Trading Places

Is Ed Smith experiencing an identity crisis?

Smith is the longtime entertainment editor of the Denver Post. However, a recent call to him from yours truly prompted the person who answered the phone at the paper's features desk to ask, "Entertainment editor or radio and TV?" I chose the former, and within seconds, I was plugged into the voice mail not of Smith, but of William Porter, usually the assistant entertainment editor. In the meantime, a new byline has started appearing in the broadsheet's Scene section: "Edward P. Smith, Denver Post staff writer."

There's a not-so-simple explanation for Smith's multiplying designations. This month, four members of the Post's entertainment team have switched duties. Smith is serving as the radio-and-television specialist, while Joanne Ostrow, who's acted in that role for more than two decades, is taking care of stories related to theater. For his part, John Moore, the paper's theater critic, has been moved into the assistant-entertainment-editor slot, thereby allowing Porter to fill in for Smith.

This beat-flipping experiment isn't unprecedented; Moore says he's heard that the Colorado Springs Gazette tried something similar. But if it catches on with other news organizations, the possibilities for journalistic mash-ups are practically endless. Imagine: Channel 9 anchor Adele Arakawa standing by the entrance to the Eisenhower Tunnel monitoring snowfall totals rather than idling in a nice, warm studio watching some poor underling slowly succumb to hypothermia. Or Channel 7 sportscaster Lionel Bienvenu trying to report straight news stories without smirking. And what about having Channel 4 investigator Brian Maass handle the weather chores? Maybe he could figure out why forecasts are wrong about half the time.

Of course, substitutions like these probably won't happen unless things go well at the Post -- but Ray Mark Rinaldi, the Post's assistant managing editor for A&E and features, sees reason for optimism. "My sense is that people are enjoying the process," he says.

Rinaldi came up with the idea for the journalistic roundelay, which he sees as an opportunity to broaden outlooks. "We're always trying to keep people interested, keep people developing, keep people fresh," he points out. "This was a chance for a highly competent group of editors and writers to think about writing in new ways and to experience culture from a different perspective."

The compliments in Rinaldi's comments are there for a reason; he doesn't want the job changes to be seen as punitive, as such moves often have been throughout the history of newspapering. His point is echoed by editor Greg Moore, who believes that an occasional change of scenery can be positive, as many Posters have discovered. Prior to the implementation of Rinaldi's plan, an internal Post memo documented new duties for a dozen scribes, many of them prominent: "David Migoya will join the city desk staff as social service reporter," "Kevin Simpson will be a general-assignment reporter," and so on. Moore insists that these moves, which are intended to be permanent (or at least as permanent as any transfers at the Post), weren't punitive, either. In his opinion, "Those are all good job changes."

As for the temporary swappers, a couple of them were either too busy or too something to talk about their experiences thus far. In an e-mail, Ostrow offered a couple of jokes about missing her remote and being surprised that theater doesn't have commercials before referring questions to Rinaldi. And Porter? He responded to an interview request with two prefab paragraphs capped by the line "I think there's a consensus that while we'll all experience some aggro as we get out of our normal routines, we'll also learn something." But after receiving some follow-up questions via e-mail, he firmly declined to elaborate, asking facetiously, "Shall I swing by and punch up your lede, too?"

Sounds like he was experiencing some aggro at that very momentŠ

Once-and-future theater critic Moore seems calmer, but the same can't be said for his sources within the theater community. Those who've e-mailed him of late have received automated replies explaining the scheme, and "when they heard there was going to be a switch, some of them were nervous," he says. This isn't an entirely irrational reaction, since Moore's Sunday theater-notes column has been put on hiatus through March. On the other hand, the flexibility Moore has this month as an editor (a position he's held in the past) allowed him to spend more time honing a large feature due shortly.

That leaves Smith, who seems to be having fun sitting in Ostrow's couch indentation. Nonetheless, he admits that the transition hasn't been a snap. He worked for years as a hard-news reporter at California's Marin Independent Journal ("I covered everybody who jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge," he boasts), so writing and reporting aren't foreign to him. But, he says, "sitting down in front of that blank computer screen reminds me how difficult it is every time you do it. And I think that will make me a more empathetic editor than I was before."

The Post didn't inform readers in advance about the beat exchange, and after a week, neither Smith nor Rinaldi had heard from a single subscriber inquiring about it. Still, its success or failure will be measured by a different yardstick. "We'll look at the stories we've written," Rinaldi says. "It's easy to get caught up in the process, but the stories have to be good -- and if they're interesting and of high quality, we'll certainly look at doing it again." He adds that "others in the office have expressed interest. They're just waiting to see how it goes."

If gossip specialist Bill Husted suddenly starts hanging out at crime scenes instead of nightclubs, you'll know why.

Confessional: The Post's Eric Gorski has gotten plenty of attaboys for breaking stories about individuals who claim past molestation by Catholic priests. Yet one prominent local -- Archdiocese of Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput -- seems to be less than impressed by his efforts. Last month, Gorski wanted to speak with Chaput regarding Senate Bill 143, a measure that would suspend the civil statute of limitations in sex-abuse cases for two years, thereby allowing potential victims to sue without regard to how long ago alleged attacks took place. Chaput has been vocal in his opposition to the legislation, and he has shared these views in a slew of settings, including the Rocky Mountain News. Yet he refused to chat with Gorski, prompting the Post to request a meeting with the Archbishop to clear the air.

"I've worked hard to do a fair, comprehensive job covering church issues," Gorski says. Even so, there's little wonder why Chaput prefers the Rocky to the Post. The Rocky has editorialized against SB-143 in pieces such as February 15's "Church Bill Needs Major Overhaul," and editorial-page editor Vincent Carroll is an Archbishop favorite thanks to a book he co-wrote, 2004's Christianity on Trial: Arguments Against Anti-Religious Bigotry. Carroll was a guest speaker in an Archdiocese lecture series around the time of its publication, and in a Denver Catholic Register column teasing the appearance, Chaput urged those who hadn't read the tome to do so. "I highly recommend it," he wrote.

Jeanette DeMelo, Archdiocese director of communications, declines to characterize Chaput's opinion of the Post, and she won't discuss specifics of the February sit-down. "It was a productive meeting because it was a private conversation," she says. Fortunately, Post editor Moore, whose previous paper, the Boston Globe, generated uncounted scoops about widespread abuse by priests, offers more details. "We have a very good understanding of the Archbishop now, and they understand where we're coming from," he allows. "I reiterated to the Archbishop that we're going to be as aggressive, and as fair, as we can, and if you have some factual problems, bring them to our attention.

"Would the Archbishop prefer that some stories we run on page one not run on page one? Absolutely," Moore continues. "But he understands that he can no further dictate to us how we cover stories than I can dictate to him what he says in a mass."

Oh, yeah: Following the get-together, Chaput spoke to a Post writer -- but it wasn't Gorski. Instead, he jawed with columnist David Harsanyi for a March 6 column that called SB-143 an "abuse of justice." Betcha the Archbishop gave that conclusion a big "Amen."

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.
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