A colleague asked me over lunch recently whether anyone really values unbiased news anymore. Or even recognizes what it is.
“Hell yes,” was my response.
I actually think people are crying out for more rigorous, agenda-free journalism, even if they don’t know exactly what that looks like now, or remember the days before cable TV and the internet when all news aspired to be unbiased and straight.
Filling that gap was the main reason we launched The Denver Gazette two years ago this week.
The goal was simple: Revive a tradition of strong, balanced local news in Denver. We weren’t seeing much unbiased news in the city. It seemed like every outlet still standing had some sort of lean to it, The Denver Post, The Colorado Sun, Westword, Colorado Public Radio, not to mention national media outlets that were building business models around their partisanship, like MSNBC and Fox News. And all the slanted news was getting sloshed together with opinion and clickbait and even disinformation on social media. It’s gotten pretty confusing out there in the media Wild West.
What if we revived a journalism model that did its damnedest not to spin the facts, and at the same time included a full range of Colorado’s voices?
We launched The Denver Gazette with the belief that balanced, rigorous journalism is about to make a comeback, and we’re hoping to lead the way in Colorado.
We journalists need to be better at explaining the value proposition of such journalism, since many folks have now grown up without it. True journalists believe journalism’s role is to report as completely and fairly as possible all the verifiable facts so readers can decide for themselves what the truth is. We do not believe journalism should try to direct readers to a certain viewpoint. We should aim to inform, not lecture or divide.
For journalists at all of our publications — The Denver Gazette, The Colorado Springs Gazette and Colorado Politics — fairness is our guiding light. Fairness means an open-minded pursuit of the truth, a willingness to genuinely listen to all relevant parties and a commitment to thorough research of the facts, following them wherever they take us. It means ensuring that our reporting is rooted in evidence, expertise and experience. Once we have done that, we endeavor to tell our readers what we’ve learned honestly, straightforwardly and fearlessly, without personal opinion or bias.
My wife is pretty sick of hearing me talk about these values, and how much of journalism seems to have lost them, and why it is so vital for the future of our country to bring them back. “So then why do you have opinion pages?” she asks. “Why do you endorse candidates if you’re trying to be as fair and balanced as possible?”
Some media outlets have done away with opinion pages and endorsements altogether in order to answer that question. But I tell her that canceling viewpoints or canceling the entire conversation among various viewpoints doesn’t serve our democracy well. We’re already too siloed; we’ve gotten bad at discourse. Instead, we should be encouraging courageous conversations among viewpoints, not suppressing the exchange of ideas. And newspapers can do that well. We’ve been doing it well for 100 years after all.
We include opinions in our daily report because we believe the broader the range of voices in our paper, the more representative our coverage will be. At their best, daily newspapers are a place where everyone can gather and be heard, a tent big enough for us to hash out our differences with respect for one another. We launched The Denver Gazette with the strong belief that not all Denver’s voices, and Colorado’s voices, were being heard, and the conversation in Colorado wasn’t wide-open enough.
We believe that by bringing together the community’s voices and our journalism in a daily package, we provide an irreplaceable public service. By partnering with us by subscribing, our readers help us sustain local journalism’s essential mission of shining light on our community and ensuring the public’s right to know.
So I tell my wife, yeah, our paper delivers both news and opinion, but we believe in keeping a bright, sharp line between the two. Opinion will appear on opinion pages, and news on news. The problem with much of the internet and cable TV is the two are smooshed together with no clear distinction between the two.
But there’s been an interesting development in national media recently that makes me think we’re on the right track.
I’m talking about CNN, which became a punching bag during the Trump administration as it played up partisanship to brand itself as an alternative to Fox News, encouraging its newscasters to voice their opinions when reporting on Trump.
But CNN is under new management now, and recently announced an effort to return to its roots and inject more balance into its programming.
Longtime Colorado businessman and philanthropist John Malone, chairman of Douglas County-based Liberty Media Corp., is a member of the Warner Discovery board of directors, which now owns CNN.
Malone said in a CNBC interview last November that “I would like to see CNN evolve back to the kind of journalism it started with, and actually have journalists, which would be unique and refreshing.”
Similarly, Warner Discovery President and CEO David Zaslav said at a company town hall in April that CNN should set itself apart from “advocacy networks.” CNN needs to be about reporting, truth and facts, he said.
“If we get that, we can have a civilized society,” said Zaslav. “And without it, if it all becomes advocacy, we don’t have a civilized society.”
As a result, the new CEO of CNN, Chris Licht, recently fired left-leaning anchor Brian Stelter and moved left-leaning anchor Don Lemon from prime time to a revamped morning show. Licht wants to eliminate extreme points of view from panel discussions. He wants to eliminate reports that traffic in “outrage porn” just to get viewers and clicks. He ordered that the on-air “breaking news” banner be reserved for real breaking news.
Some media watchers suggest Malone is the driving force behind this CNN overhaul.
Wouldn’t it be something if the revival of robust, nonpartisan journalism at both a local and national level was birthed right here in Colorado?
We believe such a revival is inevitable, because good journalism is the lifeblood of a good community, and public enlightenment is essential to good government. When local journalism thrives, democracy thrives.
In the end, we’re talking about journalism that trusts and respects that its readers will know the truth when they see it.
As Augustine of Hippo once said:
“The truth is like a lion; you don’t have to defend it. Let it loose; it will defend itself.”