‘Oh my god,’ ‘heartbreaking news’: Denver Post layoffs hit one-third of newsroom

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The tremors rippled out of the newsroom around 3:30 Wednesday afternoon.

For the newsroom of about 100, that’s a massive cut for a daily newspaper covering a city of its size. About 700,000 people live in Denver. Throw in the other nine counties that make up the greater metro area, and we are talking about nearly 3 million people in the Post’s primary coverage territory.  

By now, Post staffers are used to news about themselves and their paper’s secretive corporate hedge-fund owner Alden Global Capital, known for its cash-harvesting and its control of Post parent company Digital First Media. Two years ago, journalists rallied outside their own building in protest of their hedgefund owner. One week in 2016, both Denver’s alt-weekly Westword and the city’s lifestyle magazine 5280 both were running cover stories about the paper’s bloodletting.

It was only four months ago when the latest round of layoffs— about a dozen— lashed the broadsheet with four of them coming from the newsroom. Already rounds of cuts had sliced deep into the paper, which its top editor, Lee Ann Colacioppo, acknowledged in a memo to staff released Wednesday. 

“These job losses are painful, and we know meaningful work will not get done because talented journalists have left the organization,” she said. “I’m sure some commenters will cheer what they believe is the eventual demise of the mainstream media, but there is nothing to celebrate when a city has fewer journalists working in it.”

Some commenters? That’s inevitable. Most? No way.

It did not take long for the ire to find a source of focus— owners Digital First Media and Alden Global.

The anger is well placed.

About two months ago, The Denver Post’s local management decided to put up a digital paywall for the first time since it dropped its pay-to-read strategy five years ago. The paper’s journalists made an impassioned plea for readers to subscribe and pay between about $7 and $12 a month for access. Editorial page editor Chuck Plunkett pointed out how the move came as employees were leaving the white-and-green curved building by the Statehouse for a printing plant in Adams County to cut costs. Reporters at the Post, he wrote, were “So over working for free.”

But even then, some readers were conflicted about knowing where their money would go. “I’ve had multiple people tell me, ‘Well, I don’t want to buy The Denver Post because I don’t want that hedgefund to get any of my money,’” one reporter said. “I understand wanting to punish them,” she says of the paper’s owner, “but you’re hurting me. They’re not going to hurt. I am.”

When I asked Colacioppo about that for a Jan. 19 story in Columbia Journalism Review, she said there wasn’t anything in writing from corporate saying revenue generated by the new paywall will stave off future newsroom cuts, though she said she was hopeful they would. “The best I can say is: If we meet our subscription goals, we would expect it would stabilize our business and would allow us to stop the bleeding,” she said. “That’s the entire intent, that’s what we’re doing it for.” She declined to specify the Post’s subscription goals, but said she believes they are “absolutely achievable.”

Two months after the big paywall push, she announced the latest layoffs, which represent the deepest to the newsroom in recent years.

“This is dreadfully stressful, I know,” Colacioppo said in her memo to staff. “I also know this: The Denver Post will emerge on the other side still doing important work that impacts the lives of our readers – stories that inform them, move them, surprise them and entertain them. We will continue our aggressive, groundbreaking efforts to find ways to reach and connect with those readers.”

That the newspaper’s owners brought down the ax so fast after putting up the wall left one subscriber feeling “like a sucker.”

When it comes to the question of reader support, there are clashing views.

Versus…

Since the news broke on social media, it reached near media saturation in Denver, carried across the public radio airwaves and on the nightly broadcast network news.

Talk has since moved to what might be done about it. 

The Denver Newspaper Guild and others are calling for the private equity firm to just hurry up and sell the damn paper already— preferably to a local buyer if one comes forward. “This latest newsroom cut leaves The Post with 49 working journalists now compared with 200 in place when Alden took over the newspaper seven years ago,” the Guild wrote. “The gutting of the Post newsroom is an assault on the community.”

Someone even wrote a letter to the governor:

Another local writer had an edgier idea: State government shoud seize The Denver Post under a public use argument in eminent domain law.

That’s unlikely, but something surely needs to happen. What that will be remains to be seen.

 

Photo by Mark Hunter for Creative Commons on Flickr. 

1 COMMENT

  1. Vulture capitalists like Alden have wrecked many a viable business (iHeart Radio is going under thanks in no small part due to Bain Capital — Thanks Mittens!)

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