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In addition, there was a trio of stories by Post reporters: "2 Cultures Growing Together" by Steve Lipsher, about the makeup of schools in Eagle County, plus "Every Illness Stirs Panic Over Shadowy Disease," reported by David Olinger from Boca Raton, Florida, and "Afghan Refugees Carry Hope, Pain to Pakistan," written by Gwen Florio, stationed in Peshawar, Pakistan. And inside the first section were two more tales by Post reporters overseas: "U.S. Sailors Told to Handle Mail Carefully," by Ron Franscell, the paper's "Rocky Mountain Ranger," onboard the USS Enterprise with mechanic Garrison, and "Mideast a Factor in Terror Fight," by Kevin Simpson in Jerusalem.

Keeping so many reporters on the road isn't cheap, and in this economic climate, the Post's willingness to do so set it apart from the second-string papers, none of which appear to have made the same financial commitment. But thus far, the strategy hasn't paid off in journalistic excellence. The stories by Florio, Franscell and Simpson are typical of those that overseas Post scribes have turned out over the past month. They're not bad -- the writing is earnest and professional -- but neither are they as in-depth, provocative and fascinating as those available from more established news organizations, whose international reporters have infinitely more experience covering the regions in the spotlight. In contrast, none of the Post writers has worked this particular beat in the past: They're starting from square one, which helps explain why they seem several steps behind their counterparts at, say, the New York Times. Indeed, many of their articles read like lesser variations on syndicated stories the Post printed several weeks earlier -- and thus far, none have contained anything like a major scoop.

That's not to say the Denver Post should call its people home and exclusively run wire copy, even if doing so might better serve readers in the short term. With another six months or a year under their belts, Post staffers on the international beat may be keeping pace with the veterans on the scene, thereby justifying their boss's investment. But they've still got a considerable way to go -- and if the Post keeps rotating reporters in and out of the area, as it's been doing lately, improvement will be that much tougher to achieve.

The race for the finest lead columnist will be even harder to win. The October 14 column by the Post's Chuck Green wasn't quite as atrocious as one a week later about a Diane Carman piece from the previous day's paper that he seemed not to have fully understood, but it came close. Green has spent most of his time since the World Trade Center's collapse rewriting George W. Bush speeches, and in "Voters Chose Wisely in 2000," he praised citizens for electing Dubya instead of that "phony," Al Gore. Along the way, he tried to demonstrate the superiority of the United States over Afghanistan by noting, "Afghan kids have no cars to wash, or lawns to mow, or newspapers to throw." They can't pick up porno rags at the neighborhood 7-Eleven, either, but mentioning that might have screwed up his thesis.

However, the plain truth is that several columns in the other top-ten newspapers on October 14 were even lamer than Green's. Take "Let's Fight War of Nerves Being Lost on U.S. Soil" by the Detroit News's Pete Waldmeir, which was as clumsy as its headline, and "Let's Show Afghans Heart, Soul, Beauty of America," in which Tribune Media Services vice president John Twohey, writing in the Chicago Tribune, listed cultural artifacts that might give civilians in Afghanistan a better opinion of America, such as "any 10 Calvin & Hobbes strips, except for the ones in which they conspire to keep Susie out of the treehouse." Green'll have to be on his game to do worse, but I have confidence he can do it.

In other respects, the Denver Post holds its own against the weaker half of the circulation leaders. The "Denver and the West" section: average. "Perspective": average. "Business": average. "Sunday Lifestyles": slightly below average. "Arts & Entertainment": slightly below average. "Travel": below average. "Sports": above average. In fact, the Post's sports coverage is more expansive than that of any top-ten paper other than the New York Daily News. And the Post is undeniably atop the heap in one category -- comics. If the folks on the Pulitzer Prize committee create a "best-funny-pages section" award, the Post is a lock.

Remaining in the top five for Sunday circulation has already proven to be more difficult. On October 29, the Audit Bureau of Circulations, the organization that tracks publication totals, issued final figures for the six-month period that ended on September 30, and they showed that the New York Daily News inched past the Denver Post, likely as a direct result of 9-11. A Daily News source says the paper's circulation, whose weekday sales in the last audit were just under 700,000, is now often more than a million, and once hit the 1.4 million mark on a single day.

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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

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