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The much-hyped first anniversary of the Columbine murder and suicide spree is fast upon us and the Rocky Mountain Media Watch is warning people to brace themselves -- and turn off their television sets.

At the same time, the media watchdog group is recommending journalists refrain from capitalizing on the potential mass audience by rejecting "excessive coverage" of the event.

"Media frenzies, like the O.J., JonBenet, Monica and Columbine stories, crowd other items out of the news, giving citizens an unbalanced diet of information," said RMMW director Paul Klite. "Bizarre crimes, celebrity, money, murder, sex mystery and videotape surrounding a news story make for good theater and have increased potential for media frenzies."

Though Columbine High School certainly isn't part of District 11, school officials here are already girding against a media onslaught. This week the district issued a plea, asking news organizations to simply leave them alone on the anniversary.

In other words, they don't want news crews descending on the schools, shoving microphones in students' faces and asking them how they feel.

"Our students are looking forward to proms, graduation, going to the next grade or school and final exams," the district noted in a release. "We need to let them concentrate on these things without undue distractions."

Good luck. Now that The Denver Rocky Mountain News and The Denver Post have both won Pulitzer prizes for their Columbine coverage, starting this week, get ready for the "All Columbine, All the Time" show lasting well past the April 20 anniversary date.

Billed as the world's only interactive museum of news, Al Neuharth's Newseum and NewsCapade came to town last week, giving people an interactive view of the history of the news.

Neuharth, of course, is the founder of USA Today, official cause of the dumbing down of America. He also founded The Freedom Forum, a Virginia-based foundation dedicated to "free press, free speech and free spirit."

The Colorado Springs Newseum stop, part of a national tour, also included a bizarre meeting of the minds. As part of the show, the Newseum sponsored a roundtable discussion, with local media "experts" weighing in on the news. G Editor Terri Fleming was invited into the discussion, as was KOAA Channels 5/30 News Director Dan Dennison and Neuharth himself. Rounding out the chat was none other than Focus on the Family executive vice-president Tom Minnery.

Newseum spokeswoman Lauren Crowley said the Colorado Springs-based ministry was invited to participate, not as a legitimate news organization, but as a company that is regularly in the media spotlight.

"In every city we go to, the discussions usually center around fairness in the media," Crowley explained. "Since [Focus on the Family] is in the media a lot we wanted to get their take on how their organization is covered and how religion is covered by the media."

During the raucous debate Minnery got defensive right off the bat, claiming "reporters have a preconceived notion about his organization," Crowley said.

"He likened it to a non-sports reporter showing up to a football game regarding the coverage of Focus on the Family."

Maybe Minnery should teach us all how to play ball.

Last week's very public process of picking someone to fill the seat vacated by Joanne Colt -- after the first term politician was implicated in a federal stock fraud last month -- was enough to exacerbate even the most hardy city hall observer.

Local curmudgeon and activist Jeanne Matthews said she was initially floored when she learned City Council planned on giving every candidate a three-minute splinter of time to make their case, before whittling the field down to six.

Afterwards, Matthews was dumbfounded: "Why did we have to sit there and listen to 44 really weird people? Anybody walking down the street could walk in and say they should be on the Council."

That's called democracy. However, roughly 10 of a total of 54 applicants didn't bother to show up. Some of the other candidates forgot to wash their hair, or clothes, for the big interview. One applicant, performance artist Tom McElroy, stood at the lectern and shuffled papers, refusing to speak to the council members as they peered down at him until, nary a word spoken, he returned to his seat.

"It was so surreal, I sat there wondering whose bright idea it was to interview every single one," Matthews said. "But after 15 of them, I was hooked."

The favorite for the job, and the ultimate appointee, was Chinook Bookshop owner Judy Noyes, who has been involved in the Downtown Action Plan and the push for Confluence Park. She is also a longtime booster of the mayor.

And as for activist Sallie Clark? Her interview revealed thorough knowledge of the current issues facing city hall; however there was no way she would have been appointed. Why? Duh. Because she ran against Mayor Mary Lou Makepeace last year and will likely run for Council or mayor again in the near future.

-- degette@csindy.com

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