In the recent past, relatively few journalists had a burning desire to participate in Colorado's caucuses during presidential election years -- or even to cover them. After all, these sessions generally happened long after presumptive nominees had been determined in both major parties, making the time-consuming process rather redundant. But 2008 is different. Colorado's caucuses take place on February 5, a.k.a. Super Tuesday, when voters in 24 states will be making their preferences known. And while Colorado's delegate count is modest in comparison to that of California or New York, Denver's status as the host city of the Democratic National Convention in August makes the state worth winning, especially for candidates on the left side of the ledger -- which explains why Barack Obama and Bill Clinton are scheduled to make separate appearances here on January 30.
As a result, managers at journalism outlets are faced with the prospect of staffers aplenty wanting to caucus, and that's a ticklish matter. Passionate involvement in the community can often make reporters and editors better at their jobs. Yet being identified with a certain party or candidate can lead to charges of bias -- and that risk is magnified in Colorado, since the caucus system call for folks to take public stands, as opposed to making their picks in the privacy of a voting booth.
On January 28, Denver Post editor Greg Moore attempted to strike an appropriate balance in an internal memo reproduced below. Moore makes it plain that he'd prefer Post employees to avoid the caucuses entirely, and bans involvement by anyone too closely linked with political coverage. However, he gives others permission to get involved -- although he requests that those who do try to keep as low a profile as possible.
Here's the memo:
With the Colorado caucuses approaching, there have been some questions from staff about participating.
This is a very difficult issue, so I want to offer the clearest guidance I can.
While attending a caucus could raise questions about your impartiality as a journalist, I realize it is a right to participate in our democratic process.
So, with certain exceptions, we will not prohibit folks from attending the caucuses.
Honestly, I would prefer you didn't. Caucuses are fundamentally different than primaries because of the public nature of the declaration in a caucus. A number of newspapers have barred all employees from participating in caucuses. I think that is defensible. But I wanted to find an alternative.
Anyone who might want to attend a caucus, please review the political involvement section of our ethics policy. And If you do attend, keep in mind that while exercising your right many may see you as representing The Post. Unfair as that may be, it is a fact. So be careful to conduct yourselves well in these small gatherings. A simple raising of the hand would seem adequate to me.
While some of you may participate in the caucuses, you will NOT be permitted to be a delegate to any county, state or national convention. I hope you recall that all vacations and leaves are cancelled as we ready ourselves to cover the Democratic National Convention. There will be no exceptions.
Barred from even participating in caucuses are all city, suburban, state and national political reporters and editors; those covering political races; the metro, business and TV columnists; anyone who leads a department or oversees a section; the team leaders and writers for the anchor team; all members of the breaking news team and online operations and all editors at the ME level and above.
These exceptions, as best I can determine, will address those with authority to influence coverage and play of stories and those most likely to write about partisan candidates and issues during this exciting political season.
I am trying my best to be sensitive to individual rights while at the same time protecting the credibility of the paper and our ability to continue to cover politics as best and as fair as possible.
If you think you will be compromised as a journalist or you want to write about candidates or politics down the road, I urge you not to caucus.
I believe we all understand that working for a newspaper requires sacrifices many others in the work world don't have to make.
Lastly, for anyone planning to caucus, please inform your department head or Gary Clark in advance. We need to know.
Thanks and I hope this helps.
No doubt some Post employees will dislike these dictates. Still, they seem prudent under the circumstances. Given the caucus set-up, Posters who attend one party's caucus or another will be letting others there know at least something about their ideological predilections. For an organization that prizes objectivity, that's a problem -- one with which Moore and his peers must contend whether they like it or not. -- Michael Roberts