Sunday, June 18, 2017

Chapter 6: The Cyclical Snake

I'm calling it quits even though I know there's a lot more to this entire story. I just don't have the time.

To the many people who helped and encouraged the work on this blog, and particularly to everyone who agreed to be identified by name by a reporter they knew was going to be poking a wealthy and powerful man in the eye, I owe you all an enormous thank you. 

It is important to me to note here that The Colorado Springs Gazette has a fantastic history full of great journalists who have done world-class work over the decades, including many that still are putting out first-rate stories. I wish them all nothing but the best.

While there are several more stories that would definitely warrant the same attention and time I spent on the first three chapters of this blog, the reality is that I'm too damn busy. Here's hoping more will come to light eventually.

I'm also now curious about how Anschutz thinks his investment in The Gazette is going, given the paper's editorial page crusade that, from what I hear, failed completely in its quest to get a few particular city council members elected in April. Out of the six endorsements still listed on, only two won, and one - David Geislinger - was unopposed on the ballot. A particularly stinging loss for Anschutz in the municipal election is probably returning City Councilman Richard Skorman, who won by over 15 percent of the vote and was on the opposite side of Anschutz, The Broadmoor and The Gazette on the Strawberry Fields land swap.

Amusingly, The Gazette's endorsement of Skorman's opponent focused on an attempt by Skorman to raise money from legal marijuana businesses, and his opponent's opposition to "anything that would result in proliferation of more pot stores lining the streets."

But Skorman won. And he wants to put recreational marijuana on the ballot again in Colorado Springs. Which, I'd be willing to bet, probably irks Anschutz. I wonder how that may manifest itself down the road.

However it does, it may not have a direct impact on The Gazette and its coverage. I would urge every reader to give the paper both scrutiny when appropriate and credit when due.

I'm also wondering if Vince Bzdek is having to fend off Anschutz and Steever, given that the paper also recently revisited the entire topic of marijuana and its effects on Colorado in a multipart series that ran beginning April 30.

The series was evenhanded and represents what Clearing the Haze could have, should have been. It's a fair look at the ramifications of the legal marijuana industry, including the ongoing black market problem that has remained, with many growers shipping illegally out of state. That's a serious problem, and it needs to be addressed. But the reporters also noted several significant upsides to legalization, including the added tax revenue for Manitou Springs that's resulted in major infrastructure investments. Overall, the series is a solid collection of work from five solid reporters. My hat is off to all the staffers who contributed to the series, and to Bzdek for running it.

For me, though, the series' very publication indicates that either Bzdek has had an overall positive influence on coverage or that Anschutz & Co. learned from the blowback over Clearing the Haze. Or both. 

Which brings me back to the beginning. Hence the title, the Cyclical Snake. Because also, just in June, Anschutz acquired yet another Colorado newspaper: The Colorado Statesman.

That news hit home to me, because it's where I began my journalism career. So now the same billionaire owns both newspapers that I've worked for. I spent a total of more than seven years working for publications that the same man now holds in his power.

So The Statesman was merged with, the still-relatively-new political site launched by Clarity Media last year, and where Dan Njegomir, a former Republican state Senate staffer, holds a good bit of sway.

I've heard rumors that the Statesman sale was almost more of a mercy purchase than a strategic acquisition, which may be true. But it's yet more ink that is arguably controlled by one man, who has a deep interest in influencing public policy.

Which brings us back to where we began. Full circle. It reminded me of a snake eating its own tail. The bill always comes due.

Other rumors about the possible sale of The Denver Post also continue to swirl, meanwhile. Most of the intelligent journos I know haven't at all written off Anschutz as a possible buyer. And again, we still have that statement from Bzdek late last year, when he said Anschutz would buy the Post "tomorrow," presumably if the right deal was put on the table by Digital First, the Post's owner.

So this blog will remain, for the public record.

I have to say, now, almost six months after the first installments were published, I wasn't sure what to expect as far as reaction. I'm not sure how many people I've persuaded to be more on their guard when it comes to Phil Anschutz and his possible influence over The Gazette, or if I've reinforced negative stereotypes in an age when the President of the United States has an ongoing active war with journalists. I sincerely hope it was not the latter.

But I'm optimistic that both The Gazette, and newspapers around the country, will be able to find the proper balance between business models and journalistic ethics. One reason I'm hopeful is because journalism and ethics are bound to the truth. And the truth will never be unpopular. It may not be liked by everyone, but truth sells.

As Bzdek reiterated recently, "Journalism's first obligation is to tell the truth."

Bravo, sir. And God speed. I hope your boss agrees with you.

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