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Advice for the new guy

Couldn't help but notice that our sometimes-friendly competitor, the Gazette, has acquired yet another publisher. That makes at least five in the past decade.

Just as successful football teams tend to stick with the same coach for many years, successful companies stick with the same CEOs. Turnover at the top may mean that your company's in trouble -- stuck in a lousy market, or undercapitalized, or driven by shareholder feuds, or simply drifting sideways. Or it may have no particular significance -- maybe your CEOs were so good that other companies lured 'em away with monster pay packages.

Is the G in trouble? It shouldn't be -- it's a monopoly daily in a relatively isolated, fast-growing market. It should be extraordinarily profitable, able to spend the money to produce one of the best medium-market dailies in the country.

It ought to have a deep, experienced editorial staff, not to mention three or four thoughtful, inquisitive metro columnists, as well as comprehensive sports reporting. It ought to have a quick-witted, irreverent gossip/society columnist, as well as great coverage of entertainment, the arts, travel, outdoor adventure and recreation.

The Sunday paper ought to weigh several pounds, stuffed with all kinds of advertising inserts, special sections and one-time offers. The editorial page ought to feature page after page of letters, columns and guest submissions, including a genuine op-ed columnist.

That's the Gazette, all right -- back in the early 1980s when it was still called the Gazette-Telegraph. Serving a market of around 320,000, versus today's metro area population of over 500,000, the daily was bigger, better, deeper, faster and smarter -- kind of like Terry Bradshaw's Steelers.

Today, its reporting staff is smaller and less experienced, its coverage is visibly less thorough, and the rest of the paper has suffered proportionately. Sports coverage is spotty and uneven, especially when dealing with local events. There's no society/gossip columnist, and, of course, no metro columnist.

And what a bizarre move it was, when the G killed Rich Tosches' wildly popular column, driving him into the arms of their chief competitor (once again, welcome to the Independent, Rich!).

Today's Gazette resembles the paper of the '80s in three ways: it's extraordinarily conservative and it's stuffed with ads. And, at 93,000, its circulation is the same, dropped from a high of 120,000 in the mid-'90s -- despite the area's massive growth. Even given all of the variables -- labor, paper costs, capital replacement -- it should easily generate enough revenue to put out a far more complete newspaper.

So what's going on?

First, a decade and a half of bad management at the Gazette's parent company, Freedom Newspapers, meant that profits from the paper were used to fund other, mostly unprofitable, ventures. And there was plenty of bad management to go around -- remember former publisher Chris Anderson? And then there was the bitter feuding among Freedom shareholders, culminating in last years' partial buyout, which left the company and its assets (the Gazette included), in limbo.

So what we now have, believe it or not, is the newspaper as victim; bled white by its out-of-state owners, forced to cut staff, trim costs and shrink the paper to meet company profit goals. But are other sharks circling in the water? Are there other players who might take advantage of its present weakness? The Denver Post's William Dean Singleton, who, in partnership with Gannett, tried to buy the Gazette last year, would love to grab off an enfeebled newspaper -- he might even try to enfeeble it even more.

The Gazette's new publisher, Bob Burdick, has some challenges, then. I'm sure he'd like some friendly advice -- so here goes!

Do you have any competent, experienced reporters? If so, get rid of 'em! Nobody cares about local news, anyway.

Sports? Forget about all that high school drivel -- just grab what you need off the AP wire.

Gossip/Society? Frivolous filler that just takes away valuable ad space!

Editorial page? Take Sean Paige off the page -- he's too liberal! Make it revenue-positive and run Ed Bircham's ads as editorials!

Arts & Entertainment? Are you kidding??!! Fire those snooty "reviewers" and drop everything except paid movie ads.

Metro columnists? Puh-leeze!! They're all softhearted, mush-brained liberals who want to write about "the little people." Let 'em work for peanuts at that commie rag on South Nevada.

Ads? More, more, more -- how can there be too many?

So welcome to Colorado Springs -- and if you'd like more advice, give me a call!

I'm here to help.

-- johnhazlehurst@earthlink.net

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