Press forum: News orgs aren’t pushing for info like they used to

A panel of Colorado journalists said an industry downturn has led media companies to shy away from pressing for access to government information, Gil Klein posts on his National Press Club blog on Thursday.

The prognosis was grim at the Club’s forum on the First Amendment, press freedom and the future of journalism, held Tuesday at the Denver Press Club.

“The media seems less and less willing to fight back and to challenge government authority in a legal sense,” said Brad Maass, who leads the investigative team at Denver’s CBS 4….

In the past, the government knew that the media would take legal action every time information was restricted, Maass said. But now the government has gotten “pretty canny in knowing” that with financial pressures “there’s less fight in the media to battle for information.”

In one of a series of 35 forums held nationwide about the impact of New Media on traditional journalism, panelists decried the strains of declining profits on media’s watchdog role.

Many new Web sites are attracting big audiences, but they are not spending money to challenge the government for information, said Mark Cardwell, managing editor/digital editor of the Denver Post.

The Post is suing for the release of the Colorado governor’s cell phone records, he said, but at the national level the government is putting up more restrictions on information because “they know it’s expensive to sue, and the news media don’t have a lot of money.”

Cardwell said the role of news organizations is changing:

As newsrooms are slashed, newspapers and television stations are becoming more dependent on “amateur journalists” who may go to a school board meeting and post something to a Web site that alerts a news organization about controversial issues, Cardwell said.

“I like to tell people in our newsroom we’re not gatekeepers any more — we’re guides,” he said. “We will be guiding people to interesting things that can be found on the Web.”

Left implicit: Amateur journalists aren’t suing school boards to open up executive sessions or reveal e-mails and other records, pursuits that can easily chew up tens of thousands of dollars for the Fourth Estate.

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Ernest Luning

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