( – promoted by Colorado Pols)
With the Rocky Mountain News gone and journalism in the midst of major changes, did Denver media outlets provide citizens with the information needed to make informed decisions during the 2010 election? What were the journalistic triumphs and lapses during the election cycle?
Join us for a live blog covering a panel of five Colorado journalists discussing how the news media covered the 2010 election. The forum gets under way at 2 p.m. in the 2nd floor Terrace Room at the Lawrence Street Center, 1380 Lawrence St., in downtown Denver.
The panelists are:
Charles Ashby, Political Reporter, Grand Junction Sentinel
Curtis Hubbard, Political Editor, The Denver Post
Adam Schrager, Political Reporter, 9News, Producer/Host YOUR SHOW
Eli Stokols, Political Reporter, KDVR Fox 31 and KWGN TV
Kristen Wyatt, Reporter, Associated Press
Colorado Statesman political reporter Ernest Luning will be live-blogging the discussion here at Colorado Pols starting at 2 p.m.
Paul Teske, Dean of UCD School of Public Affairs, one of the panel’s sponsors, will offer introductory remarks and Jason Salzman will moderate.The discussion will be driven by questions from the audience.
Your live-blogger will be able to pass on questions submitted below, so have at it!
1:57 p.m. – The crowd is gathering for the big discussion. Organizers might have been optimistic booking a room with about 150 seats — only 17 people are here so far, including panelists, UCD staff and technical crews — but the School of Public Affairs has done a great job setting things up.
2:02 p.m. – Another dozen or so audience members have arrived, including at least a couple reporters with notepads, laptops and smartphones out. Still plenty of seats in case anyone in the vicinity of 14th and Lawrence wants to stop by.
2:08 p.m. – Some statehouse Dems have shown up. Rep. Nancy Todd and House Majority Communications Director Katie Reinisch — who is departing her position soon to open a frozen yogurt shop — are here. Hickenlooper campaign spokesman George Merritt just walked in. So the discussion won’t just be journalists talking about journalism, there will be some politicos here too.
2:15 p.m. – The forum is getting started. Jason Salzman credits Media Matters for inspiring this discussion, based on post-election panels the media watchdog organization sponsored after the last election.
Colorado Pols gets a shout-out — a commentator on this site said this panel would be print and broadcast journalists kissing up and back-slapping. We’ll see.
Salzman says non-traditional political coverage will be discussed, but the panelists are unapologetically from traditional print and broadcast media. This was also in response to a remark made by a Colorado Pols contributor when news about this panel was posted here last week.
2:17 p.m. – Ashby says the Rocky closing has had an effect on coverage, but it’s an open question whether other media picked up the slack. (His wife worked at the Rocky.) Thinks people were well served getting information. Different perspectives on the same story around the state. “When you add bloggers and online coverage, you get more.”
Hubbard, the Post’s political editor, says he is the panelist who probably misses the Rocky the most. He used to start his day seeing what the competition had that he didn’t. Now he looks at a number of outlets. The Post didn’t change the way it covers elections because the Rocky is gone, takes charge seriously. Feels The Post did well providing coverage this season. Would the paper have benefitted from having the Rocky as a competitor? Yes. Fascinates Hubbard to be working with political reporter Lynn Bartels instead of working against her.
Hubbard continues: Scope changed this cycle — focused more on local coverage, so less on 5th and 3rd congressional districts than might have been seen in previous elections.
Schrager says whenever community loses a gatekeeper, it’s a challenge. There has been a proliferation of advocates who label themselves as media. Democracy is a participatory sport — no excuse for voters not to be educated. You want to know about votes, they’re easily at hand. Yet when a community loses an advocate for the community — not advocate for a party, platform or approach to issues — that’s depressing. We should all encourage journalism — it’s the only industry that’s referred to in the First Amendment.
Schrager continues: The goal is to make un-user-friendly institution (government) more user friendly. Asked questions of candidates, including those posed by viewers, and focused on political advertising. Doing all those ad checks gives reporters the opportunity to discuss issues TV news doesn’t usually address. For example, Senate race had the 17th Amendment as a topic — rare to discuss that on TV news.
Viewers need to be active and skeptical, Schrager adds. That means everyone has to ask questions. If you don’t get a good answer, follow up and seek out your own answer. Nontraditional media is a condemnation of old media, that it’s not delivering the news — but it ultimately rests on readers and viewers.
2:28 p.m. – Stokols says Channels 4 and 7 don’t commit to covering politics every day. Channel 7 will cover a story when it thinks it can get a big scoop and promote it. Reporters in town more about promoting themselves, others in town more about engaging and educating the public. There’s a wide audience that isn’t on Colorado Pols and reading blogs all day — one way to reach them is through TV. There’s a lot of information out there. For people actively looking for it, it’s easy to find, but if you’re not actively pursuing it, it’s harder to find. What might decide elections is TV commercials.
“Sadly,” Stokols says, a handful of journalists can’t match the messaging of unchecked millions of dollars in advertising. We saw that in this election “maybe writ larger than ever before,” cites Senate race as example.
You see this in how Senate candidates run campaigns — limit appearances, don’t make candidate available, count on only a couple reporters showing up at events. Then all voters have to go on is the constant TV advertising. Message in that race: Michael Bennet thinks Ken Buck might be crazy. That’s what a lot of voters had to go on.
Wyatt arrived in town just before the Rocky closed so doesn’t have a perspective on how things have changed since Denver was a two-daily town. No shortage of information. New media benefits campaigns — campaigns able to drive message through traditional media. More interest from her bosses not in substantive journalism but in the kinds of stories Politico and blogs have. Everyone’s after page views.
2:33 pm. – Kathleen Beatty from the UCD School of Public Affairs has the first question. In view of proliferation of blogs, ability to select TV journalism in line with your own point of view — to what extent are people losing info based on the sources they pick?
Ashby says when he started in journalism, newspapers were general circulation. Television built a single community many decades ago, but now everything is splitting up again. People are hearing what they want to hear, not what they need to hear. If all you’re interested in is quilting, you’re not going to get a slap in the face saying “hey you need to know what’s going on over here!” Some people need to know about things and are missing out. Vitriol proliferates because of this.
Hubbard says he “will echo that.” He gets calls from readers — this cycle he noticed first time, people would criticize them for not covering something when in fact the Post had. What happened was the Post broke the story long ago and then the reader’s favorite outlet would finally pick it up. Danger of being in echo chamber, only seeking information that confirms world view. “We try, believe it or not, to operate in that middle ground.”
Hubbard: Whether it’s talk radio, internet or niche publications, people can stay within their own zones quite easily. But the question is, where are the unaffiliated voters? They’re not watching Rachel Maddow or FoxNews — they’re in a different place and traditional media’s challenge is to engage them. It’s something the Post is giving some thought to.
Schrager says his dad says you’re happier if you hang out with people who speak in commas and question marks, not exclamation points. Now it’s not only louder but more selfish. KUSA, Post and UCD had a forum on health care reform — lots of people engaged in this. One person stood up and insisted on yelling, interrupting the event. “I was thoroughly depressed after the event,” Schrager says. “We found common ground” in the forum, but one individual spoiled it for Schrager. People have to compromise and find common ground with others, but politics seems to have become more selfish. This “vexes” him, he says, and becomes worse with every election.
Stokols says the polarized environment makes it tougher to do his job. He works for a station that has “FOX” in its name, so even though he’s not associated with the national FoxNews cable station, people presuppose otherwise. People expect coverage from Fox31 to echo coverage from the national cable channel and people are surprised when it doesn’t. People often don’t have questions, they’re looking for support for their positions.
Wyatt says it’s often people have the answers and are looking for support, but that might not be new.
2:46 p.m. – Matt Arnold, organizer of Clear the Bench, says he got more coverage for his campaign in the New York Times than he did in the Denver Post. Arnold says the issue didn’t hit broadcast news and barely hit print.
Ashby says it wasn’t the only issue in the state. Fewer journalists, more issues, less space — how much can we do? He says Clear the Bench was unique statewide, but wasn’t brand new, other efforts have been similar locally and in other states. Not trying to offer an excuse, but there are “things that are, frankly, bigger,” including governor’s race, tea party and other things. Would like to cover everything but do what we can.
Hubbard says Clear the Bench was covered by judicial desk, not his political desk, but he thinks the Post covered it more than the New York Times did. It is a news judgment — looking for issues that resonate with readers. Voters in Larimer County educated themselves on judges involved in the Tim Masters case. We didn’t cover it to your liking, but we didn’t ignore it, Hubbard tells Arnold.
2:52 p.m. – Big issue covering the statehouse?
Budget cuts. Budget cuts.
Stokols says education reform, how new leadership in the House plays out, how Hickenlooper manages the split legislature. He adds to previous question — regrets he didn’t have a staff but also regrets having to cover “Is Dan Maes quitting today?” time after time, but that was a pressing story each day it came up. Regrets not covering 3rd district, treasurer’s race, attorney general’s race too.
Schrager says what people might not realize is he and Eli are “bureaus of one.” Streamed Clear the Bench debate — did 9News cover everything well enough? It’s a participatory sport, folks, people got a start.
2:55 p.m. – Question on McInnis story, how it came about — seemed like it came from routine background checks, is that what happened? And why did it take until July?
Hubbard says Karen Crummy was assigned to governor’s race at start of race. She was charged with doing her best “not to be distracted by the shiny object,” instead come up with stories on who these people are, what makes them tick. Crummy noticed $150,000 payment from Hasan Foundation — as Salzman pointed out later, total was $300,000 — and this raised eyebrows. Post started digging as soon as they got draft water articles from the McInnis campaign. Went through “countless” other floor speeches and op-eds McInnis had written, as well as for other candidates. Maes took history working undercover in Liberal, Kan., off his website and this turned into a story too.
Question — if Rocky had been around, would Post have done it faster, maybe early enough for Republicans to know in time to pick someone else?
Hubbard says they got word 7News had the story the afternoon they were putting it to bed “for tomorrow’s paper,” so put an abbreviated version online. Lesson: Can’t sit on news.
Instead of having a single reporter do it, might have had a “flood the zone” strategy if the Rocky had still been in competition.
Ashby says to get it first isn’t as important as getting it right. Sometimes the competition can make you do that.
3:01 p.m. – Question – What’s criteria for covering minor parties?
Hubbard says Tom Tncredo was covered. Generally threshold is 10 percent support. Paper has limited resources, can do a good job covering, say, the two major party Senate candidates, not all 11. Everyone learned more about American Constitution Party because Tancredo “hijacked” their spot on the ballot.
Ashby says libertarians get coverage some places because they do well.
3:04 p.m. – Question: Was national coverage of Colorado stories a resource or competition?
Hubbard says national coverage is not competition except for new media in D.C., Politico being the prime example. If national networks or Jon Stewart are covering something, it’s because it’s already known in Colorado.
Ashby says it was nice when Colorado Pols linked to his stories because of its beef with The Post, because it used to be his scoops would get swallowed up by coverage by bigger outlets.
Stokols says national media often bit on stories pushed by advocacy groups — using the Ken Buck “buyer’s remorse” story as an example — that local media would often pass by.
Hubbard says Post is “trying very hard to give credit where credit is due,” and adds that this is a sea change in the culture. If the Post is going to ask for credit when its work is picked up, it should extend the same credit.
3:09 p.m. – Question: What do you do poorly, what will you improve?
Wyatt says editors sometimes want stories to fit a narrative — is Ken Buck similar to Christine O’Donnell? — and this can skew things.
Schrager says media makes a multidimensional world two-dimensional. Questions submitted by readers are encouraging in their breadth, but in the end you can’t ask every question because of time and space limitations. He says local TV coverage was “hands down” better than it’s ever been, in part because everyone was checking ads.
Schrager says he was more disappointed with the political crowd this year. Rep. Betsy Markey was the first candidate in history to turn down a 9News debate, for instance. Covering politics at the expense of policy is frustrating to him.
Hubbard says involving the audience to a greater extent is crucial.
3:15 p.m. – Can old media and the blogs work together?
Ashby says political reporters are skeptics and get spun all the time. He says he never reads an article in a magazine until he knows the author, so when info comes in from unknown sources, he’s less apt to dive right in.
Stokols says he’ll look at Colorado Independent stories with more of a grain of salt, but if reporters know where they’re coming from, they’re valuable.
3:19 p.m. – State Rep.-elect Rhonda Fields wants to know why Post endorsed Ryan Frazier over Ed Perlmutter.
Hubbard says editorial page editor will invite candidates in for discussions and questions. Then editorial board decides who to endorse for whatever reason. Hubbard says he doesn’t participate in discussions so can’t say how they work, but perception of involvement of newsroom in the process led him to decline to sit in on interviews this year. He adds that, as a voter, he only uses endorsements for down-ticket races. “Raise your hand if the Denver Post endorsement swayed you on a major statewide race,” he says, skeptical it did for anyone here.
Ashby says endorsements don’t affect his coverage at all.
Stokols notes TV stations don’t endorse but points out without the Rocky, there’s no counter to the Post when it comes to big statewide endorsements. Question came up after Post reported on McInnis plagiarism and Maes “Serpico” incidents, and then the Post editorialized both should get out of the race. Maybe it’s because the Post is the last big paper standing.
3:25 p.m. – How do political stories make it onto the air or front page when there’s mayhem, sports and weather competing for space or time?
Stokols says there’s often a battle to get things on the air because some would rather see sports or weather.
Schrager points to the public file each broadcast station has. He encourages viewers who feel stations aren’t doing enough political coverage to file letters.
3:27 p.m. – It’s the last question of the panel discussion: What was the most fun story to cover?
Ashby says “very broadly” the governor’s race. It was tiring, because so much broke so fast.
Wyatt says covering medical marijuana was most fun because it was fascinating and strange to anyone out of state.
Hubbard says Walker Stapleton’s “doo-doo sandwich” remark was the most fun.
3:28 p.m. – And it’s a wrap. Attendance was good — maybe 40-50 people. Thanks for reading and feel free to discuss any of the topics raised during the forum.