Herzog relished Sentinel’s ability to cover big, challenging events
For more than three decades, readers of The Daily Sentinel have seen the work of Dennis M. Herzog, as a reporter, editor and top executive.
Herzog began his career at The Sentinel as a business writer just as Cox Enterprises bought the paper in 1979.
With Herzog’s departure today, the last newsroom executive of the Cox era leaves the paper.
In the past 30 years, The Sentinel has occupied a rare, if not unique, place in American journalism, one that continues today to contribute to its place in western Colorado.
Grand Junction, sitting 250 miles from the metropolitan areas of Denver and Salt Lake City, was for much of his tenure separated by more than miles. It wasn’t until Oct. 14, 1992, for instance, that the last portion of Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon was completed, giving the city a four-lane route to Colorado’s capital city.
As a result of that isolation, “We always tended to think like a metro (paper) while also realizing that we had to think like a community paper, too,” Herzog said.
It was on both counts that Herzog was challenged in 1982, when he was city editor for the paper and the Grand Valley economy collapsed under the departure of Exxon from its Colony Oil Shale Project just up the still-to-be-completed Interstate 70 at Parachute.
May 2, 1982, became known as “Black Sunday,” and it was one of his first big stories — perhaps the biggest.
“We’re still writing stories about it,” he said.
As managing editor, a job he held for more than 20 years, Herzog guided the newsroom reaction on Jan. 28, 1986, when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded.
In those days, The Sentinel was an afternoon paper, meaning that much of the paper was put together in the mornings for a noon deadline and delivery that day to readers.
In fact, that day, Page 1 was set and ready for the press by 9:30 a.m., meaning that there was little to do.
Then Challenger exploded on liftoff.
Reporters were hurriedly assigned to gather local news stories related to the tragedy. Page 1 was remade with the news of the explosion and local stories about it, “and we still closed on time,” the day of the event, Herzog said.
Similarly, the July 5, 1994, Storm King Mountain blaze horrified western Colorado and the nation and demanded the full attention of the paper, which explained what happened when 14 firefighters died in a wind-driven wildfire.
Seven years later, on Sept. 11, 2001, The Daily Sentinel staff jumped again into high gear reacting to the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C.
By then, The Sentinel was a morning paper, but The Sentinel turned out an afternoon edition mere hours later.
“It’s all about the journalism,” Herzog said. Those days, horrific and demanding as they were, called for the best.
“There is incredible pressure to produce something good very, very quickly,” he said.
In his search for ways to cover news while giving readers something more, Herzog remembered sending a features writer, Rachel Sauer, to cover the shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton in memorable fashion.
During his tenure in the newsroom, the paper also made a mark with in-depth reporting about Colorado’s workers’ compensation system, he said.
“We owned the worker’s compensation story in Colorado,” he said.
None of those things could have been accomplished without a solid staff, he said.
“It’s the people at The Sentinel that, when all is said and done, are what really matters to me,” he said.
Herzog was appointed executive editor on Jan. 1, 2009, and during the sale process acted as interim publisher. Since The Sentinel became a Seaton paper, he has worked with Jay Seaton, introducing him to the community and vice versa.
The new ownership is committed to maintaining the level of journalism that has marked the paper for the three decades in which he has worked at The Sentinel, Herzog said.
“In a very short amount of time, I’ve come to respect the Seatons,” he said. “It’s a good newspaper family and a good newspaper company.
“This paper is in great hands.”