Westword’s Roberts on Colorado’s new-media landscape

Colorado Independent contributor, BigMedia blog author and former Rocky Mountain News media critic Jason Salzman has been interviewing journalists as the media landscape continues to shift. This week he interviewed Westword’s Michael Roberts, a Denver and Colorado media figure for years and now the prolific captain of Westword’s Latest Word blog. Roberts didn’t want to do the interview via email because he writes too damn much every day. Call me, he said.

Salzman: What are you doing these days?

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. [He doesn’t write all ten.] I’m not offering a take on somebody else’s reporting or just riffing on something, commentary or analysis. And the idea 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 sort of 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.

Are you happy doing less media criticism?

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 you one of the most prolific at Westword?

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

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….

What has changed since you were assigned to the Latest Word blog?

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?

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.

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