Fear and Loathing at 'The Denver Post': Leading Outdoors Columnist Dropped for No Good Reason

Recently, two editors at The Denver Post -- newsroom and sports -- decided to ditch the paper's long-running and wildly popular "Outdoors" column... and by extension, to disappear an award-winning Post writer of some 20 years, Scott Willoughby. As a coup de grace, these two all-knowing city boys declined to publish Willoughby's candidly personal yet wholly innocuous swan-song column. Suddenly, countless thousands of fans of Willoughby's exceptional work, which we had come to rely on not only for useful information but for thoughtful analysis of complex wildlife-related issues, are left to shake our heads with incredulity, asking ... Why?

By way of background, Scott Willoughby's column ran twice weekly, with a regular "Outdoors" page every Wednesday comprising a feature story, a column, photos and notes (briefs on upcoming outdoor events, awards, calendar items, fishing reports, etc.). Sunday outdoor coverage was generally a single column or a feature story, occasionally both.

Following nearly a decade of contracted freelance writing for the Post, in 2004 Willoughby was brought on as a full-time staff writer, launching an adventure sports section called "Outdoor Extremes," complementing the legendary Charlie Meyers' traditional hunting and fishing coverage by focusing on "non-consumptive" outdoor sports like skiing, mountaineering, whitewater rafting/kayaking, mountain biking, hiking, endurance racing and more.

When Charlie Meyers died in 2010, Willoughby stepped into the sizeable journalistic shoes of his mentor, expanding Meyers' hunting and fishing coverage with occasional skiing stories, whitewater excursions (often focusing on remote canyon runs or imperiled rivers like the Yampa or Dolores), climbing and mountaineering, along with profiles of remarkable individuals like blind Mt. Everest climber Erik Weihenmayer of Golden.

But the foundation of Willoughby's "Outdoors" coverage was hunting and fishing, with emphasis on wildlife issues, public lands management and water as they relate to outdoor recreation. In the conservation arena, Willoughby was the only journalist who paid regular and close attention to the affairs of Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) and the politically appointed commission that pulls CPW's strings, often in unwise directions.

In short, Scott Willoughby is no mill-run, hook-and-bullet writer. In appreciation of his exceptional contributions to outdoor journalism, at its 2014 national convention -- held in Denver -- Backcountry Hunters and Anglers (BHA) presented Willoughby with its coveted Ted Trueblood Award for journalism that helps to advance the conservation of healthy fish and wildlife habitat while promoting the highest ethics afield and responsible science-based wildlife management. The award nomination, submitted by Colorado BHA chairman David Lien, notes:

Scott Willoughby has brought professionalism and fairness to millions of readers who care about the outdoors and hunting and fishing. In an era of tight budgets and shrinking newsrooms, Scott continues to work in overdrive to keep citizens informed about natural resource issues.

In fact, Scott Willoughby was the only writer at the Post who contributed reporting, editorials, columns and photography, plus, in recent years, a growing amount of social media and videography. Apparently, that exceptional level of dedication and skill wasn't enough for his urban-centric editorial taskmasters.

In response to protest letters from readers, the editors lamely defend that they will continue periodic coverage of various outdoor recreational activities scattered among other staff writers. But dedicated hunting and fishing coverage, the heart of the matter, is dead. (Side note: Neither editor responded to my invitation for them to explain and defend their actions in this column -- but in honesty my "invitation" was, well, not very politely worded.)

If you, like thousands upon thousands of hunters, anglers and conservationists not only in Colorado but Westwide, are perplexed as to why one of the largest papers in the Rocky Mountain West, published in a premiere hunting and fishing state, would opt to discontinue its first-rate "Outdoors" pages, please let them know how you feel: Their names are Greg Moore (gmoore@denverpost.com) and Scott Monserud (smonserud@denverpost.com).

But don't stop there. To assure the word gets out, share your feelings with the world in a letter to the editor at openforum@denverpost.com. Be aware that in order to be published, letters must be limited to 150 words and include your name, city and phone number (your contact info will not be published). Letters can also be snailed to 101 W. Colfax Ave., Suite 800, Denver, CO 80202. Phone contact is available at 303-954-1331.

And if you happen to own or manage an outdoor-related business that has benefitted from Scott Willoughby's outdoor coverage over the years and you have advertised in the Post, please let them know that since they are no longer supporting you or the general outdoor public, you will no longer support the Post with your advertising. Sometimes, a good hard whack with a hickory stick is the only thing knuckleheads understand.

Situations like this make clear why newspapers are struggling today... they have lost the honorable journalistic tradition of public service.