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Gazette: concerns beyond pot 

Between the Lines

Sometimes it's nice to have the 24/7/365 media news cycle. From the cable TV networks down to the local level, stories that don't have staying power quickly vanish into the trashbin of yesterday's headlines.

That's certainly the proper fate for the Gazette's monstrous four-day package of stories last week, labeled "Clearing the Haze," billed shrewdly as a "perspective series" and ostensibly taking a closer look at the status of legalized marijuana in Colorado. The series created a full-scale, but short-lived, firestorm of reactions. Opponents of legalized marijuana cheered every word, while many journalists were repulsed at how the Gazette ignored the usual standards of objective news reporting.

Some specifics: not clearly explaining the paper's true motives to readers, from the start and each day thereafter; cherry-picking sources, including one author's husband, who conveniently agreed with the paper's intent; not using the paper's own newsroom reporters to do the work, despite that staff having won a Pulitzer Prize just last year; and then reportedly warning the newsroom that any negative comments in social media or anywhere else could have consequences, even affecting job security.

Almost immediately, Independent colleague Bryce Crawford helped lead the charge of indignant reaction, which spread across the blogosphere to include state-level and even national responses. Those blogs, and the comments they spawned, did their best to castigate the Gazette thoroughly.

But that brief flurry of outbursts, while impassioned and fully justified, didn't reach a large segment of the local mainstream audience. It was preaching to the cyberspace choir, igniting the sensitized groups of marijuana and individual-rights supporters, joined by veteran journalists who saw the widely accepted ethics of their profession being violated, even trampled.

My intent is not to add another voice of outrage from a career journalist. My purpose here is educational.

Most of you, despite being intelligent readers of whatever age, need a better understanding of what has just happened, and surely will continue to happen, with Colorado Springs' daily newspaper. And for those who haven't been around long enough to know, much of my adult life — 24 years, 1977 to 2001 — was spent at the Gazette in writing and management roles.

I was there in 1986 when Freedom Newspapers' top executive flew in from California to inform the Gazette staff that, after Freedom purchased and shut down the former Colorado Springs Sun to create a monopoly, the company had a new challenge for us. Not to cut back and maximize profits, but to become "the best newspaper of our size in America." It's still the most exhilarating moment of my life in journalism. And we did our best to achieve that goal for years thereafter, building a lot of community pride.

That momentum crashed in the new millennium as the Gazette went through ownership changes plus major staff and space reductions. Finally, the tide seemed to turn in late 2012 when Clarity Media, owned by billionaire Philip Anschutz, bought the paper. New resources and leadership created a rapid transformation and facilitated superb work.

But that train of progress has derailed again. Staffing and space cuts have returned. Key people (journalists) have left. New hires are being paid low salaries. The editorial/op-ed pages have veered more stridently conservative.

And now we have a four-day series made to look like old-school journalism, when it actually was a fully biased project. Many readers fell for it — hook, line and sinker. It was as blatantly slanted as anything on cable news.

The message: If you're a Gazette reader, you need to know the paper has taken a dark turn. Many in its newsroom still are dedicated journalists, but upper management — including the editorial board — has different motives. For that group, the news pages are a tool to use as desired to further the right-wing agenda that has infiltrated the entire paper.

What next? From now on, any headline or placement of a news story might be questioned. That's a departure from generations of ethical standards, in which daily newspaper owners espoused any beliefs they wanted (for years the Gazette was purely libertarian) on the editorial pages — but didn't invade the news realm.

That series on marijuana is the official warning signal. So let's really clear the haze: Your daily paper, unfair and unbalanced, officially now is the FOX News of print for Colorado Springs.

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