The Hundred Years War: A Century of Red Ink and Bad Press

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1895--Local curio magnate Harry Tammen and Kansas scoundrel Frederick Bonfils buy the fledgling Denver Evening Post for $12,500 and start shaping it into a lurid, red-headline scandal sheet that will rob readers from the venerable Rocky Mountain News, established on the banks of Cherry Creek in 1859.

1907--Seething over criticism of his person in the pages of the competition, Fred Bonfils sucker-punches News owner Thomas Patterson in a vacant lot on Capitol Hill. Bonfils is fined $50 for assault but defends the pummeling of a man twenty years his senior as "a well-merited thrashing."

1933--Having outlasted Tammen by nine years, Bonfils dies. Controlling interest in the Post eventually passes to his daughters, Helen and May.

1946--Palmer Hoyt becomes editor and publisher of the Post, marking the beginning of a new era of respectability at the evening paper, which widens its lead on the News.

1972--Helen Bonfils dies, months before the resolution of a nasty, twelve-year court battle with the Newhouse newspaper chain over control of the Post. "Miss Helen's attorney," Donald Seawell, becomes chairman of the Post and begins to pump the paper's profits into the creation of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. Seawell's passion for the arts draws the paper into a troubling relationship with local government at the same time that the resurgent News, led by young managing editor (and Scripps Howard scion) Michael Balfe Howard, takes on the city establishment with a campaign to keep the Winter Olympics out of Colorado.

1980--For the first time since the days of Bonfils and Tammen, the feisty News passes the Post in daily circulation. Seawell responds by selling the bloated, cash-poor broadsheet to Times Mirror for $95 million, ending 88 years of local ownership. The sale delights newspaper analysts, who say it's only a matter of time until the Post buries the News.

1982--Having shifted to morning delivery and filched Woody Paige from the competition, the Post decides to take the battle to the next level, papering the town with articles about former News editor Michael Howard's cocaine addiction and his cozy ties to Denver cops. Not even Howard's tawdry tale, though, can reverse the Post's dizzying circulation slide.

1986--The Post wins the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service while losing $10 million a year.

1987--Times Mirror agrees to sell the ailing Post to William Dean Singleton and Richard Scudder for $95 million. New publisher James Barnhill, formerly of the Yakima Herald-Republic, refers to female staffers as "girls" and tells the troops he wants the paper to "make people smile." Barnhill lasts four days before abruptly heading back to Yakima. The sale alarms newspaper analysts, who say it's only a matter of time until the News buries the Post.

1989--The Post's most popular feature, "Garfield," is shanghaied by the News, which reportedly pays an unprecedented $62,554 a year for the decrepit comic strip. The tabloid erects a rooftop yuletide display to proclaim its fat-cat status; Post pranksters vandalize it. Garfield's arrival at the News coincides with that of another refugee from the funny pages: Jay Ambrose, who replaces Ralph Looney as editor and sets about redesigning the paper to lure short-attention-span readers.

1991--Noting that his paper now commands a seemingly insurmountable 100,000-reader daily circulation lead, News publisher Larry Strutton declares that the daily war is over. As if on cue, the News's lead begins to crumble.

1996--Reeling from losing the Sunday lead and seeing its daily lead evaporate, the News announces that it will no longer deliver papers in 50 of Colorado's 63 counties, thereby ceding another 30,000 readers to the Post. The strategy stuns newspaper analysts, who say it's only a matter of time until the Post buries the News.


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