Archive for December, 2007

Colorado Media Matters Critiques Tax Freeze

Saturday, December 15th, 2007

Colorado Media Matters pointed out various omissions in the coverage of the Independent Institute’s lawsuit opposing the Colorado state law freezing property tax rates in most of the state.

Colorado Media Matters noted that the Denver Post reported important facts that were left out by some other outlets. Colorado Media Matters noted:

“The Post reported hat the rate freeze is applicable only in the 175 (of 178) Colorado school districts that voted to waive restrictions on retaining and spending revenues mandated by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) provisions of the Colorado Constitution. The Post also reported that under the law, 34 districts will see lower mill levies and 38 others will see no change”

Reporters should be careful to note that property taxes will NOT go up everywhere in Colorado, as a result of the tax-rate freeze.

They should also note, whenever they report on partisan squabbling about the tax-rate freeze, that Republicans in the Colorado Senate passed a similar tax-rate freeze in 2004.

Caldara’s Tax-Freeze Joke

Friday, December 14th, 2007

For months, I’ve been bugging Jon Caldara to tell me when he was going to file his lawsuit challenging this year’s new law freezing the tax rate in most counties.


The law was passed to help straighten out Colorado’s state budget mess.

Caldara’s been threatening to file a lawsuit for months, milking media coverage along the way.


On Wed., I emailed him:


Hi Jon …• The end of the year is upon us, and I still don’t see a lawsuit filed by you regarding the tax-rate freeze. Have you changed your plans on this? If not, what’s up? As always, thanks for your reply, Jason

He replied with this on Thursday: “We decided not to file.”

Of course, this was just hours after he announced that his lawsuit was finally filed, so this was Caldara’s attempt at a joke.

My about-to-be-former colleague Matt Poundstone suggested that Caldara needs a nickname, ideally related to his over-exposure in the Colorado media. So we came up with these:

Jon “Interview Me” Caldara


Jon “Big PR” Caldara

Media Jon 

Jon “thinks-he’s-a-comedian” Caldara  Jon “I-should’ve-been…•a-comedian” Caldara Jon “Failed Cartoonist” Caldara  Fading Comedian Jon  Jon “B-grade Comedian” Caldara  

Jon “Comedian” Caldara


And then I collected these from other friends:

Jon “Windex Forehead” Caldara

Jon “Doug Bruce With A Goatee” Caldara

Jon “Toll Troll” Caldara

Jon “I Frighten Children” Caldara

Jon “The Dildo” Caldara (historical reference)




I asked Caldara what he thought of some of these nicknames, and he emailed his favorite: “failed comedian, successful adult film star Jon Caldara”  If you’ve got ideas, let me know.

Post made right call on photo

Wednesday, December 12th, 2007

I’m sympathetic to the folks who think the photos of killers like Matthew Murray, who gunned down Colorado church goers Sunday, should not appear in the news.

But if you follow this logic, you could argue against showing the images of all kinds of criminals, for fear that making them celebrities will encourage copy cat crimes.

Not only would this not be in the public interest, because the people want to see these images and it’s important for the public to see them, but it wouldn’t be effective.

Photos and information about mass murderers will leak out anyway. In fact, you could argue that trying to hide information and imagery about a killer may encourage copy cat murders as much or more as highlighting the information would.

I’m not saying journalists should throw every photo of a typical gang member on the front page, but a photo of a mass murderer like Matthew Murray should go on the front page, absolutely.

So, the Denver Post made the right call today in running Murray’s photo on page 1. The Post Managing Editor Gary Clark emailed me the following in response to my question about The Post’s decision:

We ran Mathew Murray’s photo because, generally, readers are interested in seeing a photo of a person who is the center of a major story. It’s news. And this was not a Seung-Hui Cho-style, gun-brandishing self-portrait. It was a five-year-old photo provided by an acquaintance. In addition, the photo complimented the quotation on page one attributed to Murray.”

The Post made the right call. The Rocky, which ran Murray’s photo in the interior of the newspaper, made the wrong decision.


Interview with Chronicle’s Bronstein

Friday, December 7th, 2007

For my Sat. Rocky column, I interviewed San Francisco Chronicle editor Phil Bronstein. To me, what he’s trying to do in San Francisco makes a lot of sense. Here’s a transcript of part of my interview with him.

JS: I’ve read that you want to find ways for readers to act instead of just saying things are bad. What does this mean?

PB: It can mean a variety of things, but we snagged this mission from the original William Randolph Hearst, who despite an interesting and colorful reputation, was for a long time a champion of the working man and women. His newspapers took on trusts. They did a lot of things. And he’s not always remembered for that.

And he had a thing called, journalism of action. And of course his action was probably far grander than anything we have in mind. As someone said about it, and I don’t think he said this, but newspapers at the time injected themselves routinely and conspicuously to correct the ills of public life.

Now we have a slightly different view. The model we have is called Chronicle Watch. Chronicle Watch we started some years ago. It’s on the front of the local Bay Area section every day. And it’s not a column, and it’s not a consumer advocate, or a consumer hotline or advocacy. It basically solicits from readers problems from readers that should be getting fixed primarily by public officials. So it’s not Chronicle Watch to End the War in Iraq. But it’s Chronicle Watch about potholes, it’s about the electrical wiring in public school classrooms that doesn’t work, it’s about bridges that are broken and unsafe. So they [readers] send us a note about it, and we check it out. And we run a thumbnail of the problem and a brief description. And we run a photo of the public official whose job it is to fix it, and we run all their contact information. And we run it every day until they fix it. And this has been going for five or six years. It’s success rate is in the 90th percentile. So it’s a pass through. It’s not, we’ll go out an fix it for you. No question, there’s a lot of leverage in putting a photo in the paper each day next to a problem their paid to fix and they’re not fixing. But basically it really is people feeling like even if it’s not their street that they can do something about it. We are providing them the information and the avenue to do that. And obviously some encouragement to do that if you got that information.

And so this, on a small level, is what we have with this journalism of action.

You provide people with all the information they need to do something. No just here, ok are the facts. Or here’s a problem, and that’s it. That’s our job. We’ve provided the information. See ya. Good night. Have a good day. Good luck. Instead, you know we will offer them opportunities to do something about it. Whether it’s something that’s been standard in newspapers for a long time…-help boxes or which congressperson to call, that sort of thing.

We’re doing that, but more than that, it’s in the stories you choose.

So for instance, the mayor of San Francisco says he’s going to improve the homelessness problem. It’s a huge issue in the last several elections. We go out to Golden Gate Park, actually on another story, and our columnist-goes out there…-he was actually looking for coyotes because there was a coyote problem out there…-and instead he finds giant encampments of homeless people, and once more, you know, there are homeless people who have all sorts of problems and issues. There are hypodermic needles all over the place. One kid, in fact, gets stuck in the butt sliding down a public park slide. And he writes about it and provides people the opportunity, you know, if you want to complain about this. We make the maximum use of all the digital possibilities. There stories are on our website and you get comments, and you take from the comments, we reverse publish some of the better comments. In those comments people can have ideas for solutions. We provide the opportunity for those people to express themselves, for other people to then participate if they want to. Immediately the mayor sent people out there to try to deal with this problem. And we kept sending Chuck out there and other reporters out there and sweep the place, map it for the website, where the homeless encampments in Golden Gate park are, where they are moving, are they doing anything that’s valuable or helpful with the folks they are moving. What about social services?

Another example. They had a trash strike in Oakland. One would think that’s pretty limited to Oakland. If you are not or are not having your trash picked up in Oakland. But, you know, the trash company said despite the strike, everyone’s trash is being picked up by management and replacement workers. We went out as reporters to see if this was true. Not only was it not true, but the places they were picking up happened to be the wealthy neighborhoods and the not picking up happened to be the nonwealthy neighborhoods. So we covered that like it was the giant oil spill we just had, and we had a trash watch, and we put the picture of the guy who’s the head of the trash company and his contact information as part of the Oakland trash strike package. It’s hard to say whether we had any role whatsoever in the resolution of the Oakland trash strike, but no question people got to express themselves and they did, including a lot of people who didn’t live in Oakland but were plugged into the story in a more profound way than if you were just reading it in passing.

These are the kinds of things where you actually give information on about how people can participate in a resolution if they want to. The Bay Area has the highest volunteer rate of, I think, anywhere in the country. So when we had the oil spill, the head of the Coast Guard came to San Francisco, and we had an ed board meeting with him, and he said, “I was frankly kind of shocked, but I guess I shouldn’t have been at the number of people who showed up to help.” And there were a thousand people who showed up the first day saying what can we do. And a lot of them were turned away, so we tackled that, too. What can you do and why were people being turned away, and how can that be fixed?

You just leverage people’s desire to participate in their own lives in the paper and online.

And the third example I’ll give you is a guy fell off Half Dome. Half Dome is a very popular climbing place. Most people didn’t realize, the last part of this climb is a vertical climb, and there are two cables that go up, and there’s a line, it’s like a line for a popular movie, around the block. So this guy falls off. And we have an outdoors writer, Tom Stienstra, very well known, writes a lot of books about the outdoors, he writes about it. And he got hundreds and hundreds of comments on his blog-among the comments were people who claimed to be eye witnesses to this guy falling off. So what you do is go and verify, if you can, that they were there, that they saw this-and in the same set of comments are a set of descriptions of why this is a dangerous situation and how it can be fixed-You turn this into, what can you do and how can the public participate in the solution.

That’s the kind of thing, and as I say, it varies on how you do it and what the tools are. You can go from a help box to the whole way the story is reported or follow-up story is reported-.

People can do a lot more, obviously, than a lot of people think they can.

JS: On the online comments, do you actually solicit solutions in the comments, like solution comments, or do they just naturally come as part of the comments on the story?

PB: So far, they just naturally come but I think that’s probably a great idea. I don’t know what form that would take but I do think that we ought to consider, and we’ve talked about, how to specifically solicit solutions.

And you know, this is controversial. People, you know, have accused us of advocacy journalism. That’s not what we do.

We sort of snagged the William Randolph Hearst line because it’s not a new idea by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s one that journalism has gotten away from in the last number of decades-

The idea is not to direct people to do anything. We’re not telling people what to do. We’re saying, if you want to do something about this, here are all the places you can go, here’s what you can do. We don’t say, do this. More like, if you want to do something, here are some options-.

We started about two and a half months ago. Doing this systematically is new-

I just heard from too many people, you know, readers or former readers, who said, if you want to tell me what’s wrong, I can turn on the TV 24 hours a day. I can find out what’s wrong. I just want to find out what to do about it.





Why was Gunny Bob’s new book cancelled?

Monday, December 3rd, 2007

You have to wonder what Cumberland Press was thinking when it agreed to publish a book by KOA talk show host Gunny Bob.

You wouldn’t expect much brilliance or originality. You wouldn’t anticipate humor or subtlety. Your expectations, honestly, would have to be pretty low.

In fact, based on, if anything, too much evidence meticulously provided by Colorado Media Matters here, you’d have to be prepared to receive a manuscript full of falsehoods and ugly insults.

So why in the world did Cumberland reject Gunny’s manuscript, as reported by Colorado Media Matters?

What could possibly have made Cumberland change its mind?

I called Cumberland Press Friday, but the Publisher didn’t have five minutes to tell me what happened between him and Gunny. But he did discuss the issue with his underling, who sent me a written statement by Publisher Ronald Pitkin:

“Cumberland decided to cancel Bob Newman’s War in America this year because in our judgment the manuscript we received varied significantly from the thrust of the proposal upon which the contract we offered was based. We didn’t think the manuscript offered enough new insights to make it a saleable book, and so we decided to cancel it.”

This position is very strange given that Gunny’s book was already listed in Cumberland’s promotional materials. And, you have to wonder, again, what Cumberland could possibly have been expecting to receive from Gunny in the way of “new insights.”

Did Cumberland’s rejection of Gunny have anything to do with the fact that Gunny was discussing his new book when he stated that “every Muslim immigrant to America who holds a green card, a visa, or who is a naturalized citizen [should] be required by law to wear a GPS tracking bracelet at all times.”

Did it have anything to do with the falsehoods and distortions that Colorado Media Matters is constantly finding in his radio show–and the ones it found in his previous book?

Did the cancellation have anything to do with the campaign by Denver activist groups to pressure businesses to pull ads from Gunny’s radio show?

I’m still trying to reach Gunny and Cumberland to ask these questions.