An integral ingredient in Colorado lore and pride, the Denver Post entered unfamiliar peaceful territory in 2001, when the 108-year-old daily newspaper ended a bitter feud with the Rocky Mountain News and began working with its former crosstown rival and new business partner. A joint operating agreement effectively ended one of the longest, most ruthless newspaper wars in the country. In its early years, the battle between the Post and the News included name calling, sensationalism, editorial crusades, and promotional stunts. In the spirit of a Wild West duel, the fight even spilled out into the streets near the state capitol in 1907, when Post owner Frederick Bonfils attacked and beat News owner Thomas Patterson, who had called Bonfils a "blackmailer" in a cartoon.
The Denver Post was founded in August 1892 as a weekly. Three years later, Harry Tammen and Frederick Bonfils purchased the then-daily Evening Post for $12,500 and began an all-out war against its four rival dailies, turning Denver's journalism scene into what one historian called "a three-ring circus." (The Post, in fact, even owned a circus in the early 1900s.) With its use of red headlines and lurid stories, the Post was proud of its yellow journalism. The other newspapers soon died or were merged. In 1926 Scripps-Howard Newspapers bought the News and merged it with the Express, leaving only the morning News and afternoon Post. Each newspaper tried furiously to put the other out of business and in the process lost millions of dollars. The News, which had been founded in 1859 by William Byers, almost perished around the time of World War II. It then switched to a tabloid format. But for forty years the Post, declaring itself "The Voice of the Rocky Mountain Empire," held the dominant position in the market.
The Post was sold in 1980 to the Times Mirror Company for $95 million and became a morning newspaper the following year. But its circulation declined until William Dean Singleton's MediaNews Group bought it in 1987, also for $95 million. The circulation war heated up, and both newspapers remained neck and neck in their race to gain the most subscribers. Nevertheless, when the joint operating agreement was announced in May 2000, the E. W. Scripps Company admitted the Rocky Mountain News had lost $123 million in the past decade. The Post meanwhile reported profits of $192 million in the same period. Both papers had ridiculously low penny-a-day subscription rates to attract readers, and both claimed the largest circulation gains in the country in 2000. The Post reported a daily circulation of 420,033 and Sunday circulation of 586,485, while the News had a daily circulation of 426,465 and Sunday circulation of 529,681.
The joint operating agreement, which merged business operations such as advertising and circulation under the Denver Newspaper Agency, was approved by U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno in January 2001 in record time. Both companies agreed to split the profits fifty-fifty, but the E. W. Scripps Company and the News had to pay $60 million to MediaNews and the Post to enter the arrangement. The editorial departments of the two newspapers remained independent, keeping Denver one of the dwindling number of twonewspaper towns (in 2001, fewer than twenty remained in the United States). In 2001 the two newspapers continued to publish competing newspapers Monday through Friday, but the News oversaw publication of a single newspaper on Saturdays, and the Post oversaw a single Sunday edition. The staffs of both newspapers vowed to continue the journalistic rivalry that has provided more than a century of interesting and colorful reporting to the people of Colorado. In 2000 both newspapers won Pulitzer Prizes for their coverage of the shootings at Columbine High School, the Post for reporting and the News for photography.
Kris Kodrich Colorado State University
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Hosokawa, Bill. Thunder in the Rockies: The Incredible Denver Post. New York: William Morrow, 1976.
Kreck, Dick. "A 108-Year-Old Street Fight: Newspapers Share a Long, Colorful History." Denver Post, May 12, 2000: A16.