The Denver Post won’t drug test incoming journalists anymore

Ricardo Baca, the former— and the first— marijuana editor for The Denver Post might just leave a legacy at the paper beyond what clacked out of his keyboard for the past few years.

“I was asked by a number of editors at The Post to help their would-be new-hires pass drug tests they were likely to fail,” he wrote in an email to Denverite following a podcast he did on Stoner. I’ve written before about how even the Post’s pot reporter had to take a drug test, but it looks like things have changed.

From Andrew Kenney at Denverite:

“Yes, our policy did change several months ago,” editor-in-chief Lee Ann Colacioppo confirmed in an email. The newspaper no longer administers pre-employment drug tests for certain jobs, including all newsroom jobs, she wrote.

“Neither Colacioppo nor Baca knew whether Baca’s campaigning had anything to do with the Post’s change,” Kenney continues. Baca is now running a PR agency dedicated to the marijuana industry.

Editor’s note: The reaction on social media after this story went up was precious:

Forgive us our press passes: Another credential war at the Colorado Capitol

In January of last year I wrote in this newsletter about “a juicy one … (If you’re a nerd)” involving a former Denver Post and TV reporter being denied credentials to access the House and Senate floor of the state capitol because he worked for Colorado Watchdog, a nonprofit news site that doesn’t disclose its donors. In Colorado, a group of journalists and lawmakers act as the gatekeepers for these credentials, which can be a little awkward for everyone involved. This time around it’s Sherrie Peif, a journalist for Complete Colorado, a website of the libertarian Independence Institute think tank, whose credential application was denied by the Colorado Capitol Press Association.

From a recent post:

The CCPA’s purported reason is that Complete Colorado is a project of the Independence Institute (II), a non-profit, non-partisan think tank. In short, the CCPA, a small body of reporters from establishment media, controls which journalists are granted preferential access to the floor of the General Assembly. Those who don’t, like me, are at a disadvantage.

Peif was a reporter for more than a dozen years at The Greeley Tribune where she racked up awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, the Colorado Press Association and others. Now she covers the legislature for Complete Colorado. Not having floor credentials like the other reporters means she can’t get on the House and Senate floor and approach lawmakers. She has to report from the gallery or the hallway. She feels that puts her at a disadvantage. (Disclosure: I have credentials to get on the floor; I don’t recall actually ever using them.) Bylaws of the CCPA says writers for organizations that get involved in electioneering can’t have credentials.

I really don’t have too much to say about this other than I’m glad deciding who gets in isn’t up to me. But, it’s an issue that is likely to keep coming up. In 2014, David Sirota chronicled for Pando Daily a similar credentialing issue in Colorado. And, according to a pretty fascinating history about press credentialing in this state housed on the legislature’s website and written by a former reporter, more debate about how it’s handled might be welcome. “The reporters who gather news at the state Capitol need help,” it reads. “We find ourselves the subject of a political controversy, which is an unacceptable position for any reporter. Equally unacceptable, we think, would be to lose our journalistic access to the floor of the House and Senate. We could use the assistance of other journalist advocacy groups to help us maintain and improve a system that guarantees us floor access.”

The gatekeepers would argue they aren’t deciding who is a journalist, just who is working for organizations that get involved in electioneering.

I wouldn’t be surprised if eventually someone files a lawsuit over this. Not that, like, if journalists and lawmakers can’t come up with the best solution we should punt it to judges. But it’s worth bringing up every year as journalism changes, and “who is a journalist” becomes more of a thing. Jon Caldara, who runs the Independence Institute emailed me recently after I called Peif a “blogger” in a previous newsletter. If I call myself a journalist, he wanted to know, why don’t I call her one, too? He said he was “just hassling” me, but it’s a big question that will only get bigger and I told him I would “seek a longer internal struggle on characterizations in the future.”  I can’t say I really accomplished that yet (despite email debates with some of you in the past when I called Todd Shepherd, then of Complete Colorado, an “investigative reporter“) so your emails to me on this subject are welcome!

Donald Trump’s son Eric blocked a Denver-based USA Today investigative reporter on Twitter

That would be Nick Penzenstadler. And the responses to his post showing Eric Trump blocked him on the social media site might make you laugh. “It was during the Comey hearing,” Nick told me. He was monitoring Eric and Don Jr., and Eric tweeted about a story in Forbes about his foundation, which already had its news cycle. “I merely pointed out in a tweet that most reporters, and the public, were paying more attention to the former FBI director,” Nick says. And what happened? Blocked.

Penzenstadler, by the way, had a byline this week on a big Trump story showing how since Trump was elected 70 percent of people who bought his properties have hidden their identities. (Before he was elected that figure was 4 percent.) Penzenstadler and his USA today colleagues spent six months “cataloging every condo, penthouse or other property that Trump and his companies own – and tracking the buyers behind every transaction.” Eric Trump didn’t respond to questions for the story.

Local governments take over newspaper archives in one Colorado city— and (maybe) their office space in another

As a correspondent for the past four-and-a-half years covering local news issues around the country for Columbia Journalism Review’s United States Project I’ve found myself often reporting on odd stories at the intersection of local government and local media. Like the town government in Wisconsin that brought a local newspaper back to life. Or the mayor on a small Washington island billing the local newspaper to interview its contracted city attorney. Or about two local newspapers accepting money from City Hall.

This week I found two noteworthy stories out of Colorado on that front. Kind of. One is about how Denver city government workers plan to take over space formerly occupied by Denver Post journalists in the newsroom as those journalists move out of the downtown building and into one in Adams County. “The city has been in a hiring mode in recent years, and officials are making a prospective play for The Post’s eighth-floor office space,” reported Jon Murray of the Post. “If the City Council signs off in coming weeks, the 87-month, $11.2 million deal would start around Dec. 1, depending on when the newspaper staff exits the building.” The Post “holds a long-term lease of several floors in the building but has inked deals with several subtenants in recent years,” he reported.

Meanwhile, Loveland City Council agreed unanimously “to take over the 127-year-old newspaper archives of the Reporter-Herald, ensuring the preservation of the ‘first rough draft’ of the community’s history,” wrote the paper’s Craig Young. “The archives, stored in the downtown building that the Reporter-Herald vacated in April, will be moved Thursday to the Loveland Museum/Gallery’s new storage facility.” That’s right— another Digital First Media-owned paper leaving its building. The new offices just don’t have room for the bound archives that go back to the 1800s. And if the city didn’t take them, the newspaper’s owner would have to send them to general storage— that wouldn’t have climate control.

Here’s what managing editor Jeff Stahla had to say about the deal in The Reporter-Herald:

“In a world where nothing lasts forever, it’s important to be able to preserve what we can, when we can,” he said. “This agreement helps to preserve materials that we simply could not, while providing more access to the public.”

“Council members expressed concern at the ongoing cost, estimated at $60,000 a year, to catalog and preserve the archives and wondered if the city would incur any liability in holding crumbling newspapers that belonged to someone else,” the paper reported. One council member quipped that the bill could eventually top $1 million. And what do the people of Loveland get, he wanted to know. “They get access to their history,” the museum’s curator said. The request passed nine to zero.

Department of Answering The Call

“Love it when news reporters answer the public’s call when people think their rights are being trampled.” That’s from Bart Smith, former publisher of The Greeley Tribune, on social media. He was responding to an explainer piece I wrote for The Colorado Independent about a crazy story in Longmont playing out on Denver TV and in local newspapers and picked up by The Washington Post. At issue is why management of a low-income housing authority in Longmont asked police to bring drug-sniffing K9s to tag along on random unit searches for “training” purposes. A resident blew the whistle to ABC affiliate Channel 7 reporter Jason Gruenauer​. 9News anchor Kyle Clark was working on his own broadcast, which drew the attention of WaPo criminal justice and civil rights columnist Randy Balko.

Balko wrote, “Good on Denver’s 9 News for covering this story, and for making this point in particular: “It’s worth noting that the only reason this practice went public – and stopped – is because someone at the public housing complex knew her rights, and knew that she didn’t have to submit to a warrantless police search, no matter what the housing authority said.” After receiving hundreds of documents in an open records request, Clark also showed how housing authority board members were emailing about how they might avoid media scrutiny on the subject. Read more about this here. It’s a story not likely to go away any time soon.

What you missed on the Sunday front pages

The Greeley Tribune published a takeout on how the city handles downtown homelessnessThe Loveland Reporter-Herald reported on an increase in severed gas lines in the areaThe Longmont Times-Call fronted a story about a potential local water rate hikeThe Pueblo Chieftain covered a local community symposiumThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel reported on a “monumental” legal dispute surrounding the Antiquities ActThe Steamboat Pilot profiled the “wild” Yampa RiverThe Gazette in Colorado Springs covered the legislature’s failure to address transportation woesThe Coloradoan in Fort Collins profiled the case against a troubled local surgeon stripped of his licenseThe Boulder Daily Camera reported on the Colorado Shakespeare FestivalThe Durango Herald ran a piece from the publication Grist about military tactics used against activistsThe Denver Post profiled The Delores River.

Community engagement at The Glenwood Springs Post-Independent 

As more and more newspapers are realizing you can’t just have a letters-to-the-editor page and call it community engagement, they are reaching out directly to the readers they serve in ways beyond what ends up on their printed page. Consider The Coloradoan’s beers and ballots events. Out on I-70, The Glenwood Springs Post-Independent is hosting its second “Common Ground conversation” of the year this week with a panel of experts and a dialogue around mental health at a local community center.

The Post Independent is holding quarterly Common Ground discussions this year because we believe that focusing on local issues cuts through the divide plaguing state and national politics,” the paper reports. “While a conservative or liberal viewpoint might affect the solutions a person sees to these issues, we really all want to help our communities and neighbors. That’s part of the magic of smaller communities. We see each other rather than shouting at caricatures created on social media.”

A journalist-turned-government-spokesman talks about the dark side

“Going to the dark side” is typically what journalists say when they hear a fellow reporter has joined the ranks of public relations professionals who outnumber their own, spin for their corporate or government bosses, stonewall your inquiries, or teach other PR pros how to embarrass journalists on social media. Or, if they’re good, these “flaks” who also sometimes go by “spox” or “comms” do the opposite and help reporters obtain the most and best information they can to make sure accurate stories are disseminated to the public. Many PR people are former journalists themselves. One of them, Todd Hartman, a former reporter for The Rocky Mountain News and who now directs communications for the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, spoke with ColoradoPolitics for a Q-and-A about what it’s like to make the switch.

From the item by Dan Njegomir:

CP: You left the news business at a rough time for the industry, and it’s still rough out there. You spent a long time in the business, and your dad was a career newspaper man. Drawing on that perspective, where do you see Colorado’s print, broadcast and digital news media heading over the next 10 years? Any particular trends seem evident?

TH: When I left the Rocky Mountain News as it was in its final weeks, I along with several colleagues had this perhaps naive idea that we could all find various ways to wait things out a few years until the business model sorted itself out. From where I sit, 8+ years later, that hasn’t happened. An array of journalists, entrepreneurs and others keep trying to crack this nut. I admire the hell out of them. We all know the hunger for news coverage has never waned. We just need more people willing to pay for it. I try to do my part. We still pay to get the Denver Post tossed on the lawn every day, donate to nonprofit news and pay to subscribe to three national publications online. Without doing the math, I figure if everyone would just subscribe to one news publication — just one! — that might be enough.

And here is where I point you to the DONATE page for The Colorado Independent, our nonprofit newsroom that this week was honored with a Champions for Democracy Award by the state chapter of Common Cause.

For this week’s personnel file…

Regular readers of this newsletter will know Lauren Gustus, editor of The Coloradoan in Fort Collins. She is a responsive 36-year-old editor for a Gannett-owned paper, and I’ve known her as thoughtful about community journalism and always willing to share her ideas and talk about the industry and how it affects her audience. She even helped Colorado get a new public records law. Now she departs to edit The Fort Worth Star-Telegram in Texas. Eric Larsen, 37, will replace her.

From the paper’s own write-up on the ‘ole switch-a-roo:

Larsen said his top priorities include continuing the Coloradoan’s long history of innovation as a media organization, growing digital audience and leading important community discussions.

Last summer I wrote about Larsen here when he explained how one of Gannett’s “newsrooms of the future” looks from the inside.

Now for some news on the local media front from CJR’s United States Project

My colleague Jackie Spinner wrote about Chicago’s ‘one owner, two newspapers’ dilemma and what a hyper-local investigative powerhouse looks like. Brendan Fitzgerald wrote about a nonprofit newsroom that rescued its local newspaper— and now wants to expand. Amy Zipkin wrote how online news outlets are employing more women than print or TV. Timothy Pratt examined a book that chronicles Philly’s newspaper as a portrait of journalistic ‘valor.’ Ryan Bell wrote about how a photographer who captured youth patriotism in Russia has turned a lens on Trump’s America. Our United States Project team collaborated for a look at how local newsrooms across the country have been covering the Trump-Russia story and audience reaction to it. And I wrote about Clarity Media’s push to dominate political coverage in Colorado.

*This roundup appears a little differently as a published version of a weekly emailed newsletter about Colorado local news and media. If you’d like to add your email address for the unabridged versions, please subscribe HERE.


  1. If stoner Mike Littwin could pass a Denver Compost drug test then it wasn’t really a legitimate drug test, was it?

  2. The article does not mention that the drug test was to mandate that only drug users need apply. They may (barely) still be a defined minority group. You do not see anti-drug essays and particularly anti-marijuana essays in the Post.

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