Thursday, December 10, 2009

Column about snow causes a storm

A controversy has erupted in Colorado over a free daily's firing of a reporter who criticized Vail Resorts for exaggerating snowfall reports.

The reasons behind the firing of Bob Berwyn are in dispute.

A Denver Post columnist says Berwyn was fired by the Summit Daily News for his Nov. 19 column, which chided Vail Resorts for saying it got so much snow that it had to shut its headquarters down. The company's headquarters are in the Denver suburb of Broomfield — 70 miles from the slopes on Colorado's front range. While it was snowing in Broomfield, it was sunny on the ski slopes.

Berwyn pointed this fact out at the end of the column.

"I sometimes wonder whether the ski industry wouldn't benefit more from being completely transparent about weather and snowfall with its customers," Berwyn wrote.

The Summit Daily News, based in the ski town of Breckenridge (above), gets a lot of its advertising from Vail Resorts, the owner of ski-lifts and real estate offices in that town as well as Vail.

Berwyn told the Denver Post that Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz called to cancel his ads — and two weeks later Berwyn was out of a job.

The publisher of Summit Daily News, Jim Morgan, denies that pressure from Vail Resorts led to Berwyn's firing.

Morgan wrote: "[O]ur decision to terminate his employment [was] based on a series of events, documented in reviews over a significant period of time."

Adding another dimension to the controversy, Katz, the head of Vail resorts, issued a news release complaining Berwyn never attempted to reach the company for its side of the story. Also, Katz asks why would he be hyping the snow in October, when his resorts aren't even open?

Katz says he only put his ads on a "temporary" hold after he suspected Berwyn was repeating what Katz said was a private conversation they had after the column. Katz said he never threatened to permanently pull his ads.


All of this left my head spinning. Maybe it's a case of a big advertiser pushing around a newspaper over critical coverage, or perhaps it is a bad reporter making up a story as to why he got fired. I don't know.

And if Berwyn is going to go after the ski industry for exaggerating snow accumulations, why didn't he do it as a big blockbuster front-page story instead of a sentence or two buried at the end of a long column?

One other thing I don't know, and this has nothing to do with journalism, but why does a ski resort operator have its headquarters 70 miles from the slopes?