Veteran journalist Peter Marcus is leaving the ambitious ColoradoPolitics.com website he helped launch last November in favor of a communications-director position with Terrapin Care Station, a marijuana dispensary chain that's spreading beyond Colorado. And in explaining the factors that led to his decision, he makes an observation that speaks to the divergent trajectories of the two professions.
"The cannabis industry is more lucrative and has more stability than journalism these days," says Marcus, who's scheduled to start at TCS in September. "I don't think that's a secret — like, 'Whoa! Journalism is a struggling industry?' But that's not what motivated me to do this. I don't think you do journalism for as many years as I have and be motivated by money."
Marcus isn't the first local journalist to make a pot-related move. Late last year, Ricardo Baca, who had served as editor of The Cannabist, the Denver Post's marijuana news site, split from the publication in favor of Grasslands, which describes itself as "a content agency for cannabis." And more recently, longtime Associated Press reporter Kristen Wyatt decamped for a position with Marijuana Business Daily.
For his part, Marcus has spent the thirteen years since he graduated from Ithaca College with a journalism degree working his way up the Colorado media ladder. He toiled as an intern for the Longmont Times-Call before landing at the Denver Daily News, eventually attaining the assistant editor title. He also acted as a Denver-based correspondent for the Durango Herald following a stint at the Colorado Statesman, a weekly political enterprise that formed the foundation for ColoradoPolitics.com, an affiliate of the Colorado Springs Gazette put together under the auspices of former Denver Post scribe Joey Bunch.
In a statement about Marcus's move, Bunch says, "We're all sad to see Peter go, but we understand he's passionate about this opportunity. He and I started [ColoradoPolitics.com] together, and he's been an integral part of what it's become: the largest, most aggressive political news organization in the state. Terrapin Care Station is lucky to have him, and he'll do great stuff, just like he always has. Most of all, Peter brings credibility and dedication to whatever he does.”
ColoradoPolitics.com has had a sizable impact since its debut, and that's one reason why "this was such a tough decision," Marcus notes. "This is a critical time to have reporters writing political journalism, and we've been breaking a lot of stories, putting the Denver Post to shame day in and day out. It's heartbreaking to me to a certain extent to be leaving it."
Among Marcus's recent scoops at ColoradoPolitics.com: On August 11, he was the first to report that Representative Ed Perlmutter was thinking about running for reelection in the 7th Congressional District despite announcing that he wouldn't do so exactly a month earlier. Perlmutter confirmed his reentry into the race on August 21, an announcement that caused mayhem among Democratic candidates bidding to replace him.
"I wasn't really looking for a job," Marcus stresses. "This just kind of fell into my lap." But in the end, he couldn't resist the chance "to work with this already successful and growing and really intelligent industry and offer my resources and experience and the relationships I've developed over a decade of covering politics as a journalist to help the industry to grow and break the barriers that still exist."
His role is a new one for Terrapin Care Station, which has five commercial storefronts in Colorado, including the first licensed dispensary in Aurora; the firm is also licensed to retail marijuana in Oregon, as well as to grow and process cannabis in Pennsylvania. "Terrapin started expanding so fast that one day it dawned on them: 'We need a communications person,'" Marcus says.
His duties will go beyond public relations. "I'm going to be handling all of their messaging, and we're going to try working not only in-house, but for the industry as a whole to try to come up with universal messaging. So I'm going to take my expertise and skill set as a reporter to start a website that's going to be a kind of clearinghouse, a one-stop for journalists, elected officials and even the general public."
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The thus-far-unnamed site will be populated by "our own original stories on the marijuana industry and things that are happening. We're going to have a lot of research, but also some point-counterpoint stuff" aimed at pieces such as the recent USA Today column by Colorado Christian University's Jeff Hunt that claimed marijuana has devastated the state — an offering recently challenged in a post by our own Thomas Mitchell.
Hunt's jeremiad isn't the only one of its type, Marcus emphasizes. "There are others out there, and when we see columns that are filled with misinformation, we're going to combat them. That's where my journalism skills come in."
This part of his job should make Marcus's transition to Terrapin Care Station easier — but he admits to some mixed emotions as he embarks on the next chapter of his career. "It's been weighing on me, because I feel like I'm letting people down in the Colorado political world. But I do have an opportunity to continue my work in journalism. People will understand that it's going to be coming from an advocacy standpoint moving forward, but it's going to be fair and it's going to be true and it's going to be accurate and it's going to balance out some of the misinformation and misconceptions that exist out there right now when it comes to legal cannabis."
And if the job just happens to be more stable than one in journalism right now, that's okay, too.