Guest Columns

THE WEBBCAST

What the Post’s downsizing really means, and a ‘New York’ moment in local TV

GUEST COLUMNIST

I’m becoming a bit more embarrassed these days when I admit that I still receive a newspaper on my front step, and that I read a large-format “national” newspaper (the Wall Street Journal) at the office every day. And doubtless you’re reading this on conventional newsprint, which is how Statesman subscribers are accustomed to getting their political news. Although I’ll admit I’m downloading the “apps” to my new iPad so I can read both newspapers online.

Our remaining local daily, The Denver Post, has announced it is emphasizing more “digital content,” and that’s given as one of the reasons it offered buyout or retirement packages to veteran journalists and newsroom staffers.

For some of these reporters, I’ll not only miss their bylines, but also the insight and perspective gained from their long-term coverage of their beat. What’s leaving the Post is the institutional knowledge that can’t be replaced simply from pulling old stories or “morgue” files. It’s the ability to put pieces together, remember why decisions were made, or events happened (and when), and who’d filled that job before. Veteran reporters like Jeff Leib take with them the background and focus that take years to learn.

Will Greg Moore even replace some of these beats? Or is the pressure to compete in a Twitter age so intense that we’ll be left with three-graph stories and a sexy headline, rather than deep insight and well-crafted storytelling?

Michael Roberts in Westword shared some of these same thoughts when he bemoaned the loss of institutional memory. Just as great a concern should be whether the next crop of reporters will have the curiosity, drive, earnestness and sense of professional obligation to make up for the loss of experienced, credible talent.

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Once we got over the shock of seeing venerable former sheriff Pat Sullivan arrested in an alleged drugs-for-sex scandal, it was time to see who reported the story first. Not necessarily the best or most accurate version, but in TV news, first always seems be the measure of success. Whether it was Brian Maass or Jace Larson (or even Tom Martino — who now seems to be taking a lot of credit) doesn’t really matter.

But what I have noticed is how the scrambling to be first on the story, or break an angle that no-one else might know about, led to disgraceful behavior on the part of some news crews.

Case in point — when Sullivan’s daughter arrived at her parents’ home Tuesday night, and apparently unaware of all the details, reporters and cameramen swarmed her, shouting questions and pushing to get a microphone in her face.

It was unseemly, unnecessary and unnerving — typical behavior we often see in New York City or LA (photographers jostling Bernie Madoff, screaming at Jennifer Lopez), but not in Denver.

Has the element of professional behavior gone out of Denver newsrooms? Are we now going to see photographers blocking the way just to get extra seconds of a victim or family member, while reporters shout non-sensical questions simply to get a reaction?

I hope there are news directors who’ve taken their crews aside, and told them, “That’s not the way we do things here.” But I also know there are news executives who’ve said, “Wow, we really stuck it to the competition tonight.” As Sports Illustrated would note, “Just another sign the apocalypse may soon be upon us.”

Pete Webb is a veteran journalist. He spent 13 years as an award-winning investigative television reporter before becoming vice president of one of Denver’s most recognized PR firms and later his own firm. He is a contributing columnist for the Statesman.