Archive for the 'What happened to them?' Category

Coloradoan and Colorado are losers with departure of Exec. Editor Moore

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011

Colorado journalism is taking yet another sad blow Sept. 30 when Bob Moore departs for a job in, I’m sorry to say, Texas. He’ll be Executive Editor at the El Paso Times. Moore is clearly one of the state’s leading journalists thanks to his fair-minded and detail-oriented reporting, as well as his sincere concern for the community. He has the respect of all types media figures. Even bloggers like him. And he’s president of the Colorado Press Association.

Moore started his journalism career as an intern at the Pueblo Chieftain in 1983. He landed his first job in 1984 at the Fountain Valley News in El Paso County, CO. After a few months, he went to the Colorado Springs Sun. When it closed in 1986, he moved to the El Paso Times, where he was, among other things, executive editor. He left there in 2005 to become Executive Editor at the Coloradoan.

Q: Why are you leaving the Ft. Collins Coloradoan?

A: The opportunity to return to El Paso is a great professional and personal opportunity. I spent almost 20 years there before returning to Colorado in 2005. The Mexican border is one of the most interesting places in the world from a journalistic viewpoint. El Paso is a city going through a unique transformation as the violence in Mexico drives middle class Juarenses to El Paso, where they are setting up businesses and setting down roots. This current exodus is reshaping the U.S.- Mexico border like no event since the Mexican Revolution. I’ll also get the opportunity to work with seven newspapers in New Mexico. Finally, my wife and I have family in El Paso.

 

Q: You were the Executive Editor of the El Paso Times previously. Do you hope to be a better journalist at the El Paso Times? If so, how so?

A: As executive editor, I was the No. 2 in the newsroom. In my new role, I’ll be the top editor. I think my six years in Fort Collins has definitely made me a better journalist. I’ve had to reimagine approaches to news coverage, utilize new technologies, and be more creative in deploying resources.

Q: Do you see a dim future for your style of serious journalism at the Coloradoan [owned by Gannett] or Gannett newspapers generally? Does MediaNews [owner of the El Paso Times, The Denver Post, and many other newspapers] look like a better or more stable company to work for?

 

A: I think both Gannett and MediaNews are committed to journalism that aggressively informs communities and acts in the greatest traditions of the First Amendment.  I have very much enjoyed my 25 years with Gannett.  I’ve known Dean Singleton for about eight years, and very much respect him. Obviously, MediaNews is going through significant changes as John Paton moves in as CEO. Gannett’s also undergoing significant changes, as is the entire industry.

Q: As a long-time journalist in Fort Collins and as President of the Colorado Press Association, you have a good perspective on Colorado journalism, as you head out the door. What do you think are its biggest strengths and weaknesses?

 

A: The biggest strength in Colorado journalism is the journalists. We’ve got a lot of really good people plying their trade. Obviously, the numbers are down significantly from when I returned to Colorado in 2005. But there’s a lot of remarkable work being done. My biggest concern is how thin we are in the ranks of younger newspaper journalists. We’ve got some good ones working in Fort Collins, and there are others throughout the state. A few years ago I hired a great young reporter named Jason Kosena. He did a lot of good work in the political realm, but he’s now out of the business because he felt he needed something more stable.

Q: What would you say to a young person who wants to be a political journalist?

 

 

A: I still think it’s a good and important career, though I doubt there’ll be many people spending 25 years with the same company like I did. You’ll need to be entrepreneurial, flexible, and curious.

Q: Do you think political reporting in El Paso could possibly be as interesting as it is in Ft. Collins?

A: I don’t think Texas politics takes a back seat to politics anywhere. And sitting on the Mexican border, we’ll actually get to cover two presidential elections next year. And here’s my favorite piece of meaningless political trivia. No Republican since 1988 has been elected president without first appearing in a debate I moderated. The only candidate who fits that bill this year? Rick Perry.

Q: Do you have a couple favorite moments during your career here in Colorado?

A: The 2008 4th Congressional District campaign between Marilyn Musgrave and Betsy Markey would have to top the list. It was one of the more important House races nationally, and it had interesting dynamics. Even though I was covering it part-time in addition to my editor duties, I think we were able to bring a lot of depth to our coverage that you didn’t see in House races across the country. Covering the recent problems with the Larimer County Republican Party was also interesting.

 

Then there was Balloon Boy.

 

The most important impact the Coloradoan has had during my tenure is the consistent reporting we’ve done since 2007 looking at rising poverty rates in Fort Collins and Larimer County. This had been going on since the early part of the decade, but policy makers and the general public really didn’t notice it. Beginning with a seven-day series in August and September 2007, and continuing since, the Coloradoan has documented how rising poverty and declining incomes have altered our community. Our reporting managed to awaken the community to the problems, and spurred the creation of a program called Pathways Past Poverty, which is working to address a number of the root causes of rising poverty. This work constantly reminds me of the impact that newspapers can have on a community when we focus our storytelling.

 

Two stories from last year also come to mind. The Coloradoan documented that a negligent Department of Human Services bureaucracy had failed to complete 10 of 11 required child fatality reviews in the deaths of children who died while under state supervision. The purpose of these reviews is to identify systemic problems, and fix them. The Coloradoan’s stories were a huge embarrassment to the state and prompted a number of reforms. It was an example of how a small newspaper can have statewide impact.

 

The other story was our discovery, using open records laws, that the Poudre School District had decided not to notify parents when employees were charged with felonies involving student victims. Our reporting prompted change at both the state and local level.

Q: How will you live without the Colorado Rockies? [Moore's followers know he's a big sports fan.]

A: One of my great personal memories of my time back in Colorado was being able to go to every Rockies playoff game in 2007, including the play-in game against San Diego. That was a thrill. And I had tickets to Game 5 of the World Series. Of course, that never happened. I’ve now had tickets to two World Series games — Game 3 in 1989, which was the earthquake game, and Game 5 in 2007. Still haven’t seen a World Series game. And thanks to Josh McDaniels thinning out the waiting list for Broncos season tickets, I finally got season tickets this year. It’s hard to give those up.

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

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

J: Why are you leaving?

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

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

A: No.

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

A: No.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

J: Will you continue writing about Colorado Politics?

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

J: Will YourShow continue? Truth Tests?

A: Hope so on both accounts.

J: Who will do political reporting at 9News?

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

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

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

J: Anything else?

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

More from Bill Menezes on the state of CO journalism

Friday, July 23rd, 2010

Last month, I asked Bill Menezes for his thoughts on the state of journalism in Colorado. (See his response here.) A few questions came up later that I thought were legitimate. So I tossed them to Bill, and he was kind to take time to answer them below, via email.

Bill is a former reporter and editor for local and national news media and former editorial director of Colorado Media Matters. He’s known to be open and willing to answer questions directed to him in the “comments” sections of blogs like this. So if you’ve got a question or criticism, fire away at him below…-or at me.

1.       In the first part of your response, you wrote that there was “a lot to be optimistic about” in the Colorado journalism landscape, including the Colorado Springs Gazette getting to the Pulitzer Prize finals. Why didn’t you mention The Denver Post’s actually getting the Pulitzer for photography this year? As you know, the project included great writing as well on an unbelievably important topic.

That’s as may be, and the Post photo staff certainly deserves the honor, but we were talking about news reporting and political news reporting specifically. A Pulitzer for feature photography — the paper’s first prize in a decade — doesn’t address how what arguably is the state’s leading newspaper is dealing with the epic changes sweeping the Colorado news media in areas I believe are the most important to its readers: News, in-depth news reporting and real insight from its huge political/state government reporting team.

The Gazette has suffered wave after wave after wave of withering newsroom cuts over the past decade; for it to compete at a Pulitzer level is a miracle. The Post has had all the advantages — size, demise of its primary competitor, infusion of Rocky newspeople — and still hasn’t mustered a news Pulitzer in a decade. My perspective is that in the current upheaval in Colorado media, optimism gets sparked more by the news talent displayed by the Gazette’s nomination, that’s all.

2.       While ignoring the Post’s Pulitzer, you came down hard on The Post’s blog, the Spot, and The Post generally. You wrote that “neither the bloggers nor the newspaper break much significant political or public policy news and rarely engage with the blog’s audience. Instead we get Lynn Bartels …blogging’ about Dick Wadhams’ wedding, thus giving the Post the distinction of having no full-time science writer but three full-time gossip columnists.” I like harsh criticism, but it’s not fair to offer only one example of a single fluff story, which you’d expect to be in the mix, without acknowledging that around the time of the post on Wadhams’ wedding, the Spot also had blog posts about lots of substantive issues, like immigration, Ryan Frazier, Jane Norton, uncovered Ritter bill signings, developments in minor political races, and more. It seems to me like the Spot is trying feed political insiders relevant and factual information, without losing credibility by posting gossip and/or regurgitated information that you find on most blogs. The downside of this approach is that the blog is less free-wheeling. So, can you be more specific about why you think the Spot is under-achieving?

After our initial exchanges on this, I had a very lengthy, very nice e-mail exchange with Chuck Plunkett, who essentially asked the same question. My perspective — in a nutshell, rather than getting into all of the details Chuck and I discussed — was that given the resource of about a dozen journalists focused on politics, state government and public policy, the Spot’s content appears to lean very heavily on day-to-day news nuggets and trivia, rather than really leveraging that brainpower to provide readers with meaningful information and insight they’re not going to get from other blogs. (Not from other newspapers, but from other blogs. We’re talking about The Spot, remember?) That’s a news feed, not a blog. What The Spot does run is a lot of stuff (including the examples you cited above) that charitably can be characterized as news release fodder, from campaigns, from polling organizations, from the governor’s office, etc. Do you really need a “blog” to report a prepared statement from Jane Norton or Ryan Frazier? It’s a news brief, putting it on something you call a blog doesn’t change that. Also, based on my anecdotal stopwatch it took quite some time after McInnis tweeted that he was staying in the race for the Post to have something of its own online, either on its blog or elsewhere. Mind-boggling, in several respects.

Is that really the best use of a news blog? My argument to Chuck was that it is not. However, he provided some very clear insights into the decision-making governing Spot content and why it functions more as a news feed than a real blog (that’s another criticism — virtually no real interaction between Spot “bloggers” and the audience with which it allegedly is having a “conversation,” which is what a real blog does) and we tend to agree on more than we disagree regarding the blog and its potential. Chuck sees the same opportunity that I’ve pointed out, but he’s the one who must live in the real world as far as executing it, with all the headwinds that might entail… Remember, my criticism is not that The Spot never would amount to anything, just that it had not lived up to what I considered its short-term potential so far. Chuck clearly agrees they’ve got a way to go, although understandably he mounts a spirited and very reasonable defense of what the site is right now.

3.       You wrote that The Post has no science writer. But it has a health reporter and, I think, an environmental writer. Do you really think a newspaper like The Post should have a science writer these days, especially if it has a health reporter?

Ah…yeah, I do. Ask a climate scientist or a wildlife biologist if a health writer can cover his or her field the way a science writer might. The two beats are pretty different unless you’re talking about areas related to health science. Meanwhile, the Post operates without a science writer (which both major Denver daily newspapers used to have) in a state with one of the world’s foremost climate SCIENCE organizations in Boulder, as well as a huge amount of alternative fuels SCIENCE research taking place in Boulder and Fort Collins, and the state of Colorado itself engaging in wildlife biology SCIENCE as it tracks the impact of climate change…you get the idea.

4.       Your statement that The Post “doesn’t break much significant political or public policy news” is way broad. Do you really think this is true?

Well, last week’s reporting notwithstanding…I actually do. If anything the McInnis stuff seemed to me to highlight how few and far between such reporting triumphs appear in the Post. They broke the story that McInnis had a paid fellowship with the Hasans but YOU and others took the ball and ran with it until they finally caught up with the plagiarism hit, weeks later. Odd no one else thought of that angle, and it’s still unclear whether the Post had the idea or if someone told them to look into it (you’ve probably seen such speculation in some of the blogs that the Hasans themselves could have blown the whistle). When’s the last time the Post came up with such an impactful political or public policy news story? The Schaffer-Marianas stuff two YEARS ago?

Further, the Post’s political and public affairs reporting still is bogged down on the same, tired “he said, she said” mode that produces a preponderance of lies and rebuttals. For example, nowhere in the entire Post report on the legislative debate over repealing the sales tax exemption on candy and soda …• as I recall …• was there ANY empirical analysis or evidence about the likely impact of such a move on the businesses that were lobbying against it. What we instead got was he said (Engstrom’s going to have to cut jobs if this passes) she said (cuts are necessary to help balance the budget) BS. The freaking tax increase amounted to three cents on a $1 candy bar or soda! How hard would it have been to track down research showing the impact on sales in other states/municipalities where a similar sales tax rise occurred? Never saw it in the Post. Oh, and given the amount of ink it gave to the tax exemption repeal debate, has the Post followed up with the opposing businesses to get hard evidence of whether what they warned about has come to pass?

I firmly believe most of the people who cover this beat for the Post are completely capable of such reporting. But something is missing and as a result Post readers are getting a daily politics/public policy report with less depth and bravado than the newspaper provides on the Broncos and the Rockies.

What happened to Mike Saccone?

Thursday, June 24th, 2010

In my “What happened to them?” series, I’ve been asking Denver journalists 1) what they’ve been up to since leaving the Rocky, the Post, or some other news outlet in Colorado…-and 2) what they think of the state of Colorado journalism these days. Lots of journalists in recent years have been on our doorsteps one day and then gone the next. I thought it would be interesting to find out what happened to some of them.

Mike Saccone was a writer and blogger at The Daily Sentinel in Grand Junction from Jan. 2006 through the end of Feb. 2009, first covering mostly criminal justice and then politics. Prior to working at the Sentinel, he wrote for Cox News Service in Washington, DC, and The American Lawyer Magazine, among other publications.

 Here are his answers to my email questions:

1. More than a year ago, I left my perch as chief political writer and blogger for The Daily Sentinel in Grand Junction to become communications director for the Colorado Department of Law. I am responsible for coordinating our public relations efforts as well as responding to the daily needs of the media throughout Colorado. Having covered the legal profession in New York and our nation’s capital, I have always been fascinated with the law. My current job allows me to continue to learn about the law and to see state government from the other side …- the inside …- of the fishbowl.

2. All things considered, I think Colorado’s journalism scene actually is all-in-all fairly healthy. Though larger newspapers might be going through a rough patch, smaller, local outlets such as my former newspaper, The Daily Sentinel, along with The Durango Herald, The Longmont Times Call and too many others to mention are doing great local and regional coverage that at times bests the work of their larger peers. For example, Bob Moore at the Fort Collins Coloradoan blows his competition out of the water when it comes to covering the 4th Congressional District.

Colorado broadcast media also is doing some really strong work. From the investigative pieces coming out of the Denver market to the local and regional coverage of outlets like KUNC in Greeley, KREX in Grand Junction and Aspen Public Radio, Colorado’ broadcast outlets do some great work, even if the smaller stations don’t get the notice they deserve. Just as an example of broadcast media expanding, Colorado Public Radio stationed one of its reporters at the Capitol this year to cover the legislative session.

On top of all of this, Colorado’s online media also is flourishing. From the Colorado Independent to Face the State to the work Westword is doing with its blogs, there is decent competition emerging for the traditional print and broadcast media. Do I think they will eclipse the traditional media? Probably not in my lifetime, but they do add another layer to Colorado’s journalism landscape. That can’t hurt.

Will every print, broadcast or new media outlet still be here in five years? Probably not, but Colorado overall is in great shape. Obviously losing the Rocky was a major blow to Colorado journalism, but the show goes on. From The Denver Post, 9 News and KOA on down, there’s still great journalism being done. And from my perspective, I think great journalism will continue to be done in Colorado, even if it’s coming from new outlets or existing outlets being repurposed or reoriented.

What happened to Bill Menezes?

Wednesday, June 9th, 2010

In my “What happened to them?” series, I’ve been asking Denver journalists 1) what they’ve been up to since leaving the Rocky, the Post, or some other news outlet in Colorado…-and 2) what they think of the state of Colorado journalism these days. Lots of journalists in recent years have been on our doorsteps one day and then gone the next. I thought it would be interesting to find out what happened to them.

Bill Menezes doesn’t exactly fall in this category, because he worked at both the Rocky and The Post quite a while ago. (He was a business reporter at the Rocky in 1995, a deputy business news editor at The Post in 2003, and he spent nine years at the beginning of his career at The Associated Press.) But as Editorial Director Colorado Media Matters, he falls in the category of people in the journalism world who abruptly disappeared or made big changes recently. For Bill, this happened in March of 2009 when Colorado Media Matters was closed after a three-year run critiquing Colorado media.

 Here are his answers to my email questions:

 1. What I am doing now: After Media Matters for America closed the Colorado office, I spent most of the summer looking for permanent employment while doing freelance projects in public relations and in media. One such project with Center for Independent Media was a detailed “mapping” of the Colorado news media landscape, to get a quick sense of the coverage gaps that had emerged or were widening in the wake of such events as the shutdown of the Rocky Mountain News and major cutbacks among other mainstream media outlets. Since last September I’ve been working as a director with VisiTech PR, a boutique, tech public relations agency based here in Denver, covering companies involved in wireless, cable and broadband technology — almost a flashback to the sectors I covered for years as a tech journalist back in the day.

2. State of Colorado journalism: The Center for Independent Media research project I mentioned earlier gave me a great opportunity to get a sense of the journalism landscape in Colorado at a time of wrenching change. There is a lot to be optimistic about, primarily the continued wealth of talented or up and coming journalists we have in this state and their willingness to adapt to — or even create — the new world in which they will be practicing their craft. One example is the new Colorado Public News operation that my longtime friend and former Rocky colleague Ann Imse is developing at KBDI, creating an entirely new outlet for reporting on areas of importance to Coloradans — healthcare, environmental issues, science, to name just a few — that the mainstream commercial media by and large no longer cover in-depth and on a regular basis. KBDI’s willingness to provide a platform for Colorado  Public News reinforces my impression that journalism isn’t dying, even if the old-fashioned news media businesses are; it’s evolving. I’m also encouraged by the work of some mainstream news journalists such as Bob Moore of the Fort Collins Coloradan, who despite having had to make withering cuts in his newsroom is producing perhaps the best political reporting — on newsprint, on Twitter and in his blog — in the state. Finally, you see people in the newsroom at one of the most battered daily newspapers in the state — the Colorado Springs Gazette — getting to the Pulitzer Prize finals and you know somebody’s still doing something right.

The other side of the coin is the rather disappointing way in which some of the major old and new media have failed to seize the day at a time of great opportunity. For example, the Denver Post has remade its political “blog” presence into The Spot and lists about 10 full-time political/government reporting staff, but neither the bloggers nor the newspaper break much significant political or public policy news and rarely engage with the blog’s audience. Instead we get Lynn Bartels “blogging” about Dick Wadhams’ wedding, thus giving the Post the distinction of having no full-time science writer but three full-time gossip columnists.

It’s also amazing that local broadcasters such as KUSA/9news are touting the huge expansion of their news airtime, but typically are filling most of those extra hours with content that even generously can’t be described as news. KUSA has one of the top political/public policy journalists in this market in Adam Schrager but I’ve yet to see the station fully leverage this asset with all that added ”news” airtime.

I believe the weaknesses in Colorado journalism have created a competitive void, one that ominously is filling up with what can only be described as “astroturf” new media outlets. The right-wing think tank Independence Institute alone accounts in one way or another for three of them — Colorado News Agency, Complete Colorado and Face the State. None of these three profess to adhere to a standard journalism code of ethics and their “work” sometimes gets aggregated by other “news” organizations such as State Bill Colorado that do not routinely identify the political and financial ties the three have with conservative donors. A State Bill reader who sees a Colorado News Agency article has no idea it’s being produced by a right-wing organization which actively is promoting and campaigning for its own political agenda.

With luck the tide will again turn and legitimate journalism organizations eventually will crowd out the pretenders much as healthy grass eventually will crowd out dandelions.

An interview with Westword’s Michael Roberts

Friday, May 14th, 2010

I’ve been interviewing journalists via email who’ve disappeared from the local media scene…-or who are doing very different things than they were a few years ago.

Westword’s Michael Roberts hasn’t disappeared or switched employers, but I thought it would be interesting to interview him anyway, about his own situation these days, since he’s chronicled the upheaval in local journalism, more than any writer in town by a long shot. He used to be the alt weekly’s media columnist, and now he’s in charge of Westword’s Latest Word blog.   (He doesn’t write all the posts, but coordinates the blog)

He’s still Denver’s number-one media critic, writing frequently about journalism, but he’s now writing on many more topics, even more so in last year or so, since the Rocky closed and the drama surrounding its closure subsided.

I asked Roberts via email if I could email him five questions, like the news feature they tried and quickly abandoned at the Rocky toward the end.

“Could you call instead of e-mailing questions?” he emailed me back “I write over 3,000 words per day on average; it’s nice for a change of pace just to have a conversation.” He makes the same request of his Westword colleagues in the office, he later told me. He asks them to use “human speech.”

I asked him what he’s doing:

Roberts: “My goal is 10 blogs per day of which a minimum of three are reported, meaning I’m actually making phone calls, getting quotes from people…. [The Latest Word publishes about 15 posts per day, sometimes more, with five posts written by other writers.] The idea is that it is a wide ranging mix of things. We do have other blogs here. We have a blog that focused on music and popular culture, and we have a food blog, and we also have an outdoors blog called On the Edge about participatory recreation. Everything else falls under the Latest Word blog, so I’m covering news of every description, sports, crime, lots of different topics. And so for me, media remains an interest of mine, and it’s part of the mix, but it’s certainly not a dominant part of the mix.

I asked if he was happy doing less media criticism.

Roberts: It’s a different world. There aren’t that many positions in journalism where you can just sit and focus on one thing. We are required to be multi-faceted in journalism these days and produce a lot more copy than we could have ever imagined before. Let’s say 10 years ago when I was focusing on being the media columnist as a full time job but also supplementing my media writing with other writing, including music, which I should say as an aside I don’t have time to do any music right now. I’ve been asked not to write about music and instead focus on news. Back then I probably wrote about 3,000 words a week. And that made me one of the, if not the, most prolific writers at Westword at the time. Today I am averaging over 3,000 words a day.

Does that make him one of the most prolific at Westword?

Roberts: There’s not a competition anymore, and there’s also not a prize. That right there gives you an indication of how much things have changed.

Do you find it less fun to be a media critic when news outlets are struggling so much, less fun to take shots at the media? Is it less interesting?

Roberts: I don’t think that’s the case. I think there are so many more aspects to it… all kinds of interesting questions about what constitutes journalism, what constitutes a journalist, what constitutes original work, what’s an investigation, how can we find time to do an investigations. So it’s not that media criticism is less interesting. It’s expanded and there are so many more angles to it than people would have thought a decade ago-.

I asked what had changed since he was assigned to the Latest Word blog.

Roberts: What’s changed is the volumes that they want us to put out and the focus on actual reporting. The vast majority of people who are doing online stuff are not doing their own reporting. And while it can be exhausting to turn out that level of material, philosophically I am 100 percent behind the idea that we need to actually generate original content instead of contributing one more echo to the echo chamber.

Is that supported by data?

Roberts: One of the theories is that more people will come to our blog and make it a regular stop if we give them something that they can’t get anywhere else. And there’s no question, at least here at Westword, our numbers have been growing very steadily. The overall page views for the paper as a whole have been in the range of three million a month. We exceeded that last month. Last month, which was our best news-page view performance ever- we almost hit a million just on our own. .. Of that million, the Latest Word portion of it was 800,000, something like that. The news section includes feature articles, and articles that also run in the paper and slide shows, and stuff like that. Those numbers are growing, and hopefully it means people are coming to it because they recognize they are getting original material instead of a re-hash of a re-hash.

What happened to Diane Carman?

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

Many Denver journalists have disappeared over the past few years. I thought it would be fun and interesting to hear from them. So I’ve been asking a few what they’ve been up to–and what they think of the state of journalism in Colorado these days.

Former Post metro columnist Diane Carman was kind to take time to answer those two questions. (See below.) She started at the The Post in 1989, working first as features editor and then entertainment editor. She wrote a column once a week from 1991 to 1998 before she became a full-time columnist. Here’s what Diane wrote me via email this week.

My current situation:

I left the Post in 2007 to join the staff at the School of Public Affairs at the University of Colorado Denver. For the first year or so, I was working primarily with the Presidential Climate Action Project, a national nonprofit headquartered in the school. That effort trailed off after the 2008 presidential election and I began working full time for the school. I have helped faculty and staff members work more effectively with the local media, organized events on public policy issues, taught a class on the media and public policy, and helped produce the alumni magazine and features for the website.

 

I am developing a nonprofit health policy analysis operation to be headquartered at the school. Funded by private foundations, the project will feature regular email newsletters, a website and a blog on health policy in the context of Colorado. It will be old-fashioned reporting, writing and analysis, but in an intentional nonprofit model. We hope to have it operating within the next six months.

While I miss the newspaper business, especially the newsroom atmosphere, I have come to enjoy my new colleagues and the opportunity to learn new skills. I feel really fortunate to have found another job working in the world of ideas. Still, I’m amazed at how many total strangers stop me on the street or at the grocery every week to tell me they miss my column. It was a wild ride and I’ll never forget it.

The state of Colorado journalism:
 

The news that Craig Walker won the Pulitzer Prize this year was tonic for those of us who want to see the news business in this town succeed. Craig is a tremendously talented guy who’s really well liked. He shot some amazing photos and really persevered to see that project through. It was so well deserved.

That being said, projects like Craig’s are becoming increasingly rare across the country …• not just in Denver. I’m a big fan of long-form journalism, investigative reporting, in-depth analysis and tenacious searching for the truth …• all of which are expensive to produce on a consistent basis. Given the demise of the Rocky and the reduced staff and savaged news budget at the Post, we are getting a small fraction of that kind of high-caliber journalism anymore. Some days I actually pick up a New Yorker after I finish reading the Post because I can’t find enough to read to occupy myself for a 20-minute bus ride.

My pals in the newsroom are working hard, trying to achieve greatness and they believe in what they do. They don’t know if they’ll ever get another raise or another contribution by the company to their 401k. And they all know the odds are against them given the outdated business model for the industry. I wish them all the best, but I’m not optimistic that we’ll ever see the kind of high-quality journalism that we got during our great Denver newspaper war in the ’90s. At least not from newspapers.

That being said, I really hope they prove me wrong.

 

 

 

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.

What happened to Peter Blake?

Friday, March 19th, 2010

Note:  During the year, I’ll be asking former Denver journalists what they’ve been up to since disappearing from the Denver journalism scene…-and what they think of the state of Colorado journalism these days. I previously queried Bob Ewegen and Jim Spencer.
 

Peter Blake was a reporter and then a political columnist at the Rocky Mountain News.
 

I started at the Rocky in August 1968.  I applied first at the Post, but it had no opening, so I went to the Rocky, where Mike Howard had just taken over as city editor.  I was his first hire.   
 I left in May 2007.  The News offered a buyout to 20 people, and since I was 71 and the paper was losing money, I knew I’d never get a better offer than that.  I freelanced a weekly column for the Rocky subsequently, during legislative and campaign seasons.  The last one appeared in the penultimate issue in February 2009.  
 

I have not worked in journalism since, but am looking at opportunities. Of course I am sad to see only one major daily still publishing in Denver, and it seems to prove the rule that newspapers need competition to flourish.  The lack of advertising means the space available for news and opinion is being squeezed.  But there’s no point in looking back. Web sites abound — some of them produced by my former colleagues at the paper — and since there is still a demand for news, some may prosper.  Or at least survive.  
 

What happened to Jim Spencer?

Thursday, March 4th, 2010

Note:  During the year, I’ll be asking former Denver journalists what they’ve been up to since disappearing from the Denver journalism scene…-and what they think of the state of Colorado journalism these days. I previously queried Bob Ewegen.

Jim Spencer, the former columnist for The Denver Post, was kind enough to answer my questions via email yesterday. Spencer came to The Post to write a metro column in 2003. He was laid off in June 2007.

Jason,

Here are my e-interview answers

1.       I hoped to work the rest of my professional life as a columnist at the Denver Post. But Denver Post Editor Greg Moore laid me off in June 2007. I tried hard to get another job in journalism. I was invited to St. Louis to interview for the editorial page editor’s job and to the Indianapolis Star to discuss a political editor’s job, but did not receive offers from either paper. Meanwhile, to keep publishing columns, I started my own website, SpencerSpeaks.com, with technical help from two non-journalist friends, Chris Dunn and Sharon Steadman. I convinced the publishers of Colorado Confidential to pay me a monthly stipend to co-publish my columns on their website. I covered the news in Colorado in much the same way I had while at the Post. Public officials granted me access and information as a working journalist. I guest-hosted on AM760 talk radio, appeared monthly on John Andrews radio show on Backbone Radio and occasionally appeared on PBS talk shows as a guest commentator. But the pay in online journalism could not support me or my wife, and it came with no benefits. So I eventually applied for and got a job as communications director of the University of Colorado School of Medicine. I worked for wonderful people, especially Dean Dick Krugman, who did important work and included me as a strategic adviser, not just as a flack.  It was arguably the best PR job I could have conceived. But I missed journalism. The relationship between journalists and people with power differs remarkably from the relationship between institutional advocates and those same powerbrokers. In my view, independent journalists possess a leverage against abuses of power that serves the public’s interest better than any form of marketing or advocacy. So I continued to look for work in journalism. In October 2009, I found an opportunity at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, where I now work as a general assignment writer. I have written about medical research using animals, middle class people on food stamps, overcrowded homeless shelters and attempts to end a health care program for the poor. I recently returned from Haiti and have published the first two parts of three-part series. Your readers can read  those stories and view accompanying videos and photos at

 http://www.startribune.com/world/84858637.html?elr=KArksUUULPQL7PQLanchO7DiU

http://www.startribune.com/world/85276687.html?elr=KArksDyycyUtyycyUiD3aPc:_Yyc:aUU

2.       As for the state of journalism in Colorado, I believe it suffers significantly from the closure of the Rocky Mountain News and the shrinking of the Denver Post staff. So-called new media pays for far too little original reporting, settling instead to consolidate for free and redistribute  the work of institutions such as the Post and Rocky that it mocks as “main stream media.” Alternatively, new media too often consists of selective reporting designed to advance the agenda of its owners. Or new media consists of partisan rants supported by no reporting.  When your local website pays livable wages and benefits to independent professional journalists who will report the story wherever it leads and who have access to and respect from newsmakers, then you have a model that serves the public. However, if the public refuses to support that model financially, then society will get what it pays for. Having fewer independent journalists ferreting out corporate, political and bureaucratic abuses of power serves no one but the people who hope to exploit the public to their personal advantage. That kind of greed and exploitation always exists. But it runs amok as journalism struggles. Having watched how things work from the PR side as well as the newspaper side, I believe Coloradans and all Americans are on the brink of being manipulated by people with big money and special interests in ways they hardly comprehend.