From January to March, the bank lost $98 million, bad loans more than doubled to $550 million and the bank lost 10.7 percent of its deposits since its last report in December 2008.
The Tribune’s closeness to the story adds urgency to the pieces. But we also sometimes felt as if the paper was working so hard to cover all the details—and was so deeply embedded in the story—
that it didn’t have the luxury (and to some extent ability) to step back and decide which parts were the most important. For that, we need to step up to the Denver Post.
Unlike the Greeley paper, the Denver Post didn’t do much reporting in the days leading up to the failure, or even the day the failure itself happened. These early stories—perfectly fine but not remarkable—tell readers the bank has failed and place that failure in the context of other failed or troubled banks in Colorado and nationwide.
But the coverage soon gets interesting.
Several days after the failure, reporter Miles Moffeit re-examines the run on New Frontier Bank that took place in the months before its closing:
While banks under heavy regulatory scrutiny sometimes see a falloff in business, government officials characterized the magnitude of New Frontier’s run—events often associated with the Great Depression—as unusual.
‘It baffles me,’ said Colorado’s acting bank commissioner, Fred Joseph. ‘We haven’t had a bank failure in this state in over 10 years. But you wonder, why do people still do that’ when deposits are insured by the federal government.
Modern-day bank runs are so rare that Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. officials don’t track them. Only a handful have surfaced in recent decades.
Because the run played out more diffusely and subtly than the spectacled bank runs of old, its scope went unnoticed by the larger Greeley public.
But inside the 35th Avenue bank, staffers were growing apprehensive. They kept confronting customers’ questions about the bank’s poor health, then watched as they went on to close their accounts. In February and at the end of March, the pace of the transactions only quickened.
Interesting stuff. Moffeit follows this up a few days later with an excellent piece on fallout from the bank closure. He opens strong:
When the man from Farm Bureau Bank asked the crowd of 60 area dairy owners, farmhands, crop-dusters, grain truckers and other business owners whether they had any questions, he encountered silence. A man cleared his throat. A woman sniffled. Mostly they just stared back, many with bloodshot or moist eyes. ‘I thought there would be questions,’ said bureau salesman Jason Smith, his words trailing off at the front of the room. Smith was looking at the downcast rural face behind the fallout from the government’s closure April 10 of New Frontier Bank. Hundreds of dedicated depositors and borrowers who relied on the now-closed institution for credit to ride the hard and good times are suddenly bankless — and scared.
Like those opening paragraphs, the piece manages to say a lot in not very many (about 700) words. And then, again a few days later, Moffeit gives us a wonderful, lengthy piece on the history of New Frontier (which “started in a double-wide trailer on Greeley’s west side”), its irresponsible business practices (“Greeley’s largest bank was so larded with troubled assets that, for the first time in three decades, federal officials couldn’t find another bank willing to do the liquidation.”) and its failure (“After the quick shutdown, some customers were so angry they were yanking deposits without transferring their money. One customer, $19,000 in hand, was escorted by a security guard to her car.”) If you read only one article on New Frontier, make it this one.
Still on the story in early June, Moffeit gives us a related piece, which the AP picked up, on the increase in phone calls by agricultural workers to crisis hotlines. It opens:
The phone calls usually come in the evening after the machinery goes silent on farms across the country. The callers speak of dwindling cash flows, crumbling marriages. Some admit they’re holding a loaded gun.
Then, after a handful of news stories, Moffeit wrote an investigative piece focusing on questionable loans New Frontier had made to an ex-director of the bank who “later was convicted of felony theft for a mortgage scheme.” Who said business news was boring? The AP picked up on this report as well.