News mat­ters

Colo. should de­mand the news­pa­per it de­serves

The Denver Post - - PERSPECTIVE - By The Den­ver Post Ed­i­to­rial Board

At The Den­ver Post on Mon­day, more than two dozen re­porters, ed­i­tors, pho­tog­ra­phers, videog­ra­phers, page de­sign­ers, dig­i­tal pro­duc­ers and opin­ion staff will walk out the door. Our march­ing or­ders are to cut a full 30 by the start of July.

Th­ese heart­break­ing in­struc­tions raise the ques­tion: Does this cut, which fol­lows so many in re­cent years that our ranks have shriv­eled from more than 250 to fewer than 100 today, rep­re­sent the be­gin­ning of the end for the Voice of the Rocky Moun­tain Em­pire?

The cuts, backed by our owner, the New York City hedge fund Alden Global Cap­i­tal, also are a mys­tery, if you look at them from the point of view of those of us in­tent on run­ning a se­ri­ous news op­er­a­tion be­fit­ting the city that bears our name. Me­dia ex­perts lo­cally and na­tion­ally ques­tion why our fu­ture looks so bleak, as many news­pa­pers still en­joy dou­ble-digit prof­its and our man­age­ment re­ported solid prof­its as re­cently as last year.

We call for ac­tion. Con­sider our pages today a plea to Alden — owner of Dig­i­tal First Me­dia, one of the largest news­pa­per chains in the coun­try — to re­think its busi­ness strat­egy across all its news­pa­per hold­ings. Con­sider this also a sig­nal to our com­mu­nity and civic lead­ers that they ought to de­mand bet­ter. Den­ver de­serves a news­pa­per owner who sup­ports its news­room. If Alden isn’t will­ing to do good jour­nal­ism here, it should sell The Post to own­ers who will.

A flag­ship lo­cal news­pa­per like The Post plays a crit­i­cally im­por­tant role in its city and state: It pro­vides a public record of the good and the bad, serves as a watch­dog against public and pri­vate cor­rup­tion, of­fers a free mar­ket­place of ideas and stands as a light­house re­flec­tive and pro­tec­tive of — and ac­count­able to — a com­mu­nity’s val­ues

and goals. A news or­ga­ni­za­tion like ours ought to be seen, es­pe­cially by our owner, as a nec­es­sary public in­sti­tu­tion vi­tal to the very main­te­nance of our grand demo­cratic ex­per­i­ment.

Yes, for years now, large me­dia chains have strug­gled to re­spon­si­bly down­size news­rooms. But some have done so less re­spon­si­bly than oth­ers.

Here in Colorado, Alden has em­barked on a cyn­i­cal strat­egy of con­stantly re­duc­ing the amount and qual­ity of its of­fer­ings, while steadily in­creas­ing its sub­scrip­tion rates. In do­ing so, the hedge fund man­agers — of­ten tellingly re­ferred to as “vul­ture cap­i­tal­ists” — have hid­den be­hind a nar­ra­tive that ad­e­quately staffed news­rooms and news­pa­pers can no longer survive in the dig­i­tal mar­ket­place. Try to square that with a re­cent law­suit filed by one of Dig­i­tal First Me­dia’s mi­nor­ity share­hold­ers that claims Alden has pumped hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars of its news­pa­per prof­its into shaky in­vest­ments com­pletely un­re­lated to the busi­ness of gath­er­ing news.

Coloradans feel the in­san­ity of it in their bones. And what a sad history.

In 2009, the large chain that owned the Rocky Moun­tain News closed that sto­ried pa­per’s doors. In 2010, Alden bought the chain of pa­pers that fea­tures The Den­ver Post. The hedge fund gained a tal­ented team of jour­nal­ists re­port­ing from all over the state, the na­tion and some of the big­gest hotspots in the world, a win­ner of nu­mer­ous Pulitzer Prizes, in­clud­ing news­room-wide awards for its cov­er­age of the mas­sacres at Columbine and, more re­cently, a the­ater in Au­rora.

Since Alden took con­trol, the de­cline of lo­cal news has been as ob­vi­ous as it’s been pre­cip­i­tous. The ed­i­tor who over­saw cov­er­age of the Au­rora the­ater shoot­ing, Gre­gory L. Moore, de­camped in 2016, un­able to en­dure the new fund’s di­rec­tives any longer.

This year be­gan with The Post re­cov­er­ing from more blood­shed as it packed up to leave its name­sake city, its jour­nal­ists cling­ing to the hope that a newly launched ini­tia­tive to charge for online con­tent would im­prove its for­tunes. Be­fore jour­nal­ists were even in their new head­quar­ters, our pub­lisher and for­mer ed­i­to­rial board mem­ber, Mac Tully, re­signed.

Still more re­duc­tions came, and they did so as fast and as chill­ing as a high-desert storm.

The cuts come de­spite con­stant adap­ta­tion and in­no­va­tion within our or­ga­ni­za­tion that grew our online reach ex­po­nen­tially.

This in a city that has seen more than 100,000 new­com­ers since Alden took con­trol, and in a coun­try where other ci­ties Den­ver’s size and smaller en­joy larger news­rooms and pa­pers. (The Pittsburgh Post-gazette’s news­room, for ex­am­ple, has up­wards of 170 man­agers and staff.)

This in a state and re­gion thrum­ming with en­ergy and en­thu­si­asm for its fu­ture.

This in a mar­ket filled with hyper-ed­u­cated cit­i­zens ready and able to af­ford great jour­nal­ism should it be of­fered them.

The in­evitable re­sult is that the re­duc­tion in qual­ity leads to a re­duc­tion of trust. So when er­rant politi­cians and public fig­ures push back against even the most cred­i­ble of re­ports, they find a fer­tile en­vi­ron­ment for doubt.

Yes, other me­dia chains and op­er­a­tions haven’t been spared the same mar­ket re­al­i­ties Alden faces. The tran­si­tion from print to dig­i­tal pub­li­ca­tion is a chal­leng­ing one.

An­other fac­tor: Crit­ics on both sides of Amer­ica’s ev­er­widen­ing po­lit­i­cal di­vide heap blame for the loss of read­er­ship on claims — too many of them cred­i­ble — that news­rooms have lost sight of their re­spon­si­bil­ity to be truly ob­jec­tive. Such crit­i­cisms help fuel spec­tac­u­larly suc­cess­ful so­cial me­dia com­pa­nies, which also reap prof­its from links to tra­di­tional news­room of­fer­ings.

An­other re­gret­table re­sult of the frac­tur­ing of news­rooms has been the rush by po­lit­i­cal in­ter­ests to lav­ish in­vest­ments in echo-cham­ber out­lets that merely seek to re­port from bi­ased per­spec­tives, leav­ing the hol­lowed-out shells of news­rooms loyal to tra­di­tional jour­nal­is­tic val­ues to find their voice in the mael­strom.

Still we take the mo­ment to ac­knowl­edge fun­da­men­tal truths. When news­room own­ers view prof­its as the only goal, qual­ity, re­li­a­bil­ity and ac­count­abil­ity suf­fer. Their very mis­sion is com­pro­mised. The course cor­rec­tion that needs to come for the ben­e­fit of com­mu­ni­ties across the land de­pends on own­ers com­mit­ted to serv­ing their read­ers and view­ers and users.

We get it that things change. We get it that our feel­ings are raw and no doubt color our judg­ment. But we’ve been quiet too long.

We be­lieve with­out ques­tion that if com­mu­nity lead­ers and our read­ers care about our mis­sion, and what our news­room ought to be in­stead of this shadow of what it once was, it’s time for their voices to be heard.

The smart money is that in a few years The Den­ver Post will rot­ting bones. And a ma­jor city in an im­por­tant po­lit­i­cal re­gion will find it­self with­out a news­pa­per.

It’s time for those Coloradans who care most about their civic fu­ture to get in­volved and see to it that Den­ver gets the news­room it de­serves.

RJ San­gosti, The Den­ver Post

On May 15, 2013, The Den­ver Post’s news­room staff gath­ered for a pho­to­graph af­ter win­ning a Pulitzer Prize for its cov­er­age of the Au­rora the­ater shoot­ing. This photo il­lus­tra­tion shows the toll that lay­offs and con­stant turnover have taken on the...

RJ San­gosti, The Den­ver Post

Nearly 150 Den­ver Post news­room staff mem­bers pose in the news­pa­per’s lobby on May 15, 2013.

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