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“Our Voice” is the editorial section of Ark Valley Voice.

We in the news media sometimes consider our jobs to be ‘damned if we do, damned if we don’t.”

If we do cover something, or question something, there are always some who complain that we covered it too much, or not enough, or that it wasn’t news, or that it wasn’t true, or that it might be true, but it’s not fair to bring it up. If we don’t cover something, because we didn’t know, or had no one to send, then we get accused of leaning left, or right, or maybe sideways.

This week Democratic Lawyer  Steven Woodrow, a 42-year-old Democrat and lawyer who represents Denver in the Colorado House of Representatives, Tweeted this: “CO is home to Lauren Boebert, John Eastman, Jena Ellis, Joe Oltmann and other threats to democracy largely because our media are too afraid to do their jobs.”

“Truth.” George Orwell. visual by Red Bubble

Plenty of us in the news media have covered the antics and ignorance, bigotry and hate, private armies and violence espoused by these power-seeking personalities, and others on the national scene.

We’ve pointed out the lies and incitement to violence of “election-result denier “former-President Donald Trump, election-equipment tampering Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters, and Colorado State Representative Ron Hanks, to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Arizona candidate for governor Kari Lake, and  Wisconsin U.S. Senator Ron Johnson.

We’ve raised questions about candidates’ motives and purpose, threats to our local Clerk and Recorder, the sudden appearance of local private armies, the falsehood of the Constitutional sheriff movement, and stances that would seem to run counter to the United States Constitution.

We’ve been threatened, doxed, followed, and generally terrorized, and that’s not while covering the wildfires of recent years.

“It’s not that journalists are afraid,” Denver Post reporter Conrad Swanson is reported to have told Woodrow. “We’re running skeleton crews because our organizations have been pillaged by hedge funds, we’ve been furloughed and laid off, we’re struggling to recover from trauma and those who remain are stretched thin and exhausted.”

“This is helpful and refreshingly honest,” said Woodrow in response.

His is a mild response to the 60-hour weeks, six-day-week schedule that journalists have been on for years. Journalists have to be committed to what we do and why we do it because we’re some of the lowest-paid members of a community workforce. We do more — with less, all the time.

It’s not just staff cuts and budget squeezes, or the inability to find good journalists who will work for what we can pay. Colorado news crews have been covering wildfires and drought — then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Then came the election-denying lie and January 6 and literally everything we do is seen by one segment of the public as filtered through politics.

“Journalists would rightly be sensitive to such a comment from a politician any time,” wrote Corey Hutchins, who writes a weekly newsletter for journalists, who spoke with some of our fellow journalists. He pointed out the Tweets from fellow journalists in response to Woodrow’s jab:

“Do you have any idea how many journos we’ve lost from burnout?” Rylee Dunn of Colorado Community Media responded to Woodrow’s Twitter post. “From low wages? from extreme trauma? as disrespectfully as possible; you’re just as bad as the ‘threats to democracy’ you decry.”

Quentin Young, who runs Colorado Newsline and has made covering threats to democracy a major focus of his nonprofit news site, said: “It’s one thing to urge more coverage, but to smear reporters as being afraid of covering a guy who calls for mass executions of political enemies is pretty unseemly, and I doubt any of the figures named would agree local press has given them a pass.”

Carina Julig of Sentinel Colorado wondered what set Woodrow off in the first place. “Fair criticism of the press is always needed,” she told him, “but if you simply assumed the reason there isn’t the level of coverage of these people that you’d like to see is because we are cowards–that hurts.”

In 2019, the Colorado Media Project, with which Ark Valley Voice (AVV) is associated,  published a report called “Local News is a Public Good”. The piece includes five recommendations for lawmakers to help support local journalism in Colorado. Colorado legislators and local government officials and staff would do well to read it.

Newsflash: like freedom, the news isn’t free. Someone IS paying for it in blood, sweat, and commitment to truth and democracy. The fact is– we have trained readers to expect news for free and at AVV, we see this as democratically-even news access. At this critical juncture — it can honestly feel like it is the free press protecting democracy while a segment of business and the public is looking the other way.

Second news flash — telling the truth is not left-wing/liberal. It is simply the truth.

At AVV we take seriously our promise that “truth has a voice.” We look for it, we verify it, we quote it,  we cover it and we stand behind our investigative work. When we get it wrong, we correct it. We also highlight others, such as fellow journalist Hutchins.

The poison in the water barrel: Trump lost the election, not by a little bit, but by a lot. He knew he lost. He didn’t want us to know. January 6 was his attempt to remain in power in any way possible. Everything else is flowing around that massive lie; adding more ingredients to a power-seeking stew.

In 2021 National Public Radio published a news story titled “When This Hedge Fund Buys Local Newspapers, Democracy Suffers.  Alden Global Capital has bought up major news organizations such as the Chicago Tribune, The Baltimore Sun and New York Daily News. The fund is gutting newsrooms across the country.

According to NPR, research has shown that when local news disappears or is dramatically gutted, communities tend to see lower voter turnout, increased polarization, a general erosion of civic engagement, and an environment in which misinformation and conspiracy theories can spread more easily.

The 2019 merger of the nation’s two largest newspaper chains, Gannett and GateHouse came about with a pile of hedge-fund cash. They own  The Coloradan in Ft. Collins and the Pueblo Chieftain. Stay tuned.

According to The Wall Street Journal, since 2010 hedge funds have favored Republicans. But according to Open Secrets, the hedge fund contributions for 2021-22 are more moderate and more evenly divided; nothing like the $240 million they put into the 2016 campaign (which begs the question; what about 2024?). In the latest corporate tax cuts, hedge fund tax rates ticked down from 39.6 percent to 37 percent. But hedge fund leadership wants the same tax rate given to major corporations in the Republican’s 2018 tax cut bill: 21 percent.

Think about this for a minute: given that news organizations are notoriously poor — WHY then are hedge funds setting out to own and control major and secondary newsrooms all across the country?  The first thing they do is strip the physical assets. But that’s not an attractive target, really. So then there are the human assets – investigative journalists.

Here is where Swanson’s gut-wrenching response is prophetic — After the physical assets are stripped and newsroom staff gutted — the next to go could be transparency and truth. The demise of real democracy may not be far behind, followed by control of information to the public. Now you see why local newsrooms are so important.