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By Vicky Gits

“For all the advances police and prosecutors have made in their ability to solve crimes, they still struggle with the basic step of making sure that the people they arrest show up to answer the charges.”

–Brad Heath, USA Today, “Fugitives Next Door” http://www.fugitves.usatoday.com

A newspaper story about a fugitive from justice who escaped one arrest and detention and went on to kill a cop in New York City, sparked USA Today investigative reporter Brad Heath’s curiosity.

That curiosity grew into a massive two-year investigation of how thousands of criminals are escaping the consequences by simply moving across county lines. The investigation turned into a series of stories, “Fugitives Next Door,” that relied in large part on Heath’s talent for computer assisted reporting.

University of Colorado College of Media, Communication and Information Dean Chris Braider (left), USA Today reporter Brad Heath and John Ensslin during April 23 SPJ Colorado Pro program at the Denver Press Club.

University of Colorado College of Media, Communication and Information Dean Chris Braider (left), USA Today reporter Brad Heath and John Ensslin during April 23 SPJ Colorado Pro program at the Denver Press Club.

The stories documented how arrest warrants “pile up by the thousands,” for minor offenses as well as crimes such as assault, rape and murder, and that “authorities are not searching for them beyond the county line.”

“In three states alone, confidential law enforcement databases list nearly a million fugitives who need not fear being arrested if they’re found beyond the next county, let alone the next state,” the report said. Certain databases, but not all, actually stipulate how far police are willing to travel to pick up individuals with outstanding warrants, even if they have been identified in connection with other offenses.

For these stories, the USA Today investigative reporter was named the winner of the 2015 Al Nakkula Award for police reporting. The Nakkula Award, named for the former Rocky Mountain News police reporter, is a $2,000 prize sponsored by the Denver Press Club and the University of Colorado College of Media, Communication and Information.

Heath is the first Nakkula award winner to make extensive use of computer-assisted reporting, said John Ensslin, county government and politics reporter at The Record, Woodland Park, N.J.

Ensslin interviewed Heath on April 23 at the Denver Press Club when Heath was in Denver to receive the award at the annual Damon Runyan Award Banquet. Ensslin is a former president of the Colorado Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and former SPJ national president.

The interview, sponsored by SPJ Colorado Pro, was videotaped and will be broadcast on Denver’s Channel 8 in May.

Ensslin is a former staff writer for the Rocky Mountain News who recalls working at the Rocky when Nakkula was still on the staff.

Nakkula was known for daring to expose a crime ring that existed inside the Denver Police department. In addition to that he was the “spark plug who woke up the entire newspaper,” Ensslin said. “The staff adored him.” After he died, his friends got together to memorialize him with the annual police reporting award.

Heath follows in Nakkula’s tradition but with a tech twist. He discovered that neglecting to follow up on arrest warrants was a fairly common practice. “All a criminal has to do is go away. The authorities decide we are just not going to get you,” Heath said.

The lack of police follow-up is common knowledge among the criminal population, Heath said. Departments just don’t have the resources to track down every lawbreaker and go through a legal extradition, even if identification is not an issue. Extradition can get very expensive if someone wants to fight it and the authorities are scared of it, Heath said.

Heath’s main challenge was extracting records from local sheriff’s departments and other authorities. In some cases, he had to use computer-coding skills to create “bots” that would go through databases electronically and produce reports.

He also called sheriff’s offices and submitted Freedom of Information Act requests to the FBI. He gave Florida high marks for transparency. “You get whatever you want and they are fast.”

Heath got satisfaction out of mining databases and “knowing things I’m not supposed to know.”

In some places the series is producing results. Shocked by the extent of the problem, the leader of the National District Attorneys Association has said prosecutors need to “go back and audit all of their outstanding warrants.” (March 14, 2015)

Heath has been at USA Today as an investigative reporter for nine years, covering mostly law and criminal justice. Known for aspiring to explore “the big picture,” USA Today has made a large commitment to investigations and has two teams of five reporters each, Heath said.

Heath started his journalism career at a newspaper in Binghamton, N.Y. He began exploring journalistic uses of computer programming as an intern in Utica, N.Y.

In general, access to information has improved over the years, Heath said. “There is more data available. It’s more accessible and available to more people.”

For more on the series, which has its own website, see www. fugitives.usatoday.com.

The following remarks were delivered April 24 at the opening of the Society of Professional Journalists Region 9 Conference on the Auraria campus in Denver.

By Bill McCloskey

SPJ National Director-At-Large

Strong as ever

SPJ is moving ahead as strong as ever. While membership still declines slightly in these post-recession years, down to about 7,500, we are still the largest organization of journalists in the United States and financially the organization is better than ever thanks to innovative partnerships with RTDNA, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, ACES, JAWS and others.

Bill McCloskey, at-large director, Society of Professional Journalists

Bill McCloskey, at-large director, Society of Professional Journalists

Fighting for Journalists

  • FOIA Improvement Act: SPJ advocated for the FOIA Improvement Act of 2014, which fizzled out at the end of the 2014 legislative session. However, the FOIA Improvement Act of 2015 is alive and well and SPJ continues to monitor and advocate for this bill’s passage.
  • Federal Shield Law: SPJ continues to monitor and fight for a federal shield law, which would help protect journalists from the 800-some subpoenas issued against journalists annually by federal agencies.
  • Advocacy: SPJ has been a strong voice in fighting for open government (White House letter); Public Information Officer transparency (letters to EPA and others); transparency in death penalty cases (in Ohio and Virginia, specifically); reporters’ rights (including student reporters such as editor of Western Illinois University; reporters covering events in Ferguson, Mo., etc.) SPJ frequently signs on to letters and amicus briefs calling for transparency in various government and legal dealings. Most recently, SPJ signed on to amicus briefs in a West Virginia coal mine case and a Montana open records case.

Ethics Code Update

The revised Code of Ethics was adopted at EIJ14 in Nashville, Tenn., in September. Since then, the revised code has been promoted to members, media and the general public. Posters and bookmarks have been sent to newsrooms, journalism schools, journalism professors, student newsrooms, journalism conferences, Scripps and other SPJ-related events. Andrew Seaman, chair of the ethics committee, has been discussing the Code at various seminars and conferences he has attended and will be attending in the coming months.

This is the first revision since 1996. While the revision of the Code does not involve any major philosophical shift, the process included recognition of social media and other journalist developments since 1996. Led by then-ethics committee chair Kevin Smith, the nine-person committee and others divided the four sections of the Code (Seek Truth & Report It, Minimize Harm, Act Independently and Be Accountable) into subcommittees and worked on revisions throughout the year.

You can print your own Code of Ethics bookmarks and posters from here: http://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp/ or shoot Communications Coordinator Taylor Carlier an email at tcarlier@spj.org to be added to the next mailing. Supplemental and explanatory links will be available online within the Code in the next few months.

Communities

SPJ is excited to now have five communities — Freelance, Digital, International, Gen J and Student. Digital and Freelance communities elected officers in January. They took office Feb. 1 and the initial term will extend through Sept. 20, the last day of EIJ15. Future terms will run from convention to convention. A community is like a thematic chapter that anyone can join to focus on a shared interest. If you have not checked them out yet, you should. Get involved and invite others to join!

Excellence in Journalism convention, #EIJ15
Be sure to attend the Excellence in Journalism 2015 conference Sept. 18-20, 2015, at the Orlando World Center Marriott in Orlando, Fla. Check out all the details online at www.excellenceinjournalism.org/

Excellence in Journalism will again feature a mix of cutting-edge training and education for all journalists, media professionals and educators. It’s our fifth year of collaboration with the Radio Television Digital News Association and second year with National Association of Hispanic Journalists. You’ll get training on database reporting, web coding, narrative storytelling, job searching in a difficult market, and a lot of mainstays on ethics, open government, diversity and the like. It’s a big conference with a lot of training and panel discussions on industry trends — and a lot of fun. There will definitely be something for everyone — from students to long-time news managers to folks just wanting to spend time in Orlando – and Walt Disney World — with 1,000 of their closest journalism friends.

Sigma Delta Chi Foundation

The SDX Foundation, a supporting foundation to SPJ, has been busy helping improve journalism by continuing to fund important training programs, including the SPJ national convention, daylong SPJ training workshops, online video training and watchdog boot camps in coordination with Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE). Also, the Foundation funds scholarships to the SPJ national convention and recognizes outstanding First Amendment work. Make your tax-deductible contribution every year to SDX Foundation to improve and protect journalism.

Get involved in SPJ!

SPJ wants you! SPJ is looking for volunteers who are passionate about journalism and SPJ to serve on national committees and the national board. If you are interested in sharing your expertise or participating at the national level, talk to anyone on the board, at SPJ HQ or contact past president Sonny Albarado, nominations chair, for details at salbarado@spj.org. For more information about elections, visit http://www.spj.org/elections.asp/

Here are open board seats:

  • President-elect (elected every year)
  • Secretary-Treasurer (elected every year)
  • Vice President of Campus Chapter Affairs (two-year position)
  • At-Large Director (two-year position)
  • Campus Adviser At-Large (two-year position)
  • Student Representative (two positions, elected every year)
  • Directors for Regions 2, 3, 6, 10, 11 and 12 (two-year positions)

We are also looking for nominations for Volunteer of the Month. If you have a Volunteer of the Month nominee, send it to Susan Stevens at susanstevens@aol.com. Nominations are due by the 5th of each month.

Revamped Job Bank/Career Center

Whether you are looking for a job or have an opening to share, the revamped SPJ job bank/career center is the place to be. Job seekers can browse new jobs, search listings, upload their resume and more. Employers can post jobs and search resumes. To register, visit http://www.spj.org/jobs.asp/

Professional opportunities and discounted services for SPJ members

Your SPJ membership comes with many benefits. Simply inform the following vendors that you are a member of SPJ and receive these special offers. For more details, visit http://www.spj.org/whyjoin4.asp/

  • Life insurance, accident insurance and identity theft protection through MetLife
  • Individual financial services benefits through Indianapolis-based financial services firm and consultants Harry W. Riley and David N. Brown. SPJ members are entitled to receive free quotes for coverage and access to the following products:
    • Life Insurance
    • Disability Income Coverage
    • Long Term Care Insurance
    • Retirement Solutions
    • Liability Coverage, also called Errors & Omissions (E&O) coverage
  • A 20 percent discount on an AP Stylebook Online subscription.
  • As an SPJ member you may be eligible for an 8 percent discount on Geico homeowner’s, renter’s, condo, motorcycle, boat, PWC, ATV and RV insurance.
  • Car rental discounts from Alamo, Avis and Hertz

Stay connected!

For all the latest SPJ news, follow our social media accounts:

Twitter: @spj_tweets

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SocietyofProfessionalJournalists

And visit us regularly on the web:

SPJ Home: www.spj.org/

SPJ News: http://www.spj.org/spjnews.asp

SPJ blogs network: http://blogs.spjnetwork.org/all/

This is one in a series of interviews with Colorado journalists. A downloadable PDF of the SPJ Code of Ethics is available at spjcolorado.com. Click the SPJ Code of Ethics link in the home page menu bar to access the Code.

By Ed Otte

FREDBROWNSeek Truth and Report It.
Minimize Harm.
Act Independently.
Be Accountable and Transparent.

Those four principles provide the framework for the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics. A key figure in the evolution of the code – and a strong advocate for adhering to the guidelines – is Denver journalist Fred Brown.

The former Denver Post legislative reporter, editor and political columnist was president of the SPJ Colorado Pro Chapter and Region 9 director, and served as national president in 1997-98. He remains active with SPJ and is on the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation board of directors.

Editor of the fourth edition of “Journalism Ethics: A Casebook of Professional Conduct for News Media,” Brown is vice co-chair of SPJ’s Ethics Committee. He also teaches media ethics at the University of Denver.

Brown retired in 2002 as The Post’s capitol bureau chief after 39 years at the newspaper. A 1961 graduate of Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Brown was named to the CSU Media Hall of Fame in 2011. He is a past president of the Denver Press Club and was elected to the DPC Hall of Fame in 2003. That same year, The Post hired Brown back as a freelance columnist.

In 2006, Brown received the Wells Memorial Key, SPJ’s highest honor for his service to the organization. In his nomination letter for the award, SPJ past president Irwin Gratz wrote: “Fred Brown demonstrates how to use our SPJ Code of Ethics, not as a club, but as a tool to reason with other journalists and members of the public on thorny issues.”

Past president Paul McMasters wrote: “As an officer, board member and ethics committee chair, (Brown) championed professionalism at every turn, led at every key occasion and quietly reminded everyone who would listen of the importance of ethics.”

Brown will be on a panel discussing “Ethics in Newsgathering and Reporting” on April 24 during the SPJ Region 9 Conference on the Auraria campus in downtown Denver.

Question: Rolling Stone magazine has been criticized – most recently in a Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism report – for its November 2014 article about an alleged rape at the University of Virginia. The SPJ Code of Ethics states: “Diligently seek subjects of news coverage to allow them to respond to criticism or allegations of wrongdoing.” Why would a publication fail to follow that practice and print a one-source story?

Brown: This is a case where the admonition of the SPJ Code of Ethics to “Minimize Harm” seems to have trumped the “Seek Truth and Report it” principle. Usually it’s the other way around. As Sean Woods, who is identified as the lead editor on Sabrina Rubin Ederly’s 9,000-word “A Rape on Campus” story put it, Rolling Stone was “too deferential to our rape victim.” So the publication agreed to the source’s request not to contact her date that night, the other alleged perpetrators or the three people she said came to her assistance in the early morning hours after the alleged incident. That was clearly a mistake, as the Columbia report made clear. It’s also what I would call a case of “log infatuation.” As a reporter, you promote a story based on a premise you feel deserves attention, and then in your information-gathering you focus on information that supports that premise, and you pay less attention to inconvenient facts that argue against the outcome you’d pitched. This selective approach to available facts also is called “confirmation bias,” in more critical terms.

Question: How damaging was suspended NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams’ exaggeration about his war zone and Hurricane Katrina reporting? Can any journalist restore his or her credibility after such a misstep?

Brown: It certainly was damaging to his personal reputation. Does it damage the credibility of journalism generally? It certainly doesn’t help. Unfortunately, it has seemed to me for quite some time – and polling confirms it – that the general public doesn’t have a lot of faith in journalism, anyway. Today anyone can claim to be a journalist. And all of these seminars and advanced degrees and awards that professional journalists can incldue in their resumes don’t seem to carry much weight with the audience. Bloggers and bloviators have as much credibility with a large segment of the information-consuming audience as do those who really try to be impartial and thorough. Williams’ problem was a failure to keep his ego under control. Bill O’Reilly had the same problem with some of his reporting, but his Fox News management was not as concerned about making reparations as was NBC. I’d say NBC was a bit too acquiescent, and Fox was antagonistic and defensive about allegations against its major personalities. I don’t know if Williams will be back. O’Reilly, though, won’t go away.

Question: What effect do cable TV news programs and talk radio have on the public’s perception of journalistic ethics?

Brown: It’s mostly a negative effect. Cable news is driven by the necessity of finding headlines 24 hours a day, seven days a week – and sometimes that means relatively unimportant stuff gets as much attention as the truly significant. Talk radio is even more driven by the need to exaggerate whatever happens to be in the news – and then, to go further, to be outraged about it. It’s not just a problem of ethics, it’s a problem that negatively affects governance. Talk radio and cable news contribute to a public perception that nothing works as it should, especially government. And that’s an ethical problem. Sensationalism distorts the perception of what’s happening.

Question: Should ethics courses be taught in high school and college journalism programs?

Brown: Yes. Especially at the college level, where students have majors. I teach media ethics at the University of Denver. It’s a required course for journalism majors, as well as those who are majoring in strategic communications, which is what used to be known simply – and sometimes derogatorily, by journalists – as P.R. A combined course can be a challenge, but I’ve come to believe it’s a great idea. My approach is to teach how the two professions should work together, and when their goals and interests are in conflict, how to work toward a communications goal that benefits the greater public good. It’s not always easy, to say the least.

Question: What tough issues did the SPJ ethics committee face in revising the code in 2014?

Brown: The toughest issue we committee members faced was how to approach the challenges raised by often very vocal critics who felt that the whole structure of providing information to people has changed so drastically, with the proliferation of sources on the Internet, that perhaps the principles of providing information ought to undergo a wholesale revision, too. One of the major arguments was that the whole idea of being independent, of avoiding conflicts of interest, was too difficult to achieve in this new media environment, where sometimes the only way to survive financially is to have a sponsor. It was more important, critics said, to be “transparent,” disclosing inevitable conflicts of interest rather than trying to avoid them. In the end, the committee that spent more than a year revising the SPJ Code of Ethics – the last revision had been 18 years earlier, in 1996 – decided that basic principles are abiding, and they don’t change when the technology changes. So we tried to eliminate any language that could be construed as technology-specific and focused instead on broad principles. We wanted to write a “bible” or a “constitution,” not a step-by-step set of instructions or referees’ rules. And we finally did add “transparent” to the list of major principles – “Be Accountable and Transparent” – even though the code had through most of its existence included the principles that clearly could be described as promoting transparency. To deal with the ever-evolving nature of information-delivery technology, we decided to back up the basic Code principles with position papers and examples, accessible online, that will be updated much more frequently than the Code itself should be.

Question: In the 1980s the Rocky Mountain News had Jean Otto and then Bill Hosokawa serve as reader representative and ombudsman, respectively, to publicly respond to readers’ complaints about news coverage and to address ethical issues. Do you think news organizations today should provide a similar service – especially for questions involving ethics?

Brown: Yes. It’s a place for mature discussion of differences of opinion about how stories are handled. Online comment sections that are made available as appendages to published articles can devolve into mud holes of uninformed, mean-spirited, illiterate and misleading snark. The New York Times and The Washington Post are examples of newspapers that support, with their media staffs, adult, professional commentary and discussion on issues raised by their coverage. This is a good idea, and I wish more media outlets would do it. By the way, I was a media critic at the Rocky Mountain News for one weekend. In the summer of 2002, John Temple, editor-publisher-vice president, and Vince Carroll, the editorial page editor, signed me up. But the gig lasted only one week. I was informed on Monday, the day after my first media-critic column appeared, that my early retirement contract with The Denver Post contained a non-compete clause that wouldn’t expire for another six months. Thus ended my ombudsman-like foray. When the year expired, The Post signed me up to write a mostly political column, which I did for the next 10 years.

Note: This is one a series of interviews with Colorado journalists.

By Ed Otte

More than 3,000 high school student journalists from around the country are expected to attend the Spring National High School Journalism Convention April 16-19 at the Sheraton Denver Downtown Hotel.

The semiannual event for students and advisers is sponsored by the Journalism Education Association and its convention partner, the National Scholastic Press Association.

Mark Newton

Mark Newton

Founded in 1924, JEA is the largest scholastic journalism organization for teachers and advisers with 2,500 members. It is headquartered at Kansas State University and JEA executive director Kelly Furnas is an assistant professor of journalism on the faculty of the A.Q. Miller School of Journalism and Mass Communications. Kansas State also provides JEA with office space. staff support and access to campus services.

JEA President Mark Newton is the student media adviser and a journalism teacher at Mountain Vista High School in Highlands Ranch. He is also a member of the Colorado High School Press Association and the Colorado Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

Question: What will be the emphasis of the convention?

Newton: The emphasis at this convention is the same as every one of our national conventions. We want students and advisers to have a variety of opportunities to hone 21st century skills, network, and share in the experience and energy of so many like-minded individuals. What is unique to the Denver convention is our “One Story” – the Colorado Springs Gazette’s four-part series “Other than honorable,” which examined how wounded combat veterans were mistreated, focusing on loss of benefits for life after discharge by the Army for minor offenses. The story won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for national reporting. (New York Times reporter Dave Philipps, who wrote the Gazette series in 2013, will be a keynote speaker. Philipps received the SPJ Colorado Pro Chapter Journalist of the Year Award in April 2014.)

Question: Is interest in journalism increasing or declining at the high school level?

Newton: That’s a tough question to answer because it is so hard to collect specific data from every high school in the country. Anecdotally, I think it is increasing as administrators, parents, the public, employers and the students themselves are seeing all the benefits of what student media can offer. Student media is 21st century English – authentic and non-fiction based. Student media is the 21st century educational skills of communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking that every employer wants.

Question: Is social media a more appealing method of communication for students than traditional reporting?

Newton: Social media is one tool – of many! – afforded to a journalist to communicate. I don’t think it’s necessarily more appealing (one could be), but it is becoming more and more relevant. What I love about the journalism/media world today is that we’re constantly trying to figure it all out. We need to create, find, experiment and adapt the tools to communication. We need to find the audiences and develop methods to reach them where they are at and deliver relevant information when they want, we need to find the news and the individual stories to tell them. Make no mistake, social media is part of that, but so is more traditional media like print and broadcast. What’s cool is that high school journalism programs are giving future journalists a start. And, as an educator, I believe that spark is well worth the effort to have a viable, well-funded and well-staffed student media program in every high school in America.

Question: How should high school students prepare for journalism studies in college?

Newton: High school students need to be well versed in a variety of the skills required to be successful. We can’t think of our high school students as on the newspaper, or yearbook, or broadcast. We must empower our students to be journalists first, then figure the best method or methods to deliver the content. We also need to prepare them to push back against authority and question. We need to teach them to work together. We need to teach them to fail – and bounce back even higher than before. And, probably most importantly, we need to teach them that they have a voice – an important voice – and they are obligated in a democracy to share it.

Question: What career advice to give students interested in journalism?

Newton: Be good at everything and great at something. Students must learn how to produce content across different media. How does a story look in print? On a website? With or without photos? How many photos? And, all that. Learn how to code – and master WordPress. Be fearless. Question The Man. Fail fast and try again. And, most importantly, create experiences for yourself. You can’t photograph a concert at Red Rocks unless you ask. You can’t learn code unless you start. You can’t find the story unless you talk to people.

Question: University of Northern Colorado journalism professor Lee Anne Peck participated in a journalism education study and wrote chapters for “Still Captive? History, Law and the Teaching of High School Journalism.” She said funding – for computers and updated software – is one of the biggest problems for high school journalism teachers and advisers. Do you agree?

Newton: Funding impacts all of education, including scholastic media. As journalists know, it’s always about the money. It’s really sad because a school with a well-funded journalism/media program is so much better off. Constituents – from taxpayers, to parents, to the students themselves – win big when a school can showcase its successes and address its failures with a qualified teacher. And, the amazing thing is those stories are being told using the very skills that the school is teaching. Talk about authentic! Talk about real-world! Talk about pride! We’re spending a lot of money and energy in education now to create courses that are 21st century, skill based, authentic and meaningful. And, right down the hall it’s already happening – has been for years! – in the journalism/media room.

Question: Based on your experience, what are the other challenges facing scholastic journalism?

Newton: Funding, for sure. Finding qualified teachers/advisers is probably number one (“Oh, you read the newspaper, you’re the newspaper adviser!” – probably not what happens when the school needs a football coach: “Oh, you watch the Broncos, you’re the head football coach!”) and supporting these teachers/advisers with meaningful professional development (JEA and CHSPA are the saviors!); in many schools, the journalism teacher is all alone in teaching that content – and often saddled with English or art or business or other courses. Another challenge is the constant pressure of prior review/restraint, the censorship (and the, what I could call, bullying) that goes with it (we have to be “perfect” or we’re going to get sued!).

20150402spjphoto

 

The Colorado Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and Arapahoe Community College Journalism & Contemporary Media Studies sponsored a panel discussion on “Covering Race Relations in America” April 2 on the ACC campus in Littleton. Left to right: Donna Bryson of The Associated Press; Jamey Trotter, head of the ACC program; Joanna Bean. editor and vice president/content of The Gazette in Colorado Springs; Francisco Miraval, founder of Project Vision 21 and an ACC adjunct instructor. SPJ Colorado Pro president Ed Otte was the panel moderator. More than 100 students and faculty attended the program.

 

By Ed Otte

“Political cartooning is a dying art in the United States,” Mike Keefe said.  “Around the world, political cartoonists are dying for their art.”

Keefe illustrated his March 25 discussion at the Denver Press Club with a PowerPoint series of his cartoons. The program, sponsored by the Colorado Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, was taped by Denver Media Services and will be broadcast at a later date on Channel 8.

“Cartoonists are on a hit list,” the former Denver Post editorial page cartoonist said. “The horrific things that happened in Paris also happened in Stockholm and Norway.”

Mike Keefe, former Denver Post editorial cartoonist

Mike Keefe, former Denver Post editorial cartoonist

Seventeen people – including three cartoonists – were killed in a Jan. 7 terrorist attack at the Paris editorial offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and at a kosher supermarket. The Charlie Hebdo shootings were in response to the magazine’s cartoon portrayals of the Prophet Muhammad. The gunmen were identified as European Muslim extremists.

Reaction to the killings reflected a resolve against terrorism, and support for freedom of expression and freedom of the press.

“Response to Charlie Hebdo was incredible.” Keefe said. “There was widespread outrage to the deaths. The protests were in support of free expression of opinion. There was an amazing response by cartoonists to it around the world. I think support is still high for Charlie Hebdo.”

Many of the cartoons the Pulitzer Prize winner showed depicted the hypocrisy and danger of “religious extremism” in the United States and abroad.

“I prefer to focus on those who twist their religion to serve their own morbid interests,” he said. “This whole business of religion and life is a favorite topic. Yes, I’ve had editors who said I went too far. Especially when I was young, in the beginning. When I’ve gone too far, I realize it the next day when I open the newspaper and say, ‘Oh ..’ It didn’t happen too often, but when it did I regretted it.”

The admittedly “left-of-center” cartoonist is alarmed by today’s political dialogue in America. “There’s a echo chamber with cable TV, talk radio, it all stokes intolerance. These people share a lot with the Islamic extremists. What sets us apart is freedom of speech although sometimes we have to hold our nose.

“It’s really depressing. It think we’re going backward as a culture. The gridlock in Congress is a good metaphor for what’s happening. There’s no give and take. It’s a shame.”

He described a personal experience involving an unpopular stance as an example.

“I’m a proponent of gun control and that’s an issue in the West. There was a guy who had a deep voice like the western actor, Sam Elliott, and he’d call at 4 a.m. on my office phone at The Post and say: ‘Hey, Mikey, you’ve done it again.’

“I suspect there are a lot of birdcages with my work in the bottom. But I think some stand the test of time.”

Keefe, who worked at The Post from 1975 to 2011, received the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning. He also won three John Fischetti Awards, a National Headliner Award and the Sigma Delta Chi  Distinguished Service Award.

The 68-year-old cartoonist still draws. His work appears in The Colorado Independent and on InToon.com.

“I was in the Marines during Vietnam, didn’t go there, but I became politicized during that time. In grad school (Stanford) I was doing political cartoons for the school paper just for fun” and that eventually led to the job at The Post. He was a fan of three-time Pulitzer winner Jeff MacNelly, who also drew the “Shoe” comic strip, and Pulitzer winner Pat Oliphant, who preceded Keefe at The Post.

“There were close to 300 political cartoonists only in daily newspapers when I started,” he said. “Now, there are 60 max. The ranks are thin but there’s still a lot of talent out there. I was lucky. I got into newspapers when it had more prestige than it does now.”

In addition to “Shoe,” Keefe mentioned “Calvin and Hobbes” by Bill Watterson and “Pogo” by Walt Kelly.

“‘Pogo’  was good. ‘Li’l Abner’ was popular too. But (creator) Al Capp got very right wing politically. He’d be the house cartoonist for Fox News today.”

A reminder that Friday, March 27, is the early-bird registration deadline for the 2015 Society of Professional Journalists Region 9 Conference April 24-25 on the Auraria campus in downtown Denver.

You can register online here. Payment can be made by credit card when you register.

“Scaling New(s) Heights” is the theme for the conference, designed for college journalism students and faculty and professional journalists. The conference is cohosted by the SPJ Colorado Pro Chapter and the Auraria Campus Chapter.

The last time Denver was the conference site, in 2012, 140 students, faculty and professionals from Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming attended.

Conference highlights include panel discussions on freedom of information, ethics, diversity, multimedia journalism, non-profit news, investigative journalism, the future of the news industry, challenges for collegiate journalism, and how to get an internship and a job.

The Mark of Excellence Awards luncheon on April 25 will recognize outstanding work by student journalists in the four-state region. Following the luncheon, students will have the opportunity to meet one-on-one with professional journalists to discuss job interview tips and resume reviews.

The early bird registration provides a cost savings for SPJ member students, non-member students, SPJ member professionals and non-member professionals. Registration fees increase in all categories after March 27.

Attendees will be on their own Friday for lunch and dinner, and there are dozens of restaurants – in Larimer Square and on the 16th Street Mall – near the campus. For out-of-town visitors, there are many downtown hotels near Auraria. The SpringHill Suites are on campus.

Parking both days will be available on campus in surface lots and parking garages.

Conference Schedule

Friday, April 24
8:30 a.m. -Registration Desk Opens St. Cajetan’s Church, 1190 9th St., Auraria Campus
Morning Sessions
9 a.m. – Opening Remarks – Bill McCloskey, SPJ National Director At-large
9:15 – 10:30 a.m. – Session 1 FOI. Panel: Tom Johnson, SPJ Region 9 director; Jeff Roberts, Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition executive director; Peg Perl, Colorado Ethics Watch staff counsel.
10:45-Noon – Session 2 Ethics. Panel: Fred Brown, SPJ ethics committee vice-chair, former SPJ national president and former Denver Post capitol bureau chief; John Ensslin, The (Bergen, NJ) Record reporter; Gabrielle Porter, Evergreen Newspapers reporter.
10:45-Noon – Session 3 Diversity. Panel: Tak Landrock, Fox31 reporter; Gil Asakawa, CU-Boulder student media manager.
Noon-1:30 p.m. Lunch on Your Own
Afternoon Sessions
2-3:15 p.m. – Session 4 Multimedia Journalism. Panel: Phil Tenser, 7News digital executive producer; Nicki Jhabvala, Denver Post sports digital editor; Sandra Fish, independent journalist.
2-3:15 p.m. – Session 5 Non-profit News. Panel: Brian Calvert, High Country News associate editor; Neil Best, KUNC president and CEO; Cara DeGette, Greater Park Hill News editor.
3:30-4:45 p.m. – Session 6 Investigative Journalism. Panel: Natasha Gardner, 5280 Magazine senior editor; Bob Burdick, former Rocky Mountain News editor and Colorado Springs Gazette publisher; Burt Hubbard, Rocky Mountain PBS I-News editorial director.
3:30-4:45 p.m. – Session 7 Future of the News Industry. Panel: Lauren Gustus, Fort Collins Coloradoan executive editor; Neil Best, KUNC president and CEO; Jim Anderson, Associated Press Denver bureau news editor.
Dinner on Your Own

Saturday, April 25
8:30 a.m. Registration Desk Opens. St. Cajetan’s Church.
Morning Sessions
9-10:15 a.m. – Session 8 Challenges for Collegiate Journalism. College editors and advisers panel: Metropolitan State University-Denver, Colorado State University-Fort Collins, University of Colorado-Boulder, and Community College of Denver.
10:30-11:45 a.m. a.m. – Session 9 How to Get an Internship and a Job. Panel: Doug Bell, Evergreen Newspapers editor; Noelle Leavitt Riley, Craig Daily Press editor; Kara Mason, Colorado State University-Pueblo.
Noon- 2 p.m. – Mark of Excellence Awards Luncheon. Region 9 director Tom Johnson announces winners. St. Cajetan’s Church.
2:30-4:30 p.m. – One-on-one mentoring and resume review. Students will have the opportunity to discuss job interview techniques and have their resumes reviewed by professional journalists.

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