As staff shrinks, Denver Post cuts back on editorials

On Monday of this week, something was missing from Colorado’s largest daily newspaper: For the first time in memory, no house editorial appeared in the pages of The Denver Post.

It wasn’t a glitch or a printing malfunction, just the latest small sign of retrenchment in the newspaper business. One of the Post’s editorial writers, Jeremy Meyer, left a few weeks ago for a job in government PR. There are no plans to replace him in the near future, according to Vincent Carroll, the editorial page editor.

That leaves Carroll—who became the page editor in 2013 when his predecessor, Curtis Hubbard, left to join a public affairs firm—as essentially the lone editorial writer left at the Post. And that means there will be days when publishing a locally written editorial won’t be possible.

“I do not know how often that will occur,” he said via email. “Probably once a week, maybe more often.”

Monday is likely to wind up the default editorial-free day at the Digital First-owned Post, though that’s not a hard and fast rule. “If big news breaks over a weekend, such as Justice Scalia’s death, we’ll have a house editorial on the topic,” Carroll said.

Carroll isn’t exactly the last man standing in his department: The paper has an opinion editor who handles production, edits columns and letters to the editor, uploads coverage online, and is a member of the editorial board. An editorial assistant helps with production. Post publisher Mac Tully, who didn’t respond to emails for this story, and board chairman Dean Singleton remain editorial board members.

The reduction in editorial staff, though, continues a trend in the department, which is reflected in the volume of coverage it produces. Until a few years ago, the Post published two opinion pages in print each day from Tuesday through Friday. That has been reduced to one page, and more recently the full-page Monday section has been cut in half. Beyond editorials, the columns in the opinion section tend to be syndicated fare or local guest contributors; the only columnists listed in the paper’s staff directory write for the sports section.

Of course, the Post is hardly alone among newspapers in seeing the ranks of its editorial writers thinned. As my colleague Deron Lee wrote last fall, there are enough short-of-staff editorial sections out there these days to make providing freelance content for them a viable business model.

But there are still times when editorial boards can influence civic or political discussion—especially when they’re based at the flagship newspaper in a swing state. The Post’s endorsement in a US Senate race in the 2014 midterms drew national attention, and remains the subject of occasional discussion among the political class here more than a year later. Heading into another big election year, where Colorado is likely to play an outsized role, there will be times when the Post editorial page is closely watched.

As for Carroll, he said, “This is uncharted territory for me.”

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Corey Hutchins is CJR's correspondent based in Colorado, where he is also a journalist for The Colorado Independent. A former alt-weekly reporter in South Carolina, he was twice named journalist of the year in the weekly division by the SC Press Association. Hutchins recently worked on the State Integrity Investigation at the Center for Public Integrity and he has contributed to Slate, The Nation, The Washington Post, and others. Follow him on Twitter @coreyhutchins or email him at coreyhutchins@gmail.com.