Archive for the 'Newspaper industry' Category

Stop shrugging or laughing at the collapse of The Denver Post and Colorado journalism

Wednesday, July 15th, 2015

I listen to a lot of conservatives and progressives, and, the overwhelming response by both to the troubles of The Denver Post has been either a shrug or a snicker. (After years of devastating staff cuts, the newspaper is laying off another 10 percent of its newsroom staff and shrinking the print even more.)

The shrug comes from people who see the newspaper as useless, even though it still serves as the primary information source for political and other news in the Colorado. And it’s the primary driver of local news that you see on TV and on social media.

I’m floored by how frequently people trash The Post as irrelevant in one breath and then spend an entire meeting or radio show discussing an article that just appeared in the paper–or, even more ironically, talking about stories that have been left out of the newspaper. If only the irrelevant Denver Post would cover [fill in the blank].

The newspaper is so small and weak already, they say, it doesn’t matter if 20 journalists or more are cut, as planned on July 20 or so, joining about 20,000 journalists laid off nationally.

The thing is, even now after all the cuts already made, if you read the print edition of The Denver Post, or just a fraction of its online content, you’ll still get the information you need to function as a citizen in Colorado–to understand the state legislature, to keep up on elections, to follow civic and cultural life. What other media source could possibly make that claim?

The snicker about The Post’s ongoing decline comes from the folks who feel the newspaper gets in their way, unfairly shifting public debate against them and their causes. Conservatives are more likely to feel this way than progressives, because they’re deeply attached to the notion of “liberal bias,” as if The Denver Post has been undermining their agenda, as well as that of the Republican Party, for decades and its disappearance will give them an opening to win over public opinion. This is so outrageous, and unsupported by evidence, that it needs no response.

And it’s not just the people crusading against gay marriage and abortion who feel this way. It’s the fiscal conservatives, too, who repeatedly say how much The Post’s news coverage is biased toward big government and social support networks.

For their part, progressives complain that the newspaper is a slave to big corporate interests, which has some truth to it but is often proven false by the reporting you actually see in the newspaper.

These people love to ridicule the shrinking news pages and say the newspaper’s demise proves them right about its skewed coverage. With the rise of social media, people now see how bad the newspaper is, they say. Well, you have to wonder what garbage these people are finding on Facebook.  Where do you find better local journalism than The Denver Post? Nowhere, except maybe itsy bitsy pieces here and there. Sometimes.

They also say The Post is getting what it deserves, having been so fat and rich for so long that it failed to see the social-media forces that have upended its business model. It’s hard to argue that newspapers screwed themselves by missing the shifting media boat early on, but is this any reason to take pleasure in the demise of an entity that uniquely informs the public and holds government officials accountable?

The truth is, if you’re not sad about the demise of The Post, you really don’t care about the elimination of local journalism, which actually factually helps people make sense of the world and be informed citizens.

I don’t mean to slight the journalism you see at local TV stations or online outfits like this dumb blog, but The Post’s Colorado-based journalism, even now but especially just a few short years ago, makes all the rest of the professional journalism practiced in Colorado look ant-like.

So where’s the discussion of what we can do about the collapsing Denver Post and the gutting of local journalism? It’s absent.

Is there really nothing to say? Can’t grandstanding politicians, maybe a few from each party, spotlight the problem and call on philanthropists to step up and fund local journalism? Or figure out something else to say? Even if it’s just to acknowledge the tragedy unfolding in front of us?

Or how about a state journalism tax, to set aside public funding for independent Colorado-based journalism?

A ridiculous idea that has no prayer, you say? Right. But do you have anything else to suggest?

The alternative, for those of us who care about local journalism, is to stand aside and watch everyone else shrug or laugh.

Former GOP state rep. Jared Wright says he’ll “strive to be fair” as publisher of Colorado Statesman

Monday, February 23rd, 2015

The Colorado Statesman, which reports the nitty gritty of politics that’s loved by junkies and is hard to find these days outside of partisan blogs and radio shows, has appointed  a former Republican politician as publisher: Jared Wright,  former state representative from Mesa County.

In a touching good-bye column Friday that conjured a fading era in local journalism, current publisher Jody Hope Strogoff announced her departure from the newspaper.

Over the weekend, Wright answered a few questions via email regarding his new job.

Jason Salzman: I was glad to read that Judy Hope Strogoff thinks that you’re “aptly qualified” to run the Statesman. But, still, you’re obviously known as a partisan Republican, albeit with a libertarian streak. Will you assure readers of the Statesman that you’ll try, as publisher, to be fair to all sides, and why should we believe you?

Jaered Wright: Thanks for your questions, Jason. First, just as a point of clarification, The Statesman’s long-time publisher’s name is Jody Hope Strogoff. [Jason Salzman: I've made the same mistake before, and I regret the error.]  I have a deep respect for Jody’s long-time dedication and contributions to The Statesman and Colorado political reportage in general. Jody is not going away and will continue to be a mentor to me, a contributor to the newspaper and certainly an asset to this institution.

Yes, readers can be assured that I will strive to be fair. When I was an elected representative, my job was to represent the people of my district – a largely conservative district at that. My role has now changed significantly. Now, my duty is to deliver objective, balanced and complete news reporting to the people of this state, something The Statesman is known for as an institution, and something I take very seriously. For proof, keep reading The Statesman and you will see it within our pages.

Also take a look back at some of my political cartoons. In my artwork, you will see I don’t pull punches from either side of the political aisle editorially.

As publisher, I have full respect for the divide that must exist between the business side of the publication and its editorial department.

Having been on the other side of the microphone as an elected official, I know what objective reporting looks like. I also know what biased, agenda-driven reporting looks like. The former is what we must strive for. It is vital for a free society.

Salzman: Many were way surprised that you got the publisher job. Do you want to explain how it came to pass that you were named publisher?

Wright: I was surprised too! Sometimes life delivers unforeseen opportunities, and this was one I could not pass up. I have always been an avid reader of newspapers and an ardent consumer of political media in general, so I count this chance to contribute directly in the field of journalism an exciting opportunity, and one that I take very seriously.

Salzman: What are your plans, on the editorial side, for the newspaper? Do you have a vision for the Statesman beyond what we’ve seen in recent years?

Wright: My two biggest goals for our editorial department are modernization and growth. The Statesman is truly an institution in this state – it’s been around since 1898. My vision for the newspaper is to carry forward its history of fair, objective and unique, insider-oriented Colorado political reporting while also rejuvenating it to better serve modern news consumers – people who are busy professionals reading their news on their smartphones while taking RTD into work, reading a quick story on their laptop on lunch hour, catching up on the latest chatter under the gold dome while at their kid’s soccer match, etc. Providing this distinctive, high-quality news content to a growing, diverse and sophisticated audience throughout Colorado is the focal point of my vision for The Statesman

Salzman: Do you plan to make the newspaper more web-friendly?

Wright: Yes, as you know, a simple, robust, well-designed website is absolutely key to media success in the 21st century.

Salzman: What political publications and political reporters do you admire?

Wright: In feel lucky to be working now for a publication where our lead reporter also happens to be one of my longtime favorites. Ernest Luning is a very talented reporter with investigative acumen – well connected, fair, and a tremendous writer. I’ve read his stories in The Statesman for years now, and he does a great job.

Salzman: Sources tell me that the loss of legal ads have put the Statesman’s future in jeopardy. Is it true that the newspaper is on shaky financial ground and, if so, do you have any specific plans to solidify things?

Wright: It’s no secret that the print industry has been in the midst of some turbulence and will continue to face challenging times ahead – no matter what the publication – but I also see big opportunities within grasp so long as we have positioned ourselves on the cusp of the wave. Being quick on our feet and adaptive to technological changes and trending methods of media consumption will be vital.

Salzman: Sources tell me that Larry Mizel almost certainly owns a majority share of the newspaper. Can you tell me if this is true?

Wright: As with many other well-known, privately owned publications and media conglomerates across the country – many of which deliver premium, award-winning news content – it is not our policy to give out the names of our investors.

Salzman: Any other comments?

Wright: Yeah, yeah – I know. I’m the guy that made the stupid mistake at the Capitol. I’m not perfect. [Jason Salzman note:  Wright is best known for leaving a loaded gun in a House committee room.] I’ve screwed up a time or two in my life. And when I do, I admit it, fix it, learn from it and move on. The future of The Colorado Statesman is very important to me. I only look back to learn from my missteps. Otherwise, I’m looking 100% forward.

Salzman: Thanks again

Wright: Thanks for your contributions to Colorado’s media landscape, Jason, and for participating in what is clearly not always an easy or profitable career. I appreciate the opportunity to interview with you.

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.

It’s the media’s fault! Or is it?

Saturday, November 8th, 2014

It’s easy to complain about journalism among friends. But what do you get out of it? Echoes.

Here’s a chance to talk back to the media directly. On Tuesday, a panel of top local journalists will discuss the highs and lows of media coverage of the 2014 election—and take questions from the audience.

The panel features Shaun Boyd, Political Specialist, CBS4, Peter Marcus, Denver Correspondent, Durango Herald, Chuck Plunkett, Politics Editor, The Denver Post, Nicholas Riccardi, Western Political Reporter, Associated Press, and Eli Stokols, Political Reporter, Fox 31 Denver.

Any question about local news coverage of the election is fair game. Why so few stories about Bob Beauprez’s wild birther ideas? Were John Hickenlooper’s gaffes underplayed? Did reporters allow senatorial candidate Cory Gardner to bury his Tea Party past? What about Benghazi, ISIS, and Obama?

The panel will cover the spectrum of opinions in part because moderators come from the left and right on the political spectrum: Kelly Maher is director of the conservative Compass Colorado, and yours truly is a progressive blogger.

The event takes place Tuesday, Nov. 11, from 7:30-9 a.m. at 1380 Lawrence Street in the 2nd-floor Terrace Room.

It’s free, and even includes coffee and continental breakfast. Doors open at 7:30 a.m. and the discussion runs from 7:45 – 9 a.m. Please RSVP to tips You can also email questions, if you don’t want to ask them yourself.

Paul Teske, Dean of University of Colorado Denver’s School of Public Affairs, will offer introductory remarks. The University of Colorado’s School of Public Affairs is sponsoring the event, along with and Compass Colorado.

Fact checking the fact-checkers: “Mostly true” not “mostly false” that Gardner blocked immigration reform

Thursday, August 7th, 2014

In a fact-check last week, Politifact concluded that it was “mostly false” for SEIU to assert, in a radio ad, that senatorial candidate Cory Gardner “blocked immigration reform.” A fairer conclusion would have been, “mostly true.”

Politifact’s logic:

So far the House has not acted [on immigration-reform legislation], and prospects are dim for action before the fall elections. That means Gardner hasn’t had the opportunity to actually vote on legislation, making it hard to attribute any blame to him. It’s not as though he holds any leadership positions where he could have advanced legislation or held up the process.

Hard to attribute “any blame” to Gardner? Please.

Gardner went from publicly backing comprehensive immigration reform to publicly opposing it. It’s safe to say that he was making the same arguments against comprehensive reform to fellow House Republicans, including Eric Cantor, who was a close Gardner ally, having taken a personal interest in Gardner during his first term in office. Gardner was on everyone’s list for House leadership, and he was already a Vice Chair of the National Republican Campaign Committee.

But regardless of what he said to House leaders, Gardner never produced a specific immigration reform plan of his own, relying instead on his platitudinous lines about the need for more border security.

If you attack a plan that’s on the table, and you have no specific plan of your own, that’s blocking, maybe not total blockage, but blocking nonetheless.

So, while it would be false to say Gardner blocked immigration reform all by himself, it’s at least “mostly true” to assert the he blocked it nonetheless.

Gazette clarifies that anonymous Gessler critics don’t back Gessler opponents

Friday, February 21st, 2014

In a surprisingly sharp editorial yesterday arguing that Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler will be “crucified in the general election” if Republicans choose him to take on Hickenlooper, The Colorado Springs Gazette cited two anonymous sources:

“Democrats will have a field day with Gessler,” said a ranking Colorado Republican insider who spoke to The Gazette on background.

“I don’t think he’s electable.” Another ranking Republican, asked about Gessler as nominee, said only this: “train wreck.”

How can the Gazette offer up these anonymous sources without at least telling us that the people quoted don’t back State Sen. Greg Brophy or any of Geessler’s opponents?

So I asked Gazette Editorial Page Editor Wayne Laugesen if he’d tell me whether these sources are supporting one of the other GOP gubernatorial candidates. Or if they’re on the payroll of another candidate?

Laugesen: “Members of The Gazette’s editorial board know who the two sources are. Among those board members is my immediate supervisor, the publisher of The Gazette. Neither source has decided on a candidate (or so we are told). Each has employment that would forbid obtaining compensation from a candidate.”

Laugesen might consider tossing his clarifying statement onto his editorial page, in the unlikely event that any of his readers miss this blog post.

So now it’s up to readers to decide if they trust the Gazette on this. I do.

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.

Channels 4 and 9 should have credited Denver Post for breaking story about GOP bid to host 2016 Republican convention in Denver

Friday, November 15th, 2013

On The Denver Post’s Spot Blog yesterday, I was happy to find political editor Chuck Plunkett being a media critic.

He called out CBS4 and 9News for running stories about the State GOP’s bid to host the 2016 Republican convention in Denver–without crediting The Post for breaking the story earlier in the same day.

Plunkett wrote:

Few journalists can say that they have never failed to mention that a competitor broke a story or broached aspects of a story before they published or broadcast their reports. But it ought to be a journalist’s good-faith rule of thumb that she try to point out when another journalist or newsroom did the hard work of informing the public.

The argument is both an ethical and an economic one.

The Post, like many newsrooms, has faced repeated downsizing in recent years. The livelihood of its journalists depends on the success of our brand.

So when newsrooms with large audiences take our work for their own, we are disenfranchised.

9News responded to Plunkett’s post with a tweet stating that 9News attributes stories to the source that confirms the information. In this case, 9News turned to Colorado GOP Chair Ryan Call, who spoke about the topic on camera.

“Journalists get tipped to a story in a lot of different ways, and it’s our job to go out and confirm it ourselves,” 9News News Director Patti Dennis told me this morning, adding that this is the reality of how the news business works. “We love the guys at The Post, but if we can confirm our own stories, that’s what we’re going to do.”

But Kelly McBride, Ethics Faculty at the Poynter Institute, told me Dennis’ approach conflicts with the journalistic ethic to be transparent, which, she argues, is increasingly important to today’s news consumers.

“The audience is really wondering where all of your [story] ideas come from,” McBride told me. “It’s not just when you get it from a competitor. They want to know, ‘Hey, our beat reporter found this out from a source on the beat.’ Or, ‘We stumbled upon this while perusing public documents.’ Or, ‘This is on the agenda of this politician’s schedule today.’

Why are you choosing to tell us this story now, because the reality is, most stories don’t have a news peg, even though we think they do. This is a classic example. If you’re in the news market, you’re wondering, ‘Why is everybody in my news market suddenly writing about the possiblity that the Republican convention is going to come here. What is the event that caused this to happen? Well, the event was that The Denver Post stumbled upon it.”

It’s ethical to be transparent, McBride said, partly because when you are, the “audience finds the information more helpful and useful.”

Ethics aside, McBride thinks that, especially in today’s news environment, news outlets will lose credibility over time, if they don’t credit news outlets that break information, like Plunkett requested.

“What’s interesting now, because the audience can track where they get their information from, because of time stamps on the internet, people can see the news process much more clearly, the audience is starting to request a little more intellectual honesty from the news providers,” McBride said. “This isn’t a big thing, like, ‘Hey, you stole that story from the newspaper.’ It’s more of a little thing that adds up over time to either add credibility to an organization or undermine credibility.”

And so, over time, if you’re constantly doing that, more and more of your audience members are going to notice it,” said McBride, who just finished editing a book called The New Ethics of Journalism. “And they are going to notice that you get beat on a story, and then miraculously you have the story, and you never acknowledge that someone else turned up the information first, and they’ll start to see you as someone who’s not completely honest about where your ideas come from. And it’s so easy to be honest. You dont’ have to say in your first line of the story, ‘as originally reported in.’ You can acknowledge it half way through the story or at the end of the story

As a blogger, I definitely appreciate it when The Denver Post or 9News or CBS4 gives me credit for information I find. It’s the nice thing to do, especially if you care about saving newspapers and journalism generally–not just about saving yourself (though McBride argues it’s in your own self-interest too).

So I come down on Plunkett’s side on this one, even though, as Dennis point out, it’s not necessarily the way the journaism world works. But it should be.

Pueblo Chieftain General Manager unleases shady email pressuring State Senator to vote against gun bills

Monday, March 11th, 2013

The email boxes of Colorado lawmakers haven’t been pretty lately, unless you appreciate personal threats, F-bombs, and general references to some other reality where facts as we know them don’t exist.

But a shady email from the general manager of a newspaper? You’d never expect it.

But, as first reported by KRDO TV in an excellent piece, that’s what State Sen. Angela Giron received March 3, from Pueblo Chieftain General Manager Ray Stafford.

In his email, Stafford first introduced himself to Giron as the person “responsible for the entire newspaper, including the newsroom,” and then wrote: “Please do not vote for the current gun legislation. To vote for it would be an affront to the citizens of this state, Pueblo, and America.”

Stafford signed the letter with his title and the phase “And gun owner.” Yikes.

As General Manager of the newspaper, as opposed to, for example, the news editor, Stafford is entitled to his opinion and to express it freely, but to me, this private email undermines the Chieftain’s credibility as an impartial news source, raising the possibility that Stafford will use his influence to direct the newspaper’s journalism against Giron personally or to tilt coverage against gun safety legislation.

I mean, why send the letter privately and tell a State Senator specifically how much power you wield at the newspaper?

I described the letter to Kevin Z. Smith, who’s chairman of the Ethics Committee of the Society of Professional Journalists.

He said the position of “general manager” position can probably be equated to that of publisher, and newspaper publishers often try to “affect some kind of influence” in the community, by sitting on boards or expressing opinions.

There needs to be a “clear delineation between what the publisher is attempting to do” and “what the responsibility of the newsroom is, Smith told me. adding that “often times that’s where the line gets crossed.”

Smith: It’s hard when the General Manager says, openly, ‘I’m also in charge of the newsroom and news coverage.’ To me that says, ‘This paper is going to take a news-coverage stance that we’re not going to support any types of gun legislation.’ If that’s what I’m reading, between the lines, then that’s patently unfair and unethical.

When this happens, the newsroom will have to “work very hard” to regain credibility, Smith said.

Fred Brown, another former Society for Professional Journalists Ethics Committee Chair, said Smith’s opinion should have been expressed in public, possibly on the opinion page. Brown doesn’t think Stafford’s email was unethical, but Brown wrote,  “the vehicle chosen to deliver the sentiment does raise some flags. Why not do it publicly?”

For more on the ethics of this, see the New York Times ethics policy, for example, here.

So, the bottom line, from my perspective, is that this is an unseemly, shady way for a newspaperman to operate, bringing into question the neutrality of the Chieftain’s news department. Certainly, everyday readers of the Chieftain would look askance at it. Common sense says it’s wrong.

Stafford did not immediately respond to my telephone call seeking comment, but he told KRDO:

“You have a copy of my e-mail and it’s not threatening at all. In fact, I point out that that was my opinion and I certainly have a right to that opinion and it doesn’t matter what e-mail account I send it from. The fact is the e-mail doesn’t contain any kind of a threat whatsoever,” Stafford said.

An assistant publisher and vice president also told KRDO that the newspaper has published balanced stories on gun-safety legislation.

Still, Stafford owes the Chieftain’s readers an apology. He should assure them that he will not direct the newsroom to produce stories unfavorable to Giron or to gun-safety legislation.

Stafford would be doing his profession a favor if he acknowledged his mistake publicly. Journalism is taking enough hits as it is, without gun-owning general managers embarrassing themselves in public.

Denver news outlets lie there as Gardner, Gessler, and Whitman abuse them

Thursday, November 3rd, 2011

When a public figure attacks journalism, reporters should see it as an opportunity to help people understand what reporters do and why they should continue to exist.

I mean, if journalists don’t defend themselves, who will? Academics? Maybe, but who cares?

And if only the marginalized and irrelevant characters are defending journalism, you have to think the profession will sink even faster than it is now.

In July, for example, Rep. Cory Gardner said on Grassroots Radio Colorado that “the media” is biased against people like him who believe in smaller government, but as far as I know, no journalist has reported why Gardner believes this, much less responded to it.

Last week, Secretary of State Scott Gessler said “a lot of the mainstream media” are “fine” with Republicans as long as they “don’t make waves.” But if Republicans, presumably like Gessler himself,  “challenge the status quo,” then then the media get upset.

Here’s a chance for journalists to explain 1) whether they’ve been “upset” at Gessler, and 2) why their coverage of him has been in the public interest.

But no such stories have been written, even though Gessler’s attack on the media appeared in The Denver Post’s Spot blog.

Then over the weekend, The Post served up a story about Gerry Whitman lashing out at the media during a farewell news conference, saying the news media’s portrayal of his department was “just ridiculous” and stories about excessive force have been overblown.

Another opportunity for journalists to stand up for themselves! But I noticed little or no such self defense in the article.

So I emailed Post reporter Kirk Mitchell, who wrote the Whitman article, and told him that when a public official attacks the media, I think reporters should treat the accusation as they would in any other news story, and present readers with a response from the entity that’s attacked.

Why didn’t he offer a quotation from a Post editor or another journalist about whether the media’s police coverage was fair.

He wrote back, “The story did mention that there were 10 police firings since March.”

True, that’s indeed a response, but let’s face it. It’s weak (and it was left out of the online edition). Here’s the graf Mitchell refers to:

[Whitman's] comments came during a year in which 10 of his officers have been fired since March, six after lying about excessive-force complaints.

The Post could have fired back at Whitman with more force, if not excessive force. An editor might have blasted him with something like:

It’s a newspaper’s job to inform the public about lying and violent-happy cops, especially when they get fired. That’s why we’re here. That’s how journalism holds public officials accountable. Rather than attacking us, Whitman might advise his own police force to behave better under the next chief, so that the Police Department’s problems won’t be in the newspaper. Until then, we’ll continue to give our readers the truth, to the best of our ability.

You probably won’t see anything like this in The Denver Post anytime soon, though I’m glad to see Post Editor Greg Moore defending the newspaper’s coverage more often on high-profile stories, including his newspaper’s handling of Mayor Michael Hancock’s alleged use of prostitutes and Scott McInnis’ non-use of a plagiarism checker.

You’re more likely to find outfits like “Fair and Balanced” Fox News get self rightious about what it does, even though it’s far less likely to be fair and accurate than the mainstream media in Denver.

Unfortunately, it seems that the more serious the news outlet, the less likely it is to get mad and defend itself, as if this is beneath it or something.

My advice is, fight back, while you still can.