Archive for the 'Durango Herald' Category

A predatory lender’s empty threats to abandon its growing business in Colorado

Monday, May 16th, 2016

If you followed the debate over a bill allowing a predatory lender to charge millions more in high interest rates, you know that the key question, at the end of the day, was: Will OneMain holdings leave Colorado if it can’t make even more money here?

In a Denver Post op-ed over the weekend, I addressed this question by comparing last year’s debate about predatory lending to this year’s.

This year, the bill’s sponsor, State Rep. Jovan Melton (D-Aurora), was quoted as saying that OneMain will pack up its money bags and leave Colorado unless it’s allowed to make more cash:

“I’m running this [legislation] for progressive reasons,” Melton told The Durango Herald last month. “If we don’t do something about this now, then we’re going to lose that last company, which means the only option we’ll have left is payday lenders.” [BigMedia emphasis]

Trouble is, Melton essentially said the same thing last year, when a similar bill was under consideration, and, lo and behold, OneMain didn’t go anywhere.

“This is one of those issues where you almost have to hold your nose and still vote for it, because if you don’t, the branches will close, and the only option you’ll have is payday lending,” Melton told The Herald last year. [BigMedia emphasis]

A year has elapsed, and OneMain is still in Colorado, and payday lending is not the only option. In fact, OneMain’s business has grown, even as some branches have closed, following a merger and an industry trend toward online (and more efficient) business.

So now that House Democrats have killed the predatory-lending bill, who expects Colorado to “lose that last company,” as promised by Melton? Last year’s threat is probably the best yardstick we have, meaning it probably won’t be going anywhere.

And if OneMaind doesn’t leave, and the company or its supporters trot out a sob story next year about needing to flee Colorado because profts are so intolerably low here, we’ll know what to tell them.

 

Flip-flop exposed. Thank you journalism.

Wednesday, April 13th, 2016

You hope that the weakening of journalism doesn’t translate into politicians thinking they can flip flop to their hearts content, without being asked to explain themselves in proverbial print. But you fear fewer reporters means more politicians getting off the hook.

So you’re gratified when reporters, in our diminished media environment, continue to hold politicians accountable, for example, when they vote the opposite way this year than they did last year.

The Durango Herald’s Peter Marcus noticed that J. Paul Bown (R-Ignacio) had voted last year for a program offering contraception to low-income women and teens, but this year he voted against it.

Last week, Marcus asked the question everyone wants journalists to ask, even if they don’t want to pay for it. Why?

Brown: “I still feel that it prevents abortions, but there’s a difference of opinion, and I just felt like I ought to stick with the caucus today with that amendment. There’s a lot of money needed in a lot of different places, it’s tough making those priorities. It’s a tough decision. We have to make some tough priority decisions up here.”

To his credit, Marcus reported that “supporters” of the program, which is credited with reducing teen abortions and pregnancies by over 35 percent, point out that “for every $1 invested in low-cost contraception, Colorado taxpayers save about $5.85 in Medicaid costs.”

Those are actually state government figures, from the Colorado Department of Health and Environment.

The next time he interviews Brown, Marcus might as him –or others who’ve opposed Colorado’s Family Planning Initiative on budget grounds–if they believe the state figures.

Despite Brown’s opposition, Colorado’s House and Senate passed a budget bill last week with $2.5 million for the Family Planning Initiative, marking the first year Colorado has funded the program, assuming the budget bill is signed by Gov. John Hickenlooper. The initiative was funded the past six years with private dollars.

 

Bill on tap to restrict fetal tissue research and give women burial option for fetus

Tuesday, January 12th, 2016

In a article at the end of last year, Durango Herald reporter Peter Marcus reported that Colorado Republicans plan to continue introducing anti-abortion legislation during the upcoming legislative session, some of it specifically targeting Planned Parenthood. Marcus reported:

This year, some Republicans are discussing measures to curb Planned Parenthood’s financial resources – though it does not receive direct state funding – while also forcing an investigation. Republicans also want to impose restrictions on fetal-tissue research programs and require abortion providers to counsel women on cremation and burial options.

This legislative effort to “require abotion providers to counsel women on cremation and burial options” got my attention, as it appears to be a new appraoch here–though it’s been tried nationally.

It turns out that Americans United for Life, a national anti-abortion group that provides state legislators with model legislation, has a bill posted on its website with details on what such counseling might look like and whay it would be proposed. Part of the reason for the bill, as you can read below at number 6, would be to stop fetal-tissue research.

..the purposes of this Act are to:

(1) Ensure that the mother of a deceased unborn infant is given the opportunity to bury or dispose of the bodily remains of her infant with
dignity and respect;
(2) Require institutions where deceased unborn infants are delivered or where unborn infants are aborted to provide a dignified final disposition of the
bodily remains of these infants;
(3) Require fetal death reports for all fetal deaths as defined in this Act;
(4) Ensure that parents of all stillborn infants are offered the opportunity to obtain a [Certificate of Birth Resulting in Stillbirth];
(5) Prohibit the sale, transfer, distribution, or other unlawful disposition of an
infant, an unborn infant, or bodily remains resulting from an abortion;
(6) Prohibit the use of bodily remains resulting from an abortion for experimentation; and
(7) Ensure that the bodily remains of an unborn infant resulting from an occurrence other than an abortion are not sold, transferred, or distributed for experimentation without the mother’s informed, written consent.

We don’t know whether Colorado’s bill, if one is introduced, will include all of this, but it appears state Republicans will continue their focus on fetal-tissue research in Colorado.

Newspapers jumped too quickly in supporting a proposal to reform redistricting process

Tuesday, December 8th, 2015

Editorial boards at The Denver Post and Durango Herald, which are known to be deliberative bodies when it comes to policy, jumped out of the gate way too soon in backing a new process for determining election districts, writing supportive editorials even before all the facts are on the table about the vague initiative–and key questions are completely unanswered.

You wonder how these newspapers could possibly have given an initial “thumbs up” to the proposal in light of its immediate red-flag language that would gut minority voting power. The language expressly prohibits the commission from augmenting minority voting – splitting their voting blocs at a time when Hispanic voters are growing.

This major problem in the language is compounded by the creation of a flawed pecking order of factors the commission can consider in drawing new lines. Dead last on the list is “communities of interest,” making them the least important. Communities of interest include minority communities, but also areas that share common bonds like mountain communities, college towns or agricultural towns.

Another of the most glaring omissions in the proposed initiative, which would appear on the November ballot, is the lack of public process so grassroots organizations and average voters could offer input on the creation of new electoral districts. It’s hard to understand why newspapers, which stand for transparency and public input into government decisions, would put their stamp of approval on cutting out the public.

Equally incongruous with a newspaper’s values is the way the proposal potentially removes “independent” commission members  from the decision-making process on new electoral districts. The proposed initiative assigns legislative researchers to produce maps, and if a supermajority of commission members fails to approve the maps drawn by legislative staff, then the commission would be leapfrogged and the first map (ignoring any improved subsequent maps) would go directly to the Colorado Supreme Court—potentially without approval from any of the commission members.

In other words, there’s no guarantee that the 12-member commission, equally split among Democrats, Republicans, and independents, would have any real power.

Neither newspaper addressed the minority-representation problem, the lack of community input, and the limited power of the commission itself—as well as other problems and questions, including one that you’d think would be near and dear to the heart of a newspaper: Who’s bankrolling this effort?

Yet, The Post inexplicably touted the initiative with the naïve comment of “goodbye gerrymandering.” Wow.

At least the Durango Herald had the good sense to acknowledge that much is unknown about the proposed initiative, concluding its editorial with, “Much will depend on the final language of the measure….” And even backers of the amendment are saying nothing has been finalized.

Media not responsible for Roberts’ campaign problems

Tuesday, July 7th, 2015

Those of you who’ve been following the strange public downfall of State Sen. Ellen Roberts will thoroughly enjoy her interview last week on KNUS 710-AM.

If you don’t know, Roberts quickly went from being a rarity in Colorado, a Great Republican Hope to defeat Democrat Sen. Michael Bennet, to being just another common Colorado Republican implosion, in the tradition of Ken Buck, Scott McInnis, Bob Beauprez, etc, etc.

Now Roberts is saying everyone made too big a deal of her contemplation of a U.S. Senate run, especially the Durango Herald’s Peter Marcus, who first broke the news that Roberts was “in the process of thinking” about challenging Bennet. Roberts told KNUS radio-host Krista Kafer last week:

Roberts: I had honestly answered a question to my local hometown reporter after the session ended. He said, “You know, your name keeps getting floated out there as a possible candidate for the Republicans in the U.S. Senate race.” And he said, “So, are you going to think about it?” I said, honestly, thinking of the average person’s definition of ‘thinking’ — not a Hillary Clinton ‘no-I’m-not-thinking-about-it-while-you’re-developing-your-whole-campaign-years-ahead — actually meant I was going to go home to Durango, unpack my boxes, reintegrate with my family and my community, and think about whether that was a choice that I would make. And from there it went gangbusters, because he put it in the newspaper and the Democratic machine went – and I would say, ‘the Democratic nasty machine’.

…And apparently, just by thinking about whether I might get into the U.S. Senate race was enough to send people to the moon and back. So, yeah, it was a – it hasn’t been a pleasant experience

He put it in the newspaper! Can you believe it? A leading Colorado Republican tells Peter Marcus she’s “thinking” of running U.S. Senate, and the stupid journalist actually tells us!

God knows what trick Marcus will play on Roberts next time he interviews her.

And there’s more there, as you can see. Roberts is trying to make us believe she wasn’t serious about a Senate run, and she’s implying Marcus’ lede paragraph, stating that Roberts was “seriously considering a run for U.S. Senate,” was somehow misleading.

But all you have to do is read Roberts’ own statements in Marcus’ article to see that she was definitely serious about running, as you’d hope would be the case if she’s telling one of the state’s few remaining political reporters about it.

She told Marcus she 1) was worried about surviving a primary, 2) pointed out that she’d have to file paperwork before making an official announcement, 3) lashed out at Bennet, indicating she’d thought about the campaign’s end-game, and 4) said nothing about not being serious, such as, “Hey, Peter, I’m telling you all this but I’m not serious about it.”

Then she went on to tell The Denver Post’s John Frank:

Roberts: “I’m not ready to announce yet, but I’m certainly exploring it pretty closely or I wouldn’t be talking about it.”

Then she seriously told KNUS radio’s Dan Caplis, “I’ve never called myself pro-choice as a politician.” Then ColoradoPols posted a video proving this to be false, and Roberts soon said she was no longer considering a U.S. Senate run.

Or, as she told KNUS last week, “I would say I have since stopped thinking. So, because I publicly said I’m not thinking about it anymore, all of a sudden it has magically disappeared from the Democrats.”

That’s almost as surprising as a reporter who actually takes notes when you say  you’re thinking about running for U.S. Senate.

At least Roberts is not progressive blogs for factual errors.

Roberts: Well, when I said on the radio show, as a politician, I don’t—I’ve never called myself pro-choice, I forgot that in 2011 in the heat of battle, I did said that because I was trying to drive home a point to the Democrats. Well, within twenty-four hours, the blogs had pieced together that time in 2011 and the radio show clip to say that I was wishy-washy, or flip-floppy, or whatever.  As far as I’m concerned, put me in category number three.

Whatever. That’s the category Roberts now wants to be in. That’s fine, but hopefully she won’t claim that her new”whatever” category is the radio’s or media’s fault. The media were not responsible for any of the catastrophes we witnessed during Roberts short, but serious, contemplation of a U.S. Senate run.

 

Watchdog reporting needed on Gardner

Friday, December 5th, 2014

Yesterday, Rep. Cory Gardner voted to halt Obama’s program to defer deportation of millions of immigrants who have children in our country.

Gardner voted in Aug. (during the election campaign) against halting Obama’s  program to defer deportations of young immigrants.

The two votes weren’t exactly identical, but they’re close enough to  make you wonder how Gardner reconciles the two. Yet, I can’t find a single reporter who asked him directly about the inconsistency.

Instead,  the Associated Press, Durango Herald, Fox 31 Denver, the Grand Junction Sentinel,  and The Denver Post all apparently relied on Gardner’s self-serving statement saying, in part, that “we owe it to generations past and generations to come to find a solution to our broken immigration system.”

It’s possible some reporters asked to speak with Gardner himself, but they didn’t report this. If so, they should have.

But it’s not too late to insist on talking to Gardner, if you’re a journalist who has access to him, to cover the basic journalistic function of calling out public officials on their inconsistencies between what’s done on the campaign trail and what happens in office.

A baby step in the right direction was provided during a Gardner interview Dec. 3 on SeriusXM’s new show, Yahoo! News on POTUS

Host Olivier Knox had the presence of mind to ask Gardner whether his “campaign talk” about making birth control pills available over the counter “can translate into legislative action.”

Gardner replied:

It needs to translate into policy action. The FDA has their approval process when it comes to prescription, over-the-counter move. I will certainly continue to support and urge, whether it’s legislative action. We’ve got to figure out the best policy option, the best way forward in making sure we have the continued fight for over-the-counter contraceptives, which I continue and will continue to support and push for. And so, we’ll be talking to the FDA and talking about how best to make that happen. It’s something Gov. Jindahl first proposed, ACOG, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, supported the move to over-the-counter contraceptions and it’s something we’ve got to encourage to happen here.

I give Knox credit here for asking the question, even though I’d have pressed Gardner to clarify his plan for implementation of a major campaign promise. Will he seek legislation if necessary? How long will he press the Administration? Etc.

Ditto for Gardner’s plan on immigration. If he’s against deferring deportations, then what’s he for? And how does it comport to his campaign promises?

I’m hoping we get this type of watch-dog attitude from reporters going forward on Gardner.

Journalists express frustration during discussion of election news coverage

Thursday, November 13th, 2014

The Columbia Journalism Review’s Rocky Mountain Correspondent, Corey Hutchins, has posted highlights of a panel discussion Tuesday, moderated by Compass Colorado’s Kelly Maher and me, on local news coverage of the 2014 election.

Here are three of Hutchins’ eight highlights:

Bored on the Bus

KDVR’s Eli Stokols on covering the modern professional campaign:

“Unfortunately there were very few days where I sat there and I said, ‘Absolutely have to shoot this today,’ because it was so rare that these candidates were actually available, putting out public schedules, doing public events… I rode on the Udall bus, I went up to Fort Collins and Greeley a couple times to find Cory [Gardner] when he was speaking to Republicans there, and you know, you would get the same rehearsed, trite lines from all of them. And when you sat them down in an interview you got the same rehearsed, trite lines from both. And so maybe it is incumbent on us to be better, to push them out of their comfort zone a little bit … I think that’s the tough part of the modern campaign. Campaigns with money are so not reliant anymore on mainstream media to get their message out, especially in a market like this [in Colorado] where there is not such a critical mass of media.”

The Denver Post didn’t want to cover ‘scripted theater’

Post politics editor [Chuck] Plunkett said his paper didn’t want to fall into the trap of covering what he called the “scripted theater” of the campaigns. So in the early spring, he said, he gathered staff for multiple substantive discussions about issues they wanted to address this election season, so they weren’t just “having to chase the Twitter around, having to chase the horse race around.” Some of the issues they decided to focus on were immigration, the ground game, and money, and how candidates evolved on issues. Also, for the first time, the paper held its own recorded debates in its auditorium instead of partnering with a TV station….

Didn’t approve this ad

CBS4’s [Shaun Boyd] provided some levity when she spoke of how she’d recoiled at seeing her on-air reporting appear in a political ad on TV. To her dismay, her station ran the ad on its airwaves. But, she said, other TV stations in Denver didn’t air it because they didn’t want to highlight the reporting of a competitor.

In his post, Hutchins discusses the journalists’ frustration with the scripted answers from the candidates. Riccardi, in particular, talked about how closely the professional candidates stay on their talking points, and he said he hoped to walk away from the campaign trail more often in the future and write about the election from an outside-the-box perspective.

That’s a good idea, but I thought local journalists could have at least tried to break the campaign script more often during the last election on many issues. And even if they didn’t break it completely, they could have spotlighted candidates’ manipulative or repetitive talking points more clearly for voters, like Eli Stokols did in his interview with Senator-elect Cory Gardner.

This would have required more aggressive follow-up questioning by journalists, and it could have been done at more of the public events where reporters questioned the candidates.

The frustration of the journalists on the panel Tuesday was mostly not evident at the candidate debates and interviews, where journalists, with some important exceptions here and elsewhere, took a passive role, without much follow-up.

Here’s part of Tuesday’s discussion about how to address the talking points.

PLUNKETT: We do break the script. A good journalist can get people to talk about more than sometimes we give them credit for. I think when you start to think about the election in general, you remember all those scripted moments, and you’re frustrated by it. It’s annoying. You wish people would just answer the question. And that creates a very human reaction in you, and you react to it, in a hostile kind of way. But I do think, if you think back, there were tons of stories written by lots of people on the campaign trail, and we did get into issues. We did look at important moments.

STOKOLS: I think as a journalist you have to draw out and just explain to people when somebody’s not answering the question, sometimes. Whether you show that in a TV format or in a print format, you just say, you know, “…has refused to answer this question repeatedly throughout the campaign,” or, whatever it is. I think that should be revealing to people, you know, like Chuck said. Sometimes, there’s not a lot more you can do.

Durango Herald’s Peter MARCUS: Yeah, I agree. And I also agree that it is tougher in print. I mean, when I was pushing Cory Gardner on, you know, what the difference is between the state Personhood initiative and the federal bill, you know, it’s weird to write that into the story. It’s like, “The Durango Herald pushed Gardner on…” You know, and how many times can you write that? And are people even understanding what’s going on in the exchange, that you’re on the phone, or conducting your interview in person, we’re just asking the same question over and over in different ways? It gets hard to write it into a story. But more importantly, you can’t make them break the script. I STOKOLS: Well, you know, we have to be a little analytical. I mean, we can’t just sit there. we’re not stenographers.

MARCUS: Right

STOKOLS: So, you know, when you sit there on a campaign bus, and Mark Udall and Michael Bennet are sitting there, and the national reporters are asking, you know, like, “President Obama, he’s not here. Is he killing you?” And they’re like, “Oh, no! It’s fine!” Whatever. And then, you know, they go on background, and they’re like, “Jesus! The President is killing us!”

MARCUS: Right! What do you do? Yeah, what do you do?

STOKOLS: It doesn’t take a lot of analysis to understand, one, what the reality is, and two, why they can’t explicitly say that, or admit that, doesn’t mean we can’t write it, and explain that to the reader or the viewer, that, look, this is a fundamental reality of this campaign, whether it is admitted to or not admitted to, you know, by the candidate.

MARCUS: Yeah, you may not get them to break the script. You can write it in, because of what people tell you on background and everything. But you’re not going to quote them on it,

RICCARDI: Yeah, I totally agree. If you’re just waiting on these guys to tell you something, the yield-to-effort is minimal.

Asked why more of gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez’s extreme comments were not covered, some of the journalists on Tuesday’s panel explained that it’s difficult to address an issue if the campaign isn’t focusing on it.

RICCARDI: I also think this is a great example of how campaigns define a lot of what you end up covering. Hickenlooper ran a positive campaign. Hickenlooper did not put these past statements of Beauprez in the public light repeatedly, therefore there were other things that reporters had to focus on with their limited time. Look at how much ink we spilled over Gardner on two measures that will probably never become law. Right? And that’s a direct reflection of the fact that the Udall campaign and their allies put a lot of time, attention to creating points behind those issues. And I think you’re seeing the opposite of it in terms of what happened on the governor’s side. Hickenlooper did not want to make that an issue, and guess what, it didn’t become a big issue. I agree with Chuck, it’s a balancing act [on how much coverage old candidate statements should get]. There’s no—there’s no clean formula for anything in this business. But I also think this is a great example of how a lot of our coverage reflects the choices being by campaigns, for better or for worse.

STOKOLS: Yeah, the governor’s race was about the Governor because the Governor made it that way. I mean, he didn’t come out and do a lot of campaign events, but when he went to the sheriffs, and Kelly’s folks got that on video, that was a huge pivot in the campaign. And there were other things that he did —the comments to CNN earlier in the year, in answering a hypothetical question. There were mistakes that he made that we were sort of forced to cover. Whereas, some of these [Beauprez] statements, they matter on some level, but they have a shelf life. And so, when, you know, you’re running ads based on a 2006 statement, it does seem harder sometimes to rationalize going back and covering this, just because you’ve got a, you know, a 527 or somebody calling you and saying, “Hey, you know, did you see these statements? You should cover these. You should do a story.” Sometimes, you need more than that to be pushed off the ledge, especially when you look around and your colleagues aren’t doing it. It’s not like we all run around in packs, but when you’re going to go out and do a story yourself, and you’re going to be first, and you’re going to rationalize something that is just really aimed at putting another campaign or a candidate on the defensive, you have to be pretty careful about that, I think, in terms of, you know, have we covered this before, right? I don’t know what the exact formula is but–

MARCUS: There is no formula, but I think, for me, a component is also gauging, you know, interest, from outside groups, from the public…You know, at the beginning of the campaigns, a lot of the outside groups were really trying to push these 2006 talking points and comments and things like that. And you could just see, it wasn’t gaining traction — forget in the media, it wasn’t gaining traction on twitter — it wasn’t gaining traction. And it wasn’t because, I’m pretty sure, that these outside groups—and I know some of you are in the room, so I’m sorry — but, you didn’t have that much. The fact that you were going back to 2006, back to 2008 shows that it was—it was all you had. And it wasn’t gaining traction, not because we weren’t covering it—perhaps maybe possibly a little bit, but it really had to do with people’s interests. I didn’t see these statements coming back up. I think the closest we got was “Both Ways Bob” came back for a short minute, there. But, I was just looking around. I wasn’t seeing it gaining traction. It seemed like people were looking to move on, find out what this election was about, and I think that plays into how much attention it gets with the media, as well.

The event, which was sponsored by the University of Colorado Denver’s School of Public Affairs, Compass Colorado, and BigMedia.org, was attended by political operatives and others from both sides of the political divide. There were about 40 people in the audience.

Media omission: Coffman is Christie’s ally in saying Colorado going to pot

Thursday, July 24th, 2014

It’s one thing for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to drop into Colorado and tell us our quality of life is going down the tubes thanks to marijuana legalization.

But it’s another for our own elected officials to tell us as much. You recall Rep. Mike Coffman grumped on the KOA radio earlier this year that legal pot may scare giant corporations from coming to Colorado. (Maybe that’s a good thing, but that’s a topic for another blog post.)

Coffman: “I worry, ‘What about that Fortune 500 corporation that wants to move to Colorado?’ And the chief executive officer has young kids, and to say, ‘Do I want my children exposed to a culture where this is acceptable for adults? And will that influence their behavior as kids?’”

Contrast Coffman’s fact-free brain puff with what Christie said in April:

Christie: “For the people who are enamored with the idea … the tax revenue from this, go to Colorado and see if you want to live there.”

Coffman is saying Colorado’s lifestyle/culture is so diminished by pot that rich people, in particular, may not want to live here.

Coffman stands with Christie.

Yesterday, Christie didn’t back down:

Christie: “I’m not backing off an inch from what I said.”

Coffman’s not backing down either. Talking to Hugh Hewett Friday, Coffman slammed pot legalization:

Coffman:You know, I think it’s a horrible decision that Colorado made.”

Coffman added that he’s trying to help pot businesses get bank accounts because operating in cash makes the industry “even more prone to criminality.”

You don’t see too many top elected officials singing the praises of pot shops. Many blandly say they’re opposed, but will try to make it work. But Coffman has distinguished himself as being on the far end of the pot-hating scale, which is weird since 55 percent of voters approved legalization.

Some buzz-kill swing voters, who don’t like legalized pot, might be motivating politicians like Coffman, who’s facing Democrat Andrew Romanoff in one of the most competitive congressional races in the country. Romanoff is no pot cheerleader, but he’s been more restrained.

No one knows where this will go, but it’s a beautiful Colorado morning outside, and I think I’ll go on a quick bike ride.

Peter Marcus to replace Joe Hanel at the Durango Herald

Monday, July 21st, 2014

I had convinced myself, based on nothing except the rip tide that’s pulling political reporters out of Colorado, that The Durango Herald wouldn’t replace its Denver correspondent, Joe Hanel, who left in May after rising to become one best political journalists in the state.

But I was wrong. The Herald has hired Peter Marcus, who left The Colorado StatesmanFriday, to replace

Hanel as its Denver Correspondent. Asked what he’ll be covering, Marcus said via email:

Marcus: “As much as I’d love to be working in Durango — that town is so amazing — I’ll actually be stationed out of the Capitol, holding down the bureau. It’s really critical that southwest Colorado have a link to the happenings in Denver. They don’t get Colorado news down there. The broadcasts are out of Albuquerque, but the people don’t relate to New Mexico. They’re Coloradans. So, it’s crucial that they have a link to the news and happenings coming out of Denver, because the decisions that happen in the Mile High City greatly impact their lives, and they should be able to have a say in what’s going on. During the legislative session, I’ll be mostly covering the legislature for the Herald. More immediately, I’m going to be jumping right into campaign season. It’s not going to be much of a jump for me. That’s been part of my beat at The Statesman. But I’ll also take a close look at the courts and the state boards — especially mining, water and oil and gas — because actions by those authorities are of great importance to our readership.”

I asked Marcus, who starts at the Heraldtoday, about the journalism road that led him to his new job:

Marcus: “It was a bit sad saying goodbye to the Statesman on Friday. That paper really came through for me at a clutch time, when I was seriously considering getting out of journalism. I was the assistant editor over at the Denver Daily News, it was around July 2011, and the paper just suddenly shut down. It literally just shut down in a second. I was out interviewing a Denver city employee for an investigation I was working on, and my phone went off, and it was a text from my editor saying, “Don’t worry about coming back to the office, the paper just folded.” It was shocking, to say the least.

After that, I was sort of losing faith in the industry a little bit. I still had the bug for journalism, but there just weren’t too many options available to me at that time. That’s when I started freelancing for The Statesman. Jody Strogoff, the editor, she saw something in me and allowed me to take on a few assignments for her. I had been covering the statehouse for the Denver Daily News, but it certainly wasn’t my primary beat, so Jody sort of took a risk on me. I started covering the reapportionment hearings at the time. That was a pretty big deal to The Statesman, given the paper’s legislative focus. Reapportionment can be a tough subject to just sort of dive into, but I got it done, and I think Jody started feeling a bit more comfortable. Soon I was a staff writer for the paper, primarily focused on the state legislature.

Where it all got started for me was at the Longmont Times-Call. I was an intern there for a while in 2005 right after graduating from Ithaca College where I majored in journalism. I sort of just packed up my car in New York and moved to Colorado. I had a tight crew of friends moving out here, but I didn’t have a job or anything like that. But then I landed the Times-Call gig and that’s where I really got addicted to this thing. It’s funny, I ran into Trevor Hughes at the Capitol the other day. Trevor was at the Times-Call when I was there. He now works for USA Today. Anyway, Trevor took me out on my first breaking news assignment. It was a bank robbery in Longmont. When I saw him, it all came back to me. I guess some of us just can’t say goodbye to being newsmen.”

I also asked Marcus how it felt to be replacing the widely respected Joe Hanel.

Marcus: I can’t begin to explain to you how big of a deal it is that I’m replacing Hanel. His legacy over at the Capitol could possibly be eternal. Hanel held down the Herald’s bureau position with pride, class and professionalism. He really set the bar. As I’ve been telling people that I’m moving over to the Herald, their responses have usually been, ‘Wow, those are some big shoes to fill.’ Indeed. If I come anywhere close to filling Joe’s shoes, I’ll feel like I have done my job. He gave me some good advice after I told him I got the gig. Hanel goes, ‘Just don’t fuck it up.’

I told Marcus that his fans at The Statesman will undoubtedly miss him. Here’s his response:

Marcus: I’m going to miss The Statesman very much. Beyond just allowing me to stay in the game so that I could move on to other opportunities, it’s been a real home for me. The stories are definitely on the long side, and they’re catered for the truly wonky political crowd. But there was something really fantastic about being able to delve into subjects with such complexity and detail. The Statesman is a true institution in the Colorado political world, and it was an honor to represent them over the past few years. They haven’t filled my old position yet, but I understand that there have been some interested and qualified candidates expressing interest.

Hanel’s departure deals another blow to Colorado political journalism

Monday, May 12th, 2014

On Friday, Joe Hanel ended a nine-year run at the Durango Herald, leaving for a job at the Colorado Health Institute.

Hanel wrote a lot about politics, and he was clearly one of the best remaining political journalists in Colorado. His departure is yet another blow to Colorado journalism, as the number of political reporters with both experience and intelligence dwindles.

Hanel started at the Herald in 2004 as a freelancer and joined the newspaper’s Denver-bureau staff in 2005. Prior to that, he worked as a presentation editor at the Rocky (2002-3), as a graphics and news editor at the Longmont Daily Times-Call (1996-2002), and a graphics editor at the Greeley Tribune (1995-6). He has a degree from CU-Boulder journalism school.

Last week, he answered a few of my questions via email:

Why are you leaving?
I’m going to be a writer and designer at the Colorado Health Institute, a data and number-crunching think tank. My reasons for leaving newspapers are purely economic. I turned 40 this year and I’ve had to admit to myself that there’s no way I’ll be able to retire from this industry. My job as the Durango Herald’s Denver correspondent was secure for the foreseeable future, but there are just fewer and fewer places to go for new opportunities. People think of journalism as a calling or a cause, but in truth it’s a job. I know some journalists sneer at colleagues who leave for better opportunities, as if we’re somehow betraying the brotherhood, but I think my first responsibility is to provide a secure future for my family. And I’m sad to say that journalism isn’t the place for that.

What are some of your favorite memories as a political reporter?
I’ve gotten to travel all over on someone else’s dime. There are worse places to travel for business than Durango. I’ve gotten to help trap a bear, explore old uranium mines, ski Wolf Creek, cover the Club 20 debates in Grand Junction, see Mitt Romney in Craig and wonder what the hell he was doing in a little town that he was going to win by 25 points, and cover five national political conventions (which is enough for one lifetime).

And the press corps at the state Capitol is really a wonderful bunch of people. They act like cynical bastards, and it’s OK if you hate them, but they are loyal and dedicated and true to their values and their friends.

What are your biggest concerns about Colorado journalism today?
I’m worried about the Denver Post. I can’t overstate how much worse off our city is without the Rocky. It would be a damnable shame if the Post fought the Rocky to the death, only to commit assisted suicide with the help of their new hedge fund owners.

From a broader perspective, we still have not come anywhere close to finding a solution to our biggest problem as an industry – the failure of our economic model. I always hear from amateur media critics who think newspapers are failing because everything we write doesn’t reinforce their partisan point of view. We’re not failing because of the content. The news has never paid for itself. It was always subsidized by classified and display ads. We lost the classifieds to craigslist, and we can charge only pennies on the dollar for online ads compared to print ads. So we still make most of our money in print, but print is dying. That’s the conundrum. Really smart people (and, I admit, lots of stupid ones, too) have tried to find a way out. And we’re still looking.

Would you discourage a young person from going into journalism?
I think young people are in a pretty good position to at least have a chance to succeed in journalism. The industry needs energetic people with new ideas who will work for cheap. I can’t lie and tell them that this is a promising business right now, but we aren’t the only industry to have uncertain times. I’ve been very impressed with the young journalists and students I’ve met the last few years. A few come to mind: At the Denver Post, Kurtis Lee and Jordan Steffen kick butt on a fairly regular basis. At my own paper, we have Chase McCallister, who commands the English language like she’s been doing it for 50 years. These people, if they can stick it out, soon will be veteran journalists. But there’s a world of difference between your 20s and your early 40s, and I don’t see the business turning around in time for a guy like me.

Other thoughts?
In rereading this, I think I sound defensive or sanctimonious. I know there’s a lot I could have done better the past 20 years, and I know journalists make boneheaded decisions every day. I’m not excusing our mistakes. I just think, despite all our flaws, people will miss us when we’re gone.

Last thing: I can’t say enough positive things about the Ballantine family, who own the Durango Herald and Cortez Journal. They enjoy owning newspapers, they take pride in the quality of their product, and they work hard to be good publishers. I’m no longer on their payroll, so there’s no point to me sucking up other than to say thanks to a generous family of serious journalists. This business needs a hundred more families like them.