The Denver Post building overlooking Civic Center Park in downtown Denver. Most of the Post staff has moved to the paper's printing plant in Adams County.

(Hart Van Denburg/CPR News)

Denver Post editorial page editor Chuck Plunkett led the charge in his own newspaper’s rebellion against its corporate owners Alden Global Capital on Sunday. His own editorial and a flurry of opinion pieces from current and former journalists and others denounced the owners in the face of repeated layoffs.

"If Alden isn’t willing to do good journalism here, it should sell The Post to owners who will," Plunkett wrote.

He tells Colorado Matters what led to the rebellion that made the front page of The New York Times, including the misperception that the Post is losing money, and where he thinks the battle will go from here.

Interview Highlights

On His Decision To Publish The Op-Eds:

"I'm in a position, because of the fact that I'm the editorial page editor, to say something that could matter. Shouldn't I use that position? It's not a situation that a human being finds themselves in very often. And it was hard to think of what to do. But if you read what the experts say, and you rely on your gut experience ... having watched the newsroom downsize in these strange ways, you realize that if you don’t speak up now, you’re going to lose your chance and you’re going to be writing your own obituary."

On The Effects The Op-Eds Have Had:

"It set off a nerve. Hopefully there's a willingness on the part of [Digital First Media] and Alden [Global Capital] to rethink. Maybe they are rethinking things a little bit. Maybe the fact that I'm still here is a signal that they got the message."

On How The Post Has Tried To Expand Beyond Print:

"We have adapted and we have innovated. And we have created exciting online presences and products. We just started a digital paywall trying to get folks accustomed to the idea of supporting the Denver Post through a digital subscription so we could wean ourselves off of print. I think that's the direction you want to go, not immediately diminishing your quality by a large degree as soon as you put the paywall up."

What His Sales Pitch Would Be To A Potential New Owner:

"A newspaper is a wonderful thing to own. It's a proud part of the American tradition. And it's a proud part of what makes our democracy work. ... The fun that you would get to have and the good that you could do is worth the investment."

Read The Transcript:

Ryan Warner: This is Colorado Matters from CPR News. I'm Ryan Warner. Over the weekend, 
the Denver Post staged a rebellion against its corporate owners. The paper published an 
editorial and a flurry of opinion pieces, denouncing its hedge fund owner, Alden Global 
Capital. This is in the face of repeated newsroom layoffs which critics say have gutted an 
important Colorado watchdog. So are there signs it's made any difference? We don't we ask 
editorial page editor Chuck Plunkett, who led the charge. Chuck, welcome to the show.

Chuck Plunkett: Hey, thanks for having me, Ryan.

RW: Where are you right now? What's around you?

CP: I'm in a small office that's a little quieter than it should be today. Yesterday was the last 
day of a long-time, for 20 years, opinion editor, letters editor, Cohen Peart. My editorial writer, 
Megan Schrader is on maternity leave, and so I am a one-man show right now.

RW: That is to say, the Denver Post offices, the newsroom feels a bit emptier these days. Or, a 
lot emptier.

CP: That's right.

RW: I'll say that the first round of these layoffs was yesterday and your editorial asked the 
Post's owner to, "rethink its business strategy across all its newspaper holdings. Consider this is 
also a signal to our community and civic leaders that they ought to demand better. Denver 
deserves a newspaper and an owner of that paper that supports its newsroom." Have you heard 
from Alden or Digital First Media, sort of in the middle there, since this was published?

CP: I have not heard directly from either of those entities. Digital First Media tends to be the 
interface for the Denver Post. We interact more with those folks. Certainly, there have been 
conversations between their executives and Lee Ann Colacioppo, our editor, but I have not been 
part of them.

RW: Do you hold out any hope that Alden will reverse course and perhaps start hiring again?

CP: Well, I don't have a lot of hope for that. I try to be optimistic by nature, and when I look at 
what Denver has to offer, I think it would be silly for them not to reinvest, to not see what 
they've got. It seems to me like they're on a schedule where they believe that they have a dying 
audience, when in fact Denver's growing by tens and tens of thousands of folks. We've had 
100,000 folks move here since Alden took control of our paper. It's a place that really ought to 
have a market. 

It's folks who are hyper-educated, who have money to spend. It's a town that is considering or is 
in the running to be the second headquarters for Amazon, and a town and state that's 
considering a winter Olympics bid. On and on. It's one of the hot "it" places. You look on any 
kind of, where's the most exciting place to live now in the United States, Denver consistently 
ranks near the top. These are folks who are educated, who are interested in their community, 
are interested in Colorado, and I can't imagine a robust, professional, sophisticated, smart, big 
news operation couldn't attract all kinds of subscriptions.

RW: And yet, we hear, Chuck, so often about newspapers losing revenue. Given that, wouldn't 
it make sense that newspaper owners are having to make cuts? Put that into some context for 
us.

CP: I don't disagree with that. This is a nuanced subject. Right now, print continues to be what 
makes the money, and if you look at the long-term projections for print, it's not a pretty one. 
So, you've got to be savvy. You've got to retool. But we have adapted and we have innovated, 
and we've created exciting online presences and products. We just started a digital paywall, 
trying to get folks accustomed to the idea of supporting the Denver Post through a digital 
subscription ...

RW: Indeed.

CP: ... so that we could wean ourselves off of that print. I think that's the direction you want to 
go, not immediately diminishing your quality by a large degree as soon as you put the paywall 
up.

RW: So, I guess I hear you saying that you don't think the cuts at the Denver Post are fully, 
totally a reflection of the realities of the newspaper business. I think one news industry analyst 
described what Alden may be doing with the Post as "harvesting cash." That is to say, you think 
they are taking more from the Post than they need to and that the cuts don't fully reflect the 
economic realities.

CP: That's correct. 

RW: Okay. 

CP: I look at other cities that have papers that are larger than ours, newsrooms that are larger 
than ours by significant amounts, and I just don't believe that we couldn't capture a lot more if 
we stayed in the game for the long term. It seems like what we've got here, the cynical strategy 
just to milk it, on its way out. 

RW: Chuck Plunkett, editor of the editorial pages at The Denver Post. I understand you didn't 
tell the corporate owners that you were going to be running your editorial or those several 
opinion pieces over the weekend. What was it like for you leading up to those pieces coming 
out? 

CP: It's been a real emotional experience, and you know, last Wednesday as I was gearing up to 
produce this package and hit the go button, I called William Dean Singleton, former owner of 
The Denver Post and the continuing chairman of The Denver Post board and a member of our 
editorial board to run it by him and he said, "You know, I support what you're doing, I think 
that's the right thing to do, but you need to be aware that you could lose your job over this."

So that just put me in kind of a brutal debate with myself. I'm in a position because of the fact 
that I'm the editorial page editor to say something that could matter. Shouldn't I use that 
position? It's not a situation that a human being finds himself in very often, and it was hard to 
think of what to do. But if you read what the experts say and you rely on your gut experience 
and your own experience of having watched the newsroom downsize in these strange ways, you 
realize that really if you don't speak up now, you're gonna lose your chance and you're gonna be 
writing your own obituary. And once you make those series of observations, you have really no 
choice but to do the right thing. 

RW: Are you surprised you have a job today? 

CP: Well, yeah. I am in some ways, but then again, because that was a pretty out there thing to 
do. But because of the reaction, the reaction has been so great and people are cheering for us, 
and it's opened a conversation in the United States of America. Not just at The Denver Post, not 
just in Colorado, but across communities coast to coast that have seen their papers decline in 
part because of chains like those controlled by Digital First Media and Alden Capital, and it's 
set off a nerve. And hopefully there's a willingness on the part of DFM and Alden to, maybe 
they're rethinking things a little bit and maybe the fact that I'm still here is a signal that they 
got the message. 

RW: You said in your editorial, "If Alden isn't willing to do good journalism here, it should 
sell The Post to owners who will." I'll say that we reached out to newspaper analyst Ken Doctor 
and he said in the newspaper world, there's never been a protest like the one you orchestrated 
over the weekend. There have been articles about your efforts in The New York Times, The 
Washington Post, you were on NPR's All Things Considered Monday. In any case, Doctor 
points to other cities where a different kind of buyer has come in and purchased the local paper, 
Minneapolis, Dallas, Charleston, South Carolina. There's The Salt Lake Tribune, which a local 
family, The Hunstmans, purchased from Digital First Media. Doctor says any new owner or a 
recommitted owner has to have money and patience. 

CP: It takes a combination of a long term perspective. It takes capital. It takes capacity, then, 
financial capacity. And it takes that vision of how you not only revive a story print franchise, 
but how you use the digital tools of the day to really deliver the news. 

RW: You reflected on the digital innovations at The Denver Post lately. Do you have someone 
in mind that you'd love The Post to be sold to? 

CP: I don't have a human being or set of human beings in mind, other than it would be great if 
they had a deep love for Colorado and a connection to Colorado, and preferably Denver as well. 
But trying to guess who that might be, I'm kind of holding my fire on that. 

RW: You know, that analyst, Ken Doctor, who's associated with the Nieman Journalism Lab, 
told us a few days ago that one issue is that The Post has major pension liabilities, which makes 
it potentially less attractive to a buyer. What would be your sales pitch, Chuck Plunkett, for 
someone who might, at the beginning, have to lay out a lot of cash. 

CP: Well, look at what you're gonna get. A newspaper is a wonderful thing to own. It's a proud 
part of the American tradition, and it's a proud part of what makes our democracy work.

And Colorado is a real can-do kind of place. Denver is a can-do kind of place. Part of it has to 
do with our geography, part of it has to do with our history of adventurers coming to seek their 
fortunes and what have you. And a lot of it has to do now, with just the real entrepreneurial 
spirit that we have here in Colorado. 

And we have so much potential, and wouldn't you want to be a part of that, from the 
perspective, or at the helm of the biggest newspaper in town, and the biggest newspaper in the 
region? The possibilities that you would get to have, the fun that you would get to have, and the 
good that you could do is worth the investment. 

RW: Thanks for being with us.

CP: Thank you for having me. 

RW: Chuck Plunkett, editorial page editor for The Denver Post. Over the weekend, The Post 
published a series of opinion pieces, and an editorial about its corporate owners, and a new 
round of layoffs that began yesterday. This is Colorado Matters from CPR News.