An alternative to the Denver dailies p.13

By: Tony Case Westword enjoys going up against its more established competition sp.

ALTERNATIVE WEEKLIES HAVE made a sport out of criticizing their daily counterparts. But Denver's Westword prefers beating to berating its more established competition.
"I think a lot of alternative papers make the mistake of defining themselves as being against someone else or defining themselves against the dailies," Patricia Calhoun, Westword's editor and founder, said in a recent interview in her cluttered, loft-like office in the city's warehouse district. "In our case, that's not enough. We want people to pick up Westword and have it be something that covers the city for them, whether or not they ever read the dailies."
Calhoun believes the weeklies err in passing judgment on the job their rivals do, and then thinking that's the equivalent of doing their own reporting.
Westword goes head-to-head with the Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News on local stories and has shown up the other guys on more than one occasion.
Recently, it scooped the dailies on a story that made national news: the malfunctioning baggage system at Denver's new multibillion-dollar airport.
One of the metros ran an article implying that a test run of the computerized bag carrier had gone off without a hitch. In fact, it was eating suitcases.
Calhoun thinks the dailies, playing cheerleaders of the community, missed the boat in their coverage of the problem-plagued airport.
"It's interesting that the dailies fell so into boosterism for the new airport," she said. "Let's face it: Whenever you have a $1.7 billion project, there are a lot of stories there ? somewhere there's going to be some money slipping through the cracks. But $5 billion? There are a lot more stories there."
Westword was also first to disclose that the city of Denver had tried to lure Alaska's financially troubled MarkAir airline with a $30 million incentive package.
"That's a story that should be so obvious to the dailies," Calhoun said, "but they didn't do it."
The Post and News, in Calhoun's view, wrongly subscribe to the newspaper industry's "dumbing down trend," with their "short stories and sprightly graphics." But the editor says they shouldn't underestimate their readers.
"I think people in Denver are very intelligent, no matter what line of work they're in," she said. "They're interested in the city and they like to read, and they want more depth than they're getting in the dailies."
The smart, well-read populace aside, Calhoun is amazed Denver supports two dailies. For most of the 17 years the Chicago native has lived here, either the Post or News has been on its last leg.
A decade ago, the Post was "limping along," Calhoun noted, but the broadsheet boosted its circulation and improved its news product.
"The newspaper war was the News' to win, and it just kind of lost the momentum it had through a variety of, I would say, boneheaded moves," she said. "Now they really are neck and neck, and the Post does have some momentum."
But Calhoun believes the city's famed newspaper competition is far from over.
The News, while it has suffered some setbacks, could pull back, she predicted ? and a few more dramatic newsprint price increases, or some unforeseen calamity, could easily damage the financial standing of one or both of the dailies.
"Whoever really wants to win this war can, but it's going to take time, effort and commitment," she said. "I don't know if Scripps Howard is willing to do that, and I don't know if Singleton will."
Regardless of what's happening at the Post and News, Calhoun says Westword will stay the course ? making profits, beefing up the news staff, cranking out more in-depth stories and, yes, trouncing the big boys whenever possible.
"They're focusing the major artillery on each other," she said of the dailies. "But there's nothing that says we can't, from the sidelines, take some major potshots."


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