Denver Post to attempt comprehensive marijuana coverage

On Jan. 1, Colorado will become one of two states to legalize the sale of recreational marijuana. Gregory L. Moore, The Denver Post’s editor, says that has meant the newsroom has been tasked with “an-all-hands-on-deck assignment” to cover the history of marijuana regulation, the reaction of federal agents to the new law and a look at the science behind the drug.

“It’s going to affect politics, culture, crime, food,” Mr. Moore said. “The world is going to be watching us and we really want to do a great job on this story.”

A recent article in the paper covered a debate inside Denver’s City Council over whether residents can smoke in their yards. Another looked at the drug as a cooking ingredient, and included a recipe for marijuana-infused zucchini bread.

“It smells like cannabis in Julie Dooley’s northeast Denver commercial kitchen,” the article opened. “It’s not the pungent Cheech and Chong odor though. It’s slightly aromatic and not at all unpleasant.”

Mr. Baca, 36, a former music and entertainment editor, grew up in the Denver area and has worked at The Post for 12 years. His new job, he said, will go far beyond chronicling Colorado’s stoner culture. He has already been in contact with journalists abroad, exploring how the state’s new laws compare with those in other countries, like the Netherlands, where recreational drug use is illegal yet tolerated. He has also been in contact with reporters in Washington, the other state that has legalized marijuana use, to potentially work with.

“Everybody here knew we needed to amp up our coverage,” Mr. Baca said. “But nobody knew how this was going to happen.”

As soon as he was named to the post, he acknowledged using marijuana. “If I weren’t completely honest from the get-go, we lose credibility,” said Mr. Baca, who recently became engaged to his girlfriend while vacationing in Bali.

Mr. Baca is in the process of hiring a staff and has reviewed about 70 résumés for the position of pot critic. He has also discussed with his colleagues whether the title on his business card should read Cannabis Editor or Marijuana Editor. (In some circles, the word marijuana is considered pejorative and carries racial connotations.)

The Denver Post’s ambitious push into marijuana coverage comes as the paper has had some success amid dismal times for the newspaper industry. While many dailies are bleeding readers, The Post’s Sunday circulation grew to 615,315 by March 31, compared with 491,400 in March 2010, according to the Alliance for Audited Media. Roughly one-quarter of its readership subscribes digitally, while most newspapers count digital readers as 19 percent of their readers. It is in the process of introducing a subscription model. And it has also had success on the journalism side, winning a Pulitzer Prize each of the last four years.

Management at The Post selected Mr. Baca to oversee coverage partly because of his success attracting a younger audience, a demographic that appeals to advertisers. In 2001, Mr. Baca helped start a festival for the paper called the Underground Music Showcase that he modeled after South by Southwest. In 2007, he started a music site called Reverb, which now has a full-time editor and deploys some four dozen freelancers. Mac Tully, The Post’s chief executive, noted that the recent expansion of its marijuana coverage should also help bring in younger audiences.

“While I do believe pot is an issue that will reach across generations, it’s probably going to have a younger readership,” Mr. Tully said.

As for Mr. Baca’s future marijuana use, he said he would follow The Post’s policies. The paper is adding the drug to a list of substances that its employees are barred from using on the job.

“I will never come to work stoned,” he said. “I will never try and write anything under the influence.”

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