Britton, who takes over on March 18, will also serve as executive vice president.
Currently conducting a research project on journalism and democracy in the electronic age at the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation in Chicago, Britton said he was eager to get back into the daily newspaper game.
""In my heart and soul, I'm a newspaper person, and a competitive newspaper person, so the challenge of going to another highly competitive city really got me going,"" he said. ""I'm really pleased and excited about going to Denver.""
While it's not unusual for an ailing newspaper to shuffle its top management, many were taken aback when the Post, the onetime underdog that in recent years has caught up with the long-dominant Rocky Mountain News, started hunting for its third chief editor in 21/2 years.
Post executive editor Neil Westergaard, who became the paper's highest-ranking editor in 1993 after the legendary Gil Spencer retired and who now moves to the newsroom's number two position, said prior to the Britton announcement he was ""disappointed"" his bosses were making the change.
""I think the newspaper has improved dramatically in the years since I've been in a senior position at this paper,"" he said. ""Our competitor has ceded the war in circulation and is having a tough time. Maybe it's just an editor's perspective, but I think the news side had a little something to do with that.
""I have nothing to be ashamed of,"" he added. ""There's nothing I would have done differently. Our success shows in our numbers. By all measures by which you judge whether you're a success or a failure, we've been a success, editorially and on the business side.""
Contacted following the Britton appointment, Westergaard was optimistic the Post would have continued success under the new editor.
Post publisher Ryan McKibben announced the search in mid-January, days after the News said it was going to stop distributing outside metropolitan Denver ? a move some saw as a smart money-saving tactic and others considered a retreat.
""Our competitor's latest business strategy makes it imperative that we move to the next level of excellence,"" McKibben said in a prepared statement. The Post, he added, ""is committed to reaching the entire Rocky Mountain region with a world-class newspaper.""
McKibben, in a phone interview, wouldn't discuss his reasons behind the shake-up, calling this ""a personnel matter.""
As for Britton, the publisher said he was ""extremely pleased to have somebody of Dennis' caliber and experience join our team. He will provide not just strength and leadership in the newsroom, but will be an important contributor to our overall newspaper strategy.""
While they wouldn't go on the record as saying so, several industry insiders grumbled that Westergaard, who has been with the Post 15 years, got a raw deal.
The editor was assigned to tell his department about the search just one day before the general public read about it in the Post and News.
Staffers were said to be so confused and restless that McKibben had to call them together a second time to smooth things over.
""There was a lot of anger in the newsroom about how it was done,"" said Brad Smith, who covers the media business for the Denver Business Journal. ""It seems a little strange to announce that you're going to have a three-month search and then leave everybody dangling.""
""I think the way it was handled is lunacy,"" added Patricia Calhoun, who has observed Denver's tooth-and-nail daily newspaper war for nearly 20 years as editor and founder of the alternative weekly Westword.
""Just a week before, the News had announced this major retrenchment, if not outright surrender. The Post is on top. Why did they make this morale-busting move so publicly?""
Wasn't it awkward for a ranking newsroom manager to have to tell his charges he was getting a new boss?
""When you're the editor,"" Westergaard said, ""you face awkwardness all the time. This was no more awkward than other things.""
Smith supposed McKibben wanted an editor with ""national cache"" who could bring the Post broad exposure, possibly even a Pulitzer Prize.
""National recognition is something the Post really would like to have,"" he said.
Some heavyweights who were rumored to be in the running for the Post job included former Philadelphia Inquirer executive editor Jim Naughton, Washington Post ombudsman and former Des Moines Register editor Geneva Overholser, and former Chicago Tribune editor Jim Squires.
Smith said McKibben might have been planning the newsroom realignment for some time, as Westergaard was never given the editor's title after Spencer's departure.
Or, he suggested, perhaps McKibben's hand was forced.
When asked whether he played any part in the decision, Post owner W. Dean Singleton replied, ""Ryan is the publisher. He decided he wanted a new editor, and I backed him wholeheartedly. We've got a lot of newspapers, and I don't run around picking the editors.""
Singleton called Britton ""an outstanding editor, and we're very pleased to have him.""
Britton moved to the Chicago tabloid in 1989 from the Los Angeles Times, where he had been deputy managing editor. He left the Sun-Times three months ago, after helping parent Hollinger International Inc. carry out some strict streamlining measures there.
In the last year ? as its daily and Sunday circulation numbers have fallen and the competing Chicago Tribune's have shot up ? the Sun-Times's work force has shrunk by some 20%.
""Managing in the environment of constant cutting became quite debilitating, and the opportunity to step back and do something other than managing a budget and to work on an intellectual pursuit was seductive,"" Britton said of forsaking the Sun-Times for a fellowship.
""It was a terrific break for me.""
After a six-week nationwide search, the Denver Post appoints editor
""In my heart and soul, I'm a newspaper person, and a competitive newspaper person, so the challenge of going to another highly competitive city really got me going.""
? Dennis Britton, Denver Post
editor in chief
""I have nothing to be ashamed of. There's
nothing I would have done differently. Our
success shows in our numbers.""
? Neil Westergaard, Denver Post
BY TONY CASE
# Editor & Publisher n March 9, 1996
BY DOROTHY GIOBBE
DITORS AT AN Indiana weekly were shocked and dismayed recently by the ugly reaction to a front-page photo of a white woman kissing a black, professional athlete.
On Feb. 7, the Mooresville Times ran a photo of a female basketball fan kissing Indiana Pacer Travis Best on the cheek. Best was visiting Mooresville to participate in a local charity event.
After the photo was published, a reader stormed into the Times offices. The man hurled racial slurs and declared that he would not subscribe to a newspaper in which ""white women were kissing black men on the front page,"" according to an account of the incident in the Perry Township Weekly in nearby Beech Grove.
Those ready to write off the protester as a lone miscreant were disappointed. Reporter-Times Inc. president Mark Kendall said that a handful of other readers also wrote to complain about the photo or to cancel their subscriptions.
""I am personally saddened and outraged by what was said by these men,"" Kendall said in a statement. ""However, I am delighted and proud that they are no longer our subscribers. I hope the majority of Mooresville people, and especially its leaders, will take the opportunity to make a special effort to make certain people of color feel they are welcome by and in our community.""
After the Times reported the negative outburst, others used the letters to the editor column to denounce racism in the community.
""This basketball player came to Mooresville to help with charity on his own time,"" read one letter. ""This is the thanks we give him?""
Another letter, signed by ""15 angered, disgusted and ashamed young citizens,"" declared: ""We feel that it is because of these ignorant, self-centered, white-robe-bearing racists that the town of Mooresville is so often looked down upon. It is very depressing that the 'adults' of this town are so much more childish than the children themselves.""
Front-page photo of interracial kiss provokes ugly
response from readers
?(""In my heart and soul, I'm a newspaper person, and a competitive newspaper person, so the challenge of going to another highly competitive city really got me going."") [Caption]
?(-Dennis Britton, Denver Post editor in chief) [ Photo & Caption]
?(""I have nothing to be ashamed of. There's nothing I would have done differently. OUr success shows in our numbers."") [Caption]
?( -Neil Westergaard, Denver Post executive editor) [Photo & Caption]
By: Ian E. Anderson FOLLOWING A SIX-week nationwide search that provoked newsroom tension and industry speculation, the Denver Post has named former Chicago Sun-Times editor Dennis Britton as its editor in chief.