Archive for the 'Exit Interviews: Conversations with Departing Denver Journos' Category

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.

Denver Post Editor Greg Moore’s thoughts on the departure of veteran Post journalists

Thursday, February 13th, 2014

I’ve been chronicling the departure of journalists from The Denver Post, and Michael Roberts has done a much more thorough job of it on Westword’s Latest Word blog.

The list of keeps growing, the latest being The Post’s Washington DC chief Allison Sherry, who’s leaving to oversee the three-person DC office of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Others who’ve left The Post include Kristin Arellano, Michael Booth, Tim Hoover, Curtis Hubbard,  Dave Krieger, Tom McKay, Dave Krause, Steve McMillan, Joan Niesen, Kevin Vaughan, and others.

I asked Denver Post editor Greg Moore to comment on the loss of so many respected journalists, most on their own volition, over the past few years. I told Moore it’s a sad situation, from my perspective.

Here’s Moore’s response, via email (You can read more of Moore’s thoughts here in a post by Roberts.):

Moore: “Movement has always been a part of industry and journalism is no different. We are happy for our colleagues who have found new challenges and we relish the opportunity to create new opportunities for those who remain at The Post. Many of the people who have left have been here for a long time and done terrific work. They left for better opportunities or a chance to do something else that would challenge them in new ways. The economy is getting better and so people are feeling confident about making a move. I am sure they bettered themselves financially. The news business has been downsizing, so if one is ready to move on their own terms, why wouldn’t they do it? I think it is absolutely great. I am not sure I understand why you think this is so sad. We are able to go out and hire new people with fresh perspectives and give them a chance to make their mark in the footsteps of some great journalists in a great news town. It would be sad if talented people left and we were not able to replace them or attract talent. But that is not the case. We are hiring new people, promoting others and rethinking ways to reallocate resources that further our mission as a digital operation. So no sad faces here. We will miss our former colleagues. But the challenges remain, great work is to be done and we intend to keep on doing it.”

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

Thursday, January 30th, 2014

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.

An interview with Patrick Malone, who’s leaving the Ft. Collins Coloradoan Friday

Monday, December 9th, 2013

Investigative and legislative reporter Patrick Malone leaves the Fort Collins Coloradoan Friday for a job at The Santa Fe New Mexican, giving us another reason to grieve for the state of journalism in Colorado.

After starting his journalism career at the Chronicle News in Trinidad, Malone wrote for the Pueblo Chieftain for 15 years, from 1997-2012, holding numerous positions including Denver bureau chief/political reporter. He moved to the Coloradoan a year-and-a-half ago, and now he’s headed to Santa Fe to work at the New Mexican.

He answered a few questions via email last week.

Why are you leaving the Coloradoan?

Malone: Being from Trinidad in extreme Southern Colorado, New Mexico has always held a special place in my heart. My wife was a photographer at the Coloradoan and looking for a change that would allow her to explore more creative projects instead of running from one quick-hit assignment to the next, so we looked first to New Mexico. A couple of months ago I was offered a job at the Albuquerque Journal and turned it down in favor of staying at the Coloradoan. That led to some conversations with the new regime at The Santa Fe New Mexican. I learned it is in the very early stages of an intriguing renaissance, and I actively sought to be a part of it. Their reporting staff is a stellar mix of veterans, including Daniel Chacon whom Colorado readers will remember from his great work at the Rocky Mountain News and the Gazette in Colorado Springs, and some young rising stars. That impressed me, but the real sell for me was the New Mexican’s new executive editor, Ray Rivera. He’s most recently worked at the New York Times and before that at the Washington Post as an investigative reporter. Amid all the noise about shifting media paradigms and attention to the new way – things we certainly can’t ignore if we want to survive as an industry – Ray remains committed to the hard-core journalistic principles that led people like me to fall in love with newspapers at a very early age. I can learn a lot from him, and the opportunity to grow as a reporter, even 18 years into my career, is what really lured me to Santa Fe. Plus it’s a great city where my wife and 1-year-old daughter should be very happy. My beat will involve staffing the legislature when it’s in session, health care policy and investigative projects. My wife will freelance in Santa Fe, including for the New Mexican.

What are a couple of your favorite memories of news reporting in Colorado?

Undoubtedly my 15 years at The Pueblo Chieftain were the most memorable. Many of my best friends still work there, or were recently laid off by The Chieftain. Pueblo is uniquely newsy for a city of 100,000, and it has an oversized voice for its circulation because of its geographic reach. To me, my work on the decades-old sexual abuses committed by Catholic priests and covered up in Pueblo meant the most. I spoke to dozens of grown men who were victimized in childhood. They’d lived their whole lives with shame and fear of telling anyone, because nobody would listen. It could never undo what they suffered, but I hope those stories provided some measure of justice.

Beyond that, covering politics and the legislature for a few years at the tail end of my tenure with The Chieftain was a great experience. It plucked me from my comfort zone and taught me exactly how little I know about anything. We all need that periodically to continue growing as journalists. The camaraderie and competition of the capitol press corps is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. You have the tight-knit friendships that develop in newsrooms, but at the same time, you want to kick their asses on a daily basis. Case in point: When I broke the story of the House approving a spending package that included increased per diem reimbursement for lawmakers, Lynn Bartels from the Denver Post refused to talk to me for about two weeks. We helped each other when we were all working the same stock stories, but I’m not exaggerating when I say we’d lock ourselves in bathrooms at the State Capitol to conduct phone interviews we didn’t want the others in our shared office to hear. I’m looking forward to rejoining that kind of competitive environment when I cover the legislature in New Mexico.

You’ve had a diverse ride in journalism in Colorado. Can you briefly describe your different jobs and offer your thoughts on some of the strengths and weaknesses of Colorado political journalism now versus when you started?

By the time I arrived at the capitol I had covered courts for about a decade, been the weekend city editor at The Chieftain, covered education, features, senior citizen issues and crime, in addition to starting as a sports writer at The Chronicle News in Trinidad. None of it prepared me for day-to-day life at the capitol. It’s a complete rat race with more news to cover than any one reporter – or two-person team – can cover adequately. The loss of the Rocky Mountain News harmed political coverage in the state immeasurably. That’s not to say that the Post, AP and others don’t do a good job. They do. But the more competition, the better the coverage is going to be. It breaks my heart that The Chieftain abandoned its long-standing tradition of staffing the capitol when I left. That further erodes accountability in state government. Every time a paper ends its year-round reporting at the capitol, citizens suffer. Thinking back to the congressional redistricting trial in 2011, there was a day early on when all the testimony focused on Fort Collins, Greeley and Boulder and what their congressional boundaries should look like. Witness after witness spewed the essence of their communities and almost vitriolic emotion about which cities should be paired together and which shouldn’t. There wasn’t a reporter to be found in the courtroom from the newspapers in any of the affected cities. That was a pretty sick feeling, and at that moment I recognized where we stand as a state in terms of commitment to covering politics. It’s fallen a long way from the days of virtually every paper having a presence in the Statehouse. Point a finger of blame at the newspaper brass who’ve made these decisions, not the reporters that remain in the trenches or relegated to their mothership newsrooms.

In terms of strengths in Colorado political journalism, you’ve got some reporters in the capitol press corps that understand the chess match and the implications of officials’ decisions in peoples’ lives like no one else. Full disclosure: These are my friends, so I’m naturally going to say nice things about them as people. But professionally, they deserve mention as well. Charles Ashby of the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel covers state politics as well as anybody, regardless of era. Joe Hanel of the Durango Herald artfully distills the true meaning of any smokescreen for his readers and, for my money, could work anywhere in the country. The Associated Press team of Ivan Moreno and Kristen Wyatt catch everything, and increasingly are the only link many communities in the state have to what’s happening under the dome. Bartels is the best-sourced reporter I’ve ever met and can get lawmakers to talk about anything, regardless of how much they don’t want to.

Do you think your new position in Santa Fe is more stable? Was this a factor in your decision to leave?

I’m confident it will be stable because I believe that when you let the purest journalistic principles guide a paper’s course, readers will respond. There’s no gimmick in Rivera’s vision for sustained success. It all grows from a fundamental core of producing the kind of journalism readers can’t put down.

The Coloradoan is sort of an oasis of stability in the turbulent Gannett sea. When layoffs were happening throughout Gannett this fall, the Coloradoan was spared, largely because of its success selling the online product (thanks to a very strong ad department) and because the executive editor, Josh Awtry, analyzes data to a painful degree and constantly tweaks the news lineup recipe accordingly to appeal to local readers. The Coloradoan is uniquely positioned in a web-reliant market perfectly suited for its online pay subscription model that yields decent revenue returns for practically no overhead. The top of the news and advertising food chains at the Coloradoan have adeptly maximized it.

the New Mexican is family-owned, so I have no doubt that it is totally committed to its market. The New Mexican’s ownership has shown a commitment to adding reporting muscle as a vehicle to drive subscriptions and motivate advertisers. When I arrived at the Coloradoan 18 months ago, they were embarking on a similar strategy and got the response they wanted. Having worked at both a family-owned paper (The Chieftain) and for a corporate giant (Gannett), I see pros and cons to each. One of the more profound examples of the differing philosophies between corporations and family operations can be found in their lobbies. In Fort Collins, I can walk downstairs and touch a cardboard cutout of any number of the reporters on staff. The same space in Santa Fe is occupied by Thomas Edison’s desk. I think Rivera embodies the merger of the New Mexican’s traditional journalistic values and the recognition that there’s a contemporary, digital track to success. Ownership aside, the ultimate key to stability is having the right leaders in place from top to bottom. Trust and accountability for every rung on the newsroom ladder give you the sense that together you can accomplish spectacular things. I believe the New Mexican has assembled the right team. It’s genuinely inspirational.

What advice would you give to a young person who wants to be a journalist?

Regardless of the industry’s undulations, remember you’re carrying the mantle for journalists that came before you and those that will follow. You have an immense responsibility, and it’s one of the cornerstones of democracy.

I’d tell them that the only measure of control journalists have over the news they cover is the effort that they put into it. So work hard. Remember that you’re asking the questions all of society wants answered, but doesn’t have the luxury of time to ask for itself. So channel your readers when you ask questions. Write to them and for them, not for yourself or the subjects of your stories.

Adapt to the changes in the industry, but don’t do it at the expense of what has always been and always will be great journalism – namely telling people how the subject you’re covering affects their lives, the factors driving it and clearly identifying any resulting conflicts. Pay attention to the contemporary tools we have to measure success. They can tell us a lot about what we need to do to survive as an industry. But be careful not to become so preoccupied with analytics that you ignore the quality of the underlying journalism. Everybody wants a million web clicks on their story. But who wants a million people to see they’ve written a crappy story?

Read as much as you can. Write as much as you can. You will never be as ashamed of the story that you tell as you will of the story that you don’t tell.

You’ve got to be committed in principle to journalism, or you’ll never last. If you follow this path and find out that it’s not for you, get out of the way. Someone else is waiting in line for the opportunity.

An interview with Tim Hoover, who left The Denver Post Friday

Thursday, November 21st, 2013

After a six-year run at The Denver Post, as a reporter and editorial writer, Tim Hoover left the newspaper Friday to be Communications Director for the Fiscal Policy Institute. It’s a certainty that Hoover’s fair-and-accurate writing will be missed by reasonable progressives and conservatives alike.

This week, Hoover answered a few questions via email.

How long were you at The Post? And at previous journo jobs? How long were you in journalism?

Hoover: “I was at the Post just short of six years, having started in January of 2008. I worked at The Kansas City Star for seven years as a statehouse reporter. Before that, I worked at the Tulsa World and The McAllen (Texas) Monitor. All told, I was a professional journalist for 20 years. My experience does go back further, though. I was an intern at The Albuquerque Tribune (which is how I know Lynn Bartels from 20-something years ago), an intern at The Daily Oklahoman and an intern for the Oklahoma Capitol News Bureau. I was also once a stringer [freelance writer] for The New York Times. And, of course, I worked at my beloved school paper, The Oklahoma Daily, at the University of Oklahoma, where I was a reporter and eventually the editor.”

Why would you leave such a prestigious position at The Post? Were you worried about the future at the newspaper?

Hoover: “I left the Post because I had to think about the future. I will have to work for at least another 20 years before I can retire. It was time to start thinking long-term about the path forward. I enjoyed being on the editorial board. It is a position of great responsibility, and you get to rub elbows with U.S. senators and occasionally foreign dignitaries and all manner of world-class minds. I was also treated well on the board and have great respect for my colleagues. My decision to leave transcended all that.”

What are a couple of your favorite memories of news reporting or opinion writing at The Post?

Hoover: “As with a magician’s code, we don’t reveal publicly who wrote which specific editorials. It’s supposed to be a consensus process and involves collaborative writing at times. I will say, however, how amusing it is when people think certain writers pen specific editorials because of their supposed political leanings and it happens that the piece was completely conceived and written by another writer with diametrically opposite political views. Editorial writers, like all people, are three-dimensional.

“I can say, however, that I especially enjoyed writing one blog piece with my byline about a very overwrought TV report on a state-owned airplane. It was fun to dissect the TV story, and it got a big reaction in the world of state government and politics.

“As for stories as a reporter, I think my best work was done scrutinizing claims made about the state budget, whether it was asserting that Gov. Bill Ritter had hired thousands of government employees when he hadn’t or claiming that certain businesses would be harmed by the removal of special tax breaks when in fact they admitted either they weren’t hurt at all or weren’t even affected by the changes. I enjoyed writing stories about a candidate for governor who embellished his past career as a small-town police officer and then backpedaled when put under the spotlight. I had a lot of fun reporting at the Post, and I’d just note that it followed stints at several other newspapers where I worked on lots of great stories. I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to cover state politics and government at two major American newspapers, though my career covering many beats spanned two decades at multiple newspapers, small and large.”

What’s your response to conservatives who are saying that your move to PR proves you’ve been biased all along?

Hoover: “I didn’t really give it much thought. I am on good terms with many conservatives, and a number of them were very congratulatory about my move. It all comes down to the individual class a person has. You make some people angry as a reporter if you are doing your job correctly. It’s all part of the package.”

What advice would you give to a young person who wants to be a journalist?

Hoover: “That is a tough question. I don’t know if I could honestly encourage someone to go into the industry if they are not already pursuing journalism. I think I would tell them that they should only pursue journalism if they are so passionate about it they don’t think they want to do anything else. And if they do go into the business, do not do it in a half-assed way. We live in a time when anyone can be published, and so it has given rise to ‘pseudo-journalists,’ wannabe bloggers’ and hacks who work, if they get paid at all, for partisan operations or stealthy partisan donors. Many of these people couldn’t find a courthouse a block away with a map, couldn’t cover a fire, flood or shooting, have never had to write a story about a zoning hearing, school board or city council meeting or sit through hours of legislative committee hearings and floor work. They have not ever had to be real reporters. They don’t do quality research nor is their work scrutinized heavily by editors above them. They are lazy and sloppy and biased, and it is all the more reason why there need to be actual, trained journalists to go out and gather the news. If a young person still wants to be a real reporter despite all of the hardships they will face, then I would encourage them.”

Who will win: Romanoff or Coffman?

Hoover: “I would say Coffman is very vulnerable because of his newly drawn district and the fact that he has had to do a tightrope act on so many issues that has not pleased either side of the political spectrum. But so much of this could depend on what happens nationally. The Democratic brand has suffered greatly in the last several months because of the Obamacare rollout fiasco. It’s hard to say how that translates here in Colorado, and it is a long way to November.”

Any other thoughts?

Hoover: “My former colleagues still in the newspaper industry work far harder and under far more stressful conditions than most people realize. I would ask that readers and the public at large give them some well-deserved recognition at times. It’s almost Thanksgiving. Let’s be thankful we still have newspapers covering public affairs. And remember, some poor group of reporters and editors has to work on Thanksgiving and Christmas. The news doesn’t stop for the holidays.”

Follow Jason Salzman on Twitter @bigmediablog

Channel 12′s Rowland talks to BigMedia about journalism and his upcoming retirement

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

The word “visionary” is over-used, especially for people who are retiring, but it’s truly an accurate description of Wick Rowland, who announced last week that he’s stepping down in March as President of Colorado Public Television (Channel 12, CPT12).

In 1999, Rowland left his job as Dean of CU’s journalism school to run Channel 12, and he quickly turned it into the go-to TV station locally for public affairs programming, creating content that KRMA Channel 6 did not offer. See more on this topic here.

Rowland built a lineup of shows that broke from the ponderousness that defined public affairs TV here at the time. Channel 12’s flagship program, Colorado Inside Out, is consistently the best public-affairs show on Denver TV and Internet, mixing information with provocation and entertainment. Under Rowland’s leadership, Channel 12 has also been a major player in election-year debates and forums, adding depth that spilled into the political discourse, beyond the unfortunately small audience that tunes to public television.

I liked bumping into Rowland over the years because he’d inevitably remind me how narrow the debate about journalism is in America, pointing out, as he does below, that advocating for increased public funding for journalism isn’t wacko, despite the gross suggestion someone had of taking an ax to the neck of Big Bird.

After you talk to Rowland, you kind of shake your head and say to yourself, “Hell no. We don’t have to settle for the market-driven mayhem and fluff that overwhelms you on commercial TV. And we don’t have to rely on nutcase bloggers or partisans.”

A reasonable model to support thoughtful journalism, as Rowland likes to say, is to provide more public funds for it, like they do in most industrialized nations. If only more people were out there like Rowland pushing for this.

Talking to Rowland is like chatting with a kind professor, which he is, but he also reminds me of an admiral, who’s seen many a battle. He’ll be missed way more than our community knows.

Here are excerpts of a conversation I had with Rowland Monday:

What’s your primary concern about journalism in Colorado?

It’s my primary concern about journalism, and you’re talking to an old journalism dean and someone who really believes in the disciplines of journalism education and training and the practice. My fundamental concern, and it’s not novel to me, and it’s the loss of what I call disciplined reporting. I very much believe in a meritocracy of work in the media. I feel that any kind of profession requires standards and a process and a mechanism for holding feet to the fire for those standards…We have had historically an editorial structure, and I just want to have the feeling the someone oversees a particular piece of work, and subjects it to fact checking and the normal protocols of editing, pushing back and keeping a reporter on his or her toes. One of the great threats of the blogosphere, frankly, is the loss of that. And we need to find ways of maintaining that.

Could public funding save journalism?

Public broadcasting could be a pilot project for what the future could look like. It’s very difficult in these United States of America to have this debate. And even on the public broadcasting side of it, we are funded on a very mere pittance by comparison with the way in which public-service media are funded in every other advanced industrial democracy. There is no comparison. That’s because we have a difficulty articulating in the United States a case for tax-based for public culture generally. It’s not an argument about public broadcasting alone. It’s about arts and culture. We just don’t put the tax-based resources into it. It’s based on the misbegotten hyper-democratic notion that the public will support it if it’s important, and, of course, we know that not to be necessarily true.

Your prediction on The Denver Post?

I’m very concerned. I’m seeing it ready to cut back to maybe three or four days a week. That worries me. Like many people I was disappointed that when the Rocky folded, The Denver Post did not grow bigger. It actually began to shrink. I’m in part an ink-stained wretch at a TV station, and I very much enjoy reading newspapers and take three or four.

What are the high points of your time at Channel 12?

Negotiating excess bandwidth opportunities that helped establish an endowment for the station…raising money and guiding the transition from analogue to digital…purchasing the building where the station resides…starting a systematic planning process and building on the success in public affairs and cultural programming. The community better understands what we’re about.

What’s the biggest problem with public television?

The worst thing is we’re being forced out on the commercial market—where were forced to worry too much about sponsorships and branding in ways that are not appropriate for public media.

Why are you retiring?

I’m 68-and-a-half years old. I’m at the stage of life where I’ve got people falling left and right around me, many of them younger. I lost my mother-in-law this year, and two or three other friends. It’s been kind of sobering for me as well. My grandkids are not getting any younger. They’re growing up fast. There’s this cliché about he’s going to spend more time with family and so on. There’s a little piece of that that’s true, probably in a lot of cases and certainly in this case. If you had asked me about the prospects of my stepping away even three of four years ago, I would have been much more reticent about stepping away, with the assault on public broadcasting…but I feel in the wake of the elections, and from a number of other things that I’m participating in nationally, I feel a little more confident than I did even a few months ago that this is a good time to step back… I do a lot of writing. I continue to publish, as if I were still at the University…I’m not finished with my discourse with the public about public media. I’m not done with that yet.

Follow Jason Salzman Twitter @bigmediablog

An interview with 9News’ Adam Schrager, who’s leaving Denver in Feb.

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011

You’ve probably heard by now that political reporter Adam Schrager is leaving 9News Feb. 9 take a job with Wisconsin Public Television, as first reported on ColoradoPols.

Schrager came to 9News in 1999, after working for CBS News in London and three TV stations in Wisconsin. He attended the prestigious journalism school at Northwestern University, and he’s won numerous journalism awards.

Schrager is also producer/host of YourShow, an innovative public affairs program on Channel 20 that solicits show topics, questions, and guest suggestions from viewers.

Once in a Rocky column evaluating public affairs shows in Denver, I gave Schrager’s YourShow a grade of “B” because I thought it was too serious. Schrager matter-of-factly pointed out that for years I’d been criticizing local TV news for its excessive fluffy content. I regretted the column but appreciated Schrager and YourShow all the more.

I thought Schager’s many admirers would like to know more about why he’s leaving and his reflections about journalism and his job here as he departs. So I asked Schrager to answer a few questions, which  he kindly answered below:

J: Why are you leaving?

A: It’s been hard raising kids away from grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins and now, we have some health issues with my dad which are only going to get worse. Hopefully not for a while, but we figured since both sets of our parents are in their 70′s, if we’re being honest, we needed to get back soon if we wanted our kids to have those relationships. We love Colorado but sadly could not convince everyone else to come out here.

J: Did you see a dim future for your style of political reporting at 9News?

A: No.

J: Were you being pressured more often to do things at 9News that you did not want to do?

A: No.

J: Why are you leaving the local TV news biz? Do you think your style of serious political reporting is going out of favor in the industry?

A: Honestly, I am fortunate to be able to stay in the industry but I was prepared to get out if that’s what I needed to do to get back to the Midwest. We just had to get back asap for family reasons. I’ve been doing this 20 years now and I’m a bit tired. As I think you can discern from your conversations with me the last few years, I’ve been testier and a little more on edge as the volume surrounding what we do ramps up and the anger associated with politics rises. That’s just not my personality and it hasn’t been nearly as much fun as it’s been in the past. I’m very much looking forward to doing long-form journalism and reconnecting with my craft in a way I haven’t been able to do over the last few years. That’s just a result of an industry becoming more and more driven by the immediate as that’s what the public seems to want. Maybe I’m old-school, but I like to think a little bit more than I’m afforded the opportunity to in life these days. I always like to cover the Capitol outside the Capitol and I used to be able to go find the people, places and things affected by the policy being proposed. It kind of morphed into me asking those folks questions to policy-makers, but I didn’t get out into the field as much as I would have selfishly liked to. The Wisconsin Public TV folks are part of the longest-running civic journalism project in the country, We The People Wisconsin, which teams up with Public Radio, the CBS affiliate in Madison, the Wisconsin State Journal and the leading on-line political news site in the state. They want to expand it, to do much of what we have done at 9NEWS (i.e. Teach people how to do truth tests, ask voters’ questions to candidates, etc.) and I’d imagine I’ll be a part of that.

J: Do you have doubts about giving up your big audience for the relatively small number of people who watch public TV in Wisconsin?

A: No doubts at all. I don’t look at ratings now, haven’t in the past, and don’t imagine I ever will in the future. I can’t do anything about them so why worry about it? I can control what I can control and that’s to produce the best stories I can. If more people watch them, that’s great, but it doesn’t define whether I’ve been successful or not.

J: Would you advise a young journalist who cares about politics to pursue a career in local TV news? What would you suggest he or she do?

A: You’ve heard me quote my dad before on this. He likes to say you’re a lot happier in life if you associate with people who speak in commas and question marks than periods and exclamation points. Sadly, politics has become all about the latter. If a young person wishes to focus on the former, they can make a great difference in the process. If they decide to pursue the latter path, I’d argue they need to hold their breaths because there are a lot of blowhards out there who are going to be talking in front of them.

J: Is there any chance that Wisconsin political reporting will be as interesting as what we have here?

A: I worked in Wisconsin for eight years before moving out here, covering their State Capitol and federal delegation. It’s a fascinating state, rife with the same kind of apparent historical contradictions that Colorado has. The same state that brought us Robert LaFollette and the progressive movement produced Joseph McCarthy. People there vote people before party, just like Colorado, which will always make the elections fascinating and of national interest.

J: Do you have plans to write about the progressive infrastructure in Wisconsin? How about the Wisconsin conservative infrastructure?

A: Haven’t thought about it. Just finished an epilogue to The Blueprint called “The Western Firewall” that chronicles how the progressive infrastructure helped John Hickenlooper, Michael Bennet and Harry Reid withstand the Republican tidal wave of November. As for future book projects, I have two in mind and neither are directly political in nature. As I mentioned earlier, I need a bit of a break mentally from the political grind.

J: Will you continue writing about Colorado Politics?

A: One of my book projects involves Colorado history which inevitably includes politics, but if you’re asking if I intend to become a blogger, columnist or some type of advocate, I can tell you I don’t intend to do that. I need to spend more time with my kids, not less. More time with my family, not less. More time with my friends, not less.

J: Will YourShow continue? Truth Tests?

A: Hope so on both accounts.

J: Who will do political reporting at 9News?

A: For the short-term, my colleague Chris Vanderveen will be handling the General Assembly when I leave. Another colleague, Matt Flener, will be the point person on the Mayoral race.

J: What are a couple of your favorite moments during your career here?

A: My favorite moments are not at all political in nature, unless you think being inspired by the triple amputee who comes down to the Capitol to lobby for other amputees. I have been so moved by so many, it’s hard to narrow it down to just a few great moments. I think you know I love what Gov. Carr did. I’m happy to have met him in the figurative sense and more importantly, to have been able to share the story of Japanese American internment to an audience that sadly doesn’t know anything about it. I could really just ramble here about person after person who’s moved me, but that would be dull to your readers and take me way past my bedtime which is early these days since our 16-month-old son still has trouble sleeping through the night.

J: Anything else?

A: Thanks for your interest in what we’ve tried to do.