An interview with Westword’s Michael Roberts

I’ve been interviewing journalists via email who’ve disappeared from the local media scene…-or who are doing very different things than they were a few years ago.

Westword’s Michael Roberts hasn’t disappeared or switched employers, but I thought it would be interesting to interview him anyway, about his own situation these days, since he’s chronicled the upheaval in local journalism, more than any writer in town by a long shot. He used to be the alt weekly’s media columnist, and now he’s in charge of Westword’s Latest Word blog.   (He doesn’t write all the posts, but coordinates the blog)

He’s still Denver’s number-one media critic, writing frequently about journalism, but he’s now writing on many more topics, even more so in last year or so, since the Rocky closed and the drama surrounding its closure subsided.

I asked Roberts via email if I could email him five questions, like the news feature they tried and quickly abandoned at the Rocky toward the end.

“Could you call instead of e-mailing questions?” he emailed me back “I write over 3,000 words per day on average; it’s nice for a change of pace just to have a conversation.” He makes the same request of his Westword colleagues in the office, he later told me. He asks them to use “human speech.”

I asked him what he’s doing:

Roberts: “My goal is 10 blogs per day of which a minimum of three are reported, meaning I’m actually making phone calls, getting quotes from people…. [The Latest Word publishes about 15 posts per day, sometimes more, with five posts written by other writers.] The idea is that it is a wide ranging mix of things. We do have other blogs here. We have a blog that focused on music and popular culture, and we have a food blog, and we also have an outdoors blog called On the Edge about participatory recreation. Everything else falls under the Latest Word blog, so I’m covering news of every description, sports, crime, lots of different topics. And so for me, media remains an interest of mine, and it’s part of the mix, but it’s certainly not a dominant part of the mix.

I asked if he was happy doing less media criticism.

Roberts: It’s a different world. There aren’t that many positions in journalism where you can just sit and focus on one thing. We are required to be multi-faceted in journalism these days and produce a lot more copy than we could have ever imagined before. Let’s say 10 years ago when I was focusing on being the media columnist as a full time job but also supplementing my media writing with other writing, including music, which I should say as an aside I don’t have time to do any music right now. I’ve been asked not to write about music and instead focus on news. Back then I probably wrote about 3,000 words a week. And that made me one of the, if not the, most prolific writers at Westword at the time. Today I am averaging over 3,000 words a day.

Does that make him one of the most prolific at Westword?

Roberts: There’s not a competition anymore, and there’s also not a prize. That right there gives you an indication of how much things have changed.

Do you find it less fun to be a media critic when news outlets are struggling so much, less fun to take shots at the media? Is it less interesting?

Roberts: I don’t think that’s the case. I think there are so many more aspects to it… all kinds of interesting questions about what constitutes journalism, what constitutes a journalist, what constitutes original work, what’s an investigation, how can we find time to do an investigations. So it’s not that media criticism is less interesting. It’s expanded and there are so many more angles to it than people would have thought a decade ago-.

I asked what had changed since he was assigned to the Latest Word blog.

Roberts: What’s changed is the volumes that they want us to put out and the focus on actual reporting. The vast majority of people who are doing online stuff are not doing their own reporting. And while it can be exhausting to turn out that level of material, philosophically I am 100 percent behind the idea that we need to actually generate original content instead of contributing one more echo to the echo chamber.

Is that supported by data?

Roberts: One of the theories is that more people will come to our blog and make it a regular stop if we give them something that they can’t get anywhere else. And there’s no question, at least here at Westword, our numbers have been growing very steadily. The overall page views for the paper as a whole have been in the range of three million a month. We exceeded that last month. Last month, which was our best news-page view performance ever- we almost hit a million just on our own. .. Of that million, the Latest Word portion of it was 800,000, something like that. The news section includes feature articles, and articles that also run in the paper and slide shows, and stuff like that. Those numbers are growing, and hopefully it means people are coming to it because they recognize they are getting original material instead of a re-hash of a re-hash.

One Response to “An interview with Westword’s Michael Roberts”

  1. Robbie Marshall Says:

    I miss Mike Roberts doing music. He was the best. Even as a blogger, he is very prolific and smart.

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