalism in the great tradition of Norman Mailer and Truman Capote who doesn't read Perfect Murder, Perfect Town is an even bigger jackass than the people in Boulder who made this masterpiece possible by foolishly agreeing to talk to Schiller in the first place.

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