By Don Knox, STATE BILL COLORADO
DENVER — A committee of journalists that meets secretly to advise top legislative leaders on which journalists should be allowed floor access at Colorado’s Capitol has favorably recommended The Colorado Independent.
The Independent, an online news project of the left-leaning Washington, D.C.-based Center for Independent Media, is believed to be the first electronic reporting site not tied to a print publication to win the association’s recommendation. Others that had close ties to Denver-based reporters and editors were certified.
However, the CCPA didn’t encourage full membership for The Independent. Instead, it recommended a “provisional credential” lasting one year. Such provisional credentials were never addressed in the association’s rules or bylaws, nor are they discussed on the General Assembly’s Web site.
It wasn’t immediately known whether Senate President Brandon Shaffer or House Speaker Terrance Carroll had granted the credentials. In virtually all cases, however, current and former legislative leaders have rubber-stamped the CCPA’s work since the association’s creation in 2007.
The Independent’s editor, John Tomasic, confirmed in an e-mail to State Bill Colorado that the committee made its decision behind closed doors and that The Independent’s editors and reporters weren’t in attendance.
Tomasic said the online news organization thanks the committee for its confidence.
“We see it as recognition of the hard work we have put in over the last three years covering Colorado policy and politics,” Tomasic told State Bill. “We see it as an acknowledgment of our I hope notable redoubled dedication to deliver information to readers necessary to improve public life and to fill the news hole opened up in Capitol coverage by the changing media landscape. We see the capitol credential as part of a new productive phase for the site. We look forward to making good on the committee’s confidence.”
Tomasic called the provisional credential “a selling point, I think” to anyone who might be concerned about giving new media privileges enjoyed for decades by old media: print, TV, radio.
Asked whether the provisional credential was redundant, since any press credential can be pulled at any time by the House speaker or the Senate president, Tomasic said, “Probably. But for (the above) reason and others, I have no complaints.”
The CCPA has recommended credentials for two sites — INDenverTimes and Rocky Mountain Independent — that were created by former reporters of the defunct Rocky Mountain News. Another electronic site that garnered credentials, PolitickerCO.com, was owned by the company that publishes The New York Observer. A fourth side, Education News Colorado, won full credentials: Its staff includes former Denver Post journalist Todd Engdahl.
Proving the dynamism of today’s media market, the Rocky Mountain Independent and PolitickerCO.com are now shuttered. And INDenverTimes no longer pursues on-site coverage of the Capitol.
A turning point?
The association’s decision in The Colorado Independent’s case is a shift from 2008.
Back then, the CCPA’s five-member “standing committee” recommended against approval for the organization, then called Colorado Confidential.
At the time, Joe Hanel, one of the committee members and a reporter for The Durango Herald, cited three foundations who donated money to Colorado Confidential’s nonprofit umbrella organization – the Washington-based Center for Independent Media – as the deciding factors, Colorado Confidential reported then. Those organizations cited were the Gill Foundation, the Service Employees International Union and the Open Society Institute. The foundations often provide funding to progressive causes and candidates.
Neither Hanel, who still sits on the CCPA standing committee, nor the association itself responded to questions from State Bill Colorado about its decision this year to recommend a provisional credential for the The Colorado Independent.
State Bill Colorado, which is not credentialed and did not apply for Capitol credentials this year, has previously reported that the CCPA’s secret meetings are unusual for state-sanctioned bodies that advise top government leaders. Besides Hanel, the current members of the standing committee are Charles Ashby of the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel; Bente Birkeland of Rocky Mountain Community Radio, a consortium of public radio stations; Adam Schrager of KUSA-TV; and Eli Stokols of both KDVR-TV and KWGN-TV.
The standing committee, unlike similar organizations operating at the U.S. Congress, is self-perpetuating and doesn’t stand for elections.