An interview with Michael Booth about his recent departure from The Denver Post

Reporter Michael Booth left The Denver Post this month after a 24-year run at the newspaper, starting in 1989 as a maternity fill-in for reporter Ann Schrader. He did many things there, covering the Senate race in 2010, the 2008 Democratic Convention, Denver City Hall, films, and much more. Most recently, he was on the health-care beat. His departure is more bad news for Colorado journalism.

Booth wrote The Denver Post Guide to Family Films, and he’ll be signing his new book, written with Jennifer Brown and titled Eating Dangerously: Why the Government Can’t Keep Your Food Safe . . . and How You Canat the Tattered Cover East Colfax, 7:30 p.m. March 14.

Booth answered a few questions via e-mail today:

Why are you leaving journalism?

I’m shifting from one form of journalism to a form of advocacy journalism. I’ll be writing, editing and consulting for The Colorado Health Foundation, as we develop better methods to provide interesting and useful information to policymakers and decision-makers on some of the most important issues of the era. Health care, health coverage and healthier living are enormous fields, but also based on some fundamental needs and principles that all of us could do a better job explaining and reducing to a level we can grasp.

What are some of your favorite memories at The Post?

Covering the Amendment 2 gay rights debate all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court fulfilled my ideal of what journalists could and should do, from the time I was a middle-schooler reading the Minneapolis Tribune as I walked every afternoon from the school bus down to my parents’ lake in northern Minnesota.

The chance to discuss capital punishment and challenge the status quo with Gov. John Hickenlooper after his “temporary” reprieve for Nathan Dunlap was another highlight. What could be more useful than that, to be an engaged messenger for the people on a life or death issue — at least, that’s how it felt. But the Post gave me so much freedom and opportunity to tell all kinds of stories, I’ll share some of what I told colleagues when I left:

“My favorite romantic was Tim Linhart. Tim built himself an igloo at 11,000 feet, in the woods above Beaver Creek. Every morning at 10 below zero, he’d crawl out of the igloo, build a fire to melt snow, and resume building an orchestra of instruments made from ice. He shaped handfuls of slush into ridiculously elegant S-curves and sounding boards, rubbing and shaving and rebuilding until he’d made an 8-foot-tall standup bass, a cello and the rest of a string quartet. Then he hired players from the Colorado Symphony Orchestra to ride the ski lift and tramp through the snow to his clearing in the woods, and they played Mozart and Bach and Beethoven on his ice quartet while this big bear of a man closed his eyes and smiled and listened to the notes float up through the snow-covered spruce and on up into the bluebird Colorado sky. Then his instruments started to melt, and Tim still had his smile.

Tomorrow and the next day and the day after that, all the romantics in news journalism will get up and start building something, shaping all the right words, and then it will melt away and you’ll have to start all over again. The right people might hear the notes and then do something good with them. It’s a great job, and it’s a wonderful thing to do.”

What are your biggest concerns about Colorado journalism today?

That journalists find a way to get paid for the hard work they are doing every day, every hour. All the journalists I know are agnostic about the way their work gets seen, so old criticisms are irrelevant — we’re happy to write and talk for print, for web pages, for blogs, on Twitter, on Facebook, in professional and amateur video. We’ll Snapchat the news and happily disappear a few seconds later if that’s what you want, but you need to pay us something for it. The world needs professional fact-finders, who will always be imperfect but who will always try harder the next time.

So, to the public, I want people to be willing to pay something for that, and recognize that it doesn’t flow out of the ether of somebody’s vague and misinterpreted Facebook post; and to the leaders in journalism, I’d want them to put a value on what they do and make sure that everyone using the work is helping to pay for it. Journalists respect other peoples’ copyrights, and they should respect ours.

Would you discourage a young person from going into journalism?

Never — it’s a great thing to do, the rare combination of useful and fascinating. Come on in, find us some great stories, and while you’re at it, whiz kids, help us find some revenue.

Any other thoughts as you head out the door?

One of the rules in life is Always Bring Something to Read. For me, I hope that can be a folded-up newspaper for many decades to come. Also, you could do worse than to bring a book my colleague Jennifer Brown and I have coming out in mid-March, Why the Government Can’t Keep Your Food Safe . . . and How You Can, from Rowman & Littlefield. It’s an investigation of what’s wrong with our food safety system in America, and how consumers can arm themselves to eat safely; it tells the story of Colorado’s cantaloupe listeria deaths and all kids of other outrageous food safety violations across the nation.

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