This is the first in a series of interiews with Colorado journalists or about journalism issues. The Q&A with former foreign correspondent Greg Dobbs occurred on Aug. 22.
By Ed Otte
During his 23-year career with ABC News Greg Dobbs covered stories in more than 60 countries and 49 states, appearing on ABC World News, Nightline, 20/20 and Good Morning America He served in the ABC bureaus in London and Paris, and reported on the Gulf War, Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, civil war in Beirut, Iran-Iraq war, civil war in Northern Ireland, civil war in Rhodesia and other conflicts around the world. He won two national Emmys for his work and the Distinguished Service Award from the Society of Professional Journalists. Dobbs retired from ABC in 1992 and lives in Evergreen. He has been the chief correspondent and anchor for the weekly “World Report” on HDNet, served as a talk show host on KOA radio and on “Colorado State of Mind” on Rocky Mountain PBS. His book “Life in the Wrong Lane” was published in 2008 and he wrote “Better Broadcast Writing, Better Broadcast News” for use in college journalism programs. His guest commentary also appears in The Denver Post.
Question: What was your reaction to the killing of freelance American journalist James Foley?
Dobbs: My reaction to Foley’s executive was as much the reaction of a Westerner as it was that of a journalist: horror, not only that a good man was unjustly and brutally murdered, but that it probably will chill the enthusiasm of other journalists to cover some of the world’s most dangerous places, which puts a chill on our ability as citizens to assess what’s going on and intelligently decide what policies our nations should pursue.
Q: Should the U.S. government pay ransom for the release of captured journalists?
Dobbs: Sorry to say but my answer is no. It would only encourage more terrorists to take more journalists hostage. That doesn’t mean the government couldn’t take other steps to try to win the release of hostages, whether journalists or not – there are other quid pro quos and other Western nations have done that for a long time. But in the decades that I covered the Middle East, kidnappings for ransom were a tradition, so this is nothing new; during the civil war in Beirut, it happened every day for a week, carried out as a means of financing one militia or another. ISIS is not the first militant group to make money, and lots of it, from demanding ransoms for hostages. Interestingly, fewer Americans are kidnapped in the Middle East than other Westerners, perhaps because the U.S. is not prone to pay ransom.
Q: How can journalists stay out of harm’s way while covering wars?
Dobbs: Simple answer: journalists shouldn’t. What I learned, sometimes the hard way, was how far to push and when to pull back. So perhaps the answer is, news organizations should go to pains to send journalists into war zones who are seasoned in making these decisions. The catch is, the only way to become seasoned is to start as a rookie and just hope you survive the first few times and come out smarter.
Q: Who is responsible for the safety of journalists?
Dobbs: Ultimately, journalists themselves are responsible for their own safety. But their sponsors – the news organizations for which they work either as freelancers or on staff – should provide training in both cultural norms of the region at war and physical protection. ABC News gave some of that to me and there were a few times in a few places when it probably helped keep me alive.
Q: Is any story worth risking a journalist’s life?
Dobbs: The anwer is, yes, almost! If the odds of losing your life are almost inevitably high, then the story must suffer. But like people in other occupations, risk is part of the contract. What’s more, if a journalist is not drawn to such risks, then he or she probably shouldn’t be there in the first place.
Q: Are photographers more vulnerable in these situations because they must be closer to the action?
Dobbs: Yes, photographers are more vulnerable than writers, but to be immodest for a moment, I never, never sent a camera crew out ahead of me toward a perilous situation into which I wouldn’t go myself. If the photographer can see things better close up, so can the reporter and the reporter thus must go just as close.
“Five Years Later: The Denver Newspaper War and Life After the Rocky” is the topic of a program at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 24, at the Denver Press Club, 1330 Glenarm Place.
The program, sponsored by the Colorado Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, is free and open to the public.
Former Rocky Mountain News executive Denny Dressman will moderate the panel discussion. Dressman retired from the Rocky in 2007, two years before the newspaper ceased publication. He served as president of the Colorado Press Association in 1993 and was inducted into the Denver Press Club Hall of Fame in 2008.
The former Rocky panelists are staff writer Mark Wolf, investigative reporter Laura Frank, and television and radio columnist Dusty Saunders. Frank is now executive director of I-News, the Rocky Mountain News Network at Rocky Mountain PBS. Saunders writes a weekly sports media column for The Denver Post.
The Rocky started on April 23, 1859, and folded on Feb. 27, 2009, less than two months shy of the newspaper’s 150th anniversary.
The Post and the Rocky were locked in a fierce newspaper war that featured circulation battles and reporting competition in one of the last two-daily cities in the nation. The two newspapers entered into a joint operating agreement in 2001 and the Denver Newspaper Agency was formed to provide advertising and circulation services for both papers. Their news departments remained separate.
The Rocky won four Pulitzer Prizes beginning in 2000 under the direction of publisher/editor John Temple. The last two Pulitzers were awarded in 2006 for feature writing and feature photography.
The front page headline in the final edition of the Rocky read “Goodbye, Colorado.”
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The Colorado Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists will examine diversity in journalism at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 27, at the Denver Press Club, 1330 Glenarm Place. The program is free and open to the public.
Participating in the roundtable conversation will be KUSA assistant news director Tim Ryan, Nic Garcia, a reporter for Chalkbeat Colorado and former associate publisher and editor for Out Front, and Colorado Public Radio arts director Chloe Veltman. The discussion will be moderated by Gil Asakawa of the Asian American Journalists Association and AAJA’s AARP social media fellow. Asakawa, a Colorado Pro Chapter board member, is also manager of student media at CU-Boulder.
The panelists will cover a wide range of topics that span diversity, from the representation of communities of color and LGBT people, to the promotion of more diverse staff within newsrooms.
Please join us for this discussion!
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By Ed Otte
“The proverbial gift of gab is something I do well,” 7News anchor Mike Landess said in response to a question about his longivity and success. He understated the reason.
Landess, who will retire Aug. 31 after a 50-year career in broadcasting, was featured in a Fireside Chat Aug. 13 at the Denver Press Club. The program was sponsored by the Colorado Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Landess is an SPJ member.
7News and Denver 8 TV taped the Fireside Chat for broadcast at a later date.
The recipient of more than two dozen Emmys – including five for best anchor – Landess also has earned five Edward R. Murrow awards and he contributed to the winning of a Peabody Award in 2013 for KMGH’s wildfire coverage. He was inducted into the Heartland Chapter of the National Academy of Arts and Sciences Silver Circle in 2008.
Landess has served as 7News evening newscast anchor since 2002. His first experience in the Denver TV market was a 16-year stint beginning in the mid-1970s when he teamed with Ed Sardella at 9News. SPJ board member Doug Bell, who introduced Landess, said Sardella remembers his former boardcast partner “for his even temper and his gift for diplomatically sardonic understatement. We were good to fair for all those years but we were better than most.”
That too is an understatement. On May 8, Denver Post television critic Joanne Ostrow wrote: “The duo was unmatched, anchoring the highest rated late newscast in the country, at times claiming a 51 share. (These days a 14 share wins at 10 p.m.) Their heyday was at a time when local TV news was not challenged by the Internet or proliferating cable-TV programming.”
Landess acknowledged changes in broadcast journalism. “The first time the Broncos went to the Super Bowl, the whole town was orange. It was a more innocent time. Ed Sardella likes to tell the story when he received a death threat because someone sent him a blue-and-orange taco and asked him to eat it on air. The guy called Ed and Ed explained he didn’t eat the taco because it was orange.”
He cited other changes in TV news. “We’re an industry that has always been defined by technology. That (he pointed at a TV camera) and Twitter and Facebook made it possible to cover the floods last September.
“There’s a new twist to broadcast journalism every time a new toy comes along. All of these things have evolved. There isn’t a manual on how to use all of this in reporting. We learn as we go.”
Former Rocky Mountain News television/radio critic Dusty Saunders said, “I remember all of the complaints about happy talk in TV journalism. Do you think there’s more or less of that today?”
“I think there’s less of it today,” Landess said. “We’ve pretty much put a stake in it in our station. We want to give more stories, more coverage. If it got out of balance – too much – it was silly.”
Former Denver Post reporter J. Sebastian Sinisi asked about the future of print journalism.
“It’s changing but there’s still an important place for it,” the broadcaster said. “I read a story recently that said Millenials don’t have the same attachment to paper – all paper, not just newspapers – and I think that’s affected newspaper readership. They do everything on their iPads. There has to be a marriage of those two. I’m an analog guy in a digital world but this (he held up his smartphone) is just like the backyard fence in the 1940s and 1950s.”
Landess was asked what will save TV news. He pointed to 7News reporter Keli Rabon as a representative of “the new breed of journalists. They do such good work. Keli’s rape stories are an example.”
Rabon and photojournalist Jason Foster received a 2014 Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award in January for their series of investigative reports about sexual assaults in Colorado. News director Jeff Harris and Rabon accepted the SPJ Region 9 First Amendment Award in April for the 7News “Contrary to the Public Interest” series that examined problems with Colorado’s open records laws. She is an SPJ member.
Rabon, who joined 7News in 2012, acknowledged the support she has received from Landess.
“I will always remember the way I felt the night of my very first KMGH story,” she said. “Of course, I didn’t want to embarrass myself, but I also wanted to prove that this ‘kid’ was worthy of being on the same team as such seasoned journalists as Mike Landess and Ann Trujillo. After my story, Mike kindly introduced me from the anchor desk to our Denver audience that night — which was an honor in itself — but when the broadcast was over, he walked by my desk, smiled, and said something to the effect of ‘That was a hell of a story, kiddo. Welcome to the team.’ I was on Cloud 9 the rest of the week.
“As I’ve taken on tough stories during the last two years, Mike has always exuded that same level of confidence and cordialness toward me. When people ask me, ‘Is he as nice of a guy in person as he seems on-air?’ I can say with confidence that yes, he absolutely is. And I will always be grateful for the way Mike made me feel – as a colleague, as a journalist, and as a person.
“I have the utmost respect and appreciation for him. Mike will certainly be missed, not just by his colleagues at 7News, but undoubtedly, by Colorado and beyond.”
That connection to viewers is vital, Landess said, in television journalism. “The key to this is relationships. Relationships to the town, the people you cover. Anchors are more than readers. People want a relationship with the person telling them the news.”
This year marks his 40th as a primary news anchor. Among his awards is an Emmy while working at WXIA in Atlanta for his live coverage of the bombing of Atlanta’s Centennial Park. He won another Emmy at WTTG in Washington, D.C., for 16 hours of live coverage after the 9/11 attacks.
That represents a lot of time in TV studios.
“As I come up on my retirement, one of my children asked, ‘What are you going to do when you’re no longer Mike Landess?’ I’ll get to ride my motorcycle more, finally get to go to Sturgis. I’m a music nut. I’ll get to go to concerts — in the evening.”
By Ed Otte
Sandra Fish and Jeff Roberts presented “geeky” information on campaign finance research and open government resources Aug. 7 at Colorado State University in Pueblo. The program was sponsored by the Colorado Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.
“I’m pretty geeky about this because there’s a lot of information on the Internet. It’s easy to find and really useful now with the elections,” said Fish, Colorado Pro Chapter board secretary. “You can see how much money candidates have raised and where money has been spent on ad buys. And there’ll be more information in September and October when we reach filing deadlines.”
Fish listed the following online sources:
Federal Election Commission
Summaries of candidate fundraising and spending; independent expenditure searches:
Influence Explorer allows you to search by specific candidates or by state. An easier download of contributions and spending than the FEC site. Outside spending is also available here:
Federal Communications Commission
Search for your local TV station to check out their political ad contracts:
Secretary of State’s main election site:
Links to initiatives, basic voter registration stats, candidates, campaign finances:
Campaign finance site. General stats, detailed committee and candidate information, variety of searches and reports on items such as independent expenditures, etc:
National Institute on Money in State Politics. Good source of historic campaign finance information, with standardized names and occupations:
Roberts, executive director of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, answered questions about open records and open meetings laws, and listed the following resources:
Template for Colorado Open Records Act request:
Sunshine Laws: 2013 guide to Colorado’s open-government laws prepared by CFOIC and the Colorado Press Association:
Law Summary (CORA):
Law Summary (Open Meetings Requirements)
For more FOI resources, go to:
By Ed Otte
Terse statements from Aurora police officers describe the chaotic scene on July 20, 2012, at the Century 16 theater.
“I have three parties shot here. Where is rescue going to be?”
“I need an ambulance here quick.”
“I’ve got one ambulance here. Where are my ambulances at?”
“I’m taking one male to the hospital in my car.”
“Do I have permission to start taking some of these victims via car? I’ve got a whole bunch of people shot out here and no rescue.”
“Yes. Load ‘em up, get ‘em in cars and get ‘em out of here.”
The police scanner comments are heard at the beginning of the 9News award-winning documentary “after Aurora.” The special report, which aired in July 2013, is a “first-hand account of a story that is already changing the way fire, police and paramedics prepare for the next worst-case scenario,” according to 9News reporter Chris Vanderveen.
“after Aurora” received the Sigma Delta Chi documentary award in the large market television category in a June 20 ceremony at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. Vanderveen, Chris Hansen, John Kuhrt and Blair Shiff were cited for the award.
“We couldn’t have done it three months after the shooting. There was so much saturation coverage,” Vanderveen said at a July 31 Fireside Chat at the Denver Press Club. “We didn’t want to simply go over the tragedy. It’s a story with national implications: What do we do in a mass shooting?”
Twelve people were killed and 70 injured by a lone gunman during the midnight screening of “The Dark Knight Rises.” The suspect, who was apprehended outside the theater, awaits trial.
“We didn’t want to focus on the shooter,” Vanderveen said at the Fireside Chat sponsored by the Colorado Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. “We didn’t use his name or his photo. I do worry about copycats. I don’t know what the answer is to that.
“We, as a society, are fascinated by mass shooting events. When something happens, Twitter and other social media go crazy and people follow it. I think we’re desensitized in Colorado about this because we’ve had so many mass shootings. I’m so tired of hearing about the two kids involved in Columbine. They were monsters.”
The 9News staff members were given five months to prepare the 49-minute special report. “That’s an eternity in television time,” Vanderveen said. “We were doing other things during that time, I was a general assignment reporter, but we needed that much time because the report was very specialized.”
A CU-Boulder graduate, Vanderveen began his broadcast career in Casper, Wyo. “I learned the most there,” he said. “On weekends, I was the reporter, photographer, producer and I did the weather. It was great experience. I made mistakes. But it’s a town of 50,000, they were very forgiving.”
Vanderveen has come a long way since that entry-level job at KGWC-TV. In his 12 years at 9News, he has won 49 Heartland Regional Emmys including nine Emmys in July. One of the 2014 Emmys was for “after Aurora.”
The SDX award was special, however.
“It was humbling to go back there and get the award.” Vanderveen said. “It was so neat to come back here and thank your bosses for letting you do that work.”
“after Aurora” can be viewed on the spj.org website. Go to 2013 SDX award honorees and click the television link. It can also be seen on YouTube.
9News was one of five Colorado news organizations or journalists to receive SDX awards. The others:
Dave Philipps, Colorado Springs Gazette, for investigative reporting in the daily circulation 50,001-100,000 category.
Samantha Tisdel Wright, Telluride Watch Newspaper, for deadline reporting in the non-daily publication category.
Alan Prendergast, Denver Westword, for feature reporting in the non-daily publication category.
KUNC, Greeley, for breaking news reporting in the radio 101+ market.
“I think there is some very good journalism in Colorado,” Vanderveen said.