What happened to Jim Spencer?

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.




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






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.

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