It’s a strange thing to find yourself in the middle of the state, or national news cycle. Even as an editor, long employed in this industry, you can never be sure what might trigger it, or even what the reaction might be, what side you might find yourself on, or how often the phone might ring with excited, but always sympathetic (for the moment) newsies on the other end. The light just seems to swing in your direction, blind you, and let you stumble along with the ever-changing truth of the situation. And we get it, the business of it, but that doesn’t make it any less terrifying and we’d be lying if we ever said we understood it completely.
A press secretary from Governor Polis’s office simply emailed The Chronicle-News editor on Sept. 5. It came from a state email and seemed innocent at first, it read, “Good morning, I see you have run a recent article published by The Center Square which is not a reputable news source. Would you consider removing it? The Center Square is backed by the Franklin Center.” The email also provided a link to a PR Watch story on The Center Square.
The Center Square article referenced by the press secretary’s email was one headlined “Polis creates ‘Office of Future of Work,’ third new taxpayer-funded office this year.” It was short, fairly mundane and completely accurate. Also, it had no importance to our newspaper and probably not our readers. It was never going to appear in the print edition of this newspaper and it was only being shown for a day in a small section of our website dedicated to state news.
Like nearly all newspapers and publications, printed or digital, The Chronicle-News uses outside news agencies to help bolster the content we provide to our readership. Until several years ago our main provider was the Associated Press. We ended that contract for several reasons, but chief among those was cost. To replace what we lost with AP (most critical was state government coverage) we looked to partner with other area newspapers, such as The Pueblo Chieftain, and regional non-profit news agencies that are completely web-based such as The Colorado Sun and The Center Square. Most recently we’ve partnered with Colorado Preps to pay a nominal fee for one regional sports column each week.
Our Center Square relationship began through a content sharing program managed by the company that hosts our website. So, automatically, as Center Square posts stories of Colorado interest, they appear on our website as well.
As editor, I choose stories from these many sources that I believe are of local interest and the majority appear in some form in this newspaper, while some die a long and lonely death.
Like all our sources, we vet them, we talk to the editors and publishers regularly, generally know their standards and practices, edit out parts that might be questionable on our end here and try to stay aware and remove and/or balance instances of bias. We support and work with both parties as we do all our local partners. And I am sure it is my boss’s hope that both continue to spend money with us advertising.
Like most in this business, I have been accused of both being liberal and conservative in a matter of minutes. Sometimes, even from the same complainant and in the same breath.
“A nonprofit, nonpartisan news media outlet, The Center Square covers state government and statewide issues in Colorado and 17 other states with a focus on government taxing and spending. It allows other news media outlets to republish its stories,” said The Center Square.
While their journalists and reporting is non-partisan, because they focus on fiscal issues and are funded as a non-profit (they do take money from the conservative organization The Franklin Square, as well as more liberal organizations that support government journalism), their reporting and investigating can at times be viewed conservatively.
Personally, I was surprised and slightly troubled, if this was a legitimate request from a state office, but I was also too busy to worry much about it. I said as much when I denied the request and said as much again when I shared the message with Derek Draplin, the editor I work with at The Center Square. (You can read my messages to both in The Center Square article that starts on page one.)
Draplin confirmed his organization’s ethics and we heard nothing from the governor’s office again, until they reached out to us a week later to ask if we would interview Governor Polis regarding the then pending announcement declaring Fisher’s Peak a Colorado state park.
We were excited to break the news of that historic event and gave the governor and his announcement as much print and digital space as we could muster and printed a letter from Governor Polis the following week.
In the meantime, Draplin told me The Center Square was pursuing a story on the governor’s office’s request to pull their story and had made a Freedom of Information Act request. He asked to use our communications and I replied as I always do to a request from a colleague, “Whatever you need, just holler.”
On Wednesday morning I was returning from vacation. My girlfriend is wonderful (shameless plug). And I was greeted by a message from the day before from another editor at The Center Square telling me I was being quoted in their story. Thirty minutes later their story dropped. Fifteen minutes later I started getting emails from TV and print reporters verifying the information I gave to Center Square. Thirty minutes later the phones started ringing with interview requests. It was going to be a long day and I needed to comb my hair.
I was probably in my 20s and working at my first newspaper when someone first asked me if I could keep their names out of our weekly court report. “No,” I told them. “I can’t even keep my own name out of it,” (I had a few indiscretions as a very stupid young man.) It can be horrifying, but you face it and the world and truth keeps turning, evolving. I can’t think of a person I know in this business that wouldn’t find breaking those ethics as unthinkable. We even get a little excited when we get to publish a letter from our readers that is critical of the newspaper, or ourselves, because it proves and validates our belief in those ethics.
And that’s why, even though it might not be our fight, we rally behind the ones fighting it. And we will continue to present and guard those truths regardless of profit, power, position, or influence. We hope we get the opportunity to live up to those expectations, and hope our governor — as well as many others — is inspired to do the same.
— Ed. note: Just like Governor Polis’s office, we enjoyed and cringed at some of our portrayals in the news the last couple of days. We respect our fellow reporters and their work whether, or not, we agree with it. So we won’t call out the reports we didn’t love and you can find those on your own if you want.
However, we can share the ones we think represent us best and one of those was an editorial by Kyle Clark at NBC’s 9 News in Denver. You can find a link to that video on our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/TrinidadChronicleNews/, or at the 9 News website.