New Denver Editor’s Baptism By Fire

By: Jim Moscou

It’s the universal rite of passage — the “first day on the new job.” But for Gregory Moore, that first day came with a twist. “I started my day up in the publisher’s office, looking out over the mountains,” Moore said. “And I was looking at the haze, saying, ‘Wow. That’s really — unusual.'”

“Unusual” is an understatement. That day — Moore’s first as the new editor for MediaNews Group Inc.’s flagship, The Denver Post — was June 10. And that haze over the Mile High City was thick smoke and ash from a two-day-old wildfire that was growing into a monster blaze — and fast becoming Colorado’s biggest news story since the shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton.

“After I had read the Monday morning paper and I came downstairs, and we had our 10:30 [morning news] meeting, I knew this was a really big deal,” Moore said.

During an interview, Moore, 47, sat relaxed in his new corner office nearly three weeks into his tenure at the Post‘s helm. The smoke that first day, he explained tentatively — as this stuff is really new to him — came from the Hayman fire, which a federal grand jury charges was sparked by a troubled U.S. Forest Service employee.

Moore is an “East Coast” editor — first in Ohio, then, for the last 16 years, at The Boston Globe, rising to become that paper’s managing editor. But, on that first day, Moore would lead the Post‘s newsroom in coverage of a wildfire the likes no one in Colorado had ever seen. Moore was about to become a “Western” editor — a baptism by fire.

“I just didn’t know anything about wildfires. At all. Nothing,” Moore said earnestly with clear blue skies now outside his window. “In the Northeast, there are small fires along highways that really don’t merit much coverage.” While he had years of experience managing big stories, he now “had to learn about the components of wildfire. So I spent most of my time listening to different terms, like ‘backburns,’ and trees being described as ‘fuel.'”

Yet he tried “not overmanaging. You don’t want to come in here with a big foot, especially when so many people are out in the field working their butts off. So I’ve just been trying to” — he pauses for a moment — “manage myself.”

Post insiders say it was a success. Unlike his predecessor, Glenn Guzzo, who was sometimes accused of being a bit inaccessible, “[Moore] was out here, in the newsroom, and talking to us,” one news reporter said of the fire coverage. Moore, in turn, said the urgency of the Hayman coverage forced “an accelerated sort of marriage.”

But, like the bone-dry forests of Colorado in a summer lightning storm, everyone is betting Moore will be sparking some of his own in-house fires.

Meanwhile, as the Hayman fire was lassoed late last week, the smoke cleared from Denver’s skies, and the Post newsroom moved to normality, Moore said he’s only now settling in, meeting the mayor, the governor, and local personalities. But by far the most important advice this green Denver editor has gotten: “People tell me, ‘No matter what, don’t say anything bad about the Broncos.'”

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