It was the sign of the times at the Denver Post earlier this year. First, the Post moved out of its downtown building. Second, the paper put up a paywall for the first time since 2015. And then, publisher Mac Tully announced his resignation. Tully, who was our Publisher of the Year just three years ago, said his reason for leaving after 40 years in journalism was that he was “ready for something a little less stressful.” Instead of replacing Tully, Digital First Media’s chief operating officer, Guy Gilmore, took over.
That’s nothing new for parent company, DFM, which is owned by New York City hedge fund Alden Global Capital. The Post, like many other DFM publications, has seen its newsroom numbers dwindle over the last couple of the years. At the Post, the number has dropped from more than 250 to fewer than 100—and the number is expected to fall even more. In March, the paper was ordered to cut 30 employees by July.
That was when the paper decided enough was enough.
In April, the Post editorial board published several articles pleading for Alden to “rethink its business strategy.”
“We call for action…Consider this also a signal to our community and civic leaders that they ought to demand better,” the editorial board wrote. “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.”
The editorial board wasn’t alone. Former Post editor Greg Moore, who left the paper in 2016 after 14 years, returned to the pages to pen the column, “Who will step up and save The Denver Post?”
“Naively, I hoped my departure might stanch the bleeding,” Moore wrote. “I’m sad because it has continued, and I’m angry because I now realize The Post might not endure.”
Former Post editor and reporter, Ricardo Baca, also chimed in, encouraging his former colleagues to fight back against the hedge fund. “If we don’t speak up now, then we will be destined to witness the demise of our city’s largest and most essential news-gathering operations—and what would happen to democracy then? Who would then hold the powerful, Alden Global Capital included, accountable in the absence of a major metropolitan daily newspaper?”
Baca, who founded the Post’s popular marijuana news vertical, The Cannabist, and served as its first marijuana editor before he resigned two years ago, recently announced he was interested in purchasing the website if the Post decided to sell it. The Cannabist is expected to lose its entire editorial staff by summer due to the cuts.
The revolt at the Post set off a chain of events at other DFM properties. Bay Area News Group executive editor Neil Chase published his own article, calling what the Post did “brave” and asking his own readers to support local journalism. The Southern California News Group published its own series of articles asking for the community’s support as well. Dave Krieger, editorial page editor of the Daily Camera in Boulder, Colo., was fired for self-publishing his own column, “Private equity owners endanger Daily Camera’s future,” after the publisher decided to kill it.
And sadly, things aren’t going to change anytime soon. DFM recently completed its acquisition of the Boston Herald in March. According to the Boston Globe, DFM offered jobs to 175 people, out of the roughly 240 who worked there, and more cuts could still be on their way.
Meanwhile, DFM reported a 17 percent operating margin in its 2017 fiscal year, along with profits of almost $160 million, according to media analyst Ken Doctor. “Fruits of the repeated cutbacks,” he said.
But don’t expect anymore “fruit” when there’s nothing (and no one) left in those newsrooms. Chuck Plunkett, the Post editorial page editor, who wrote the “call for action” editorial turned in his resignation in early May.