Big changes mean a smaller Rocky

City-side columnists see a major shift in location

Jan. 27, 2007

by David Kopel

The last several weeks have brought a seemingly relentless shrinkage of some of my favorite newspapers: first The Wall Street Journaland then, on Tuesday, the weekdayRocky Mountain News.Thank goodness that Gun Weekand the Intermountain Jewish Newsare as big as ever.

Kudos to the Rockyfor managing the latest shrinkage without reducing the size of the state and local news hole in the weekday editions. But it's sad to see the SaturdayRockydwindle into something smaller than the behemoth that debuted after the joint operating agreement went into effect.

One big change at the Rockyis that all the high-profile city-side columnists, as well as Ed Stein's Denver Squarecomic strip, were moved to a page following the editorial section. For cartoonist Stein and columnist Mike Littwin, the move makes sense, since Stein and Littwin provide mainly political opinion. It's too bad for Tina Griego, though, because her column often presents great city-side news reporting, especially about the lives of legal and illegal immigrants.

Rockycolumnist Bill Johnson, though, should just consider himself lucky that most Americans have such relaxed attitudes about libel. After the federal raid on the Swift meatpacking facility, Johnson quoted the Swift CEO, who said that Swift had never knowingly hired an illegal alien. Johnson retorted, "He knew" - which is to say that Johnson declared the Swift CEO guilty of a serious federal crime. Johnson lamented that there had been no government vans to "haul away company executives for hiring illegal workers."

With no evidence beyond conjecture, Johnson was dead wrong. The evidence is clear that Swift not only obeyed all laws about requiring paper identification from workers, but voluntarily took the extra step of verifying all worker Social Security numbers with the federal Basic Pilot database.

Moreover, as reported by The Wall Street Journalon Dec. 20 (but little noticed by Denver media), Swift was so zealous in demanding additional documentation from Hispanic applicants that in 2002 it was fined $200,000 by the federal government for doing so. Johnson should apologize for his outrageous claim that Swift executives knowingly and criminally broke the immigration laws.

The Post did a better job than the Rockyin reporting that the E.W. Scripps Co., which owns the Rocky, might consider selling off its newspapers, because they dilute the profitability of the corporation's cable TV networks (Jan. 11).

Unlike the Rocky, the Post reported that MediaNews (owned by Postpublisher Dean Singleton) has the right of first refusal for the Rocky Mountain News,pursuant to the JOA.

The Postquoted an industry expert who said that regulatory approval of a purchase by Singleton would be unlikely. I'm not so sure, given that the Department of Justice has already approved the JOA, including the clause with Singleton's right to purchase. Both Denver dailies might someday be under the control of the same man.

The Post also did a good job in localizing a national story (Jan. 11) by reporting that Focus on the Family was leading opposition to a proposed law that would regulate grass-roots lobbying. The proposal, which was later defeated in the Senate, would have applied to many groups and people (including bloggers) who communicated with more than 500 members of the public urging citizens to contact their elected officials. (See for the opponents' view of scope of the restrictions.)

The Poststory, however, should have gone beyond its explanation that "Conservative Christian groups" opposed the measure.

Opponents also included the American Civil Liberties Union, the left-wing Alliance for Justice, gun rights groups, taxpayer groups, many bloggers, and (as noted by The Hill,a newspaper that covers Congress) "grass-roots groups on both sides of the political spectrum."

Did the Colorado legislature's 2006 crackdown on illegal immigration have an impact? Perhaps quite a significant one, although the details are buried deep in other stories.

For example, 16 paragraphs into a story about Denver's Highlands neighborhood, in last Sunday's Post,it is reported that many people from the neighborhood have returned to Mexico, due to fear of increased enforcement of immigration laws. The Postdid a pair of major articles about home foreclosures and falling prices in Greeley (Dec. 24) and Montbello (Nov. 26); near the very end of the articles came opinions from local residents that the immigration crackdown had pressured illegal aliens to move elsewhere.

The newspapers should assign investigative teams to find out if Colorado really is experiencing a net emigration of illegal aliens, and if so, what the good and bad consequences are.  

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