In early May, the Denver Post announced they would move their newsroom from downtown Denver to their printing facility in Adams County. With the move out of Denver, one of the country’s fastest growing cities has no major daily newspaper.
In an interview with La Voz television partner, Denver7, The Denver Post President and CEO, Mac Tully said, “While we would like to stay in our current building, the move offers a considerable cost savings during this difficult period in the newspaper industry, and allows us to keep the most important part of our newsroom and advertising: The people.”
It wasn’t long ago that the Colfax Avenue building housed not only a much larger Denver Post staff but also the offices of competitor, Rocky Mountain News. The one-upmanship between the News and the Post could be intense, characterized by heavy recruiting and sometimes poaching journalists, slashing subscription prices to increase distribution and celebrating big news scoops. When the Rocky Mountain News closed its doors in February of 2009, they were just a few months shy of reaching 150 years of operating in Colorado.
Longtime columnist Mike Littwin fondly remembers his time at The Denver Post. “When I first came to Denver 20 years ago, I came for the paper war. At that time we had 450 reporters and others in the newsroom. Now I think they are down to 100.” Littwin believes the move may have a detrimental effect on the public’s ability to hold government accountable. “City Hall used to have four reporters from each paper. Now the Post has one. Think of all the things that are not covered. They can still cover politics, but don’t cover policy as well as they used to.”
Former Denver Manager of Safety, Fidel “Butch” Montoya concurs that with heavy coverage by reporters, residents were better informed about the actions of government and employees were held accountable. “Whenever we had a big news story, there were always two calls to make, one to the News and one to the Post. There was competition between the papers to get the story first and get the story right,” Montoya continued, “The papers stood as two sentinels of transparency, now we don’t have any sentinel standing watch. They voted against Denver journalism and they’ve left because it’s cheaper.”
Changing State of Journalism
Newspapers across the country suffered like most other industries during the financial downturn of 2008. Many never recovered, reflecting a public turning away from traditional print media. Pew Research reports that in 2015, U.S. newspapers lost 7 percent of their circulation while cable television gained 8 percent. Total newspaper advertising income declined 8 percent including revenue from both print versions of newspapers and their digital components. During that same time period, digital ad revenue grew 20 percent outpacing growth for both 2013 and 2014.
The latest figures on newspaper employment that Pew reports shows a 10 percent decline in 2014, and for the decade preceding 2014, employment loss of 39 percent representing more than 20,000 jobs. Since 2004, more than 100 newspapers have folded.
The Stanford Rural West initiative does report some good news for niche newspapers like Latino-centric La Voz or Chalkbeat which reports on education issues. These smaller Colorado niche news outlets and others like them across the rural West are faring far better than their big city daily newspaper counterparts. They report 7,500 community newspapers with circulation under 30,000 are printed at least weekly. In addition, three quarters of U.S. residents surveyed by the National Newspaper Association report that they regularly read a local community paper.
Denver Post Alumni Give Their Perspective
For a newspaper that at one time was reliant on classified ads for up to one third of their income, The Denver Post now collects very little from those ads, and companies that used to advertise in the dailies have turned to the internet or smaller and highly targeted newspapers for marketing. Changes in ownership and cuts to nearly every part of the company was precursor to the newsroom move.
Mike Littwin started in journalism at the age of 21. For decades he has built a substantial following from his time at Rocky Mountain News and The Denver Post and now at The Colorado Independent. The Independent is a newspaper trying to respond to the changing nature of journalism around the world. According to Littwin, “We’re not making any money, we’re a nonprofit. We raise money to survive but we want to thrive.” He finds it imperative that journalism succeeds using new models since traditional models have failed, “Somebody needs to find a way to monetize local news to the point where we can start hiring more reporters. Nobody has figured this out yet.”
He is optimistic about papers like the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News that are operating as nonprofits. They are under the control of the Philadephia Foundation which allows them to raise money and continue their role as the region’s largest daily newspapers. The papers were donated after it became clear the business model was otherwise unsustainable.
Other Denver Post alumni have left journalism altogether. Lynn Bartels’ career has mirrored the travails of Denver’s biggest papers. She moved to Denver for a job with the Rocky Mountain News and joined the Post when the News closed in 2009. In 2015, she took a buyout and landed the position of Communications Director for Colorado Secretary of State, Wayne Williams.
Bartels notes that newspapers where she worked in Gallup and Albuquerque both moved their newsrooms out of those city’s downtowns. “I see the move as more of a pattern that happens with newspapers. It’s a money saving move, newspapers are businesses.” She does admit the optics are tough. The Gallup and Albuquerque papers still had addresses in those cities whereas The Denver Post will have an Adams County address. A hardcore journalist at heart, Bartels said, “I want for The Denver Post to succeed, no matter where they move.”
City of Denver to Lease Post Building
The Post is expected to keep some reporters working out of downtown, but those reporters may spend as much time in the offices they cover, like the State Capitol or City and County Building than they do rented office space. During the upcoming election year, the paper may actually ramp up some political coverage while other cuts may be made in other areas of the company. The entire move should take place before the end of the year, and the City of Denver plans to sublease their space for a growing staff.