Eight reasons why a Denver Post reporter’s blog post, deleted by his editor, was newsworthy and should be re-posted on The Denver Post’s websiteThursday, April 17th, 2014
CORRECTION: This post describes the piece scrubbed by The Post as a “blog post.” It was actually an article planned for the print edition.
Here are eight reasons why Denver Post reporter Kurtis Lee’s blog post, quoting Rep. Mike Coffman about personhood and abortion-for-rape-and-incest, was newsworthy and should not have been deleted from The Post’s website.
1. It was news! The core of Denver Post Politics Editor Chuck Plunkett’s written explanation for scrubbing the piece is that it was basically old news. But Lee’s piece advanced our understanding of Coffman’s thinking both on the personhood amendment (he opposes it under any circumstances; see number four below.) and on abortion-for-rape-and-incest (he supports it beyond he previous narrow support of it in a specific piece of legislation; see number three.)
2. It was the first time Coffman made a public statement himself about un-endorsing the personhood amendment and withdrawing his longstanding opposition to abortion-for-rape-and-incest. These are major flips, and journalism is all about providing a record of actual statements by public officials, not their mouthpieces.
3. Lee’s deleted piece, for the first time, informed the public that Coffman has completely changed a long-held position and now broadly favors allowing a woman raped by her father to have an abortion. Last year, as Lee noted in his piece, Coffman supported a provision in a bill allowing abortion for rape and incest. But this anti-choice bill focused narrowly on banning abortions 20 weeks after fertilization, and no news outlets covered Coffman’s position. It was completely unknown, until Lee asked Coffman about it, if Coffman favors broad rape-and-incest exceptions to his overall extreme opposition to abortion. It turns out his flip was complete. So Lee’s headline for his post reflected actual news: “Mike Coffman adjusts abortion stance in cases of rape and incest.”
4. Lee’s deleted piece reported, for the first time, that Coffman is opposed to any version of the personhood amendment, even of it were narrowed. In his deleted piece. Lee reported that “Coffman said there is no language he would change in the ballot initiative that would make him support it.” This advances Lee’s March 25 story, which quoted Coffman’s spokesperson, Tyler Sandberg, as saying only that Coffman did not support the personhood amendment in 2012 or this year, and the matter is settled because voters rejected it (not that Coffman’s thinking had changed).
5. Coffman has been avoiding abortion issues for years, and so any elaboration on his near silence takes on added value and newsworthiness. During the last election, the only substantive statement Coffman made on abortion that I can find was this comment to The Post: “I am against all abortions, except when it is necessary to protect the life of the mother. Given the fact I’m running for federal office, I will not be endorsing nor opposing any state or local ballot questions.” Frustrated by the lack of media coverage in 2012, I asked him about abortion for rape and incest, and Coffman replied with his pat, “I’m not focused on social issues.” This is what he would also say in debates that year, and reporters didn’t insist that he elaborate.
6. Lee’s direct interview with Coffman, which Lee described as “brief,” might inspire other journalists, who manage to snag Coffman for a longer interview, to go deeper and find out more details about Coffman’s abortion stance, like what is it? Does he support Roe v. Wade? Why did Coffman flip on these deeply and long-held positions? Does he support the personhood concept but not the amendment? What was the evolution of Coffman’s thinking?
7. Lee’s article made The Post look good. I know other media figures in town have been trying to ask Coffman more about his personhood stance, since his spokesperson was interviewed by Lee on March 25, and Coffman has not made himself available. Lee showed enterprise by tracking down Coffman at the Republican assembly and asking him substantive questions about these serious issues. That kind of reporting earns The Post respect and subscriptions.
8. With dwindling staff and resources, the newsworthiness of an accurate and informative news story, once it’s been written, is greater than it used to be. In other words, the old newspaper adage that “the greatness of a newspaper can be judged by the stories that don’t see the light of day” is sadly part of a bygone era. The piece was not only written but already on the website! Why delete an accurate news story?
And finally, a reason why the story is even more newsworthy today than when Lee originally wrote it: Now that Plunkett has deleted the piece, a much larger number of people are curious about it. This adds to its news value. Not a ton, I know, but reader interest is a consideration of newsworthiness.
Obviously, Plunkett didn’t rob Kurtis Lee of a Pulitzer by deleting his blog post from The Post’s website. It wasn’t an earth-shattering piece, but it advanced, in its small way, an issue that’s important to a lot of real people as well as political elites.
Plunkett should re-post Lee’s piece immediately.