In June, Editor Vince Bzdek of The Gazette in Colorado Springs – and former political editor for The Washington Post – said he looked forward to the company’s new project driving the political conversation in the state “every day, in every way.” The newly minted Colorado Politics digital and print editions came from Clarity Media’s merger of The Gazette’s political efforts with the 118-year-old print publication The Colorado Statesman. Several months in, here’s Bzdek’s take on how this unique match is progressing:
1 – How long after the merger was the new project “up and running,” what did it look like on Day One, and how long did it take to rebrand to what is now Colorado Politics?
We merged the two websites – Colorado Politics and The Colorado Statesman – right away the day of the sale, June 1. We’d done some planning ahead so we could launch immediately. We had a hybrid site with both names on it at first, then we fully transitioned both the site and magazine to the Colorado Politics name in September.
We wanted Statesman readers to have plenty of time to adjust to the new brand, and after three months we decided it was time for full speed ahead with the Colorado Politics brand, which we felt had momentum and good buzz and name recognition already.
2 – What new technology, trends or directions did your staff employ when launching Colorado Politics?
This was a completely digital-first operation, and we changed the story publication schedules to best suit online reading patterns. We emphasize breaking news, scoops and reporting in real time, and we ask our reporters to post multiple times a day to keep readers coming back for fresh news, the inside scoop and the latest developments on big stories. We hired a specialist in content marketing, and we reached out to political thought leaders and anyone highly engaged in politics in Colorado.
We are adding more utility as we go, with the help of staff developers, including robust daily newsletters and personalized, targeted alerts, so that people who are in oil and gas, for example, can get the latest political developments that affect their industry. We also will have databases available, such as a state salaries database and a campaign finance database, for those who need granular information like that.
3 – The comprehensive website includes Top Stories, Right Now, Hot Sheet Blog, Most Popular, Colorado Editorials and Opinion choices. How often are the articles, columns, photos and videos updated?
We update our blog and news sections five to six times a day at least. We add new opinions three to four times a week. We feature a roundup of editorials from around the state every morning, and we’ve experimented with weekly video stories and video commentary pieces, and plan to do video explainers as the legislative session gears up. We send a newsletter six days a week.
4 – What are the details of the newsletter?
We send out a newsletter with the latest political news, editorial roundup and the best of our content at 6 a.m. six mornings a week (not on Sunday) to subscribers and other lists we’ve compiled of people who are highly engaged and interested in politics. In the future, we plan to add newsletters targeted to specific industries, and let them know the likely impact of policy and politics on their industries, such as energy, healthcare, defense.
5 – CP is available to readers in many forms: Print + Digital, Digital Only, and Day Passes. How do the numbers look so far for these subscription options? And what changes are coming?
Too early to say anything publicly, since this thing is really only 4-months-old. But all indications are we’ve identified a niche that was important to Colorado and undercovered, and readers are responding. I will say we’re very excited about traffic and subscription numbers. We plan to add news boxes around Denver so that you can get the print more readily. And we’re aggressively targeting several mailing lists of highly engaged political players.
6 – The website notes it’s designed for public policy arena professionals. What has the feedback from them and other reader communities been so far?
Again, too early to say. We really wanted to try to appeal to the highly engaged political folks first, and then build on that audience. Now we’re adding correspondents throughout the state so that we can be the statewide voice for politics. We’ve had several other media come to us and tell us we own this space now. We’re getting a lot of buzz from those who are closely involved with politics, who are calling us their go-to place for political news now. And the governor says we’re his first click in the morning.
7 – What is your day-to-day role with Colorado Politics?
Jim Trotter – a Pulitzer-winning editor formerly of Rocky Mountain PBS, the Rocky Mountain News and The Mercury News in San Jose, Calif. – is the supervising editor. I help plan strategy, do hiring, brainstorm story ideas, do some daily editing, and I’m general troubleshooter and fire-putter-outer. Mainly, I try to bring a daily, rapid-fire, Washington metabolism to coverage of politics here, pushing us to drive the political conversation every day, and lead it as well.
8 – What staffers have emerged as your point men and women and what are their responsibilities?
Our lead correspondent Joey Bunch is the real the face of Colorado Politics. I believe he’s the most seasoned political correspondent in the state and one of the best in the country, and we’re lucky to have him. Not only that, but he’s a bit of an Alabama snake-oil salesman, so he keeps us all laughing through our days. Ernest Luning, a correspondent with the Statesman, stayed with us and has become probably our biggest breaker of news, with a mind-boggling array of sources in the state.
Dan Njegomir, former editorial page editor at The Gazette and a longtime political insider, has quickly established himself as the voice of the Hot Sheet blog, and also recruits and edits our opinion writers. And digital journalist Erin Prater has given us a multimedia metabolism and makes sure our content is available on multiple platforms.
9 – The website has a future item called Yesteryear. What will the source be and what will that section look like?
We’re already doing that feature for print, renamed A Look Back, and it’s written by Rachael Wright, a freelance writer who did the same feature for the Statesman. It’s one of our best-read features each week in the magazine, and we’ll soon be migrating it to the website.
10 – What are the challenges of fully covering local, state and national politics today?
Politics right now – and fair, clear coverage of politics – is more important than ever, and I think many people in Colorado and around the country are waking up to that idea. The web is so flooded with misleading news, fake news, unverified facts and distracting content, that true journalism, done with a set of standards and a commitment to balance and non-partisanship, is crucial. The Washington Post, my former employer, just adopted the motto, Democracy Dies in Darkness. It’s a little overwrought, but the point is, democracy is at risk without a vibrant, robust free press to keep it healthy.
The biggest challenge is to make politics interesting and understandable to those people who are not wonks, who could care less about the horse races and subcommittee hearings, but want desperately to know how their health care will change, whether they will be deported, if their water will be clean tomorrow. Everyone is impacted by politics, whether they pay attention or not. It’s our job to pay close attention for Coloradans who can’t.
Lastly, most media outlets that are committed to non-partisan journalism have lost resources in the last 20 years as the digital revolution changes everything. It’s much harder to do the kind of political watchdogging we need to do on a shoestring. Fortunately for Colorado Politics we have an owner who believes deeply in the idea that a community and state is healthier when it has a forum for healthy debate, when its citizens are well-informed, when someone’s keeping a close eye on politicians and holding them accountable to the people they work for.
Thomas Jefferson once said if he had to choose between government without newspapers or newspapers without government, he wouldn’t hesitate to choose the latter. Couldn’t agree more.