Archive for December, 2008

Our chance to create the liberal media

Sunday, December 28th, 2008

It’s tim for the liberal media to become a reality–rather than just a fictitious talking point for conservatives.

Newspapers are for sale across the country, from Florida to California, and they’re available at bargain rates. A rich liberal philanthropist should take this opportunity to buy a newspaper or two, and show conservatives that liberals can run a newspaper with a strong progressive voice on the opinion page and strict fairness and accuracy in news reporting. 

The properties to choose from include the Austin American-Statesman, Daytona Beach (FL) News-Journal, Denver’s Rocky Mountain News, and San Diego Union-Tribune, among others. Most of these newspapers are owned by public companies whose shareholders are howling because they’re watching their stock drop and hearing that newspapers can’t survive in the Internet age. 

And the fact is, newspaper circulation is dropping along with advertising revenue due to the double whammy of the recession and the migration of readers to the Internet, where newspaper articles are available for free. In particular, the loss of classified advertising to the Internet (see Craigslist) has been a huge problem for big daily newspapers, which once earned consistent double digit profits. 

These changes in the media landscape, coupled with the economic crisis, have led to the recent closure of brand name papers, such as the Albuquerque Tribune and the Cincinnati Post. But just because Wall Street is pushing public companies out of the newspaper business, and privately held media like the Tribune Company are facing bankruptcy or serious cash crunches, doesn’t mean the newspaper industry is doomed. 

Common sense says there will always be a need for mass-market advertising, and we humans seem to have an innate interest in the news, even if infotainment may be more effective at attracting the attention of so many of us than serious journalism. Interestingly, while paid circulation of newspapers is down, readership has actually increased dramatically, due to all the free visitors to newspaper websites. 

Long-time newspaper analyst John Morton believes big-city dailies will return to profitability when the economy improves, though he says the days of big-time profits will not likely be seen again. Also, newspapers are generating more revenue from online advertising, so newspaper websites will likely turn a profit some day. But we don’t know when. 

Adjustments to the familiar model of newspaper delivery may boost  profits as well, such as the experiment in Detroit, announced in mid-December, of delivering the newspaper three days per week…-and requiring subscribers to access the news online the rest of the week. 

So there’s plenty of hope for the business, which we rely on for the information we need to make decisions in the voting booth and to hold government accountable. 

But there’s a real need for philanthropists with deep pockets to cover losses at newspapers while they adjust to the changing information environment. Hence the need for those liberal donors. 

They can swoop down and show Fox News what the liberal media looks like. They can insist that their newspapers, unlike Fox, contain credible news reporting strictly adhering to the ethics of professional journalism. 

This includes not only basic fairness, but credible sourcing, fact checking, thorough research, and breadth in coverage and points of view. In so doing, rich liberals would be affirming the importance of newspapers…-and reliable information about local, national, and international issues…-in a democracy.  

Now is the time for philanthropists to step forward and create the liberal media, but do it within the confines of professional journalism.

link to this column here:

Why not comment?

Wednesday, December 10th, 2008

If the Rocky closes, media coverage of the state legislature and Colorado politics will take yet another hit–on top of the reduction we’ve already seen. 

Like it or not, online publications and blogs by political junkies will become even more important for airing political debate in public. 

So politicians, even if they are uncomfortable talking to bloggers, should make the exta effort to do so. 

So it was disappointing to hear Cara DeGette, a senior writer at the Colorado Independent, on online news outlet, say at a forum Tuesday that someone in the Republican Party had issued an “edict” that Republicans should not talk to the Colorado Independent. 

I asked Colorado Republican Party Chair Dick Wadhams if this was true. “Well, actually, it is,” he told me. “When I am asked about these liberal blogs that are financed by scumbags like George Soros, I encourage Republicans not talk to them. I do not believe they are legitimate journalistic entities. And I think it would be the same thing as talking to the Democratic Party newsletter. I mean, why would we do that? So I do not speak to them. I don’t read them. I encourage Republicans who ask me about it to do the same thing. I don’t spend a lot of time initiating conversations like that. No, I think they are scumbags and I don’t think we need to talk to them.”  He said he had a “fairly clear position,” and I agreed.

He said he’ll talk to free-market-oriented sites, like, and other bloggers. To Wadhams, size doesn’t matter when it comes to blogs, but their source of funding does. Plus he thinks FaceTheState practices better journalism than the Colorado Independent–a view I’ve shown to be wrong previously

DeGette explained to those at the forum, sponsored by Colorado Media Matters, that she doesn’t understand why some Republicans wouldn’t talk to her. She defended her reputation as a journalist who aims to be fair and accurate, and she pointed out that Republicans like former Gov. Bill Owens will speak with her. (Even Wadhams did in the past.) She pointed out that public discourse is degraded if politicians try to pick and choose which journalists to grant interviews to. And besides not talking to her makes Republicans look bad, she said. 

In a beautiful meeting of the minds, Face the State’s Editor Brad Jones agrees DeGette. “Most of the time, if [Democrats] are willing to talk to us, they come across looking much better and are portrayed in a more positive light than if they get a line that said they did not return phone calls,” Jones told me. His experience with getting calls returned from Democrats is “varied.” The Udall campaign, during the election, spoke with Face the State if a writer could catch someone on the phone when he or she called the Udall campaign office, but messages were seldom returned. Gov. Bill Ritter’s spokesman, Evan Dryer, returns calls, he says.

Overall, Jones is getting more of his calls returned over the last year than he used to.  “Would I be unhappy with an edict not to talk to me, absolutely,” he said. “Democrats are a big part of our stories.” 

Wadhams has a legitimate concern about the sources of funding from an online entity claiming to be a news outlet.  But as more local news is generated from nonprofit organizations and other strange sources–and less of it is coming from for-profit daily newspapers–it’s the reputation of the “news outlet” and the actual journalism produced that matters most–though funding sources should be disclosed. And almost any start-up blogger should be given a chance. Why not? 

But Wadhams seems to be adopting a bunker mentality toward left-leaning entities.   

He refused to join the Colorado Media Matters panel held on Tuesday, according to Bill Menezes, Editorial Director of Colorado Media Matters. The Panel included Republican former Senator Hank Brown and the conservative editorial editor of the Colorado Springs Gazette, Wayne Laugesen, in addition to DeGette and Bob Moore, Executive Editor of the Ft. Collins Coloradan and Udall Spokeswoman Tara Trujillo. 

Menezes described their outreach to Wadhams in an email to me today: After several phone calls and e-mails to which we received no response, our communications director Serena Woods finally got in touch with someone at state GOP headquarters who handles communications, who indicated they’d try to get us an answer. A day or so later she got an e-mail from Wadhams saying simply, “Not interested.” We then extended the invite to Hank Brown in order to have more conservative representation on the panel, in addition to Wayne Laugesen. The senator graciously accepted and squeezed us into a tight schedule (that’s why he left early, he had a noon appointment to make). 

I’m grateful Wadhams takes my calls, but everyone would benefit if he’d be more open, just like all politicians and their spokespeople should be–as mainstream media coverage of local politics starts to vanish.    




What happened to Ewegen?

Monday, December 8th, 2008

Bob Ewegen worked at The Denver Post for 36 years, in various capacities, ending his career there as an editorial writer and columnist.

He left in mid November without a word, no note, no good-bye column, nothing, poof, gone.

I asked him via email what happened.

I don’t want to comment other than the fact that I already told my colleagues, which is that I will start working with my daughter Misty Ewegen as a paralegal in January.  I’ve already signed up for classes in legal research and legal writing at CCD.

There are some personal issues here but I have written publicly several times about my diabetes, which I was diagnosed with in 1973, just a few months after I joined The Post.  Retiring at this time will help me focus on my health.  I have also considered for years going to law school after I retired from The Post and if I can regain my full vitality, that may yet happen in 2011.

I had 36 great years at The Post but now I’m able to give my family and grandchildren the attention they deserve.  I’m not ruling out a return to journalism at some future point but at the moment my health and family considerations understandably are at center stage in my life.

Best Wishes
I hope he left The Post happily, but you have to wonder. He seems like the kind of guy who’d say goodbye in print, given the personal details he throws into his column.
Let’s hope he continues posting on Colorado Pols, at least. How many people know much more about Colorado politics than he does? Weird as he can be, you have to appreciate him and like him.

Why Scripps wants out

Friday, December 5th, 2008

Rocky Mountain News staffer April Washington posed a rhetorical question to Westword’s Michael Roberts that has implications that go far beyond the decision by E.W. Scripps Co. to sell the Rocky. She asked, “Why does Scripps always blink first.”

It’s a good question because both The Denver Post, owned by a private company called the Media News Group, and the Rocky, owned by a public company, are both losing about the same amount of money. That’s because their joint operating agreement stipulates that the two companies split the combined profit from the operations of the two newspapers. And it’s very likely that the two newspapers spend about the same amount on their newsrooms. Both papers subtract the amount they spend on their newsrooms from their JOA profits. Assuming their expenses are about the same, both Scripps and Media News are losing about the same amount.

Yet the Rocky is selling and The Post is not. And it was also the Rocky that blinked first and lost the newspaper war with The Post, prior to the establishment of their joint operating agreement.

As a public company, under pressure from shareholders, Scripps isn’t going to wait around long for any company that it owns to become profitible, especially of the future is uncertain or worse. It can do this, and should do this, but it probably won’t. This was explained very well by Ken Doctor, a Knight Ridder official who’s now a news analyist and blogger:

“If you look at the basic math, you can see the problem, and why such shutdowns may become more numerous. Scripps reported that it lost $15 million on the Rocky in 2008. The Rocky would then be one of those 19 top 50 market papers that Dean Singleton told us were unprofitable by mid-year. That number has undoubtedly grown as we reach the end of this seemingly endless year of pain. I have little doubt that now more than half of the top 50 are unprofitable, even with the jaw-dropping cutbacks we are seeing; ad revenue continues to plummet, and the first half of 2009 looks ominous.

It’s one thing for these companies to run operations that are close to, or just above the profit line. It’s another — their shareholders and re-financing lenders remind them — to run one that is requiring subsidy. We can call it investment, but to call it that, you’d have to peg a return to healthy profitability at some point certain — and no one can do that. So it’s a subsidy.  And that’s not what public, profit-seeking companies are designed to do. The Denver JOA — JOA, a concept overtaken by marketplace and technological change — was meant to share profits, not subsidies.”

So in this situation, with millions of dollars bleeding from the Rocky, Scripps is sitting there watching its stock fall big time and its shareholders howling. The pressure is great, with so much dreaded uncertainty in the future (and Wall Street hates uncertainty), and so Scripps moves to sell, even if it is in a better position to afford it than a private company.

The private owner of the Denver Post, Dean Singleton’s Media News, is under less pressure, assuming you can fathom how it feels to be losing more the $1 million per month. But Singleton can believe in his gut feeling that the newspaper industry is in a “major cyclical decline” and “revenue will come back” in “two to three years”. He knows, and he’s probably accurate in the short term, that he’ll lose less money if he can outlast the Rocky, and he can decide, based on this, to stick with the Denver Post, for as long as he can afford it. And he can wait with the confidence that Scripps will sell first–that Scripps, facing Wall Street pressure, will blink first, as April Washington put it.

That’s what happened. And it didn’t hurt that Singleton likes owning a newspaper in his home town so he can beat up on politicians, like Gov. Bill Ritter.

This Wall-Street-driven catastrophe is at play at newspapers across America. The public companies have less room to maneuver, even if their executives understand the public interest function of a newspaper. That’s irrelevant in the end.

So the question is what to do about the information gap that’s left behind, as newspapers and other news outlets cut staff or fold? There’s no single answer, but creative ways to increase public funding for journalism (one idea was articulated by KBDI’s Wick Rowland ironically enough in today’s Rocky) is part of the solution–as are nonprofit newsrooms and philanthropic and other for-profit ventures.

One thing’s for sure. We cant count on the public companies that own newspapers and other serious news outlets. The Rocky is the proof of that.


Musgrave thanked her staff!

Thursday, December 4th, 2008

John Andrews doesn’t often break news on his blog.

But he did today, reporting in his latest post that “longtime [Musgrave] staffer Guy Short assures me that employees for both the campaign and the congressional office have been not only generously thanked but also financially looked out for.”