News Does Matter
A booming Denver and Colorado deserve more professional journalists, not fewer
The Denver Post, the last stalwart of any hint of big city journalism left in Colorado, took to its own pages on April 8 to completely trash its own ownership, New York City hedge fund Alden Global Capital, as a “vulture capitalist” intent on making the once-proud newspaper and Colorado institution “rotting bones.” That there is any flesh left on those bones after another round of newsroom layoffs is open to debate.
In a series of editorials and columns, The Post’s editorial board, staffers, ex-staffers and regular columnists totally excoriated Alden Global for its ownership practices and profit-taking, and called on civic leaders and the Denver and Colorado public to rise up and demand a better newspaper and perhaps even demand that Alden Global sell the paper to new owners who would “support its newsroom.”
The noted writer, journalist and media critic A.J. Liebling long ago suggested, “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one,” but The Denver Post proved him wrong since, presumably, Alden Global owns the paper’s presses, the paper they print on and the ink they used to print. The Post’s stand was simply Astonishing, with a capital “A.”
I’ve been a professional journalist in Colorado for more than 40 years, and I have witnessed and covered staff revolts against bad ownership and management in all kinds of businesses, but I have never seen anything so brazen. Indeed, I have worked for astonishingly bad companies and managers, even blood-sucking venture capital/ hedge fund firms that gutted our efforts to produce the kind of journalism our readers demanded. My colleagues and I protested many practices and orders — often to our own detriment, including being fired — but that was internally, not publicly. What The Denver Post has done, unprecedented as far as I can remember, is the most overt statement on the state of American journalism I have ever witnessed. These are death throes.
Never have I been more proud to be a journalist. As The Post itself said in its screed, “News matters.”
I didn’t set out to be a journalist. I was called. I was inspired and taught by hard-nosed reporters and editors whose only objective was to speak truth to power. I know, I know, all kinds of people severely criticize and even hate the press these days for being biased, liberal bias most often, but I was never taught that nor instructed to display bias. Our job, or so I was taught, was to find the truth, wherever and whatever that was.
Journalists take their task of informing their readers seriously and listen intently to readers’ objections, because producing quality reporting and commentary, where appropriate — and constantly striving to be better at it — builds trust and grows readership. At least it used to work that way. I know, for I have contributed to, created, re-created and built newspapers and magazines that earned respect and built audiences — and revenues — based on that model. I have also seen them slide into oblivion when unsupported or owned and operated by scoundrels.
And oblivion is where we are all headed without a vibrant and free press. After all, the Founding Fathers of our republic thought enough of it to establish “freedom of the press” in the First Amendment, not the Second, or the Fifth. Whatever some people think of the press, it is the leading institution in our society that keeps an eye on potential scoundrels and at least attempts to keep them in check or call them to task in the court of public opinion if they waver from their obligations. With a severely diminished newsroom at The Denver Post — not to mention the lamented loss, nine years ago, of the Rocky Mountain News — there are scant few professionals looking to cast light on truth. A booming Denver and Colorado deserve more professional journalists, not fewer.
It is not by accident that the first thing done by any totalitarian state — fascist, communist, religious, it doesn’t matter — is to muzzle and control a free press. That we are doing it here by attrition, animus and apathy makes it no less dangerous.