A Newspaper Story – Part I

The ever shrinking tabloid, the Rocky Mountain News, is grasping–if you haven’t noticed or you don’t read/subscribe–for the elusive salve that will heal its bleed; an exhausting flow of profit margin for the Denver Newspaper Agency. Indeed, the News has become a picture book, where heartrending chaff is substituted for journalism; where half (or full) page images of wail and woe provide the message–no need to read the words. So few of us read anymore, anyway. News items are relegated to single columns (many from the Associated Press), on pages where advertising abounds…the impression, the reality communicated that the news items are tangential to the dollars generated by liquor stores and furniture outlets. Editorialists disguised as columnists provide the essential POV (point of view); the ooze of collective thought that permeates these decrepit institutions. News just doesn’t sell papers anymore.

One suspects the dedicated, articulate journalists who still hover at the News and the Post fervently plead for an opportunity to practice their trade; a trade seemingly lost in the effulgent ooze of shameless tabloidism.

Perhaps it is instructive to provide some personal history; a snapshot of what I understood all too well way back in 2001. But first, we have to look back to 1995. WARNING: Esoteric post..may be tiresome for those not particularly interested!

Since the ’50s, the City and County of Denver’s “official newspaper,” (where public notices were required by applicable law to be printed in a newspaper that: “…is and for a continuous period of at least six (6) months prior thereto, has been a daily newspaper of general circulation printed and published in the city and county and printed in the English language…” was the Daily Journal.

With the exception of a couple years, in 1989 or 1990–by utilizing the “low bid” method of governmental procurement–invariably, for more than forty years, the “low bid” was provided by the Daily Journal, a tabloid primarily dedicated to construction-related private and public notices (“notices” being announcements of solicitation for bids or other “official” announcements). The Daily Journal, on or about the year 1994, had a total subscription of about 8,000 (only about 3,000 within Denver), while The Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News had circulation numbers in the hundreds of thousands (Monday – Saturday).
But, even though the Daily Journal did not publish on weekends (when most folks take a look at the minutiae of newspapers, including “public notices”), the legal definition of a “daily newspaper of general circulation”–a definition supported by case law, which affirmed the Daily Journal as the same–the City and County of Denver had, for more than forty years–utilized the Daily Journal for “public notices” for bid solicitations and other public announcements related to everything from procurements of foodstuffs, vehicles and heavy equipment, pharmaceuticals and construction to announcements of public auctions. Again, the Daily Journal’s primary focus–and, consequently its most avid readership–was construction related. The absurdity of utilizing this tiny tabloid, was not lost on those public servants who understood the necessity to communicate solicitations for bids and other public announcements to the greatest possible pool of potential bidders (the market), and others affected by or interested in any particular “public” event. However, good public policy had been abrogated to the absurdity of out-dated Charter language that allowed for the most narrow dissemination of said public notices and announcements.

So, silly me, I decided to propose, in 1994, a Charter amendment that would, hopefully, resolve the absurdity noted above. Incidentally, the old Charter language actually precluded the Rocky Mountain News from being the city’s “official paper,” because, at that time (probably still is), the News was printed in Adams County. The old charter language required the “official paper,” to be “…printed and published in the city and county…” The meat of my Charter amendment provided several key elements. The first was that the minutia of the process be removed from the Charter and articulated via ordinance. Charter language, after-all, required a vote of the people. Ordinances, on the other hand, could be tweaked simply by a vote of City Council. So, concomitant with my Charter amendment, I prepared a new section to be inserted into the Revised Municipal Code that provided the wherewithal of process for official advertising. Secondly, within the ordinance, I separated construction-related publication needs from non-construction-related publication needs. Thus, allowing the continued participation of the Daily Journal which, of course, as I noted, was a relevant entity for the dissemination of construction-related notices. Thirdly, I required in the ordinance, that newspapers bidding on non-construction-related notices have an audited weekday (Monday to Saturday) total paid circulation of, at least, 250,000, thus assuring for the greatest potential market to view those notices. removed the “printed” requirement and also inserted the language that “…Bids shall be evaluated on the basis of the lowest net cost per line published per insertion...” Make sense? I thought it did. An evaluation I did at the time provided daily circulation stats related to cost per line per reader (a good case supporting the Charter language change).

The dollars and cents case for my Charter amendment:

Daily Journal (Daily Denver Circulation) 2,884; (Daily Total Circulation) 8,322 ; (Cost Per Line) $1.13 ; (Cost Per Reader) $.000392

News (Daily Denver Circulation) 93,968; (Daily Total Circulation) 350,203; (Cost Per Line) $1.80; (Cost Per Reader) $ .000019

Post (Daily Denver Circulation) 71,677; (Daily Total Circulation) 284,119; (Cost Per Line) $1.90; (Cost Per Reader) $ .000027

Suffice it to say, my Charter amendment that related to “official and non-official advertising,” appeared on the ballot in 1995, and passed handily. Okay, problem solved for the time being. I’d opened up the opportunity for the News to be a player in the bid process to identify Denver’s “official paper;” I provided for a significant cost-savings in specifying how bids would be evaluated; and, I assured that the greatest number of people would have the opportunity to see Denver’s official notices and announcements.

Credit is certainly due to two city attorneys who breathed down my neck–a comfortable presence upon which I relied–through the entire process.

Okay, it worked for a while. But, along came something called a Joint Operating Agreement (JOA), that would see the establishment of the Denver Newspaper Agency. And, with the Denver Newspaper Agency came a singularly haughty disregard for the best interests of the City and County of Denver–the people, the taxpayer, you and me.

If my masochistic streak continues (it ain’t fun writing this dull shit), Part II will examine my reaction to the Denver Newspaper Agency’s assumption that they had become the only game in town and, thereby, could screw you and me and everybody else with inflated costs and even more greatly inflated egos.

P.S. If you’ve read this far, I assume you’re interested. The passage of time does, indeed, dull the memory. My first foray in Charter revision with regard to “official advertising,” came, I believe, during the first few years of the Webb administration, beginning in 1991. It was then I proposed a Charter amendment that, simply, removed the words “…printed and…” from the Charter language that provided the legal description of “…a daily newspaper of general circulation printed and published in the city and county…” It was that Charter change that allowed the Rocky Mountain News to compete with the Daily Journal (as you will remember, the News was/is printed in Adams County). So, with that said, some of what I’ve noted above, requires some moderation which, sorely tired of this subject already, I’ll leave to your discretion.

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3 Responses to A Newspaper Story – Part I

  1. doog says:

    LOL! George, you’re a brave man to stick your hand into the gears of the political machine. Lucky you got all your fingers back!!

    As you found, though, no good dead goes unpunished (or unread – I read the whole thing – kudos!).

    Semi-breathlessly awaiting Pt II, hoping for a car chase or killer cyborg.

  2. georgeindenver says:

    Hey, Doog.
    Actually, the spectre of “killer cyborg,” was realized in this portentous saga. In the first few years of the Webb administration, beginning in 1991, when I proposed the first modification to the Charter that would effectively provide an opportunity for a competitive process that would challenge the monopoly the Daily Journal had had for fifty years, the DJ hired (killer cyborg, indeed!) Maria Garcia-Berry, lobbyist extraordinaire, to kill the uppity machinations of the insufferable bureaucrat (me) who was goofey enough to believe things could be changed.
    P.S. I have Excedrin, if you need it. (Can’t believe you waded through this entire mess!)

  3. Pingback: A Newspaper Story - Part II - The Insufferable Bureaucrat vs. The Denver Newspaper Agency « George In Denver

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