Journalist Bill Menezes on opportunities seized and squandered in Colorado’s shifting news landscape

Colorado Independent contributor Jason Salzman has been hunting down veteran Denver journalists no longer reporting regularly to talk about Colorado journalism in the era of the Great Transition. This week he talked to Bill Menezes, a longtime AP reporter as well as a former reporter at the Rocky Mountain News and a news editor at The Denver Post. Menezes was also Editorial Director at Colorado Media Matters, which closed shop in March of 2009. The brief but enlightening Q&A follows.

What are you 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 (now the American Independent News Network to which the Colorado Independent belongs) 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.

How do you view the present 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.

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