HEY politicians – we journos are following the $!

By Ed Otte

“Follow the money” is a popular saying from the 1976 movie “All The President’s Men.” It was also the message at a May 1 program about transparency and open government at the Denver Press Club.

Sandra Fish and Nancy Watzman lead a workshop on following the money of today's politics.
Sandra Fish and Nancy Watzman lead a workshop on following the money of today’s politics.

Nancy Watzman of the Sunlight Foundation and Sandra Fish with the Journalism & Women Symposium explained how to research election campaign finances. “Tools for Journalists: Following the Colorado Money” was cosponsored by JAWS and the Colorado Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

“The primary races will be really important,” Fish said. “A lot of money will be coming in for those and a lot of money will be spent on ballot initiatives. With the resources available on the Sunlight website and the (Colorado) Secretary of State website, you’ll find useful information for many stories.”

Watzman’s PowerPoint demonstration showed the various categories and links available on the Sunlight site at http://www.SunlightFoundation.com.

“The Realtime Federal Campaign Finance tracker gives you up-to-the-minute filings,” she said. “Political Ad Sleuth shows you who’s buying airtime for political ads. Old-fashioned reporting can find some of the funding sources for the groups that buy ads, the ‘grassroots’ funding sources.

“Scout is another really, really useful tool. It searches for key phrases in legislation and will send you email and text alerts on specific issues.”

Fish said following campaign donation activity is important because “Amendment 27 changed the playing field, shifting power from candidates and parties. It sharply regulates how much money you can give to campaigns. Now, 527s and IE (Independent Expenditure) Committees are powerful here.”

Amendment 27 was passed by 66 percent of Colorado voters in 2002. It was designed to curb the influence of special interest groups by limiting the amounts and types of political contributions.

The Tracer link on the Colorado Secretary of State’s website (www.sos.state.co.us) “will help you with stories about cash,” Fish said. “Who’s buying TV ads. Who gives the most? It can sort to see who’s given the most in an election cycle. For example, you can see who spent money, and how much, in the 2010 GOP governor races.”

Watzman encouraged journalists to look at additional training opportunities, including free webinars and other online tools, on the Sunlight Academy link on the Foundation’s website. She also explained that the nonprofit, nonpartisan organization’s name comes from a 1913 quote by Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis: “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.”

“That’s why,” she said, “we believe in making government accountable and transparent.”





SPJ Colo Pro meets with Russian journalists

Anyone who would like to join us, you’d be more than welcome and we’re quite sure the delegation of international journalists would welcome many points of view. This will be in a mixer format, so come visit and enjoy the Denver Press Club, 1330 Glenarm.

The delegation of International Journalists visits Wednesday, November 20th from 6:30-8:00pm. They are a very engaged group and will appreciate warm hospitality and professional insights. This program is sponsored by the U.S. Congress Open World Leadership Program and is administered in part by WorldDenver. The five participants have been selected as emerging leaders throughout Russia for their work as journalists, advancing the public’s access to information.

Meeting Topic: The delegation is looking forward to meeting with the Society of Professional Journalists to talk about various journalism issues and to meet with well-known journalists from across the state of Colorado.


Ms. Darya DANILOVA, News Correspondent, Russian Public Television

Dr. Denis DOKUCHAYEV, Director of Media & Information Projects, Seryeznyye Proyekty, LLC

Ms. Alina LVOVA, Deputy Editor-in-Chief, Channel 31 News Company

Mr. Pavel POMINOV, Chief Business Development Officer, Omskpress, LLC

Ms. Yuliya SHEVTSOVA, Chief Executive Officer, Vyatsky Nablyudatel Newspaper

Mr. Ilya MICHCHENKO (Facilitator), Deputy Director of Translation and Localisation Centre, “EGO Translation Company”

Escorts: The delegation will be accompanied by Ms. Michelle Woodruff and Mr. Nathan Gallo, representatives of WorldDenver.


NewsTrain delivers!

The SPJ Colorado Pro sponsored two entries to the CPA ASNE NewsTrain in Colorado Springs last weekend (Sept. 28-29). Here’s a great report from Tanya Ishikawa

Data, Video and Social Media Tools at APME NewsTrain
By Tanya Ishikawa

Whether journalists accept it or not, multimedia news reporting continues to grow in significance to our audiences. Associated Press Media Editors NewsTrain, which visited Colorado Springs on Sept 27 and 28, offered tips, tools and ways to keep up with new audience trends and help journalists cope and perhaps even thrive in this evolving digital age.

As a former public relations professional and weekly newspaper reporter, I am definitely in my comfort zone when creating and editing stories for print publications. At the same time, my interests in new communication platforms and filmmaking have led to nearly a decade of training and working in social media and video. So, when I saw NewsTrain’s agenda with two days focusing on reporting with data, social media and video, I was a bit skeptical about whether I would learn new skills or gain new information. I’m happy to report that I came away from the weekend with a long to-do list including plans to download helpful apps, ways to update social media pages and new story ideas to pitch to editors.

Brant Houston shared a wealth of websites and leads for finding interesting statistics that can be used in developing stories. Then, he taught us how to analyze and sort the statistics with spreadsheets for better understanding and to create information graphics. You can learn some of the same lessons by going to the resource center and other areas of the Investigative Reporters & Editors website.

Val Hoeppner inspired us to make short, attention-grabbing (and revenue-generating) videos with simple, inexpensive equipment. She shared the names of a treasure trove of free and low-priced apps and websites for online video production and standards for how to produce the best content.

Misty Montano gave us insight into how her news outlet is garnering outstanding audience reach through clicks, impressions, views, visits, likes, shares and all the other ways that people interact online. She offered a long list of resources to help develop a strategic approach for connecting to audiences through Facebook, Twitter and other sites.

Not to be forgotten were the beginning sessions of both days, when Michael Roberts reminded us of the basic foundation of journalism – how to develop and deliver great stories, and Steven Zansberg gave us an introduction (for some of us a refresher) on Colorado’s Freedom of Information laws.

All this and the opportunity to network with 78 other Colorado journalists, who came from as far away as Grand Junction and Greeley, was offered for only $75 due to the generosity of local hosts that included the Colorado Press Association and University of Colorado-Colorado Springs. I personally thank Colorado SPJ, another sponsor that provided me with one of two scholarships to attend this high-impact training. Valuable to both new and seasoned journalists, NewsTrain provided many tools and tricks to strengthen my audience connection and add power to my storytelling. You can find out more about NewsTrain and future workshops here.

Great Stories Still Count, Delivery Ever Changing

Strong content and compelling storytelling are the top priorities in the ever-changing digital age of journalism.

That was the message from a panel of speakers at The Future of News forum March 14 at The Denver Post sponsored by the Colorado Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, Rocky Mountain PBS and public radio stations KUNC and KUVO.

“How do we remain vital in this hectic, disruptive media environment, ensure that people will find us and learn that they need us and want us and can’t live without us?” asked Margaret Low Smith, National Public Radio senior vice president for news. “What do we actually do to nurture our relationship with the audience? To offer something extraordinary that they can’t find anywhere else?

“We need to distinguish ourselves at every turn. We must tell stunning stories that make people laugh and cry and nod their heads and expand their minds.”

Smith’s comments were illustrated with audio clips from recent NPR stories about the conflict in Syria, the Newtown shooting and a miner with black lung disease. The reporting focused on how the incidents affect people’s lives, told in their own voices, rather than officials’ statements.

“I think media organizations have sometimes underestimated the intelligence of their audience,” said Laura Frank, executive director of I-News and vice president for news at Rocky Mountain PBS. “The best way to help people recognize quality journalism is to give them quality journalism.”

I-News at Rocky Mountain PBS is a news service that collaborates with Colorado news outlets to deliver high-impact in-depth journalism. Losing Ground, the recent I-News investigative report about racial disparities in Colorado, was used by several newspapers and broadcast stations.

This type of public service journalism, Frank said, produced “a significant reaction from policy makers and the public. A lot of people were shocked by the findings. But a lot of people had a sense that these things were happening and it was as if they had this pent-up urge to talk with each other about them and what could be done.”

The panel also discussed how technology, especially social media, is changing journalism.

“Websites, I won’t say are going away, but they won’t be as primary in the future,” said Gil Asakawa, manager of student media at CU-Boulder and adviser for the student-run news website CUIndependent.com.

“Tablets are more common but this is the future,” he said holding up a cellphone. “There are so many apps and more will become available, ones we can’t imagine. Students at the CUIndependent have learned how to use the apps to get the news out. Sometimes they’re used for silly things but students see the potential for reporting.”

Smith said, “Whatever we produce, and for whatever medium, it needs to be great. In a world with so many media alternatives, the chance to capture people’s attention and to gain their loyalty is fleeting and fragile. We must be imaginative and original.”

The program was taped by Denver’s Channel 8 TV and will air in April.

November Newsletter

Society of Professional Journalist’s Colorado Pro Chapter

“I Wonder Where that Car is Going?”

That’s what the 20 or so guests of Colorado Pro’s first Fireside Chat of the season at the Denver Press Club learned from Kevin Vaughan about the natural curiosity that should drive all journalists. A relative of Vaughan’s used to say that and it became his catch phrase for wanting to know more. That drive led to more than 25 years of award-winning journalism for Vaughan at Colorado newspapers, including the Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News.

He talked about the wanting to get back to that investigative journalism and writing stories, which fueled his recent decision to leave the Denver Post as its City Editor and write for the Rocky Mountain Investigative News Network (www.inewsnetwork.org).

“I wanted to help build something important that will be a part of Denver’s journalism future,” Vaughan told the college students and longtime journo veterans of the organization’s goal of public service journalism that makes an impact. He also gets a chance to team-up again with former Rocky Mountain News editor Jim Trotter.

Vaughan offered this story-telling advice: “If your story were a movie, what would it look like? Describe the opening scene and what kind of movie it is, a mystery?”

He also said the need for strong, independent reporting has never been greater.

“There’s a vacuum of critical information people need,” he said.

Guests included first-time visitors to the Denver Press Club, college students, freelancers looking to network and SPJ members. Thanks all for a great evening.

Continue reading “November Newsletter”