Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Free daily thrives in Denver suburb

In the discussion of free dailies, one successful paper hasn't received much attention. The Aurora Sentinel has been serving the Denver suburb of Aurora since 2004. The Sentinel is a tab with a page count that ranges from 24 to 28 Monday-Friday and 56-60 for its weekend edition, according to Managing Editor David Cole.

Cole has a newsroom with 10 people, and a couple more if you count interns.

Of Denver's suburbs, Aurora is the largest with more than 300,000 people.

"We're more like a metro area," Cole said.

For a century, Denver had two paid-circulation dailies, The Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News. On Feb. 27, the Rocky closed, leaving the Post as the big paper in Colorado.

"The demise of the Rocky has been a boost, but not a real noticeable one. Circulation is up a bit, but advertising is still pretty stagnant — like everyone else. We're independent, and we've been in the black the entire time, so we're hanging in there," Cole told us in an e-mail.

The Rocky's demise didn't leave Denver without newspaper competition. The city still has a feisty alt-weekly, Westword, and a free daily, The Denver Daily News, which is part of a group that includes the Vail (Colo.) Mountaineer and The Daily Post in Palo Alto, Calif.

The Denver Daily News stays in Denver, however, and the Aurora Sentinel stays in Aurora.

"I think what (Denver Daily News editor) Tad (Rickman) is doing is admirable, but we don't consider them as competition," Cole said.

The Denver Post circulates in all of that city's suburbs, but with budget cuts, its newsroom is smaller and less ambitious than in the past.

"The Denver Post largely ignores us, and we regularly scoop them on good stories," said Cole.

The Sentinel transitioned from a weekly to a daily, a shift that more community weekly papers might consider.

Cole explained that the Sentinel has been in existence, in one name or another, for more than 100 years as a weekly, mailed to home subscribers.

In 2004, Sentinel Publisher H. Harrison Cochran launched the Aurora Daily Sun, a free rack daily Monday-Friday. He continued to publish The Aurora Sentinel once a week, mailing it to subscribers.

Two years ago, he combined the Aurora Sentinel and Daily Sun under the Sentinel title. Now they're a five-day daily, with a weekend edition.

Colorado has 13 free dailies — more than any other state. In addition to the Aurora Sentinel and Denver Daily News, there are free dailies in Aspen (two of them!), Boulder, Colorado Springs, Frisco, Glenwood Springs, Granby, Steamboat Springs, Telluride and Vail (two).