Archive for the 'Rocky Mountain News' Category

Reduced Staff of Political Reporters at Denver Post Reflects Decline in Colorado Journalism

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014

You hear complaints about The Denver Post’s reduced coverage of politics, but the newspaper still has more political reporters than any other news outlet in Colorado. And it’s still the state’s leading source of political news.

So, to show what’s happened to political journalism in Colorado recently, I thought I’d compare the number of Post reporters covering elections and the legislature today to the numbers in recent decades.

The most shocking comparison is the Post’s staffing today versus 2010, when Colorado had senatorial and gubernatorial elections, like we do this year. This November, like 2010, Colorado also has state-wide races for state treasurer and secretary of state, plus state legislative elections and one of the most competitive congressional races in the country.

Just four years ago, The Post had double the number political reporters dedicated to elections and the state legislative session (four versus eight). The newspaper had about eleven in 1960s, 1970s, and mid-1980s.

“I would like to have more resources at my disposal when it comes to covering politics in swing state Colorado in an election year while the legislature is in session,” Denver Post Politics Editor Chuck Plunkett told me via email. “Presently I’m asking Kurtis [Lee] and Lynn [Bartels] to do double duty. Lynn’s tracking the governor’s race while Kurtis tracks the Senate race. For the much-anticipated 6th DC contest, Carlos Illescas, recently assigned to focus on Aurora, is following Coffman and Joey Bunch is following Romanoff. Joey also does a mix of other stories. Obviously, on the national races we lean on Allison Sherry to help out from Washington. [Note: Since I corresponded with Plunkett, Sherry has announced her departure.]

“This is our present configuration. As the races heat up, that configuration could change. Change, of course, has never been a stranger to newsrooms. Being adaptable is what we’ve always been about.”

Curtis Hubbard, who was The Post’s Politics editor in 2010, described the political reporting staff he oversaw.

“Best guess is that, at a similar moment in time [in 2010], I had at least 8 reporters available to cover the statehouse and state and federal elections (though that number increased the closer we got to Election Day),” Hubbard emailed.

“During the primary phase, Karen Crummy covered the governor’s race; Michael Booth and Allison Sherry were pulled from other jobs in the newsroom to cover the U.S. Senate race; Michael Riley covered the delegation and congressional races from our D.C. bureau; Lynn Bartels, Tim Hoover and Jessica Fender covered statehouse races, the state treasurer’s race and congressional races; and John Ingold covered the Attorney General’s race, the Secretary of State’s race and general issues pertaining to elections and turnout.

“In my time there, The Post’s leadership team always understood the important role the publication played in informing voters on the issues and never shied away from adding reporters to the politics team as warranted. Additionally, The Post continually sought out ways to help bring understanding of the issues to voters, whether that was through launching online Voter Guides, which proved to be among the most popular online offerings each election season, or on-camera interviews with candidates.

“Despite the ongoing ‘right-sizing’ that has depleted the ranks of reporters and editors at The Post in recent years, the organization continues to dedicate more people to politics than any other news outlet in the state.“

During the 1960s and 1970s, when former Denver Post reporter Fred Brown started covering the Colorado Legislature, the newspaper assigned six reporters to election campaigns, plus five to the legislature, according to Brown. Brown wrote that the numbers were slightly reduced in the mid-1980s, when he returned to the beat.

The Denver Post used to assign about half a dozen reporters, or more, to election campaigns,” Brown told me via email. “Senatorial and gubernatorial campaigns had a total of four: One for each major party’s candidate. The congressional candidates usually were covered by suburban or regional reporters. Sometimes suburban reporters covered more than one congressional district, but they always covered both major-party candidates. Other state offices, and the legislative races, typically were covered by the chief political writer (me or others who had that role before and after).

“The dwindling staffing of election coverage reflects what happened to legislative coverage. The first dozen or so years I was part of the legislative team, there were five reporters and one photographer regularly assigned to the session. Leonard Larsen, Tom Gavin and Charles Roos joined me (the regular statehouse reporter) and one other general assignment reporter (assigned ad hoc) on the legislative team during the session. Duane Howell’s full-time assignment as a photographer was to cover the legislature when it was in session.”

Although they’re a useful measure and symbol of the decline of Colorado journalism, The Post’s staffing numbers don’t tell the whole story, which is obviously much more complicated.

So-called “computer-assisted reporting” allows reporters to be more efficient in many ways than they used to be.

And the experience and skill of individual reporters can make a huge difference. One good political reporter, whether at The Post or a regional newspaper, radio station, or other competitor (some of which have good political journalists on staff), can do the work of many lesser journalists.

Also, the long competition between the Rocky Mountain News and The Post affected staff levels at the newspapers and the quality of Colorado political journalism until the Rocky closed in 2009. In an email, former Rocky Editor John Temple described, in broad terms, the Rocky’s approach to coverage in the early/mid 2000s:

“Typically, as I recall, we had a reporter for the House and a reporter for the Senate,” Temple wrote. “I also liked to have a free-floating reporter, but I can’t tell you with any confidence that we did that every session. In addition, Peter Blake spent most of his time at the Capitol. We then would send in beat reporters as required. In other words, we wanted the higher ed reporter to cover education issues and take them out of the Capitol and provide perspective, or the environment reporter. As for political races, typically it is difficult to cover them during the session. But what we did was assign reporters to the different races. So each race or group of races would have someone responsible for it. Typically one of our legislative reporters would be responsible for legislative races, as I recall. Burt Hubbard would cover money and help other reporters with that type of data journalism. Every reporter would be responsible for money in his or her race/races.”

Political reporting on local TV is not filling The Post’s gap. As has been the case for decades, we’re lucky if a Denver TV station has one dedicated political reporter, even though, for example, the stations earned a combined total of $67 million in political advertising dollars in 2012. Only Fox 31’s Eli Stokols offers day-to-day political coverage, like a newspaper reporter, but 9News and CBS4 both have political reporters and contribute quality political journalism.

And new technology allows for the contribution of progressive and conservative journalists. (See the Colorado Independent and the Colorado Observer.) Bloggers and trackers and everyday people with cameras are also part of “journalism” in the state.

I’m not saying that The Post’s staffing levels are the definitive measure of political journalism in Colorado, but they’re a serious indicator of the state’s journalistic health. And so it’s hard to be anything but depressed about the current situation.

How a Rocky Mountain News Endorsement Launched the Political Career of John Hickenlooper

Tuesday, October 29th, 2013

Around midnight on April 2, 2003, five weeks before John Hickenlooper won the first election of his political career, Hick campaign manager Paul Lhevine and other campaign staffers arrived at the Rocky Mountain News printing plant in industrial northeast Denver.

They asked workers for the early edition of next day’s Rocky, which was just coming off the press.

“The folks at the plant were pretty amused by us,” said Lindy Eichenbaum-Lent, who was Hick’s Communications Director. They had no problem with leading Eichenbaum-Lent and the others to the printing press, where Lhevine scooped up some newspapers off the conveyer belt.

Hickenlooper’s staff was hoping an endorsement from the conservative but quirky Rocky would add credibility to Hick’s off-beat campaign. A Rocky endorsement, it was hoped, would separate him from the pack of seven candidates vying to be Denver’s mayor in 2003.

Lhevine left the printing press and took a still-warm newspaper straight to Hick’s LoDo loft in the middle of the night.

“It was just stunning,” Hickenlooper told me of the Rocky’s endorsement. “It was like, all of a sudden, the junkyard dog that finally catches up to the trash truck, right? What am I doing now?”

The editorial endorsement turned out to be essential in Hick’s first election victory.

“Voters want something more from a candidate than demonstrated competence and imagination in tackling bread-and-butter maters such as jobs, bureaucracy, budgets and productivity,” the endorsement stated. “They want someone who possesses a larger vision for the city, a genuine love for its essential character, and a passion for the welfare of every resident. But as anyone who has spent time with Hickenlooper knows, he exudes all those qualities. He has long been committed to making Denver a better place—all of Denver, not only the lower downtown area that he helped resuscitate.”

After the election, Republican strategist Dick Wadhams told the Rocky’s Lynn Bartels that in ten years (i.e., now), people would still be talking about the impact of the Rocky endorsement. (They are.) Wadhams called it “stunning” and “one of the strongest-written editorials I’ve ever seen.”

“I could not have possibly won without that endorsement,” Hickenlooper told me last year, apparently speaking to a reporter about it for the first time.

The governor said the “glowing” endorsement legitimized his unlikely candidacy and pushed influential players and others into his corner. Helen Thorpe told me via email that it was a “game changer.”

That’s exactly what Rocky editor John Temple and editorial-page editor Vincent Carroll hoped they’d achieve by publishing the raving endorsement five weeks before the primary election.

“That was a deliberate decision to go early, in part to make a splash, I will admit, and to beat The Post, but in part because we thought, if we could provide a kick to the campaign, now was the time to do it,” said Carroll, who wrote the editorial. “It was best to do it early to focus his name in the minds of people who up to that point, perhaps, had not taken him seriously. So that was very deliberate to go early.”

“If we were going to endorse him,” said Temple, “we needed to do so in a way that was really going to bring attention to him.”

 

“We’re Worried that You Don’t Have a Shot”

But first, Temple and Carroll, like everybody else, had to be convinced to take Hickenlooper seriously.

“Initially, I couldn’t believe that a guy was going to build a campaign for mayor based on essentially a campaign against a stadium name,” Temple told me, referring to Hickenlooper’s earlier efforts to keep “Mile High Stadium” as the name of Denver’s football stadium. “And I didn’t take [Hickenlooper’s campaign] very seriously.”

But after “doing our homework” and meeting multiple times with Hick and his staff, Temple says he became convinced that Hick had more potential than another candidate Temple liked, Ari Zavaras.

“We thought that he had political skills, that he was clearly intelligent, that he seemed to have this curiosity that allowed him to propose one variation of an idea after another,” said Carroll. “He had a fertile mind. He talked seriously about public policy. He was not a Johnny-come-lately to civic affairs. And I don’t mean in terms of his sitting on boards to build up his resume, but he had actually done some things like try to save the Mile High name but also some things behind the scenes that were substantive.”

So Hickenlooper seemed serious and smart, but the question for the Rocky was, as a practical matter, did he have a decent chance of winning?

It looked like Hickenlooper could “raise significant money,” Carroll said. In fact, in the month prior to the Rocky’s endorsement, the brew pub owner though still behind in overall money-in-the-bank, was collecting about as much cash as the leading candidates.

But money aside, you don’t want to back somebody “if he’s going to make you look foolish, to be quite honest,” Carroll told me.

“I remember there was one concern expressed by Peter Blake, who was on the [editorial] board at the time, that we could look silly if he ended up with five percent of the vote and never took off, never gained any traction, like some of these guys who try to make the transition from business to politics,” Carroll said. “They just bomb.”

Temple informed the Hickenlooper campaign that the Rocky was serious about endorsing him but, according to Hick, Temple said: “We’re worried that you even have a shot.  You’re so far behind in the polls. You’re so unlikely a candidate.”

Hickenlooper asked campaign advisor Mike Dino to help make the case to the Rocky that he could win.

 

Rocky Had Big Influence on Previous Denver Mayoral Races

Dino was Wellington Webb’s campaign manager in 1991, and he’d seen how the Rocky’s endorsement of Webb (two weeks before the primary, on the same day The Post endorsed Norm Early) had given the underfunded Webb campaign a “huge boost” in credibility and momentum. Webb has been quoted as saying his Rocky endorsement was “the turn-around” for his campaign.

Dino was also aware that the Rocky’s track record on mayoral endorsements included not only picking Webb but Federico Peña in 1983. The Rocky’s Peña endorsement wasn’t as effusive as Hick’s (neither was Webb’s), but it, too, came out early (three weeks before the primary and two weeks ahead of The Post’s endorsement of Dale Tooley) and surprised many political types. It’s widely seen as having given Peña a serious boost.

“I certainly thought, from previous experience, that if then-candidate John Hickenlooper could get one of the newspaper endorsements, it would be a huge shot in the arm for what was already a promising candidate and campaign,” said Dino.

 

First Hick Campaign Ad Impresses Rocky

Hickenlooper recalls Dino laying out the case to Carroll at a breakfast meeting at Dixon’s restaurant in Lodo.

“Vince was saying, ‘Hickenlooper doesn’t have a discernible constituency that’s going to get behind him, like the Republican Party or the Democratic Party or the enviros or this or that,’” recalls Dino. “And I said, ‘That’s what’s so unique about [Hickenlooper]. He’s going to get realtors. He’s going to get business organizations. He’s going to get nonprofit associations. He’s a different type of political animal with a different constituency.”

Hickenlooper told me: “Dino did a brilliant job of saying, ‘Colorado loves underdogs. If you look at who’s supporting [Hickenlooper] and who cares, if there was credibility and people thought he’d win, things could change dramatically. And wait until you see the first TV ad.’

Hick’s debut ad, which political junkies still talk about, depicted an unpolished candidate trying on cheap suits. “Everybody says I need better clothes,” says Hick in the ad, and at the end, he zips away on a motor scooter. Its light humor and outsider tone appealed to multiple audiences, including the disheveled demographic.

According to Carroll, the ad closed the deal for Hick.

“The ad demonstrated that he could probably run a competent campaign,” Carroll told me. “And that’s important.”

 

Endorsement a Risk but Focused on “Stuff We Were Comfortable With”

During my interview with Hickenlooper, I handed him a copy of the endorsement. He read the first line aloud:

“John Hickenlooper is the only serious candidate for Denver mayor who has actually done what all the other candidates say they want to do as a top priority: create an impressive number of private sector jobs.”

Hick stopped reading and said: “Holy smoke! Look at how long the endorsement is. It doesn’t mention a single other candidate. When do you ever see that? And not at any moment do they say, well, he has problems here. He has this problem there or whatever… It’s cool to read this again. It’s actually the first time I’ve looked at it in years.”

Carroll told me that in the endorsement he focused on the “stuff we were comfortable with.”

“We actually mentioned the Chinook Fund [which Hickenlooper helped establish], although I referred to it as ‘edgy Chinook Fund,’” Carroll told me, reaching across the table and circling the word “edgy” on the copy of the Hick endorsement I’d shown him earlier in our conversation.  It was clearly a word he’d picked carefully ten years ago.

“I didn’t want to give it away,” Carroll said. “It’s actually a left-wing fund.” The editorial also states vaguely that Chinook “funnels grants to maverick activists.”

“I won’t deny; it gave me pause,” Carroll said. “Does this guy have an ulterior agenda that he’s not letting on to? But I don’t think he did, after all, at the end of the day. I think he pretty much wanted to do what he said he wanted to do. Fortunately, I was right.”

“Whatever his views on social issues, or issues we might have been more conservative on, didn’t matter, because that wasn’t the purview of the mayor,” said Temple. “It really mattered to us that he brought that business experience and when we met with him it was obvious that he had that.”

 

Hick Campaign Surges after Endorsement

The Rocky’s endorsement gave the beer guy the springboard that both Hickenlooper and the Rocky had hoped it would.

Hick took off.

Two long weeks after the endorsement, The Denver Post also picked Hick, complimenting other candidates but writing that Hickenlooper stands out as having an “exciting agenda of change for a city stalled in the economic doldrums.”

Three weeks after the Rocky endorsement, Hickenlooper had a 13-point lead over his opponents, after trailing by as many points about eight weeks before. (Unfortunately, more polling info isn’t available.)

“It was a big boost at an important time when people were wondering if they should take a risk with this guy,” said Dino. “It made it easy for a lot of people to say, ‘Oh, yeah, now I can get on board.’ [The Rocky endorsement] probably had a better effect than it did for Wellington.  People were ready for John. They needed a nudge.”

“The Rocky moved him from the guy with the quirky campaign to someone to be taken seriously,” said Penfield Tate, who ran for mayor that year, adding that he expected the Rocky to endorse Hick because it was the “conservative newspaper.”

 

Most Influential Newspaper Endorsement in Colorado History

Don Mares, who faced Hick in the mayoral runoff election in 2003, told me Hick’s creative ad campaign, not the Rocky endorsement, separated Hickenlooper from the other mayoral candidates. The ads were particularly effective with so many candidates in the race, he said. Dino also thinks Hick would have won without the endorsement.

But most people I spoke with, on and off the record,  agree that the Rocky editorial, coupled with the ads, was indispensable in the first election victory of the guy who’s gone on to become governor.

This leaves little doubt, and former Post journalist Fred Brown agrees with me on this, that it’s the most influential editorial endorsement in memory—if not in the state’s history.

As such, it’s distinct from most newspaper editorials, which, as former Post editorial writer of 32 years Bob Ewegen put it, “probably fit in the classic definition: Writing an editorial is like wetting your pants in a blue serge suit. You feel warm all over but nobody notices.”

But in this case, there’s substance behind the warm feeling Temple got after endorsing Hick.

“The day after the mayoral election, the mayor-elect and his wife, and Michael Bennet and his wife, invited Judith [Temple’s wife] and me to dinner at Hickenlooper’s loft in Lodo,” said Temple, who’d not met the brew pub owner prior to the election campaign. “We had a barbeque outside, and it was sort of in recognition of the role that the Rocky Mountain News, not me personally, but the Rocky Mountain News had played. They knew it was absolutely critical. He obviously had to win and to do it himself. But they knew that the editorial had been the key.”

 

Carroll Doesn’t Regret his Role in Launching Top Dem

Former Rocky cartoonist Ed Stein, who drew cartoons at the Rocky for over 30 years, told me that “Vince felt strongly that the Republican agenda was preferable to the Democratic one.”

Stein’s liberal bent doesn’t stop him from referring to Carroll as a “wonderful editor,” but Stein says Carroll generally “felt he should support any, even marginally acceptable, Republican candidate, even if he/she was a dim bulb or politically inept, so long as it represented a reliable vote for the good guys [the GOP].”

But the Denver mayoral election is nonpartisan, and as Stein put it, “It’s kind of pointless in the mayoral election here to support a Republican.”

So you might think Carroll, who’s a mix of social conservative and libertarian, might have regrets about his role in launching the career of Hickenlooper, who’s turned out to be such a successful Democrat, considered presidential material.

But even now, with Hickenlooper presiding not over the liberal city Denver but the centrist hotbed of Colorado, Carroll expresses no regrets about the editorial he wrote 10 years ago.

“I still like now-Gov. John Hickenlooper,” Carroll told me in December, before he became editorial-page editor of The Denver Post. “On the spectrum of politicians, I think he’s a good one, on the upper end of the spectrum. I don’t always agree with him on policy, and I don’t expect to. But, since he’s been governor, he has continued to be something of a maverick on some issues. And that’s good enough for me, for a state-wide Democrat. You don’t always know what he’s going to say on an issue. But some prominent Democrats in this state, I do. And I find that refreshing. I find it refreshing in any politician. It worked out. And as you recall, the alternatives in 2010 were Tom Tancredo and Dan Maes, neither of whom I voted for. Leave it at that.”

Jason Salzman was a freelance media critic at the Rocky. He now blogs at www.bigmedia.org. Contact him at Jason@bigmedia.org Twitter: @bigmediablog

Saunders memoir chronicles newspaper era that seems like ancient history

Saturday, May 19th, 2012

No matter what you thought of Dusty Saunders during his 54 years at the Rocky Mountain News, it’s hard not to love him after reading his memoir, which came out late last year.
The book, Heeere’s Dusty: Life in the TV and Newspaper World, is perfectly timed to chronicle an era that already seems like ancient history, even though Saunders ended his career at the Rocky just five years ago.

Jason Salzman :: TV critic’s memoir chronicles newspaper era that seems like ancient history, but it wasn’t long ago
Using unadorned language, which you’ll recognize if you saw his work over the years, Saunders takes you through his life at the Rocky as a wide-eyed copy boy, a wide-eyed reporter and editor, and a wide-eyed TV-and-radio columnist.
One success followed another in a profession that seemed limitless and excitement-packed for a hard-working guy like Saunders. He started his own section of the Rocky.

The bulk of the 300-page book recounts his interviews with Hollywood and news celebs of all types, national and local. The name dropping runs cover-to-cover, and it’s more entertaining than you might think because Saunders himself is so excited by meeting all the people, including Bob Hope, Johnny Carson, Howard Cosell, Katie Couric, Peter Jennings, Tim Russert, Mary Tyler Moore, Dustin Hoffman (in the bathroom), and many more.

On the broadcasting beat, which he was inventing as he went along, Saunders flew around the country (often with his wife), covering national entertainment stories, looking for Denver angles. (Once, he tells us, he packed his wife and two kids in a hotel room at the Ritz-Carlton in Pasadena.)

When Denver Post Editor Chuck Green hinted that he might want to hire Saunders, Rocky Editor Ralph Looney found out, called Saunders into his office, and handed Saunders a slip of paper with a counter-offer salary figure on it, even before Green had made his offer.

“Will that keep you?” Looney asked Saunders.

“Yes,” Saunders told him.

“I can’t even remember, frankly, what the figure was that Looney gave me,” Saunders told me. “But in that day and age, with my financial position and my professional position, it was a reason to stay at the Rocky.”

I asked if he’d have jumped ship for The Post.

“I don’t know what their offer was,” he said. “I probably would not have left, because the Rocky was treating me very well. Why would I have wanted to leave?”

See what I mean by ancient history?

Rather than facing layoffs and furloughs, like reporters nowadays, while working 24/7 in three or more platforms, Saunders dabbled in radio and a bit on TV, mostly on weekends.

From 1994 to 2001, he co-hosted a Sunday KHOW radio show with his “friendly Denver Post competitor” Joanne Ostrow.

The show was canceled when a “major” executive of Clear Channel, which owned KHOW and KOA (and still does) came through Denver and heard Saunders and Ostrow criticizing good old Mike Rosen.

I wondered what Saunders, who pulls his punches, espcially by today’s standards, could possibly say about Rosen that would be considered over the top.

So I asked Saunders what he and Ostrow were saying about Rosen that was so offensive, but he didn’t remember specifically.

“Joanne and I had a very good thing going,” he told me. “We didn’t get on the radio Sunday morning and say, ‘Gee, did you hear what Mike Rosen said about this.’”

“That’s what I’d do if I had a radio show,” I told Saunders.

“It wasn’t that type of show,” he replied. “We’d just go with the flow. If someone would call in and criticize a TV performer, we’d voice our opinion. This particular day we sided with the callers. We agreed Rosen shouldn’t have said that. A guy named Randy Michaels, who is now with the Tribune Company, was the big programming honcho out of Cincinnati for Clear Channel, and he happened to be in town. And he heard us. I guess he went ballistic. We’re paying these print guys to get on our radio stations and criticize our work.”

Shortly after this, and after Saunders and Ostrow refused to make “on-air commercial pitches, something we obviously couldn’t do,” their radio show was canceled.

Saunders’ book veers between his innocent and personal encounters with media stars, which are described, and hints of wild partying, which aren’t. I g0t the feeling Saunders could have told a lot of after-hours stories, but he side-stepped my question about this when I interviewed him.

As it is, the book as an unreal simplicity and quaint quality to it, buy that’s no doubt partly because of the contrast in the newspaper biz between then and now.

Saunders took a buyout in from Scripps and left the Rocky in 2007, two years before it closed.

“I felt at the time, this was the beginning of the end,” said Saunders, who’s 80 years old and lists his speaking engagements about his book on his website. “I didn’t have any inside information on what Scripps was going to do. I would have been more shocked had I’d still been there [when the Rocky was closed].”

“Writing the book, and even now, I still have wild dreams about my working at the Rocky,” he said.

Romney tells radio hosts he’s flipped flopped on only one issue, and they don’t follow-up with evidence to the contrary

Wednesday, May 9th, 2012

Mitt Romney promised to sit down with real-life reporters (yes, they’re still out there) during his visit today to Colorado, according to a report yesterday by Fox 31 political correspondent Eli Stokols, and it looks like he did, as 7News is teasing its interview for the 3 p.m. news.

Stokols, you recall, called Romney out for NOT meeting with real-life Denver reporters last time Romney came to Colorado, preferring the cozy confines of conservative talk radio. So you have to wonder whether Romney would have stayed mum, had it not been for Stokols.

Stokols’ report that Romney plans to meet with TV reporters caught the attention of Denver Post Editorial Page Editor Curtis Hubbard who tweeted, “Do Obama/Romney have stones to talk to print media? Apparently not.” (Now would be a good time for The Post to throw a public fit over Romney’s favoritism toward TV news, if he, in fact, avoids print reporters during his Colorado swing. Same with Obama, next time he comes.)

I’m looking forward to seeing the local TV interviews with Romney, but meanwhile (and maybe this will piss Hubbard off even more) Romney took questions from radio hosts at 8:30 this morning. Listen to Mitt Romney on KOA Radio May 9 2012 at 17:15.

Tubbs: “How do you handle the criticism that Mitt Romney flip flops on issues…because you’ve certainly been accused of not sticking with one message, the most recent, your comments about the auto bailout?”

Romney: “Well actually, I had the same position on the auto bailout I had from the very beginning. I actually wrote about it. So nothing has changed there. I do understand that the nature of an opposition campaign is to try and create a narrative that is harmful to the opposition. And that’s been used against me by my opponents, and frankly, it is not accurate. There is one place where I did change my view, and when I became governor, I became solidly pro-life, wrote an op-ed to the effect that I was going to be a pro-life governor, and that’s been my position ever since. By the way, that was seven or eight years ago, and I continue to have that view. I’m happy to defend the things that I believe in. And by the way, if I were going to change positions, you would have seen a very different candidate than you have. My view is I’m sticking true to the things that I believe. I hope people are willing to understand that.”

If I’m a radio host, or if I’m just about anybody at this point, I’d be thinking, “One flip flop?”

First, there’s health care reform, which Santorum, among others, pointed out. Romney was complimentary of Obama modeling national reform after Massachusett’s model, but later he was against Obamacare.

With respct to the auto industry, Romney said he wouldn’t sit back and let the auto industry die, in apparent contrast with an op-ed he wrote saying the feds shouldn’t intervene.

Then there’s the stimulus, solar energy, climate change, immigration, the tax pledge, gun issues, and more, as widely documented.

Reporters shouldn’t let Romney get away with saying he’s a one-time flipper. Even if you just look abortion, he’s a serial flipper, as his position has changed back and forth. Throw in the other stuff, and you understand the Jimmy Kimmel joke, featured in a video produced by Democrats:

“Experts are predicting kind of a tough battle between Mitt Romney and his biggest ideological opponent, Mitt Romney from four years ago. Those guys don’t agree on anything.”

What happened to John Rebchook?

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010

During the year, I’ll be asking Denver journalists what they’ve been up to since leaving the Rocky or The Post…-and what they think of the state of Colorado journalism these days.

I previously queried former Denver Post columnists Jim Spencer and Bob Ewegen, among others.

John Rebchook covered real estate and other topics at the Rocky Mountain News from 1983 until the newspaper closed in February 2009. “I believe I have the dubious distinction of having covered business topics longer than any other journalist in Denver’s history,” John emailed me. “(Of course, it is inevitable now that I’ve said that, someone will prove me wrong.)”

Here’s what John has to say (via an email) about 1) his current situation and 2) the state of Colorado journalism:

 

1. After the Rocky closed, I was approached by Peter Lansing, head of Universal Lending, one of the largest privately held mortgage banking companies in Denver. I had known Peter for about 25 years and had a great deal of respect for him. During the go-go days of mortgage financing, Universal Lending stayed away from the toxic loan products, such as Option ARMS and other subprime mortgages. He left a lot of money on the table, but he refused to sell mortgages that he decided were poison for consumers. By virtue of this, his company survived and prospered, when many others imploded.

In the waning days of the Rocky, Peter said he would like to talk to me about career choices, if the paper closed. He said he enjoys giving advice, and has a knack for it.  After the Rocky was shut, we met for lunch one rainy, cold day last spring. Peter said he would like to sponsor me in some fashion, but he didn’t know how or in exactly what form. He said there are a lot of opinion pieces on real estate on the Web, but virtually no reporting. I asked Peter if we went forward on this, would I be able to speak to his competitors. “I insist on it,” he said. He said he did not want to control or influence the editorial content. I, of course, could quote him, from time to time as I did at the Rocky, when appropriate. For him, it would be a type of passive marketing to get his company’s name in front of real estate professionals and consumers.  About eight months ago, InsideRealEstateNews.com  was born.  Land Title Guarantee also joined as a sponsor. I’ve enjoyed writing the blog a great deal. It keeps me in touch with what is happening in the real estate world, and gives me more freedom to choose my own topics than I had at the Rocky. I also have enjoyed learning about the technical aspects of blogging. I create my own graphics, such as tables; take and post my own photographs; and shoot and post my own videos. My blog has been growing by leaps and bounds. I make a fraction of what I made at the Rocky, however, and economically it can only continue in this form if I get more sponsors and/or advertising. I’m working on both of those options. Hopefully, I will be able to make a decent living writing my blog. I also have completed a number of freelance writing and editing assignments. I am a total free agent. I even appeared on a commercial for Bass Pro, in which I posed as an instructor for a bird-watching class!

2. Without a doubt, I think Denver would be better off with two competitive, daily newspapers. It certainly keeps reporters on their toes when they know that a reporter at the rival paper is competing against them. Competition is good. That said, it is quite amazing that two papers of the same size survived as long as they did, given the economic realities of everything from Craig’s List, declining readership among young people, and all of the news available on the Web. One of the ironies of losing my job at the Rocky is that I now have more time to read the Denver Post and the Wall Street Journal. I think the Post has done an admirable job of covering the news since the Rocky closed. Many of my former colleagues relish finding the occasional bad lede to poke fun at, but the truth is that every reporter from time to time wrote ledes that were stinkers. I hated looking at my stories after I wrote them, at the Rocky, because I knew I would find something I would change, with the pressure of the deadline behind me. I certainly thought all of the reporters at the Post were worthy competitors when I was at the Rocky, and they are still excellent journalists and reporters. When I was at the Rocky, I always looked at the Post long before the sun rose, to see if I had been beaten on a story. Too many days I would go to work in a dark mood because my butt had been kicked. I would also say that when I traveled around the country, I would always look at the local papers. Outside of a few major cities, I never found papers that I thought were as good as the Denver Post or the Rocky Mountain News for local and business coverage. And I thought the business sections of both papers put to shame the business sections of much bigger papers. For example, when I would visit my family in suburban Chicago, where I grew up, I always thought that the business sections at either of the Denver papers were far superior to the business section of the Chicago Tribune. I also think that people tend to expect too much from an individual paper.  Years ago, I was talking to a guy who owned a real estate company in Denver. He had been invited to a focus group of readers at the Rocky to see what they wanted in a paper. Basically, they said they wanted everything. But he felt like they were deluding themselves. Were they really going to read a 20-inch story about Senegal or a 40-inch story about a new Volvo factory in Sweden? The real estate owner each day read Denver dailies, the Wall Street Journal, and USA Today. Only then, did he think that he received a good overview of what was going on. He felt it was incumbent upon the reader to broaden his or his perspective by going to a wide variety of publications. He did not think any single newspaper could provide “one-stop reading” to fulfill all of your news needs. Now that the Denver Post has won the newspaper war here, I’ve thought back to that conversation often. I think it is as true now as it was back in the day.

Temple misleads in his response to 5280

Wednesday, June 10th, 2009

In his article in the current issue of 5280 Magazine, Maximillian Potter describes an “executive agreement” between former Rocky Editor John Temple and E. W. Scripps, which owned the Rocky.

 

According to Potter, the agreement stated that at least part of Temple’s compensation package from Scripps might have been jeopardized if Temple committed, “‘an act or a series of acts that results in material injury to the business or reputation of the Company or any subsidiary.’”

 

Because of this agreement, Potter writes, Temple “might have had something to lose” by publishing articles in the Rocky that were unfavorable to Scripps.

 

Potter writes that the existence of this agreement might explain why Temple rejected a Rocky column of mine in January. Im my column, I called on reporters to detail how the federal government could delay or even stop the closure of the Rocky. No reporting about what the government could do to help the Rocky had been published at the time.

 

I wrote that the Justice Department had the power to force Scripps to spend more than one measly month looking for a buyer for the 150-year-old institution. At the time, it appeared that the Rocky would be closed one month after it was put up for sale by Scripps on Dec. 4, 2008. In the end, Scripps closed the newspaper on Feb. 27, 2009, about three measly months after it went to the sales block.

 

Potter quotes journalists like Mike Littwin who say Temple was an excellent editor, but Potter also points out that Temple was an executive vice president of the Scripps newspaper division. So Potter writes that “it’s hard not to wonder how Temple couldn’t be influence by corporate concerns.”

 

In his response to Potter’s article, Temple defends himself in part by pointing out that two weeks prior to rejecting my Justice Department column, the Rocky ran a column of mine titled, “Can we blame Scripps? Yes.”  In it, I called on journalists to air the view Scripps shouldn’t rush the Rocky to the sales block, particularly after the company made lots of money over the years in the Denver market.

 

Temple writes that if he were simply protecting Scripps and himself, he wouldn’t have run my first column, and he wonders “whether many editors would run” a column like mine. It’s a sad reflection on the state of journalism, but Temple is probably right. I wouldn’t be bragging about this if I were Temple, but, still, hedeserves credit for publishing my first column.

 

But there was a difference between my column that Temple rejected and the one he ran two weeks earlier.

 

My first column, the one that Temple published, was a simple ethical argument…-that Scripps owed it to our community to stick it out a bit longer. Unfortunately, that’s a purely idealistic notion that’s easy to ignore.

 

But my second column, the one that Temple rejected, offered a real option, however far-fetched, for government action that could have cost Scripps millions of dollars.

 

There was a remote chance at the time that some Democratic leader in Denver might have latched onto the idea of extending the Rocky’s sale period for, say, a measly six months or even a measly year, and pressured his or her fellow Democrats in the Obama Administration to lean on the Justice Department to intervene and force the Rocky to stay open. This is exactly the kind of idea that paranoid corporate lawyers would have counseled Temple to keep out of his newspaper. But Temple wouldn’t have needed a lawyer to understand that this was a touchy subject for Scripps.

 

The experts I interviewed said that the Justice Department could indeed force Scripps to extend the amount of time that the Rocky was on the sales block. In my rejected column, as Potter writes, I cited examples of this type of intervention, none of which had been reported in the Denver newspapers.

 

Temple has my eternal respect for, among other things, hiring an outsider like me to critique the media, including his own newspaper. So his rejection of my little column is all the more mystifying to me.

 

Temple’s journalistic justifications for spiking it just don’t add up. His repeated claim that I got my facts wrong annoys me because he has yet to point to a single incorrect fact in my rejected piece. Legal experts had different views about Scripps’ options at the time, so some “facts” were in dispute and remain in dispute to this day, but my sources were highly credible. In fact, one of journalism’s leading experts on JOAs, Editor and Publisher’s Mark Fitzgerald, said the JOA expert whom I interviewed, Stephen Barnett, was more knowledgeable about JOAs than Fitzgerald was.

 

Temple’s previous assertion that The Post and the Rocky had reported on what the government could have done to help the Rocky is laughable.  As pointed out here, no such reporting had occurred when I wrote my column, so my criticism was valid. It was reported that the feds would likely do nothing and the Justice Department wouldn’t talk. There was nothing about options for federal intervention that could keep the Rocky’s doors open.

 

Potter didn’t accuse Temple of bending journalism to benefit Scripps and to protect himself, and neither would I. But Potter makes the point that you have to wonder, and I agree.

 

Still, I think Temple could have spiked my column because his long-standing frustration with me as a media critic had reached the boiling point, or he was in a bad mood when he first read my column.

 

Or maybe the rejection occurred because the very reasonable Vince Carroll was on vacation and unable to work with me on the column.

 

One thing’s for sure. Temple was definitely not interested in publishing my piece, or anything resembling it. I submitted the column five days prior to publication, well before my deadline, because I knew the topic was sensitive. Three days prior to publication, after Temple initially rejected it, I offered to submit a new draft. Temple declined my offer. His decision was final.

 

 

 

So who knows what was going on Temple’s mind?

 

In any case, Potter’s article is not only critical of Temple but of Scripps generally. It was great to see the 5280 piece, because when it closed the Rocky, Scripps mostly got a free pass in Denver.

 

How great would it have been if Temple had put out a final edition of the Rocky slamming Scripps for shutting the paper with one day’s notice after a pitifully short three months on the market…-after the Rocky had been around for 150 years.

 

Instead, journalists were jumping up and down praising the beauty of Rocky’s last issue, even though there was barely a peep of critical reporting about the closure in it. Yes, I know, obituaries are usually free of criticism too, but so what.

 

Yes, it’s hard times for newspapers, but Scripps owed our community more respect than we got in the end. Thanks, 5280.

Sealover at Biz Journal

Monday, March 9th, 2009

Former Rocky reporter Ed Sealover started today at the Denver Business Journal.

Sealover was hired just about the time that things started going seriously down hill for the Rocky.

It’s good news he’s found a job. If only more Rocky reporters could.

Reporters to Republicans: Where’s the Money?

Monday, March 2nd, 2009

Gov. Ritter is signing the so-called FASTER legislation into law today, after it cleared the state legislature last week. I wrote about this legislation in my final Rocky column. You’re excused for missing it, because the Rocky closed the day before my column was scheduled to run. It’s a low blow for me to be criticizing the Rocky’s coverage of the state legislature after the paper has died, but in some ways maybe you’ll find it refreshing. The final edition of the Rocky was such a love fest, it almost killed me. I mean, I enjoyed it, but you’d think a journalistic organ like the Rocky would have been a tiny bit more critical of itself.

In any case, below is my faster column that never ran. Fortunately, it criticizes the Post as well, and it’s relevant to state legislature coverage going forward.

If you’ve following the state legislature in the dailies, you know that both Republicans and Democrats have been telling reporters they want to fix roads and bridges in Colorado.
 

 The we-want-to-do-something theme comes across clearly, even if you read a fraction of the articles.
 

 So you’d expect journalists to tell us how much each side proposed to spend on roads and bridges and where they planned to get the money.
 

 Well, I just finished reading all the stories about highway funding in the dailies this year, and the coverage answered those two questions, at least regarding the Democrats’ proposal.
 

 But I’m left with only the vaguest notions about how much the Republicans were proposing to spend, and where they were going to get the money.
 

 In 15 of 16 articles, reporters wrote that Democrats wanted to spend between $200 and $265 million per year, depending on the article, and they’d get this money by raising average vehicle registration fees to $41 and adding $2 to rental car fees.
 

 But only two of the 16 articles provided a specific figure for the amount Republicans wanted to spend, $82 million under one proposal and $125 million under another. Even these figures were vague. The latter, published in the Feb. 5 Rocky Mountain News, was described as consisting of a $15 vehicle fee, “redirection” of the existing state budget, and severance-tax money.
 

 Instead of providing specifics, reporters wrote, in five articles, about the Republicans’ broad ideas to generate more transportation money.
 

 For example, a Rocky article Jan. 15 stated that Republicans wanted to leverage the “value of state buildings and sell bonds,” without offering a figure for how much this could raise.
 

 But the Rocky found space in the piece to quote Republican House Minority Leader Mike May saying, “The Republican plan is: Building roads, not bureaucracies.”
 

 Similarly, four articles stated that Republicans wanted to reallocate existing money in the state budget to transportation, but not a single story told us what they’d cut to free up the funds.
 

 Reporters should have given us more specifics about the Republican proposals.
 

 And here’s the key point: if Republicans couldn’t come up with specific funding sources and costs for their road proposals, then reporters should have informed us, repeatedly if necessary, that Republicans were not able to provide this specific information.
 

 Reporters also should have told us more often how much money Colorado highways actually need. Only three stories did this, reminding readers that a governor’s commission estimated that Colorado highways require $500 million – $1.5 billion per year, well above the Democrats’ proposal and way higher than the Republican’s vague proposals.
 

 Reporters should have reported whether the leaders of both parties, particularly the Republicans, think they’ve provided for basic public safety with their highway proposals. I didn’t see this addressed at all, even though the costs of repairing Colorado’s roads is so much higher than the figures debated at the Capitol.
 

 The transportation bill has cleared both the Colorado House and Senate, and Gov. Ritter is expected to sign it. So its day in the sun is gone.
 

 But with the state budget as tight as it is, you can count on seeing similar debates in the future over how to fund popular programs.
 

 Reporters should insist, repeatedly if necessary, that politicians who claim to support something, like transportation upgrades, be specific about 1) how much they want to spend, 2) where they’ll get the money, and 3) whether their proposals are will actually do the job.
 

 And their answers, or lack thereof, should be included in any article where a funding proposal is tossed around.
 

 

Sad day for Rocky

Friday, February 27th, 2009

How classy of E.W. Scripps to give the Rocky an extra day to publish a last edition.

Scripps could have shut down the paper yesterday and saved a little money. After all, if the 150-year old newspaper had been printed for, say, a week longer, to give itself and its readers time to reflect about journalism and their community, think of all the money Scripps would have lost. Anyway, the point is, the Rocky is a business, and that’s the way it is. But unlike other outfits, its death leaves an information gap that’s widening as other news outlets cut back too. 

It’s a blow for coverage of the day-to-day stuff of our community, especially our local government. There are still lots of sources of national news, but local news is in serious decline. 

 

 

So, as a condolence gift for the Rocky’s death, don’t send flowers to Editor John Temple or Mike Littwin or Vince Carroll.

Do something to support a Denver news outlet that actually gathers local news, not just aggregates it or opines about it.

Donate to nonprofit news outlets that are still covering our local community:  This means nonprofits like: Colorado Public Radio; community radio station KGNU (1390 AM); online news outlets ColoradoIndependent.com and (sort of) FaceTheState.org; and public television stations KBDI (Channel 12) and Rocky Mountain PBS (Channel 6). Read Westword and even the Denver Daily News. Try out the Colorado Statesman or the Denver Business Journal. 

Complement Denver’s local TV news shows and KOA when they air good local journalism, which thank god they still do.   

 

But most important, subscribe to the Denver Post. And buy a subscription for a friend. There’s no better way to support local journalism. It’s actually a great cause, even if the Post’s owner, MediaNews, is no less greedy than E.W. Scripps.

 

 

Anyway, to mark the death of the Rocky, do something to support local news reporting.

Will DNA’s March 1 date be real?

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

Remember in early Feb., a letter leaked from the Denver Newspaper Agency pinpointed the death of the Rocky Mountain News as occuring on March 1, 2009.

The letter drafted for Rocky and Post advertisers stated, “Effective March 1, 2009, only one major daily newspaper will serve the metro Denver market — The Denver Post.” The DNA letter even had a new DNA logo, without the Rocky on it.

A DNA spokesperson said the March 1 date was just a “placeholder,” and the letter was drafted for contingency planning only.

Today, you have to wonder, with rumors of Scripps execs in town and Dean Singleton scheduled for Peter Boyles’ show tomorrow morning.