Denver Post old-school reporting only heightens Film Society intrigue

In addition to being a pretty good story all on its own, the ongoing coup at Denver Film Society is throwing up some interesting material for journalism watchers as well. How, in particular, should the Denver Post have handled the fact that Editor Greg Moore’s wife was the Film Society board member credited with hiring suddenly ousted director Bo Smith?

It was last week, according to reports, that DFS staff decided they’d finally had enough of Smith. In a recession economy that has brutally cut into arts budgets here and everywhere, more than 20 employees announced their intention to resign to send the message that Bo had to go. In response to the dramatic staff action, the DFS board decided on Friday to fire Smith.

IndieWire reported on events at length from the beginning of the week.

The mass resignations are deep… ranging from programmers to logistics staff including projectionists and other recurring personnel who have worked for the [DFS Starz] festival for up to three decades.

The Denver Post then picked up the thread, culminating in a story published yesterday by film-writer Lisa Kennedy on the ousting of Smith.

But Kennedy’s story is peculiar, mostly for a four-paragraph interlude oddly exonerating former Film Society board member Nina Henderson-Moore from “reports” she had “forced Smith onto the Film Society” last fall when he was hired.

Reached for comment Saturday, board chair David Charmatz would not confirm Smith’s departure. But he did dismiss reports that former board chair Nina Henderson Moore, whose tenure ended in March, had forced Smith on the film society.

“As far as hiring or firing, it is the board’s decision. It was not one person,” said Charmatz, a senior vice president at Starz Entertainment.

“It’s a process. There was a team and they worked with outside organizations. But we voted as a board.

“We were looking for a leader who fit the criteria we had, someone who could take the organization forward, someone who could further the drive to make the film society a 365-day organization,” he said.

“She made an argument for finding an executive director who not only could be the face of the organization, but also had a business sense and a creative sense as well. And the board agreed.”

Kennedy nowhere relates the fact that Nina Henderson-Moore is the wife of Denver Post editor Greg Moore, Kennedy’s boss. In reporting the story, Kennedy is also unintentionally raising questions. She’s both shedding light and muddying the waters. The unnamed sources that thread through Kennedy’s reporting on the coup and the odd defense, seemingly out-of-the-blue in the story she wrote yesterday, where Board Chair Charmatz is given free rein to defend Henderson-Moore without response, suggests the kind of traditional insider-access reporting that has come under fire in recent years and that has often pitted newspapers against blogs.

Compare Kennedy’s traditional “objective” third-person reporting on the story to filmmaker AJ Schnack’s blogging it at All these Wonderful Things.

Before Schnack weighs in on any of the particulars, we get this:

…I must give full disclosure: I have a long relationship with the Denver Film Festival and personal friendships with Erickson, Henderson and Withey. As the indieWIRE article notes, Britta Erickson is a producer on my new film. Brit Withey has blogged for this space and has been a member of the Cinema Eye Honors nominations committee for the past two years. Last year, we named Denver as one of the top 25 festivals for documentary. I also know and have worked with Bo Smith, who programmed my first film at the Boston MFA.

That information is at least as pertinent as the fact that Kennedy’s boss is married to former board member Nina Henderson-Moore. A close reader can’t help but see the connection to Henderson-Moore shaping the Post coverage on some level. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. But it could be. Readers have the right to know about the connection to help understand why they’re getting the story they’re getting.

Given that the Denver Post is now the only statewide outlet for news on cultural matters and the Colorado paper of record for coverage of all sorts, the Post editors and writers have got to see that it’s in the paper’s interest to raise the standards of disclosure a little higher than they have been on display here.