Legalized marijuana smokes out two Colorado statehouse reporters

Photo illustration by Kelsey Ray

So here’s a commentary on the journalism industry with a uniquely Colorado twist: Two of the most ubiquitous reporters at the state Capitol— The Associated Press’s Kristen Wyatt and Peter Marcus of— are leaving their posts for positions in the world of Big Pot.

Wyatt is leaving the AP to write about hemp and perform other admin duties at Marijuana Business Daily. This will be her only other writing job since joining America’s gold-standard newswire after college. But, she told me, “Like a lot of middle-aged journos, I’ve been asking myself if I still want to do journalism or maybe try something new. I’m almost exactly halfway through my working life (I hope!) and have been doing the whole midlife-crisis job re-examination. But I hadn’t had any luck finding something that didn’t seem lame.”

Wyatt says she’s intrigued about covering hemp as an agricultural commodity and a business sector rather than producing click-baity posts. “I have a background in agriculture journalism and a deep love for it, which is how I ended up covering pot in the first place,” she says. “But ag journalism is even more of an endangered species than political journalism, if you can imagine such a thing.” She also plans to help set up conferences, moderate business panels, and contribute to market research reports.

Meanwhile, Marcus, who covered politics for The Colorado Statesman and The Durango Herald before joining The Gazette’s new state politics publication last winter, is bolting the news business altogether for a director of communications role at Terrapin, a national marijuana company.

And check out this section from a two-pager on the move:

In the coming weeks and months, Terrapin Care Station will establish a one-stop online resource for journalists, elected officials, policymakers, industry leaders and business owners, and the general public, where marijuana news, counterpoints, opinions, facts, and data will be presented for free use and consumption.

For his part, Marcus made no remark about going to “the dark side.” Instead, he said journalism “lives in your blood” and is “incredibly difficult to leave behind.” His new role, he said, is one that will allow him to “evolve within the field itself.” Wondering: Will their media arm ask for Capitol press credentialsJust kidding.

So who reads local Colorado newspapers anyway?

Well, we have somewhat of an idea. Not too long ago, the Colorado Press Association commissioned a survey that asked 29 questions of 400 Colorado residents about how they consume media.

The press group’s CEO Jerry Raehal released the results in a conference call last week. Just about half the respondents characterized themselves as newspaper readers and the rest said they hadn’t read a paper in the past week, he said. The percentage of Coloradans who had access to newspapers, he added, is higher than the national average. “A key takeaway: People access newspaper media in Colorado more than nationwide.” Interestingly, he said 69 percent of those questioned said they didn’t watch a TV show in the past 24 hours. Seventy-two percent of millennials get their newspaper news from smartphones. Twenty-two percent read only print editions, and 33 percent read newspapers online only. Twenty-eight percent read the paper in print and online. So, 50 percent of Coloradans are reading newspaper content, according the survey. “Not what it used to be, but still a good number,” Raehal said.

Some other takeaways from the Colorado survey: Newspaper readers are wealthier and more educated on average than nonreaders. Newspaper readers in Colorado are looking to spend money and are engaged in their communities. Readers said they were very interested in local news. (But 33 precent of non-readers said they had no interest in local business news.) Newspapers ranked No. 1 for “trust” in local community news over social media. As for demographics, 32 percent of respondents were millennials or younger, 38 percent were Generation X, and the rest Baby Boomers. Thirteen percent were younger than 24. The split was nearly 50-50 for gender.

There was also something of a wake-up call in the results when it comes to accountability reporting. “Our readership in Colorado is questioning whether we’re providing that watchdog journalism,” Raehal said, calling it a “key issue that we need to be addressing.” Raehal mentioned how cash-strapped newsrooms have cut back on coverage of government meetings, but said in smaller communities it’s critical. “I’m not advocating for meeting coverage,” he said. “I’m advocating for impact coverage.” He mentioned that The Pagosa Springs Sun, a small community newspaper, does a “fantastic job on being a watchdog.”

Speaking of getting your news online … Spotlight on Saguache County and ‘the worst internet in the country’

Two weeks ago, Grand Junction came in for big treatment in the national press with a much-trafficked story in The New Yorker. This time it’s rural Saguache County— for the unfortunate distinction of having some of the nation’s worst internet access. Clare Malone, senior senior political writer for the ESPN-affiliated data journalism site FiveThirtyEight, traveled to Saguache for an in-depth story on why it is that only 5.6 percent of adults are estimated to have broadband internet access in this county.

From the piece:

The tide long ago turned from paper to digital in American life, and yet the disparities in access to the internet in parts of the country can be stark. Rural communities often face logistics problems installing fiber-optic cable in sparsely populated areas. In Saguache, internet problems are both logistical and financial; the county is three times the size of Rhode Island, while 30 percent of residents live below the poverty line. Some would argue that the social contract has changed and that fast internet isn’t just a luxury — it’s a right of all 21st-century Americans. If that’s the case, we’re far from ensuring it. Just spend a few days hopping from town to town on Saguache’s long stretches of road.

One interesting aspect of the piece is a tension between the perils of not being connected and an idea that some in the county just might not need to be.

The ‘megaclustering’ of local news isn’t new to Colorado

Last week, newspaper analyst (and soothsayer of the local print apocalypse) Ken Doctor published his latest piece about the industry. In it he charted a course for increased local newspaper “megaclustering” because of what he called “potential-to-likely changes in federal strictures on combined broadcast and print ownership and of changes in antitrust regulation.” What this means: More local newspapers owned by the same company spread over more communities in a larger geographic area. A pro: Maybe sustaining local papers a little longer so they don’t fold. A con: Creating the “one voice” problem.

Doctor points to clusters in New England and in Ohio, but there’s a Colorado angle here, too. From the piece published at The Street:

Megaclustering builds on “clustering.” Newspaper mogul Dean Singleton is most credited with the principle, though sharp observers believe that Thomson Newspaper CEO Stuart Garner may have been earlier responsible. (Garner, interestingly enough, made one of the great killings in newspaper sales, completing the biggest sale of its time, about $2 billion for the Thomson chain in 2000 — at the height of newspaper company value.) Singleton built MediaNews Group Inc. on the clustering principle, and its successor company Digital First Media still operates on that principle in both the Bay Area and Los Angeles. Early on, that meant centralizing printing, personnel and back-office functions for separate — but usually contiguous — newspaper properties in the ’80s. Later, we saw editorial centralization as well.

Singleton is the Colorado newspaper mogul who founded MediaNews Group, which owned The Denver Post before rebranding as Digital First Media, which is now controlled by the secretive New York City hedge fund Alden Global Capital. These days, Digital First owns nearly 20 daily and weekly newspapers in Colorado including The Boulder Daily CameraThe Longmont Times-CallThe Loveland Reporter-HeraldThe Cañon City Daily RecordThe Sterling Journal-AdvocateThe Broomfield Enterprise, The Fort Morgan TimesThe Lamar Ledger, and The Burlington Record, among others. There are plenty of eyes on what the company plans to do with them.

ICYMI: The satanist and the city council

Here’s a little in-case-you-missed it story out of the Western Slope that involves prayer in the public square, the separation (or not) of church and state, and how one group successfully trolled a city council in order to make a point. For years, the Grand Junction City Council has allowed Christians to perform a prayer as an invocation prior to public meetings. A city clerk randomly selects who gives the remarks from a list of those who ask. A group called the Western Colorado Atheists and Freethinkers wants the council cut out these prayers before meetings. If you have to do something just have a moment of silence, they say. So the group applied to give the invocation and was selected for the Aug. 2 meeting. Instead, the group’s representative, a local named Scott Iles whose name was chosen, said he planned to turn his invocation slot over to (drum roll, please) a satanist. See how they like that, right? The council’s policy stems from a 2008 resolution that doesn’t address whether someone can call in a pinch-hitter, though one council member said substitutes have been made in the past.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

Iles’ announcement that he wants to give his opportunity to a satanist disturbed some council members. “I’m definitely worried,” Councilor Duke Wortmann said. “As a Christian, you worry about the influence of the dark one.”

The dark one! Anyway, it seemed like a movement might have been afoot to shut the thing down. For what it’s worth, the satanist, who declined at first to give his name to the local paper out of fear of retribution in his community, said he didn’t plan to put on a show. “I’m not a theatrical person,” he told reporter Erin McIntyre. “I own no hooded robes and no small animals will be accompanying me.” In the end, Andrew Vodopich, the satanist, was allowed to give the invocation. “Vodopich, dressed in an all-black outfit punctuated by a red silk tie and sporting a serpent beard ring twisted in his goatee, spoke for approximately a minute and delivered an invocation that touted tolerance, equality and truth,” McIntyre reported. “He also promoted free inquiry, reason and a rebellion against theocracy and ended his invocation with, ‘Hail, Satan.’ At the conclusion of the invocation, one member of the crowd said, ‘Yeah, what he said,’ and the council moved on to the Yard of the Month presentation without incident.”

Kyle Clark got his ‘Next’ profile in 5280 

It has been a year since KUSA Denver 9News Anchor Kyle Clark, 33, launched his innovative nightly newscast “Next” in an effort to re-think how the local NBC affiliate does the local news. For the occasion, 5280 magazine writer Robert Sanchez checked in with Clark about the hurdles and successes since then. The show, which is the Denver market’s local nightly news leader for 6 p.m., Sanchez writes, “gets 32,000 viewers—around half the number of followers [Clark] has on Twitter.” Despite lower ratings than what the station hoped for, the show has attracted new viewers, Clark says. We also get a look at the typical workday of a well-known millennial nightly newscaster in a major TV market: “Work often begins for Clark at 7:30 a.m. at home and ends sometime around 11 p.m. In between, he does interviews, tweets, makes phone calls, tweets, huddles with Next producers, tweets, does Facebook Live teasers, tweets, and edits every one of his scripts, sometimes while tweeting.”

So what’s so different about this show? From 5280:

Part of what makes Next different is the show’s on-screen appearance. Gone are things like time and temperature icons. The set looks inviting: blue lighting, an enormous Lucite desk, and a giant screen in the background, framed by faux rectangular rocks. Before going live last year, Clark and his team studied national broadcasts, including ESPN’s one-man SportsCenter with Scott Van Pelt and Charlie Rose’s PBS program. Rose’s in-depth interview style is a particular favorite of Clark’s and can be seen in extended conversations like the one Clark had with famed animal behaviorist Temple Grandin. “Imagine what most newsrooms would say if you admitted you were trying to emulate Charlie Rose,” Clark says. “It’d be like, ‘What kind of career sabotage are you contemplating?’ ” One reason executives haven’t panicked about ratings is because of Next’s ability to go viral. Each evening, a producer uploads clips to Facebook and often posts the full show on YouTube. The tortoise kid got an offer to appear on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and appeared another time with Clark to discuss beavers. One of Clark’s commentaries, on whether he was right to leave a note at a bar that challenged an Aurora truther, received tens of thousands of reactions on Facebook.

Read the rest here.

Meanwhile, introducing ‘Let’s be Clear’ at KUSA 9News— a mobile clear-glass news studio

It’s a “simple concept,” says 9News investigative reporter Jeremy Jojola in a promotional video. The station sets up a clear-glass cube on wheels— a mobile studio— and interviews people inside. It’s about “clarity and transparency. Things you want from people like politicians and newsmakers,” Jojola says. The segment involves Jojola interviewing his subjects for about five minutes with many of the questions coming in through social media as he broadcasts the interview live on Facebook. Since launching at the beginning of this month, he’s interviewed a trans women about what it’s like being trans, and the general manager of Casa Bonita about the quality of the food at the establishment made famous by South Park. If you have an idea for consideration on Let’s be Clear, email

For the personnel file

There was some other big media moves this week beyond the pot people mentioned earlier. The Aurora Sentinel hired four journalists including Kara Mason, news editor of Pueblo’s PULP magazine and other Colorado publications. Also joining the paper is former Gunnison Country Times sports reporter Bobby Reyes and Philip Poston, a photographer who shot for The Atlantic magazine. Ramsey Scott, who covered the legislature for The Colorado Statesman is also on board.

Meanwhile, longtime legislative reporter Marianne Goodland, who spent about two years writing for The Colorado Independent and a half dozen rural newspapers, has joined as a featured contributor covering rural Colorado and the statehouse. She says she plans to still do some freelancing for The Independent.

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

Joshua Adams wrote about how a former NBC reporter who became a podcaster and Lyft driver is doing his “dream job.” CJR’s press freedom correspondent Jonathan Peters wrote about how CJR partnered with journalism groups to launch the US Press Freedom Tracker. Jackie Spinner profiled Chicago Tribune standards editor Margaret Holt, who says, “I know more about errors than anyone in Western civilization.” And I wrote about how a local TV station’s open records lawsuit underscores North Carolina’s text message troubles, and also about inconsistency in a statehouse’s press credentialing process.

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

Photo illustration by Kelsey Ray using content from Carlos Gracia for Creative Commons on Flickr.