Wins and losses for open government this legislative session: Mostly losses. Mostly meh.
For an end-of-session wrap up on the topic of transparency, let’s go to the guy who tracks this stuff more than anyone in Colorado, Jeffrey Roberts of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition. (You might recall a profile I wrote on Roberts earlier this year for CJR.) So, how did this session fare on the open government front?
“Colorado lawmakers in 2016 rejected an opportunity to bring the state’s open-records law into the 21st century,” Robert says.
Grrreat. Sooo, what happened specifically?
They … decided that wage-law violations should remain “trade secrets” and that internal affairs files on judicial branch employees should remain confidential, which isn’t the case for other state government workers. On matters affecting public information, the General Assembly did little during this year’s session to improve access. The most significant legislative win for government transparency doesn’t actually affect governments. That would be SB 16-038, which requires financial disclosures and state audits for nonprofits that get millions of dollars of taxpayer money to coordinate services for Coloradans with developmental and intellectual disabilities.
Read more from Roberts about this latest session’s failures here.
A progressive media watcher lists the “Best reporting on the state legislature in 2016”
Jason Salzman, a former Rocky Mountain News media critic and progressive consultant in Denver, rounded up some of his favorite reporting of the legislative session for his BigMedia blog this week, featuring journalism from The Denver Post, The Colorado Independent, Rocky Mountain Community Radio, The Durango Herald, FOX 31 Denver, and The Colorado Statesman.
“The press corps is threatened and depleted but continues to crank out quality journalism,” he writes. “Let’s hope we can say that next year.” Find out what specific stories tickled Salzman’s fancy here.
Speaking of … want to become a better reporter or editor?
The Colorado Press Association has you, shall we say, covered. The group is holding a May 26 morning webinar free for CPA members and $75 for non-members. Here’s what editors Randy Bangert of The Greeley Tribune and The Pueblo Chieftain’s Steve Henson will discuss:
What are some best practices when conducting interviews? How about writing stories? What are some tips to ensure your stories are accurate? What’s the difference between a hyperbolic lead and a good lead?
Interested reporters and editors can register for the event here.
Meanwhile, Denver7’s Marshall Zelinger is one Colorado reporter who is buh-lowing up
During big elections, sometimes one reporter’s work stands out as exemplary, usually when they get ahold of a storyline and just own it from start to finish. Colorado news junkies are watching that happen to Marshall Zelinger of Denver’s ABC station. I’d mentioned his work in last week’s newsletter— and it just keeps getting better. Zelinger hadn’t been able to get a comment for his earlier reporting that uncovered potential fraud in the signature-gathering process that put 34-year-old Republican Jon Keyser on the June primary ballot in the U.S. Senate race. But last week the reporter caught up with the candidate for a cringe-worthy video interview during a break in a candidate forum. What happened next was brutal, and in the era of 24/7 news coverage and social media could wind up a campaign killer. Keyser twice calls Marshall “Mitchell,” accuses the reporter of “creeping around my house,” doing “the Democrats’ work,” and mentions the size of his “huge” and “very protective” 165-pound Great Dane, asking the reporter, “Did you get to meet my dog? … he’s bigger than you are.”
There’s been some of talk about whether the candidate threatened the reporter with his dog. I saw it more as just awkward, nervous banter and Keyser trying to talk about anything other than the issue Zelinger wanted him to discuss. But still, as Associated Press reporter Nick Riccardi rightly pointed out, “you don’t want that to be a question.” Later, this candidate for a national political office told The Denver Post he invoked his dog because he thought the reporter crossed a line by knocking on his door — in the middle of the afternoon. Really.
Zelinger’s “great, amazing, shoe leather reporting” made a lengthy segment on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show, bringing even more national attention to this statewide Colorado race.
Ex-Denver Post editor was briefly a candidate for The New York Times public editor position
Halfway through a Michael Calderone media piece in HuffPo about who will be the next public editor of the The New York Times, was this Colorado nugget:
The Times’ search committee cast a wide net for this influential perch and approached a number of prominent journalists. One candidate was Greg Moore, who led The Denver Post for 14 years before resigning in March. He withdrew early in the process, and told HuffPost recently that he was flattered to be considered but plans to remain in Colorado.
What you missed on the Sunday front pages across Colorado this week
Did you eat more than the recommended dose of a cookie edible at a party Saturday night and end up too fuzzy to peruse all the front page stories this Sunday? I’ve got you covered.
The Longmont Times-Call had a story about equity concerns in local school fundraising.The Greeley Tribune reported on an invasive new beetle—the emerald ash borer—creeping into Colorado. The Loveland Reporter-Herald wrote about expensive potential changes for a school facility. The Pueblo Chieftain ran a headline “Hospital Fee Bill Failure Worries Some.” Steamboat Today had a piece about future management of reintroduced wild wolves. The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel had a big headline “Nothing Doing” about the anemic legislative session. The Colorado Springs Gazette went with a question: “Why Did Session Break Down?” The Fort Collins Coloradoan had an enterprise story about “education at 8,500 feet” and what it looks like for three mountain schools. The Boulder Daily Camera had a piece about Boulder hosting the nation’s first “YIMBY” conference. Vail Daily ran a piece about an upcoming local vote over money for trails and open spaces. The Durango Herald fronted a piece on “The Obstacles of Going Solar.” In “The End of the Mine,” The Denver Post looked at the collapse of the coal mining industry in the North Fork Valley.
Will the governor really drag lawmakers back to Denver for a special session?
On Friday I went to hear Gov. John Hickenlooper speak to a group of about 600 at a luncheon sponsored by the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce. I came away with what I thought might be a little news: He casually said he’s considering calling lawmakers back to Denver for a special session to try—again— to pass a key budget strategy (reclassifying the state’s hospital provider fee into a standalone TABOR-exempt enterprise), which Republicans blocked this year.
That trial balloon seems to be taking off. On Sunday, The Denver Post’s editorial board urged him to do it, following an editorial urging the same in The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. Then The Aurora Sentinel chimed in. Democratic Sen. Pat Steadman tweeted “The inevitability is palpable. You could see this coming, and I predict the plot thickening…”
A Google News search on Sunday of “Hickenlooper special session” brought a kind of hilariously depressing roster of headlines.
How a high-school student’s secret recording led to calls to oust school board members
Grace Davis is a “typical high school student in many ways. She studies, plays golf, volleyball and sings in the school choir,” according to Colorado Public Radio. But she might also be atypical for a 15-year-old in knowing Colorado is a one-party state when it comes to recorded conversations. As long as one person in the conversation knows the conversation is being recorded— and that can person can be you— it’s OK to record it. So when the school board president of Davis’ district and another board member asked to meet with her in private after Davis had announced plans for a school protest, Davis secretly recorded the meeting. After she released audio of the meeting in which she later said she was bullied and intimidated, it sparked calls for the ouster of the school board members. CPR has the tick-tock from this story here.
NPR’s “All Things Considered” host is heading to Colorado to talk about the future of water
Michel Martin, the weekend host of NPR’s “All Things Considered” will discuss “the evolving legal, ethical and social conversations that have made water such a hot topic in Northern Colorado and around the country” at the Lory Student Center Theater at Colorado State University, Fort Collins on May 24 at 7 p.m. The event is part of NPR’s event series in partnership with local NPR station KUNC.
For this week’s #BurdickWatch section
Last week I told you about former Denver Post deputy features editor Dave Burdick’s hiring spree for his Denver news startup. One of those reporters, Adrian Garcia, has also been selected as one of this year’s 12 journalists to join ProPublica’s Data Institute.
Last thing. I tried to cover the end of session differently. Tell me if you think it worked
Since I started writing about state politics in December for the Denver-based nonprofit newsroom The Colorado Independent (like our work? Please consider a donation), I’ve tried to cover a legislative session differently, writing explainer pieces on policy and process in the style of Vox.com as much as I could. Continuing with that out-of-the-box effort, I tried something new for a legislative wrap-up. Instead of a typical straight news end-of-session piece, I tried to tell the story of 2016’s four-month legislative session through the experiences of a fictitious family in Colorado. Think it worked? Someone on the right griped that the piece flipped JFK’s axiom of “what government can do for you” on its head, while another on the left complained to me about parts of it being “anti-government.” Id love to hear your thoughts though.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this post misspelled the first name of a Denver7 TV reporter. His name is Marshall, with two Ls.
— Marshall Zelinger (@Marshall9News) May 20, 2016
[Photo credit: samchills via Creative Commons on Flickr]