March 27, 2015

Colorado Springs paper full of hot air on anti-pot pieces

Columbia Journalism Review is the starting place for the hack job involved.

The initial problem? Pretending to be news stories, even investigative journalism, when it's not:
On Sunday, The Gazette, the daily newspaper here in Colorado’s second-largest city, published the first of a four-day series called “Clearing the Haze,” about the state’s marijuana legalization experiment. 
So far, based on much of the public reaction, it might have been better called “Blowing Smoke.” … 
By any measure it looks like a big investigation, coupled with a slick, parallax Web design. But casual readers of the series would be easily forgiven if they thought the four days of “Clearing the Haze” was compiled by a team of The Gazette’s reporters. It wasn’t. 
Instead, the series is a product of two of the paper’s editorial board members, Wayne Laugesen, and Pula Davis, along with a Denver-based freelancer hired by the paper.

Yes, it's a set of extended op-eds, using a hired gun to help. (More on the why of that in a moment.)

This wouldn't have happened five years ago, when the Gazette was part of the pre-breakup Freedom chain, a staunchly libertarian group whose chain in-house columnists practiced what the company preached on drugs, and even partially on reproductive choice issues.

But, it, like many, went into Chapter 11, more over feuding family heirs than bad business decisions or the newspaper industry in general.

And then got broken up for sale into pieces. The new Gazette, apparently, is pandering to the Religious Right nonprofit/lobbying ground zero in the Springs.

That brings us here:
The Gazette editorial board is staunchly anti-legalization, and the freelancer, Christine Tatum, is a legalization opponent—not identified as such by the paper—whose husband, quoted in the series, is an anti-pot addiction specialist, which is disclosed in one instance but not everywhere. 
“The general public reading this will have no idea that Christine is extremely opposed to marijuana legalization and that she’s married to a doctor that has been one of the most vocal voices in this whole process warning of the potential unintended consequences of all this,” says Ricardo Baca, editor of The Denver Post’s marijuana news and culture blog The Cannabist.
Journalism 101, Error 1 — nondisclosure. But, there's more.
When it comes to the content of The Gazette’s series, made up of some 20 individual stories, it reads like a fact-dumping, throw-everything-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks approach to proving the argument that pot legalization in Colorado was a bad idea. 
Journalism 101, Error 2 — not even trying to make an op-ed look like news analysis, let alone straight news.

Which is why:

Not surprisingly, the series has come in for local criticism—outside and even inside the paper’s newsroom. 
The word “propaganda” pops up in the many negative comments on online pieces and on The Gazette’s Facebook page
As for the inside?

Let's go, via Romanesko, to the paper's alt-weekly, which reports staff have been threatened with dismissal for protesting. 

That said, I'm sure the op-ed series disguised as news is getting little play outside the Religious Right's ivory towers.

The second half of the CJR piece is an interview with Gazette publisher Dan Steever, who acts like a kid caught with his hand in a cookie jar. That includes never even answering the question about why Tatum was hired rather than the use of in-house staff. I think we know why, but Steever is clearly taking dishonesty in various directions.

Add in award-dropping and other things. Hey, Steever, if you're going to brag about having won a Pulitzer and, as it turns out, it was for investigative journalism, why didn't you use the investigative Pulitzer winner to lead the series? Oooops.

And, does this mean that Willie Nelson will not set up business (or perform) in the Springs?

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