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

Exit interview: Greg Moore leaves The Denver Post after 14 years as editor

Thursday, March 31st, 2016

Greg Moore, who leaves The Denver Post April 1 after 14 years as editor, answered a few questions this week via email about his future, his tenure at The Post, and the state of Colorado journalism.

Moore, who was managing editor of the Boston Globe before being recruited to serve as Post editor in 2002, announced his retirement March 15, telling his staff that it was time for “new challenges.” He’s said he intends to remain in Denver.

Under his leadership, the newspaper won numerous awards, including a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the Aurora theater shooting. More impressive to me is the fact that The Post continued to produce a stream of high quality journalism in recent years, despite unprecedented budget cuts, layoffs, and general shrinkage.

(See similar interviews with departing journalists here.)

Do you think your next challenge will be related to journalism?

I do not rule out anything, but I am open to new possibilities outside of journalism. I have been in the business almost exactly 40 years. When I was 21, I told myself I would give 40 years to the business and I did. I loved it and it loved me back. Now I am looking for something else. I am interested in some strategy firms, non profits that do God’s work, corporate boards that align with my interests in journalism and diversity and are just killing it and need different perspectives, and I am very interested in education reform. But one of the reasons I needed to release from The Post was to open myself to all kinds of possibilities for the next chapter. I am wide open. The chief criterion is whatever I do has to be meaningful and fulfilling.

What do you think you’ll miss most about being The Post’s editor? The least?

What I will miss the most is the power I had to get any story done at a high level with the staff we had. I loved story identification and generation. Journalism is the best and most direct way to affect change in any community and you get addicted to that.

The least: That’s easy. I won’t miss laying off people and cutting the paper and scope of our journalism. I know it is a reality of the business today and I think I did it with my team about as well as you can do it and remain an ambitious enterprise. But it wears you down and is distracting because the end game is constantly shifting based on economic outlook. It was just time to explore other ways to use my brain.

What are a couple of your best moments at The Post? And a decision or situation you regret?

Well, winning the Pulitzer for Aurora is right up there. It was such a terrible tragedy, and the community was counting on us to help make sense of what happened. There were so many heroes and there were other big stories that year, including the Newtown school kid murders. So winning it was huge. I was so happy for our hard working, innovative staff that just put everything into reporting, photographing, editing and presenting the news smartly and sensitively.

Our coverage of the Democratic National Convention was the other. Not only was it historic with the nomination of the first black president, but all eyes were on the Denver Post and we elevated. I also think we helped show the city what it could be through our coverage: Sophisticated, lively, diverse and more than a way station between Chicago and LA. The city was electric every night during the convention. We’ll never go back from that as a city or a news organization.

Regrets: That I lost my hair doing this job! Seriously, not to be Trumptonian, but I don’t have regrets because I tried to be in the moment of the stories we covered, offering ideas and criticisms in real time. If we missed or botched something it wasn’t for lack of trying to be better. But if I had to pick something, we could have been better covering issues of race. Despite our progressive political history, there are far too many monolithic settings in this city and we could have done more to help change that, I think.

Resources aside, what are the strengths and weaknesses of political journalism, as practiced in Colorado, not just by The Post but by political journalists as a group in Colorado? In other words, how would you assess the state of political journalism in Colorado now?

Well, I think some pretty good political journalists have come out of Colorado and what is unusual is that a number of them were TV journalists. Because we are the state capital, there is some good stuff done here. The investigative work by TV and now bloggers is pretty impressive, honestly. Overall, I think the coverage is good. But in general, the environment for journalists is really shitty. You have to fight for everything. You can’t get a document without a lawsuit or paying exorbitant fees. Even when you win a lawsuit, the next time the situation comes up it’s like a brand new fight. That type of struggle wears you down and gets distracting. And you can lose focus. This is the least corrupt place I have lived in but I don’t buy that it is absent of corruption and malfeasance, misfeasance, whatever. I don’t think reporters here are guilty of cozying up to power because there really is not much access even if you wanted it. That alone should make us all even more aggressive. My charge to fellow journalists would be to ratchet up the pressure.

If The Post’s economic situation had been easier, would you have stayed longer?

Maybe another year, possibly. But 14 years is a heck of a run and you put the success we had on top of that and it really was time to drop the mike and move out of the way. Honestly, we creatively navigated the economic headwinds the last six to eight years. And we demonstrated we had developed a deep bench of talent and created opportunities for the folks on it. I was proud of that. But I have always believed that everything has a season and it was just time. I started with a big story my first day with the Hayman Fire and I had the chance to walk off with stupendous coverage of a Denver Super Bowl victory. So I did. And the Post is in good hands with people whose values I know and respect. It doesn’t get better than that.

Any other comments?

I love Denver and Colorado, my children were born here and I want to do other important things in the community. Lastly, I love The Post and I hope people are starting to realize how important it is to have a robust, independent news operation as part of the community fabric. Otherwise, you risk becoming Flint, Michigan with a water crisis no one told you about. That means rolling up your sleeves and figuring out smart ways to support independent news gathering. Make demands for quality and solid customer service but fight for and fund independent fact gathering. It is the key to our democracy and we need that more than ever now.

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.]

Exit interview: Claire Martin answers questions about journalism and her 31 years at The Denver Post

Wednesday, August 5th, 2015

After over 31 years at The Denver Post, Claire Martin departed from the newspaper last month, along with 18 other staffers who accepted a buyout offer. Martin was mostly a feature writer at The Post, and her obituaries received national acclaim. Her writing at The Post will be missed.

Last week, Martin kindly accepted my request to answer a few questions about her career and journalism. Here are her answers, provided via email:

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 am not leaving because of the paper’s economic troubles. The Denver Post is actually profitable, as I understand it. It’s just not profitable enough for the hedge fund company that owns The Denver Post.

I started writing for newspapers in the early 1970s, when I was still in high school, and newspapers were doing well enough to pay for high school correspondents. I don’t know what the profit margins were then, but there was never a general consensus that it was the newspaper’s job to be extremely profitable. The watchdog role was more important. This was when the Washington Post was breaking the Watergate scandal, and the New York Times had published the Pentagon papers, and the culture in newsrooms definitely reflected the watchdog sensibility, not expectations of high profits.

Part of the reason I took the buyout was because it was the first time a buyout was offered at a time when the newspaper was profitable. In my 30-plus years at the Denver Post, I have accepted a wage freeze, a pay cut and other measures we were told were necessary to keep the paper going. It’s kind of exasperating that when the newspaper IS making money, the owner wants to make even more.

I have had a great run at the Denver Post. They liked my idea when I suggested in 1985  that we host a cross-state bicycle tour, and Ride the Rockies became a genuine boon to many of the Colorado towns who hosted the tour for a night.

The editors typically have been open to the other ideas I have had, and I deeply appreciated that support.

In terms of feeling pressured to produce, that has not really been a problem for me. I have more ideas for stories than I have time to write, and nearly always I become absorbed in researching and telling those stories.

How does the upheaval in journalism affect feature writing? In a place like Denver, do you think there will be fewer jobs for feature reporters than, say, political reporters?  Or will everyone be writing about sports?

I do not know, but I think that one possibility is that the lines between features, business, news and even sports will become blurred. I would not be surprised if there were different categories, maybe breaking news, in-depth articles, and briefs — and that would cover news, business, features and sports. I think people in general like sports sections to be distinct from the news, even though technically that line is awfully blurry sometimes — Tom Brady and the deflated football for instance.

Diminished resources aside, what are your biggest concerns about how political journalism is practiced in Colorado today? What do you admire most?

The problem is that there are not enough reporters to adequately cover it. I think there should be much closer examinations of the fracking industry, and the relationship between the fracking interests and lobbyists and the legislators who champion them.

I think Lynn Bartels will be sorely missed, in part because her institutional memory is exhaustive.

The most worrying political reporting-related incident I experienced at the paper was when a reporter — no longer at the paper — was on the phone with a source, and I overheard the reporter reassuring the person on the other end of the phone, *Not to worry, we will get that bastard.*

I was appalled. It is NOT a newspaper reporter’s job to get the bastards. It is our job to research a situation that looks problematic, and to report the facts of that case. If anyone is going to get the bastard, it should be through the legal system. I know there are bastards out there, and God knows there are some I’d certainly like to see suffer the consequences of their behavior. But it’s not my job to catch and punish them.

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

When I was writing obituaries, easily my favorite gig in those three decades, a woman called and asked if I would interview her BEFORE she died. It was a weird situation. I said I’d need to talk to some of her friends as well. Wound up meeting her in a hospice, along with a couple who’d known her a long time. We chatted, and I asked about her life and took notes. She emphasized the last three decades or so of her life, and when I asked about children and family, said she had none. The couple confirmed that, but they acted weird about it. I should have paid attention to that.

Time passes. The woman dies. The obit runs. My phone rings. On the line, a furious daughter who asked whey she was not consulted for the obituary. The woman had not mentioned a family, but it turned out that she’d estranged herself from her children and former husband. While what she told me at the hospice was not untrue, it also was not the full story.

I go over how I could have figured out the deception, but still can’t see where I could have caught it. I ran a criminal check on everyone I wrote about, to avoid an obit about someone who was a thief or worse, and that hospice patient was clean.

My favorite beat was writing obituaries, but it was also fun writing about how to train for Ride the Rockies, and the odd stories I ran into when I edited the short-lived Colorado Sunday section. Maybe my favorite story is one I wrote in 1989 about an avalanche that crashed into a condominium parking lot at Mt. Crested Butte, trapping three children and suffocating one of them.

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

I would advise learning programs like Final Cut Express, and thinking about following the example of the Center for Digital Storytelling’s model of 2-4 minute videos that tell a tightly-focused story. I also would suggest doing a lot of reading, and going into different communities to ask what is NOT being covered that ought to be getting attention.

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

The eccentric, charming people who were my coworkers, getting unlikely PR pitches, that kind of thing. I am working now on projects I describe as helping to make the world a better place for the aging. I am as excited about some of those projects as I was about stories I worked on.

Do you think you’ll be alive to see The Post close, and, if so, will you write an obituary for the newspaper?

I hope very much that the newspaper will not close during my lifetime. I think the city would be poorer without it, although the readers who think The Denver Post is either too conservative or too liberal would disagree.

As for writing its obituary — wow. An honest obit would require a book, and different Denver Post veterans would tell that story different ways. Dick Kreck would tell one story. Mike McPhee would tell a different one. I would tell yet another. It would be like the blind men trying to describe an elephant. Each would be accurate, as far as his hands and senses could go, and each would be inaccurate. It’s a tricky beast.

Exit interview: Lynn Bartels leaves journalism after 22 years as reporter in Colorado

Friday, July 24th, 2015

Lynn Bartels leaves The Denver Post today, ending a 35-year run in journalism, with 22 of those years in Colorado. After starting her career in New Mexico, Bartels joined the Rocky in 1991 as its night cops reporter. In 2000, she started covering the state legislature. The Denver Post hired Bartels in 2009, immediately after the Rocky closed.

This week, Bartels answered some questions via email about the state of journalism in Colorado and her career as a reporter. (See other interviews in this series here.)

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?

Bartels: Certainly, I wouldn’t be leaving if a buyout hadn’t been offered. In fact, when I went to sign the paperwork, they asked where my package of stuff was, and I said I threw it away because I didn’t think I was going to take the buyout.

I always said, “I can’t leave newspapers. Who would hire me?” It turns out, I had some interesting opportunities. And that made me look at the industry and consider the buyout. I took the offer that made my family the happiest and where my new boss made me laugh during the interview ordeal. I thought, “I could really work for Wayne Williams.” Friends pointed out when I talked about that job I seemed happy. And it’s still politics and elections, which I love.

During the 1960s through mid-1980s, The Denver Post had 11 political reporters dedicated to covering elections and the legislature. In 2010, there were eight. Now that you’re leaving, there will be three, hopefully. No one would say political journalism here is dead, and the transformation of the news media has positive effects too, but what do you think Colorado is losing as The Post’s coverage of state politics shrinks? How bad is the situation? Or are you optimistic?

Quite frankly, the first blow was the loss of the Rocky. It covered politics in a different way. I wish now I had saved all the papers from 2008. We had Mike Littwin’s amazing stories from around the country and the state. M.E. Sprengelmeyer did a lessons learned from previous convention delegates. Burt Hubbard worked his data magic to do stories on how Colorado had voted over the years for president. I think Kevin Vaughan wrote the best lede in the country the night Barack Obama accepted the nomination at Invesco Field.

We had Roll Call and the Stump. When I did a list of things you might not know about Mark Udall, one item was that his youngest sister was an actress who had appeared in Law & Order.

When I arrived in Denver in 1993, both papers had political teams and legislative teams. It’s hard to imagine that now because it’s one and the same. Both papers had two reporters each covering Denver Mayor Wellington Webb and each paper had a full-time DIA reporter. The Rocky had three folks on education: higher ed, Denver Public Schools and suburban schools.

There was just lots more coverage of government.

Diminished resources aside, what are your biggest concerns about how political journalism is practiced in Colorado today? What do you admire most?

I think the coverage of education by Chalkbeat is outstanding.

I worry about the constant pressure to get things in first and fastest and there’s not the proper vetting.

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

I’ve made some doozies and actually would rather not go through the walk of shame again. The biggest mistake I’ve made overall in journalism, I believe, was too often letting my weight stand in the way of TV appearances. I turned most of them down just because I “felt fat.” Rocky editor John Temple basically had to force me to do the Denver mayoral debates in 2003. Yes, I went on Rachel Maddow twice but I turned her down more times than that. Ask Dominic Dezzutti at Colorado Public Television about my saying “no.”

I’ve had a front-row seat to some of the biggest stories in the state — the Oklahoma City bombing trials, Columbine — and along the way I’ve met some amazing people. Randy and Judy Brown, Rosemary and Wayne Wicks, the Flemings, I count them all as friends.

I loved it when former Rocky reporter Jeff Kass put on Facebook that most people now are talking about politics, my career was much more than that, including Columbine.

Favorite story? Maybe it was when a series of homeless men turned up dead, the Rocky assigned me to write about who these men were. I fought it (a common theme!) but in the end that might be one of my favorite stories. It turns out these people had friends and family, but for a variety of reasons, including addiction and mental illness, they just didn’t’ go home. I was working that Sunday when people called the Rocky about the piece. One woman was crying and said, “He hung outside our building and I never thought of him as a person until now.”

And I remember one night I had my coat on and I was getting ready to leave when I heard assistant city editor Luke Clarke say the pizza will be here in a few minutes. “Food! Free food! What’s going on?” I asked. The Denver Post today had depositions in the case involving the football recruiting scandal at CU, and we need to go through them. “Want some help?” I asked. And that was my life for the next five months. The Rocky won all kinds of awards for our reporting — yes, I have some sports-writing awards on my resume. The best ever was getting the investigative report a day early. We were all over national TV. I heard it was a very unhappy day at The Denver Post.

Colorado’s 2014 Senate race between Mark Udall and Cory Gardner was amazing, and I can never thank the Post enough for assigning me the race and letting me do my thing. I thank the Post for hiring me in the first place. Forever grateful.

I loved the story Tim Hoover and I wrote after the unbelievable civil unions blowup on the second to last night of the 2012 session. And then there was the front page “Has Hickenlooper lost his mojo?” piece that generated lots of e-mails and calls.

It would be so easy to leave the Post if I were miserable there, but I’m really happy right now with our team. That’s what makes leaving so hard.

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

Find someone to teach you shorthand. Learn Spanish. Be as technologically advanced as you can be. Read. Read newspapers and not just online.

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

I loved talking political intrigue with Editor Greg Moore. But I think what I will miss most of all was saying, “with The Denver Post.” That kind of says it all. People weren’t sure what the Rocky was. People in Colorado did. They loved it. Others? Well, they weren’t sure what it was. West Wing did a funny take on that once.

Other comments?

Here are some odds and ends.

In 2007, I won the Public Service Award from the Colorado Press Association for my stories on ethics issues at the Colorado Legislature. I think I was the first reporter in light years to win that award based on breaking news. There was no project editor, no graphics designer, no photographer assigned to the project, no one manipulating reams of data. It was old fashioned beat reporting and I was thrilled to see it honored.

I think former Post reporter Jessica Fender once summed me up better than most when she said something like, “Bartels will never be the kind of reporter who can go through stacks of documents and find the needle, but she’s the kind of reporter who people will pull aside and point her to this box of documents and say. ‘There’s a needle. Don’t tell anybody I told you.’”

Change has always frightened me. When I was first assigned to “the ledge” in 2000, I was miserable the first few weeks. There were many tears that Rocky editor Tonia Twichell and then Colorado Springs Gazette reporter Michele Ames had to deal with. And in 2014 I can remember crying in the women’s restroom in the Post, talking on the phone to Gardner spokesman Alex Siciliano and saying, “Why did they put me on this race? I don’t know federal issues. I don’t know about LMN.” And he said, “It’s LNG, liquified natural gas. I will walk you through it.” In both cases, I ended up loving the assignment.

In other words when you call me at Wayne’s World next month and ask how it’s going, I will say in a tiny voice, “It’s OK.” But later down the road, if you’re lucky, you’ll get to hear the famous Lynn Laugh, the one where interns used to ask, “Should we call 911?”

Exit interview: Veteran Denver Post opinion-page writer Alicia Caldwell leaves journalism

Monday, April 6th, 2015

Creating yet another gaping hole at Denver’s leading news outlet, Alicia Caldwell ended a twelve-year run at The Denver Post Tuesday, when she left the newspaper for a job as communications director for the Colorado Department of Human Services. Caldwell started in 2003 as a news reporter and joined The Post’s editorial board in 2006. Prior to joining The Post, she spent 16 years at the St. Petersburg Times in Florida.

Before her departure from The Post last week, Caldwell answered a few questions via email about journalism,The Post, and her new job.

Why are you leaving The Post?

Caldwell: The opportunity to become communications director for the state Department of Human Services was too good to pass up. Many of us get into journalism because we are drawn to important issues and care about the condition of society at large. This job gives me a more direct way of contributing on both those counts. The work CDHS does is really difficult, yet the agency is making headway on a number of fronts. I’m not sure there is a broad appreciation of that progress.

Do you agree with me that as journalism shrinks, opinion-writing jobs at newspapers, like yours at The Post, are even more endangered than jobs on the news side? If you agree, what will be lost in a place like Colorado, as jobs like yours disappear? If you disagree, please explain why.

Caldwell: I both agree and disagree with your premise. Yes, I think that the loss of voices on the opinion page diminishes breadth and depth of debate on issues of public importance. Love us or hate us, well-researched opinions on the topics of the day, especially the complex ones, bring value to the public sphere. Where I might part ways with your supposition is that opinion positions are more endangered than those on the news side. The newspaper has been cutting everywhere, unfortunately, due to shrinking revenues. It makes me profoundly sad, I will tell you, to see the diminution of the staff and the coverage we’re able to provide readers.

Diminished resources aside, what are your biggest concerns about how journalism is practiced today in Colorado? What do you admire most?

Caldwell: Well, I think all of my concerns are directly tied to diminished resources and the many effects that has on how journalism is practiced. As budgets grow thinner, it’s not just that journalists are losing their jobs, it’s that the business can no longer afford to pay for experienced hands who generally produce the most sophisticated stories. It also means the more subtle stories that might take time and research fall to the bottom of the priority list. Journalism will survive, but I worry that at regional newspapers, it will turn into a low-wage profession. And hey, I understand the need to balance the books, the need for revenues to cover expenses, but I do think that changing financial landscape will inevitably change the nature of the workforce and the product. As for admiration, I very much admire those who are carrying on despite all of these challenges because they have passion for their work and respect for the mission.

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

Caldwell: Keep your eyes open going in and don’t expect it to go back to the way it was even 10 years ago.

What do you think you’ll miss most when you leave The Post?

Caldwell: Being on the editorial board has been a profound honor. I have appreciated every day the freedom I’ve had to write on a broad range of topics. Working with Vincent Carroll, the editorial page editor at The Post, has been a pleasure. Vincent is a true professional who is always willing to consider opinions that differ from his own. I have to tell you, I think America would be less politically polarized if more people would sit down and rationally discuss the merits of an issue with people who they might not initially agree with. That piece of common ground that many of us long for is actually bigger than one might think.

Thanks, Alicia.

NOTE: See other “exit interviews” with Denver journalists here.

Exit interview: Leaving local TV news for Politico, Stokols looks forward to never being told, “That’s too inside baseball”

Friday, March 27th, 2015

Eli Stokols, who came to Denver as a general assignment reporter in 2005, is leaving KDVR Fox 31 Tuesday as one of the state’s top political reporters. He also became a Fox 31 anchor, launched his own public-policy TV show, and wrote nonstop on multiple platforms.

I had coffee with Stokols, and we talked about his ten-year run in Denver and his future job at Politico in Washington DC. Here’s an edited version of our conversation:

Why Politico?

Stokols: I’ve been looking for an opportunity to report on politics from a national platform. I don’t think that’s any secret. And, frankly, part of that is because in Colorado you get a taste of doing that, because every campaign here is nationalized. There is no shortage of great political stories to cover here, which helped me to broaden my work. You come to a point in your professional career when you need a different challenge. On some level, because I’d been here for so long and was considered one of the veterans, a lot of people come to you with information, and it gets easier. And you can find yourself not working as hard because stuff comes to you. Or you find yourself not as excited when the campaign cycle comes around because you’ve done a ton of them.

And what are you going to do there?

I’m going to cover 2016, mostly write about it. I imagine I’ll cover a lot of the presidential candidates early on.

On the trail?

Yeah. I’ll be traveling a lot. That’s going to be exciting. I’ve been joking with people. It’s about time someone gives up statehouse reporting and goes and covers the presidential race, because what America really needs is more reporters covering the presidential race. You understand going into it that it’s going be hard to come up with stories and angles, but it’s exciting. It’s probably a cliche, but if you’re a political reporter, and that’s what you’re interested in, the opportunity to cover a presidential race and be on the trail is a bucket list thing.

Speaking of the state legislature, will Fox 31 replace you?

The upshot is, this was never a position we had because management said we had to cover politics. I don’t know what they will do. [See CJR’s Corey Hutchins’ take on this here.] It’s disappointing. You get this opportunity, and then you leave. And you look at what you built. And I know [9News political reporter Adam Schrager] felt the same way when he left. You want it to continue. And so it’s bittersweet.

Here’s a sad question. You’ve established Fox 31 as a go-to source of local political news. Now you’re leaving, and you say you’d like to see things continue. But it doesn’t look like they’re going to. And there doesn’t seem to be any incentive for Fox to do it, in terms of ratings.

What I’ve done has never been about ratings. I think there needs to be more decisions made in local television that are not made based on ratings but are based on the greater good, the public good. And you get criticized for being a media elitist when you say this, but I will unabashedly say, as journalists, we have a responsibility to determine what the audience and the greater public really need to know about–and make fewer decisions in terms of what we do and don’t cover based on what we think they will like seeing on the news.

Bottom line, you don’t think that ratings will suffer with your departure?

No, I don’t.

What will happen to the station?

I really do think Fox 31 is moving in the right direction. The new news director, Holly Gaunt, is very smart, sees the big picture, sees things clearly within the market and within our newsroom. And [she] will continue that station’s upward trajectory. I think [Fox 31 anchor] Jeremy Hubbard is, I think, the best anchor in the market. There are a lot of talented people there. I think Fox 31 has a decision to make about what kind of footprint they make in terms of political coverage.

What’s it going to take to change viewer habits in Denver. You’ve busted your ass. Your station is very competent, but yet you’ve sat there at the bottom, or close to it. It has got to be frustrating.

I won’t say [9News] hasn’t done a lot to maintain [its top slot in the market] and earn that. Some of it is journalism. A lot of it is also branding and community involvement. They sponsor everything. They are a juggernaut, and it’s not just because of the news department. But they are less dominant than they were when I first got to the market. And there are opportunities to challenge them. At the CBA awards, it was Fox 31 and 9News that won most of the awards. They do a good job. A lot of stations do a good job, but changing viewer habits is sometimes as simple as finding that right anchor team and that chemistry. Channel 7’s morning show was killing it when they had Ana Cabrera on there. She is a special talent, and there’s a reason CNN said, “We want to take you.” And they did take her. And now their morning show is not the same. And it takes nothing away from other people who are on the morning show.

Something like that could flip it?

I think Jeremy Hubbard is that kind of talent. He’s very good. He’s only been back here in this role for a short time. There’s a real consistency with him.

There’s something really great about covering state and local politics. You get a personal interaction with people. You see them at the grocery store. You see that in DC too, but I never felt it was the same. What do you think you are going to miss about being here?

The relationships are the hardest thing to give up, because in a smaller market like this you really get a lot of access to people–except when it’s campaign season. [It is] amazing how people who are your best friends suddenly disappear during campaign season. It takes time to build something like I feel I have here in Colorado. And DC, it’s a bigger pond but there are a ton more fish in it too. There are too many journalists.

And more sharks, too.

I’m looking forward to being in a city, and writing for a publication, where there’s no question about whether people are interested in politics.

I know. I don’t blame you.

One of the most exciting things about going to Politico, and the reason I wanted to go there, is because, one, you don’t have the requirements of doing broadcast television that naturally, in some ways,degrade the depth of your journalism. They help you in some ways too.The Cory Gardner interview [during which Gardner repeatedly denied the purpose of a bill that Gardner co-sponsored] wouldn’t have been anything if it weren’t a televised interview. So it’s just different.

The big thing is, I will never be told by an editor there, “That’s too inside baseball; no one cares.” I won’t hear that. And I hear it almost every day and have for ten years. And that is one of the things that’s most exciting to me, is working for a political place like that.

And it’s true. It’s hard to get people to pay attention here. That’ll be fun.

 

Post closes last Colorado bureau and loses reporter Nancy Lofholm

Tuesday, February 17th, 2015

Another in a string of highly regarded journalists to leave The Denver Post in the last few years, Nancy Lofholm walked away from the newspaper Feb. 6, after The Post closed its Western Slope bureau, which Lofholm directed.

Before coming to The Post 17 years ago, Lofholm worked for several Colorado newspapers, including the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel and the Montrose Daily Press. She’s freelanced for, among other publications, the New York Times, USA Today, and the LA Times.

“At the risk of sounding like a news Neanderthal,” Lofholm told me via email, “I will reveal that my life in journalism really began in 1968. I was the editor of my high school newspaper and was invited to ride through Nebraska on Bobby Kennedy’s campaign train. It was a smoke-filled, highball-sloshed, bloodshot-eyed scene. I was utterly hooked. My life’s mission became peeking behind curtains and describing for readers what I saw. ”

Here are Lofholm’s answers to questions I emailed her.

Jason: Why are you leaving? Will you continue as a journalist?

Lofholm: The powers-that-be at The Denver Post decided to close the Western Slope bureau and focus coverage on the Denver/metro area. I opted  to not transfer to Denver. I had been covering news on the Western Slope for more than three decades (17 of those years for The Post).  I had no desire to leave my home, friends and significant other behind to start over in Denver at the age of 64. After a brief bike-riding and sunset-savoring breather, I will continue in journalism. Some good opportunities are opening up and I intend to take advantage of them to keep up some coverage of this side of the state.

Jason: What are a couple of your best memories of The Post? Worst?

Lofholm: My best memories are of the early years when The Post created six bureaus around the state. It was part of a “We Are Colorado” campaign.  Top executives and editors at The Post traveled around the state in a bus and handed out coffee, cookies and tchotchkes to trumpet The Post’s commitment to being a strong statewide newspaper. Having that as a mission gave us in the bureaus so much opportunity to be creative in our coverage.

We had supportive state editors, like the exceptional Joe Watt, who really understood and appreciated the color and diversity of rural Colorado. We had a great cohesive team of talented reporters who could come together on wildfires, fugitive chases and plane crashes. Our team also was encouraged to produce the lively dailies that took readers along as we explored every interesting nook and cranny of Colorado, from a snowplow on Red Mountain and a gold mine near Victor to a corn factory-on-wheels at Olathe and a rodeo chute in Leadville.  At least one of us was on Page 1 nearly every day.

The hours were long. The deadlines were demanding. But it was all centered on the best of newspaper reporting and storytelling and on delivering what readers valued. I loved every bit of it. I will always feel incredibly lucky to have been a part of that.

And the worst: Seeing those bureaus shuttered one by one and The Post’s interest in news outside of Denver dwindle. The last few years had been very painful because of that lack of interest. I was forced to ignore so much news from this side of the mountains and was told the slice-of-life stories from over here were “too west slopey” for The Post.

Jason: One of your beats is immigration. Any advice for reporters trying to do a fair and accurate job on this topic?

Lofholm: Ignore the extremists on both sides of the issue. And get to know the real people at the heart of this difficult topic – the Dreamers, the farmworkers, the detained, the deported and the newly minted citizens.  Only through understanding and telling their stories can you illustrate why the immigration system is so badly in need of a fix and why so much of the emotional rhetoric is off-base.

Oh, and never expect ICE to give you a straight or timely answer to your questions

Jason: Would you advise a young person to pursue journalism?

Lofholm: Absolutely. I advise that all the time – with the caveat that they shouldn’t expect to get rich or to relax.

If young people have a passion for journalism, they can deal with whatever an industry in huge flux will throw at them. The demand for solid reporting and lively, well-written stories won’t go away. It may seem to be lost at times in the constant shuffle of priorities, the new instant nature of news  and the dazzle of digital platforms, but it will always be important. My advice is to keep that at the core of journalistic ambitions.

And, of course, be able to tweet, shoot videos, upload stills and text updates to editors – all while reporting and observing news events.The young do that so well!

Jason: Anything to say about the future of journalism in Colorado?

Lofholm: It will be very interesting. I say that knowing that ‘interesting’ is entirely too weak a word for what might happen in Denver. Will the Rocky revive? What will the hedge funders do with The Post? What is Phil Anschutz up to? What about that scrappy upstart, the Colorado Independent?

As all that sorts itself out, I think the small papers around Colorado will hold their own. Talented and dedicated people at papers like the Silverton Standard & Miner, the Dove Creek Press, the Durango Herald and many more will carry on, and their communities will be the better for it.

Jason: Or on The Post’s decision to close what appears to be its last in-state bureau?

Lofholm: Sad. Colorado needs a statewide newspaper, but The Post has not filled that need well in this half of the state for some time. Home delivery is nearly non-existent, and the busy digital product has some readers in areas of slow connectivity throwing up their hands in frustration. Those who are still dedicated to The Post are wistfully asking  “What about ‘Denver & the West’? Will it now be ‘Denver & the Metro’?”

Jason: Anything you want to add?

Lofholm: I would have liked to have continued working for The Denver Post for a few more years. I still have that fire, curiosity and energy to devote to journalism. I see good stories everywhere. I leave with a fat file of story ideas that certain editors at The Post had nixed but that I know will  be the basis for some freelance opportunities.

At this point I feel like I have new freedom to produce some good work.

Losing a Denver Post paycheck has not caused me to lose my passion for journalism.

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.