Calhoun: Wake-Up Call

The Bus Stops Here

Bubby Brister wasn't the only one who got sacked Monday.

The editor of the paper that on Tuesday gave its most prominent play not to the quarterback sneak but to a yawn of a VA hospital story also lost his job.

About time the Post answered its own wake-up call.

Dennis Britton, the man who announced that he wanted to push good news, play down crime and "Pollyanna it up" when he became the editor of the Denver Post almost three and a half years ago, is gone. And not even to "pursue other options," as those dignified announcements of firings usually pronounce. Instead the release from publisher Jerry Grilly's office Tuesday morning regarding Britton's abrupt departure (Britton had been at a newsroom meeting Monday) used the opportunity to tout the Post's circulation gains (matched only by those of the Rocky Mountain News) while insisting "we wish him well."

Britton will be replaced by Glenn Guzzo, managing editor of Akron, Ohio's Beacon Journal since 1993 and proud father of both a Pulitzer Prize project (the Beacon won a public-service Pulitzer in 1994 for its numbers-crunching coverage of race relations, but it's unlikely to do so again now that owner Knight-Ridder is demanding a 27 percent profit from the paper) and two-year-old daughter Scheherazade. No relation, we presume, to that fake Saudi princess, the Ascent bidder whose unveiling has been one of the Post's few recent reporting triumphs -- although a day late and about 460 million dollars short to really scoop the Ascent sale.

It was Britton's bad luck to be playing Pollyanna's "glad game" when the state encountered its biggest news story; the April 20 massacre at Columbine defied any positive spin. But many inside and outside of the Post were surprised that Britton had lasted that long: They'd assumed (and some staffers had prayed) that he would be gone last March, when his three-year contract was up. Still, he managed to hang on for almost six more months, during which the Post continued to slide from a sometime must-read to often barely readable. In fact, during Britton's tenure, frequently the most interesting Post reading was about the Post, on the "Dennis Britton Go Home! Page" ( There assorted and still anonymous malcontents chronicled some of the editor's greatest moments: the John Elway nipple-ring scoop; the fabulous, if nonexistent, national journalism award that almost made Britton page-one news; the bee-keeping hoax that did fool the Colorado Springs Gazette into announcing Britton's premature retirement.

And then, of course, there were all the real stories that embarrassed the Post on a regular basis, topped off by the inane "Snapshots of Colorado" package tour last year, which taught assorted Post execs that if life in rural Colorado is hard, bus seats are harder. This week the reincarnated Snapshots is making its way to assorted communities along the Front Range. But the editor missed the bus.

And so Britton is gone, like many of the talented writers who fled his sticky-fingered, Pollyanna sugar-coated rule. He is survived by Dean Singleton, the Post owner once regarded as a renegade in the newspaper industry but whose continued success (despite certain editors) has elevated him to outright respectability; his wife's seat on the Bill Owens-appointed board of the Colorado Council on the Arts and Humanities (certainly no longer a conflict of interest, as Britton had told Denver officials when the city offered his wife a similar honor); Chuck Green, the columnist whose early August epic combining the late Gus the Dog with the late Vicki Buckley's pet consultant, Sam Riddle, was spiked but who lives to see yet another Post editor come through the doors; and the popcorn machine in the newsroom, brought in by Britton to elevate morale but which, like so many issues of the paper, simply stunk.

As Britton told a graduating class at the University of Colorado almost two years ago, "We are at a critical juncture in our society. We can't continue to blame 'them' for our problems without recognizing and accepting that 'we' are 'them.'"

Or, as the Post's about-to-be-introduced new slogan asserts, "We are Colorado." Not to be confused with that other ubiquitous refrain: "We are...Columbine."

We may be Colorado -- but Dennis Britton is no longer one of us.

Pass the popcorn.

It comes as no surprise that this city is for sale -- but at least we now have an inflated sense of self-worth. In the early days of what would soon become Greed Acres, the Coors Brewing Company bought naming rights to the town's new Major League ballpark for a paltry $15 million (and all the Coors that Colorado Rockies fans could drink).

But the occupants of Coors Field have learned a few things over the past half-dozen years. Not about baseball, of course, but about real squeeze plays. Last month the owners of the Rockies, perhaps distracted by Jerry McMorris's Nation's Way bankruptcy and nasty feuds with Oren Benton's trustees, refused to chip in a paltry $300,000 to help fund a light-rail spur in lower downtown -- the very part of town that their ballpark has turned into a funplex choking in traffic and chain restaurants.

The Rockies have not come up with a reasonable explanation for their sorry behavior on the diamond, and their excuse now was just as lame: The closest light-rail stop was simply too far away from the field, they said. A whopping three blocks, which on any given game day are packed with fans who've parked a half-mile to a mile away and are slowly making their way up Wynkoop Street to the ballpark that taxpayers paid for, occupied by a team too cheap to chip in for light rail.

Many LoDo businesses have worked hard and anted up significant dollars to get the light-rail spur, perhaps the only RTD project to ever make complete sense. Public transit in that part of town was needed yesterday to alleviate the parking crunch, and it will become even more critical when the Pepsi Center opens this fall. Even Ascent, when not distracted by Saudi princesses and a shareholders' revolt, pronounced itself willing to support the project.

But the Rockies dropped the ball. It's becoming their specialty.

In touting the light-rail extension, RTD officials showed a brief flicker of their usual insanity and suggested that naming rights to some of the LoDo stops be sold. Although businesses supporting the project were right to object, they should make an exception in the case of Union Station, the closest stop to Coors field. And name it Nation's No-Way.

Businesses still eager to see their names up in lights do have other options. The proposed $268 million convention center still lacks a title -- not to mention a positive vote of the people. And Pat Bowlen's new home for the Broncos has yet to be adopted by some corporate do-gooder, although the Great Patsby recently suggested that if taxpayers are willing to sacrifice $50 million in corporate naming rights for a facility they're already spending $300 million on, they could save the Mile High moniker.

Bowlen should be grateful that the stadium vote passed while the Broncos were still capable of throwing a pass -- so grateful that he throws in the $50 million himself.

But in this town, shame is never the name of the game.

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.
Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun

Latest Stories