Archive for the 'Denver Post' Category

Key Denver Post reporting on Quinnipieac poll cut from print version of story

Thursday, November 19th, 2015

I was sorry to see that key paragraphs of Denver Post reporter John Frank’s intelligent reporting on the latest Quinnipieac poll were cut from the version of the article that appeared in newspaper’s print edition. Here is the disappeared info:

Moreover, the survey results are likely to face scrutiny given the pollster’s mixed reputation in Colorado. A 2014 Quinnipiac poll put Gov. John Hickenlooper down 10 points to his Republican rival weeks before voting began even though others showed him with a narrow 2 percentage point edge. Hickenlooper won by 3 points.

The survey under-represented Democratic and unaffiliated voters, compared to state registration figures — which may help explain Clinton’s below-average performance in the poll.

To my way of thinking, those two paragraphs, which were in the online article, provided essential context on the poll’s absurd rusults, which showed, in part, Donald Trump thumping Hillary Clinton by an 11-point margin!

At least the print edition included this paragraph:

The poll — a year before the general election — represents a snapshot in time, rather than a reliable indicator of how Colorado will vote in November 2016.

Death of Health News Colorado shows vulnerabilities of nonprofit journalism

Wednesday, November 11th, 2015

After failing to find enough foundation money to save her nonprofit news organization, Health News Colorado, Diane Carman concluded that if she’d switched directions and begun practicing advocacy journalism, instead of continuing the independent reporting her project prided itself on, she could likely have raised enough money to keep going.

Instead, Health News Colorado folded last month, after  five years of taking shots from both the left and right. But it was praised by the Columbia Journalism Review and others for its detailed reporting, often covering major health-policy developments that were completely overlooked by other Colorado news outlets.

“You step on everybody’s toes when you are an objective journalism organization,” said Carman, who was editor and founder of Health News Colorado. “Everybody got burned a little bit at some point, because we took the role of watchdog seriously. So, when you do that, it makes it really easy for people to say, ‘I’m not so sure we have the money for that this year.’ I never got the impression we were being censored. There was never an impression of that. But I do feel that if we had been willing to cross over into the advocacy world, that we would still be alive.”

The beginning of the end for Health News Colorado came about a year and a half ago, when the Colorado Health Foundation, which covered 50 percent of Health News’ operating budget, told Carman to expect to be cut loose in September of 2015, according to Carman.

Initially, it looked like things might work out, because Kaiser Health News, a national organization that funds local reporting on health issues, appeared serious about absorbing Colorado Health News, if it could show community commitment by securing two years of local funding in advance of Kaiser taking over.

Carman jumped into fundraising.

“We got support in small amounts from a whole lot of new funders, but two of our biggest funders, the Piton Foundation and the Colorado Health Foundation, said they wouldn’t continue to support us. They both were moving in new directions and nonprofit journalism was not on their priority list anymore.”

So Carman started looking for corporate donations, and believe it or not, after a summer of knocking on doors, she’d secured close to two years’ worth of funding, she said.

But then a vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation, who’d at first supported the corporate approach, delivered the crushing news that his board of directors was not comfortable with corporate funding for Health News Colorado. Only nonprofit foundations and donations were good enough. (This, from a foundation named Kaiser?)

“After really pouring it on for four months this summer, I just couldn’t come up with the dough,” said Carman. “So we shut it down.”

“It was a disappointment, because after five years, we had a solid readership,” said Carman, best known for 18 years as an editor and columnist at The Denver Post. “We had one story in July that got over a half million hits. We were routinely getting 20,000 or 25,000 hits on stories. We’d finally crossed into that area that nonprofit journalism wants to be in, where you have a strong following and people know where you are. It was kind of pathetic that when we were beginning to get some real traction, we couldn’t get the money to continue.”

If you follow health care coverage in Colorado, you can’t help but wonder whether Health News Colorado’s reporting, including its stories highlighting problems with Colorado’s health exchange, might have pissed off the Colorado Health Foundation and moved it to dump the nonprofit news outfit from its portfolio.

Carman has nothing but good things to say about the Colorado Health Foundation’s multi-year support, and she believes they just moved in a different direction, as foundations are known to do. A few calls I made confirm this.

Laura Frank, President and General Manager of News for Rocky Mountain PBS, told me that a three-year Colorado Health Foundation grant her PBS nonprofit journalism project expired in July and was not renewed, due to the foundation’s changed priorities.

“Foundations have what I call FADD, Foundation Attention Deficit Disorder,” said Alan Gottlieb, founder of EdNews Colorado and Chalkbeat, two nonprofit news sites. “Foundations are constantly changing their strategic priorities. It’s a never-ending process.”

Gottlieb argues that nonprofit journalism entities, like Chalkbeat, should receive sustained funding and be seen as a “cultural benefit” like a museum. “But foundations don’t see it that way and move on,” says Gottlieb.

Locally, both the Piton Foundation and Daniels Fund have recently stopped funding journalism, he says.

“To sustain local journalism, we have to continually find new funders,” he says. “We need to have many funders instead of relying on just one.”

Frank, who’s on the board of the Institute for Nonprofit News, agrees. And she shares Carman’s view that advocacy journalism is easier to fund.

“In general, finding funding for fact-based, independent journalism is more difficult than for advocacy journalism,” says Frank. “But our [Institute for Nonprofit News] members don’t do advocacy journalism. They’re more likely to get funding from smaller donors, people who give $100 to $200 a year, and that takes time to grow. And it’s difficult for a small organization.”

Frank’s I-News is associated with Rocky Mountain PBS, so it’s easier for her “backfill” the loss of grants  with membership funding, she says.

But that’s not a luxury Health News Colorado had.

Carman, who’s looking for an organization to house Health News Colorado’s regularly-searched archives, has a few ideas on how her news site might have survived, had things been structured differently.

First, Colorado Health News was part of the University of Colorado Denver’s School of Public Affairs, which was a key player in helping launch the project. But there were problems with this situation.

“As an employee of the University, I couldn’t just go out and raise money anywhere I could find it within the foundation world,” said Carman. “You don’t want someone who’s raising money for Health News Colorado to get the only grant from some big foundation and be getting a $50,ooo grant for a year and that precludes the university from getting a $2 million grant for the medical school. So you have to go through the process to decide who’s going to get what money in which cycle. And we were such a small operation that we really couldn’t wait two years.”

Carman describes this as a “very reasonable and logical University policy,” but it didn’t help her sustain the news organization.

She said news sites can maintain their editorial independence, as hers did, and “survive and thrive” as part of universities, but some do training programs for journalism students or play other roles that give them an ongoing base of financial support from the university—which Colorado Health News never got from CU Denver, outside of some office space, administrative support, and liability insurance. But no operating funds.

The association with the School of Public Affairs limited fundraising in other ways. “For all the obvious and good reasons, the university has strict policies about how you bring in money for projects,” said Carman. “So we were never in a position to solicit sponsorships like public radio does.”  Even the development of a job board wouldn’t fly, she said.

Carman points out that journalism entities similar to Health News Colorado more often than not “live on the edge.” So it’s hard to say in hindsight what would have worked for sure.

It’s easier to see what will be lost.

Carman says, and it makes total sense given the state of Colorado journalism, that Health News Colorado reporter Katie Kerwin McCrimmon was the only reporter to cover virtually every meeting of Connect for Colorado, the Colorado healthcare exchange.

“She studied that stuff,” Carman said of McCrimmon, who’s now doing public relations work. “It’s complex. She spent lot of time on it. You can’t pick it up by dropping in on every couple of months.”

It’s safe to say, in the coming years with Colorado Health News gone and funds flowing to advocacy journalism, you’ll find a progressive journalist like me (or worse, a conservative one) at those obscure meetings–instead of a real journalist like Kerwin. If there’s any journalist there at all. And I can assure you, we won’t be better off.

Coffman opposes dual pathways to citizenship specified in the Dream Act

Wednesday, October 21st, 2015

UPDATE: Coffman spokesman Tyler Sandberg tweeted me that Coffman does support a pathway to citizenship through education — a position that can be learned by using the “Google button.”  I have even reported instances in which Coffman has uttered a sentence to this effect in media appearances (See for example here.), and I should have included this in my blog post. But this issue is an example of the problem reporters have in covering Coffman. Does a sentence buried in the middle of a TV interview actually represent Coffman’s position, when that policy can be contradicted by another vote on the record or lost in the conversation around military enlistment, which is the only bill Coffman’s put forward?

When Coffman took to the Denver Post opinion pages in 2013 to endorse “comprehensive immigration reform,” any number of his supposed policy commitments were left vague enough to give him room to escape supporting the bipartisan Senate bill that actually passed. And by the next year, he had reversed himself on whether “comprehensive” reform needed to be done all at once or in a step-by-step approach. Additionally, all of these back and forth statements on legislative procedure is omitting Coffman voting against President Obama’s deferred deportations for children before reversing and voting for them.

Still, I should have referenced Coffman’s media statements in support of a path to citizenship through education.


Back in 2013, as Rep. Mike Coffman was testifying in favor of allowing undocumented children to gain citizenship through military service, he said:

Coffman: “The first question that we ought to ask ourselves here today is whether or not we believe that the young people, who were brought to this country illegally as children by their relatives, who grew up here, and who went to school here, who probably know of no other county, ought to have a pathway to citizenship and I believe that the answer to that question is yes.”

Reporters covering Coffman need to be sure to note that Coffman’s path is single-track, through military service only. That’s in contrast to the Dream Act, which Coffman voted against in 2010. It would have offered young undocumented immigrants a double-track path to citizenship, through military service or education.

The difference is important, because the Dream Act has long been the focus of legislative efforts to help young undocumented immigrants, who know our country as home. The most common version offers a dual-track path, but, in any case, Coffman’s chosen path should be clearly stated.

So, The Denver Post’s Mark Matthews should have specified the type of path Coffman supports when Matthews wrote over the weekend:

Coffman added that he supports a pathway to citizenship for immigrant children but not adults, although he wanted to create some arrangement for parents, such as “guest worker status.”

Coffman supports a pathway to citizenship for young immigrants through military service. It’s a distinction that means a lot to the young immigrants involved and to those who’ve been pushing for immigration reform for so long now.

Post interview spotlights Brauchler falsehood that he was “one vote away” from getting death sentence in Aurora trial

Friday, October 2nd, 2015

Excellent reporting today by The Denver Post’s Jordan Steffen, who breaks the news that three jurors in the Aurora theater trial voted affirmatively for life in prison, according to one of the three jurors, who was previously thought to have been undecided.

Steffen’s interview is beautifully written, giving you a great sense of the juror’s struggles and a journalist’s experience talking to her, but what caught my eye, as someone who listened to prosecutor George Brauchler repeatedly say he was “one vote away” from getting the death penalty, were these three paragraphs:

“There were three,” [the juror] said. “Not one.”

…Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler has said he wouldn’t second-guess his decision to pursue the death penalty because of one juror’s position that led to the life sentence.

Last week, he said all of the deliberating jurors he’s spoken with have indicated that Juror 17′s account was accurate. He conceded that he hadn’t met with all of them.

More of an explanation from Brauchler would have been nice, because you have to wonder why a man of his intelligence and intensity would deliver rotten information about the jury count, without at least saying he wasn’t sure or acknowledging, as  juror 17 had clearly said after the trial, that juror 17 was against the death sentence and two jurors were undecided. That’s obviously three, not one, votes away from conviction.

Maybe Brauchler, who subsequently announced he wouldn’t challenge Sen. Michael Bennet, was just trying to make himself look good? But as a veteran prosecutor, he had to know that his misinformation could be hurting real people.

Steffen reported that the juror he interviewed ended “her silence because she could no longer bear to watch the weight of public scrutiny — what she described as a ‘witch hunt’ — fall solely on the shoulders of her fellow juror.”

Brauchler was partly responsible for the witch hunt, as today’s Post piece makes clear.



How long should a sitting duck present itself to journalists?

Saturday, September 19th, 2015

It’s after Labor Day, and the thin lineup of Republicans even thinking about challenging Sen. Michael Bennet would make you believe they’re scared of Michael Bennet and his war chest.

But Cory Gardner, on KNUS radio Wed., sees it this way: Republicans are actually scared of “taking fire.”

Gardner: I think getting into a race in July, you know, the year before was probably too early, or August. So, I think sometime between now and that March date — actually probably sometime between now and January is that sweet spot.

Look, any candidate knows when they announce, that there opening up to start taking incoming fire. And by waiting, getting the team in place, by getting the structure in place, they can really hit the ground running and avoid unnecessarily time being left as a sitting duck, so to speak, and taking fire.

A sitting duck? hmm.

Sounds like Gardner is talking about himself going into last year’s election. If ever there was a duck, glued down, stuck, and waiting, it was Gardner, with his far-right record across the board from global warming and immigration to abortion and even journalism. And beyond.

Gardner got in the race against Udall in March, your recall, of last year, very late by conventional standards. And there he was, a sitting duck, but also an oily one, whose feathers got ruffled at times but remained greasy enough to withstand the “fire.” And he spat back pretty well.

It makes you wonder, if Gardner had gotten in the race earlier, would he have won? If he were a sitting duck longer, would it have mattered?

One one hand, Udall’s trajectory was downward. But you also had the sense that Gardner’s reconstruction of himself from right-wing to moderate teetered toward the end, as reporters and others were frustrated but starting to cut through the grease and spit.

On balance, I think Gardner would have lost if he’d gotten in the race much earlier. And it appears he agrees.

Will Woods and Neville attaboy fellow anti-vaxxer Trump?

Friday, September 18th, 2015

The Denver Post made a good point today about Donald Trump’s idiocy on vaccines:

It may have gotten lost in the welter of headline-grabbing moments in Wednesday’s Republican debate, but Donald Trump managed to add to his list of idiotic claims.

It seems he suspects vaccines cause autism and at the very least ought to be spaced out over a longer time period. As it is, he claims, the syringe of vaccine is so big that it “looks just like it is meant for a horse, not for a child.”

The idea that vaccines cause autism has been thoroughly debunked, but why should Trump care when his rhetoric on everything is so sloppy?

The serious question for us here in Colorado is, will some of our important local politicians attaboy Trump?

You’ve got, for example, Sen. Tim Neville, who’s considering a U.S. Senate run, and Sen. Laura Woods, a top target of Democrats. Both have sponsored legislation affirming that parents can opt their children out of getting recommended vaccinations.

Are Woods and Neville worried that kids might get autism from vaccines? Maybe, for them and Donald Trump, the threat of autism outweighs the risk posed by the fact that Colorado ranks last in the U.S. for measles vaccinations among kindergartners?

Donald Trump’s media magnetism, along with his real popularity and out-there beliefs, continues to offer an opportunity for us to educate ourselves about what our local politicians think. Trump makes talking about vaccines and autism fun, especially because he’s not in power. Let’s air out his ideas here in Colorado.

This time, a writer’s personal touch made for a compelling column

Wednesday, September 16th, 2015

More often than not, I find myself cringing at opinion pieces that get too personal. Sometimes they seem forced or dishonest. Or self important.

But The Denver Post’s Jeremy Meyer offered some really compelling writing over the weekend, with his personal perspective on an Ohio bill that would prohibit doctors from performing abortions for woman who don’t want to have a child with Down Syndrome.

The proposed law, which is expected to pass this fall, is getting a lot of attention, because it’s in the presidential battleground state of Ohio, and Gov. John Kasich is one of the countless Republican presidential candidates.

Meyer’s commentary speaks for itself, and please read it in its entirety, but here are a few paragraphs:

Meyer: The issue creates a conundrum for people like me, a fierce supporter of reproductive rights for women. But I am also the father of a beautiful 11-year-old girl with Down syndrome. I fear that as prenatal testing becomes more effective and less invasive, people like my daughter could disappear from society…

Nevertheless, I don’t believe a law should forbid people from choosing to abort if they don’t think they can raise a child with a disability. No politician can know what is happening in that person’s life to lead them to the heart-wrenching consideration of abortion…

That said, I do fear that many decisions to end a pregnancy after a Down syndrome diagnosis are being made without good information in hand…

Meyer suggested that politicians should help make the world “outside the womb” better for people with disabilities. Lawmakers should “fund programs for families with children with disabilities, push schools to be inclusive, and support businesses that hire adults with disabilities and provide them better lives.”

But, he wrote, “Those, unfortunately, are not the kind of wedge issues that ever will become fiery topics in a presidential campaign.”

On radio, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Blaha expects attacks from “permanent political class”

Tuesday, September 15th, 2015

Appearing on a Colorado Springs radio station over the weekend, Robert Blaha, a Republican, said he expects the “permanent political class” to fire attacks and lies at him during his campaign for U.S. Senate, as it did when he ran for office previously.

Blaha (at 6 min 10 sec below): When I ran [for Congress] in 2012, Tron, it was a painful process because the lie machine gets ginned up, and then those things are exposed. And those things are cleaned up. That’s really the problem with the process itself. If it was just two candidates, man-and woman, man-and-man, whoever, one-on-one, one-on-three, duking it out, talking about the issues, it would be great. But we’ve allowed this political process to get to the place where the permanent political class has controlled the mantra, has controlled the messaging, and they have attack machines everywhere. But, hey, I’ve been through it. It’s not fun. But, you know, if you come out the other side kind of unscathed, it’s a good thing.

Tron Simpson, a guest host on KVOR radio’s Jeff Crank Show, didn’t ask Blaha, who will officially announce his candidacy when Sen. Michael Bennet votes for the Iran nuclear deal, what attacks he was referring to.

Asked to clarify, Blaha’s campaign pointed me to attacks leveled during Blaha’s primary loss to Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO Springs) in 2012.

One ad by Lamborn attacked Blaha’s bank, claiming, among other things, that it ranked “among the worst in the region.” In an analysis of the ad, The Denver Post reported that it “leans deceptive.

Other attacks during the vicious primary contest were hurled by Lamborn himself. “Everything [Blaha] says has to be taken with a grain of salt. Voters are often disappointed in people who talk big and don’t perform once in office,” Lamborn told The Denver Post at the time.

Blaha, who’s deflected his share of attacks as a conservative talk-radio hostsaid in response during the 2012 campaign, “Doug Lamborn will say anything to protect his government job, including slandering a local business.”

Bipartisan support for Colorado’s clean-air laws undermines accusation of Obama overreach

Tuesday, September 8th, 2015

It’s irritating when officials and pundits here in Colorado grandstand about President Obama’s climate change initiatives as being overreach, without pointing out that, as a matter of fact, state efforts to regulate global-warming emissions from power plants have won bipartisan support.

An article in The Denver Post last month reported that Attorney General Cynthia Coffman has decided to sue the federal government to stop Obama’s Clean Coal Plan, which aims to cut carbon dioxide emissions in Colorado by 28 percent from 2012 levels over the next 15 years.

The Post reported that “Coffman describes the measure as another EPA and Obama administration authority overreach.”

To its credit, The Post added this fact:

Colorado lawmakers under a Clean Air, Clean Jobs Act in 2010 required regulated utilities to develop plans for reducing air pollution. These plans launched utilities on efforts to replace coal plants with energy generated using renewable sources and natural gas.

Omitted, however, is the crucial information that Colorado’s Clean Air, Clean Jobs of 2010 received bipartisan support, getting the votes of numerous GOP lawmakers in the Colorado legislature, including muckety-muck Republicans like former state senators Josh Penry and Greg Brophy and former state representatives Frank McNulty, Ellen Roberts, and Amy Stephens.

Thanks to the 2010 law, and other state measures, some of which admittedly had less bipartisan support, Colorado already has a plan to reach 70 percent of the reductions mandated by Obama’s Clean Coal Plan, according to Western Resources Advocates.

Colorado has worked in a bipartisan way to address climate change, and the attorney general should be asked to explain why she’s politicizing and wasting time on a lawsuit that runs counter to  Colorado’s approach to this issue.


Exit interview: Joanne Davidson answers questions about journalism and her 29 years at The Denver Post

Wednesday, August 12th, 2015

Last month, Joanne Davidson took a buyout from The Denver Post and left the newspaper after a 29-year run, serving as society editor since 1985. Prior to The Post, she worked for U.S. News and World Report. Davidson’s coverage of social gatherings, fundraisers, and nonprofit events was a benefit to our community, beyond what many people understand. Her work will be missed.

Davidson kindly accepted my request to answer a few questions about journalism and her career at The Post.

Why are you leaving The Post? Would you have stayed on if not for the economic troubles facing the newspaper and the pressure this puts on reporters?

I left The Post, after 29 years and eight months, not because I wanted to but because I was afraid of what might happen if I did not accept the buyout that was made available to 20 employees. When the buyout was announced, it was made clear that even if 20 people were to accept, there was a chance that further belt-tightening would be necessary. Which I interpreted to mean getting laid off without the financial cushion that the buyout provided.

You were known for writing about fundraisers and “society” events. Do you know if The Post will continue covering this beat after your departure—and it seems no other media outlet in town covers this stuff? What’s lost for Denver if your beat is eliminated or scaled way back?

I don’t know what the plans are, although I would be very surprised if the coverage is discontinued. It may continue in a different format, such as pictures only, or it might continue with general assignment reporters or interns taking turns covering the events. I just don’t know.

It would be a huge loss if it was discontinued. Nonprofits count on the exposure to build awareness and attract new supporters. And people new to town can learn about the various worthy causes by reading about the organizations that I covered.

But society coverage is much more than shooting pictures of people all dressed up in their party clothes. (And by the way, I need to emphasize how much I dislike the term “society coverage.” It implies a focus on rich white people when in fact I worked very hard to be as inclusive as possible).

Many years ago I did a story that outlined the “trickle-down theory of society economics.” It pointed out the financial reach a fundraising event has: the graphic artists who design the invitations, printed programs and souvenir journals; the printers who print them; the venues who rent the space for the events; the purveyors who sell the meat, veggies, breads and whatnot to the chefs who prepare the meals; the waiters and bartenders who staff the event; the florists who provide the flowers; the valets who park the cars; the event planners hired to make sure everything runs smoothly; the boutiques, department stores and tuxedo rental shops where those attending the events buy or rent something to wear; the musicians and speakers who are booked to entertain or inform; hair stylists and manicurists who have an uptick in business the day of the benefit …

Diminished resources aside, what are your biggest concerns about how political journalism is practiced in Colorado today?

My biggest concern is that without a newspaper adequately staffed with inquisitive and knowledgeable reporters, too many things that need to be brought to the public’s attention will pass unnoticed. Reporters need to be watchdogs, unafraid to hold any decision-maker’s feet to the fire.

What do you admire most?

How well my colleagues are able to keep on keepin’ on despite the challenges with which they are saddled.

What’s the worst error you made as a Colorado journalist? Can you name a story or two you’re most proud of?

The worst error came about a week after I started at The Post.

I was covering a holiday party put on by the president/ceo of The Denver Dry Goods. I had just walked in the door when a guest approached and asked, “Have you met our host yet?” I said that I had not. So the guy says, “Well, his name is Joe Davis. He’s surrounded by people right now, but let me see if I can break him away for a minute so the two of you can chat.” Long story short, I had another event to get to that night, so I could only stay at that party for roughly a half-hour and wound up having to leave without having been introduced to the host. But, in the story I wrote, I described in great detail the party that Denver Dry Goods president Joe Davis had hosted. The ink was barely dry on the paper when a barrage of angry phone calls began. Joe Davis, they pointed out, was president/ceo of the Denver Dry’s arch rival, May D&F! Tom Roach was the boss at The Denver Dry Goods.

Needless to say, both the editor, publisher and vice president of advertising were not pleased. Joe Davis and Tom Roach, were able to laugh it off, thank goodness. But not before I hand-wrote letters of profuse apology that were delivered by courier, along with very expensive bottles of their favorite adult beverage.

As for stories of which I am most proud, I would have to say no one story in particular but the fact that I made it a priority to get to know and write about people from all of Denver’s ethnic and income communities. Years ago I read an obituary for New York Times society columnist Charlotte Curtis that recalled the answer she had given when someone asked what her definition of “society” was. To her, “society” was the entire human race.

That’s how I define it, too.

What would you say to a young person considering a career in journalism?

Go for it. It’ll be the best job you will ever have.

What will you miss most about your job at The Post?

The people, the long hours, the pressure … swear to God, I loved it all. But the landscape has changed and it’s time to move on.

Anything else you’d like to say?

Stay tuned. You haven’t seen the last of me yet!

[See more in this series of "Exit Interviews" with journalists here.]