Stop Shrugging or Laughing at the Collapse of The Denver Post and Colorado Journalism

I listen to a lot of conservatives and progressives, and the overwhelming response by both to the troubles of The Denver Post has been either a shrug or a snicker. (After years of devastating staff cuts, the newspaper is laying off another 10 percent of its newsroom staff, losing, among others, long-time political reporter Lynn Bartels.)

The shrug comes from people who see the newspaper as useless, even though it still serves as the primary information source for political and other news in the Colorado. And it's the primary driver of local news that you see on TV and on social media.

I'm floored by how frequently people trash The Post as irrelevant in one breath and then spend an entire meeting or radio show discussing an article that just appeared in the paper--or, even more ironically, talking about stories that have been left out of the newspaper. If only the irrelevant Denver Post would cover [fill in the blank].

The newspaper is so small and weak already, they say, it doesn't matter if 20 journalists or more are cut, as planned on July 20 or so, joining about 20,000 journalists laid off nationally.

The thing is, even now after all the cuts already made, if you read the print edition of The Denver Post, or just a fraction of its online content, you'll still get the information you need to function as a citizen in Colorado--to understand the state legislature, to keep up on elections, to follow civic and cultural life. What other media source could possibly make that claim?

The snicker about The Post's ongoing decline comes from the folks who feel the newspaper gets in their way, unfairly shifting public debate against them and their causes. Conservatives are more likely to feel this way than progressives, because they're deeply attached to the notion of "liberal bias," as if The Denver Post has been undermining their agenda, as well as that of the Republican Party, for decades and its disappearance will give them an opening to win over public opinion. This is so outrageous, and unsupported by evidence, that it needs no response.

And it's not just the people crusading against gay marriage and abortion who feel this way. It's the fiscal conservatives, too, who repeatedly say how much The Post's news coverage is biased toward big government and social support networks.

For their part, progressives complain that the newspaper is a slave to big corporate interests, which has some truth to it but is often proven false by the reporting you actually see in the newspaper.

Progressives love to ridicule the shrinking news pages and say the newspaper's demise proves them right about its skewed coverage. With the rise of social media, people now see how bad the newspaper is, they say. Well, you have to wonder what garbage these people are finding on Facebook.  Where do you find better local journalism than The Denver Post? Nowhere, except maybe itsy bitsy pieces here and there. Sometimes.

They also say The Post is getting what it deserves, having been so fat and rich for so long that it failed to see the social-media forces that have upended its business model. It's hard to argue that newspapers screwed themselves by missing the shifting media boat early on, but is this any reason to take pleasure in the demise of an entity that uniquely informs the public and holds government officials accountable?

The truth is, if you're not sad about the demise of The Post, you really don't care about the elimination of local journalism, which actually factually helps people make sense of the world and be informed citizens.

I don't mean to slight the journalism you see at local TV stations or online outfits like this dumb blog, but The Post's Colorado-based journalism, even now but especially just a few short years ago, makes all the rest of the professional journalism practiced in Colorado look ant-like.

So where's the discussion of what we can do about the collapsing Denver Post and the gutting of local journalism? It's absent.

Is there really nothing to say? Can't grandstanding politicians, maybe a few from each party, spotlight the problem and call on philanthropists to step up and fund local journalism? Or figure out something else to say? Even if it's just to acknowledge the tragedy unfolding in front of us?

Or how about a state journalism tax, to set aside public funding for independent Colorado-based journalism?

A ridiculous idea that has no prayer, you say? Right. But do you have anything else to suggest?

The alternative, for those of us who care about local journalism, is to stand aside and watch everyone else shrug or laugh.