Colorado politics, covered

The Colorado Statesman--and reporter Peter Marcus--are still on the Hill

PROVO, UT — When The Washington Post’s “The Fix” blog published its annual list of the best state-based political reporters earlier this summer, the group of names under “Colorado” included a couple of Denver Post reporters, two from the Associated Press, and a Denver TV reporter. And then there was Peter Marcus of the weekly, tabloid-sized Colorado Statesman.

Marcus, 32, and a New York City transplant of nine years, follows the twists and turns of Colorado politics for the Denver-based Statesman (circulation about 4,000) —including, most recently, the state’s first recall elections of sitting lawmakers. Senate President John Morse of Colorado Springs and Sen. Angela Giron of Pueblo, both Democrats, are facing recalls after supporting gun control measures this year. In a story this week, Marcus described how the recall efforts have survived court battles and been fueled by an ad buy by a conservative Colorado Springs-based 501(c)(4) group.

There’s no shortage of political stories in this state. Colorado has leaned increasingly blue in recent elections. The Democratic takeover of the Colorado House and Senate last year brought some significant shifts in policy on gun control, civil unions, recreational use of marijuana, and energy—the last of which has spurred a secession movement in eight northeastern counties (the subject of this cartoon on the Statesman’s front page earlier this month).

Marcus, who has the luxury of a weekly deadline, appreciates that he doesn’t share the same time and space constraints facing many of his colleagues in state. He notes, for example, that in covering the Colorado legislature’s gun control debate this year, many reporters here have not had the time to “get into the weeds” as he has been able to do, to explore some of the “million ins and outs” of the issue. Marcus covers a lot of ground with a lot of ink and has no strong tether to breaking news.

Below a nameplate of 1970s-style typography, the paper offers—in addition to plenty of straight political news—a film column, a “Politics Uncorked” column “chronicling the eclectic tastes of Colorado’s movers & shakers,” a dining column, political cartoons, and a style column (puffy coats on Capitol Hill!). Jody Hope Strogoff, the Statesman’s editor, often contributes Q&A “InnerViews” like this one with Gov. John Hickenlooper about a trip to Israel. The paper dabbles in sports once in a while, Strogoff told me, especially if politicians want to build a new stadium.

For Statesman reporters, attending political soirees, conferences and town hall meetings is still standard beat routine. Strogoff noted the number of political reporters in Colorado, as in most states, has shrunk, particularly on Capitol Hill, and many of the remaining reporters have neither the time nor interest in covering government meetings. It’s at those kinds of meetings where Marcus and the rest of Strogoff’s small staff leave with scoops or story threads and, more importantly, still act as a watchdog for Coloradoans. For example, this month the Statesman was the only outlet shining light on an advisory committee studying whether two rural electric cooperatives will be required to meet a legislative mandate for supplying renewable energy.

Founded in 1898, The Statesman changed its named from the Colorado Democrat in the 1970s. Strogoff said the paper became non-partisan and found that in a politically divided state like Colorado, the power players all along the political spectrum, as well as bureaucrats, like the Stateman’s coverage. Strogoff recalls that when she first started at the paper in the ’70s, politics took a breather after each legislative session. Not so now. There are ongoing policy discussions, recall elections, the secession movement, and candidates who’ve already announced they’re running in the 2014 election.

“People do still have a craving to know what goes on behind the scenes,” she said. The Statesman aims to deliver just that to anyone who pays $52 a year for a subscription.

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Joel Campbell is CJR's correspondent for Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico. An associate journalism professor at Brigham Young University, he is the past Freedom of Information chairman for the Society of Professional Journalists and was awarded the Honorary Publisher Award by the Utah Press Association for his advocacy work on behalf of journalists in the Utah Legislature. Follow him on Twitter @joelcampbell. Tags: , ,