Save the News campaign event energizes Denver

by Gavin Dahl, Reclaim the Media

Over 200 people gathered in downtown Denver for a Save the News event organized by Kim Humphreys of I Want My Rocky and Josh Stearns and Craig Aaron of Free Press Wednesday night Sept 16. Stearns stated "a vital part of the news ecosystem" was lost 6 months ago when Rocky Mountain News was closed by the E. W. Scripps corporation. Three months prior to the Feb 27 final edition Humphreys found out her employer was being put up for sale. She had the idea to organize because, as the site says, "Without watchdogs, our democracy won't work. As journalists, we can't be objective about our own existence."

After hearing opening remarks from the three hosts and invited policymakers, the capacity crowd workshopped in 14 small group discussions including Participatory Journalism: Of the People, For the People led by Tony Shawcross of Denver Open Media and Journalism Education and Media Literacy led by Andrew Calabrese from the University of Colorado at Boulder Journalism Department.

Funding for investigative reporting was on the tips of many tongues and discussed in depth in the workshops Form Follows Function: Alternative Funding Models for News with Lark Corbeil of Public News Service, Supporting Investigative Journalism at the Local Level with former Colorado Independent editor Wendy Norris and New Commercial Models: How Should We Pay For News? with Steve Outing of Editor & Publisher.

In the media literacy forum, Calabrese passed around author and professor Dr. Robert Jensen's latest column, Can Journalism Schools Be Relevant in a World on the Brink? Jensen writes, "If journalism education is to be relevant in the coming decades, we must change course dramatically."

A Metro State University photojournalism major complained of classes geared to a system that is no longer relevant. A staffer of the Fort Collins Coloradan commented that her most recent hire had found internships more valuable than her course work. We talked about the old J-school practice of preaching objectivity, despite the absurdity it lends to stories on climate change, for example. Dr. Jensen has issued a new mission statement for journalism educators to teach Journalism for Justice and Storytelling for Sustainability (though his school, the University of Texas at Austin, is unlikely to join the struggle).

Gene Sobczak, executive director of the big budget Arvada Center for the arts, pointed out that The Denver Post had much greater debts than the Rocky Mountain News, and claimed this was the biggest factor in keeping the Post operating. So the papers with the most debt have to stay open the longest, very reassuring concept, huh?!

After an hour of participatory engagement echoed around the lower level of the Colorado History Museum, Craig Aaron moderated a policy roundtable with invited panelists. Panelist Wick Rowland, the dean of the CU-Boulder School of Journalism, is also President and CEO of KBDI Channel 12. He is understandably very excited because Colorado Public Television, Denver's independent PBS station, is launching a new website and television program featuring investigative journalism. (Though none of the KBDI news sites are active yet.) The project promises a staff of 12, and partial funding already in place.

Panelist John Temple, former editor president and publisher of the Rocky Mountain News and vice president of news for EW Scripps, grew agitated and apparently defensive when vocal audience members attacked corporate media in general. He countered that the time for alternatives to emerge and succeed is now.

Panelist David Sirota, author, columnist and blogger, clarified that because of media ownership oligopoly, the marketplace for news in not competitive. He pointed out that if the system was more equitable, the unquestioning coverage of the Iraq War could have been used by competitors against lapdog news outlets.

Panelist Laura Frank, former investigative reporter for Rocky Mountain News and now co-founder of the Rocky Mountain Investigative News Network pointed out that Google proposed a micropayment system to the Newspaper Association of America last week. Google does not believe the scheme will be the salvation of newspapers, and will take an unspecified cut of revenue. Users will be allowed to utilize one sign on to access various media, while publishers bundle several titles in a single subscription.

"While we believe that advertising will likely remain the main source of revenue for most news content, a paid model can serve as an important source of additional revenue," the company said in its proposal.

Free Press distributed a packet called Saving the News: Toward a National Journalism Strategy, one of the chapters in the latest book from Free Press, nearly 300 pages, called Changing Media: Public Interest Policies for the Digital Age. The national non-partisan organization is calling for a rethinking of Federal spending on public media. The United States spends about $1.35 per capita on public media. Japan and Ireland spend more than $50 annually per capita on public media. In Denmark and Finland, the governments spend more than $100 annually per capita.

Aaron told the crowd that in the past year the US spent $1.37 per capita on public media versus $575 spent per capita on AIG. No that is not a typo.

There was criticism from some in the crowd about the limitations of just one small panel. Where were the suburban weeklies? Why didn't more people of color get invited to speak? Aaron Cole, managing editor of The Aurora Sentinel pointed out that at least one regional weekly paper did attend the event. The other panelist, former Colorado State Senator Polly Baca was a member of the Latino Community Advisory Board for the Rocky Mountain News. She addressed the need for diversity of media ownership and diversity of mediums. Free Press promised to revisit the issues at a follow-up event in January.

The Colorado Freedom of Information Council passed around fliers for a public forum called Making Good Decisions In An Environment Glutted With Choices at Tattered Cover Book Store in Denver on Thursday, Sept 24. Henry Kroll, Vice President of the Acme Coalition For Media Education Rocky Mountain region Board said there will be organizing around an event in Boulder soon as well.

Josh Stearns pointed out at the close of the event that a journalist had come up to him and expressed how impressive it was to see citizens care so much about quality news. Moments later, he told us, an attendee came up to him to say how great it was to see so many journalists in the room.

Videographers from Free Speech TV and The Uptake were on the scene, keep an eye on their sites for video. For follow-up and collected multimedia, check back with SavetheNews.org.

article originally published at Reclaim the Media.

The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey