Spotlight on Spotlight

The edition of the Message slated to appear in the June 7 edition of Westword deals in large part with the ways attrition and a buyout package aimed at ridding the staff of expensive older employees is impacting Spotlight, the arts-and-entertainment section of the Rocky Mountain News. Executives at the paper say they're currently coordinating plans to deal with the recent departures of two longtimers: TV-and-radio columnist Dusty Saunders (pictured), who's worked for the tabloid for an unbelievable 53 years, and film critic Robert Denerstein, a veteran of a mere three decades (27 of them on the movie beat). Hope they come up with something better than what they've offered thus far, because their stopgap measures have been mediocre in the extreme.

The June 1 Spotlight marked the first weekend special since Denerstein stepped down, and rather than running reviews of new flicks by a single critic, the powers-that-be sifted through wire services for critiques by a slew of scribes -- the New York Times' A.O. Scott, the Associated Press' Christy Lemire, and more. The results were paradoxically monochromatic: All the major new releases -- even Mr. Brooks, a Kevin Costner vehicle that earned a 43 rating of a possible 100 on its page -- received an above-average notice. Yet there was nothing that allowed readers to put a particular reviewer's opinion into context -- a major benefit of having a consistent voice like Denerstein's in place.

Cut to the Monday, June 4, Spotlight, the first regular section not to have a Saunders column filling page 2 (the inside cover). Appearing in its place was a potpourri of blurbs about TV programs throughout the week in which various photos were given precedence over text. The writer on many of these items was apparently staffer Mark Humbert, but his contributions were downplayed; although his e-mail address appears in the physical newspaper, his byline is absent. (His name does appear in the online version.) Moreover, there's only one substantial, homegrown article in the entire section -- a (pretty decent) piece about Internet-radio royalty rates by Erika Gonzalez. The majority of the day's Spotlight is dominated by a look at the SoBo district -- that's the dopey moniker some wannabe marketing geniuses have given to the territory on Broadway south of Speer Boulevard. It, too, was rendered in blurb-and-image fashion that looks good on the page but provides little prose of substance.

Of course, this approach allows editors to fill pages with a smaller staff -- so expect to see a lot more of it down the line. As the Rocky's Spotlight roster is being downsized, so are expectations. -- Michael Roberts

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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