Jim Morgan: Denver Post column off base
Ryan Summerlin December 10, 2009
Perhaps I’m old fashioned, but I’ve always believed in facts. Something along the lines of the biblical passage that the truth shall set you free. Well, we’ll see.
Susan Greene published a column in the Denver Post Thursday about the Summit Daily News, about Bob Berwyn – who lost his job recently – and about me and editor Alex Miller. The column was less than flattering, but, more to the point, not the complete story.
Greene employed certain facts to create a point of view. Fair enough, that’s what columnists do. In essence, she chose to write a column taking the point of view of a reporter from the Summit Daily recently dismissed from his job. As you can imagine, he was unhappy about that. Greene, quoting the reporter, Bob Berwyn, says Berwyn was terminated because of pressure brought to bear on the newspaper from Vail Resorts.
That is, in fact, not true. Not at all.
In the very brief conversation I had with Greene earlier this week, I told her that as a matter of policy we do not discuss personnel issues or specific relationships with our advertisers. I suspect if Greene checks with management at the Post, she’ll find they follow similar guidelines.
The Summit Daily News, at least so far as I know in my near six-year tenure, has never terminated an employee over a column or a story – and never will. We have, in fact, many, many times defended our writers in the face of significant pressure.
When offered, I chose not to talk with Greene off the record. Perhaps in retrospect I should have, as it might have provided some balance. Shame on me for not doing that. She did offer.
The reason Berwyn was terminated – and I have to be careful here because it is a personnel issue involving an individual – was not because of the column or because of the resulting fallout from it. In the great scheme of things, the column in question (about weather) was actually somewhat benign. Threatening to cancel ads is often the way advertisers flex some muscle and make a point. That sort of thing happens with big advertisers and small advertisers, frankly, all the time. It’s part of the business we’re in. Interestingly, we’ve had advertisers now threaten to cancel ads because of Greene’s column.
As would be the case with any employee, if there are circumstances symptomatic of a pattern of behavior documented in reviews over the course of time, then changes result. That’s what occurred here. We don’t take such action lightly, as we know we’re dealing with people’s lives. If we were as Machiavellian as some are suggesting, certainly we would have taken another course of action.
Bob Berwyn is a good man. I have respect for Bob, notwithstanding our decision to terminate his employment based on a series of events, documented in reviews over a significant period of time. I should add that, frankly, I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge at the moment I’m a bit unhappy with all of this.
Back to Greene: She’s managed to drag others into the fray. She quotes Ed Otte from the Colorado Press Association, and although the construction of her column would suggest Ed is talking specifically about the Summit Daily News when quoted saying “Newspapers need to withstand these kinds of threats,” Ed stands by his quote. But he said he made it very clear to her he was not commenting about this particular situation but about the relationship between advertising and news.
Fair enough, I’ll accept Ed at his word. But my view is that, based on how the column was written, it seems clear Greene had a very specific point of view. And that, given the nature of columnists who write their opinion, I have to accept. Still, as one individual noted in an e-mail to me Thursday morning: “The closing of the Post article gave away her vendetta to any who had not already picked it up.”
That may be a bit harsh. But this is a column, and that was an opinion.
So now, instead of meeting with members of the newspaper team in Glenwood and Aspen as planned, I’m responding to e-mails, some from folks I don’t know and some from folks I know, and writing this column.
And in the interest of transparency, a word many are throwing around in e-mails, I should note I do have a meeting with Vail Resorts in Broomfield on Monday to talk about advertising. And no doubt Greene’s column will come up in the discussion. And as we do with all things, we’ll simply deal with it and move forward.
Jim Morgan is publisher of the Summit Daily News.