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The Denver Post Layoffs Have Begun After Buyouts Fell Short

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Update below: Last week, as we reported, the Denver Post announced the names of twenty employees who'd accepted buyout offers, including prominent personalities such as longtime TV columnist Joanne Ostrow and editorial page editor Vince Carroll.

This number fell short of the Post's buyout goal of 26 members of the newsroom, and observers immediately feared that layoffs would be implemented to make up the difference.

And so it has come to pass.

According to the Denver Newspaper Guild, the Post has announced its intention to lay off three members of its newsroom by July 8. In addition, we've learned that numerous part-timers have also been let go in addition to three workers in the paper's IT department.

The names of the full-time editorial staffers being let go is unofficial at this point, but Morgan Dzakowic, a sports writer and digital producer, confirms that she's received a termination notice. She places the blame for the buyouts and layoffs at the doorstep of Alden Global Capital, the hedge fund that controls the Post's owner, Digital First Media.

"They're basically milking the Denver Post for all it's worth," Dzakowic says. "The Post is extremely profitable, but these corporate people are gutting the paper — and there are a lot of talented people in the building."

Following the buyout announcement, Tony Mulligan, the DNG's administrative officer, notes that the Post "announced a layoff in three job titles: one features reporter, one assistant editor and one digital producer." (This procedure is dictated by the paper's contract.) He adds that the least senior person in each job category is informed that he or she will be laid off unless "a more senior person under that job title agrees to take the severance package and resign."

Such an occurrence is unlikely but not unprecedented. However, Dzakowic has already tweeted out word of her layoff and is in the midst of a search for another job.

Dzakowic graduated from the University of Missouri's stellar journalism school in 2014, and that December, she landed a gig in the 9News sports department. A few months later, in April 2015, she was hired at the Post as a prep sports digital producer — but because the paper was already shorthanded, her duties quickly expanded.

"As time went on, I started doing production for all sports," she notes, "and in the last couple of months, my boss asked me to work on the outdoors section. So by the end of it, I considered myself to be a sports writer and a digital producer."

She was settling in as others were leaving. "There was a round of buyouts right after I started, which was alarming for me," she acknowledges. "And the Post had been going through buyouts for years before I got there, which was also concerning. Everyone was doubling up on jobs."

This situation was exacerbated by the latest offer, in which "basically a third of the newsroom took the buyout or were laid off," Dzakowic notes.

She thought she would escape the ax, since she was designated exempt from the buyout — meaning she couldn't have taken the deal even if it had appealed to her. But on the Friday after the buyout announcement, she says, "I was pulled into a room and given the layoff notice. They told me they hadn't reached the buyout quota, and this was the first time they'd had to make cuts in the digital section — and since I was the most recent hire, they had to let me go."

Under its contract, the Post doesn't have to inform the Denver Newspaper Guild about pink-slipped part-time employees, and Mulligan says, "There's nothing preventing them from reducing the force." But he laments the approach being taken.

"They're diminishing the ability of the paper to serve the community," he maintains. "When they cut staff, it makes it more difficult to report the important stories that need coverage. The daily paper is the go-to outlet for all the things that need to be covered, and even though there are some great online news organizations popping up, their capacity is small. So as we lose newspaper staff, we lose the ability to have professional journalists cover our community."

Despite her current circumstances, Dzakowic remains upbeat about the future of journalism. "Everyone is on their computers, their iPads, their iPhones, their Androids, and digital journalism is really bridging that gap," she says. "We're just in a really big transitional phase right now, and once we start adapting to all these digital things, it'll be different from what it is now, but it'll be in a good shape."

Will there be a place for the Post in this future? We wanted to put that question and others to editor Lee Ann Colacioppo. But she failed to respond to our inquiry, just as she did last week in regard to the buyout list — a stark contrast with former editor Greg Moore, who had an impressive commitment to openness and transparency prior to his resignation in March.

Then again, Colacioppo's reluctance to address this issue with us is understandable. After all, it's hard to make the latest developments sound like good news....

Update: Late last night, Denver Post editor Lee Ann Colacioppo belatedly responded to two interview requests from Westword sent her way over the past week or so. Via e-mail, she wrote: "I have followed your work for many years and nothing about it suggests you should be trusted with conveying my thoughts on the buyout or the future of The Post." She included a link to a 2009 blurb on the Poynter.org website in which a bias claim was made against yours truly by former Post owner and current chairman Dean Singleton.

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