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It’s not you, it’s me: ‘This has all been wonderful but now I’m on my way’

Author: Peter Marcus - September 1, 2017 - Updated: September 1, 2017

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Peter Marcus
Peter Marcus in the Colorado Politics office in happier times. (Photo by Joey Bunch/Colorado Politics)

“It’s not you, it’s me.”

That’s what I told my team at Colorado Politics before I officially announced that I was leaving more than a decade of journalism for a career in the “Big Marijuana” industry. And that’s the same message that I have for you.

It’s been the hardest breakup of my life. And I’m accustomed to those.

Colorado Politics offered me an outlet to spread my wings and fly. I’m not overstating this when I say it has been the most stable job in Colorado political journalism that I ever had. The new popular online outlet offered me a medium to grow within the career that I have called my identity and closest relationship for years.

To leave your identity as a journalist is not unlike trading in your civil service badge for a career in private security. You might still wear a uniform, but your identity and authority is lost. And in choosing to leave Colorado Politics for a job as the communications director for Terrapin Care Station, I traded my credentials and my identity in journalism for a career in what we call “The Dark Side.”

Terrapin Care Station is a rapidly growing national cannabis company that was cultivated in Colorado, but which is giving birth across the nation. It was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up. And like any relationship, at some point you have to decide what’s best and most comfortable for you. Sometimes you have to move on. And recent personal developments made me want to try something new.

To become a flack seems incomprehensible from the world that we as journalists know. Journalism runs in your blood. It’s a calling, not a choice. It’s such a separatist faction of society that when we lose one of our own, we state, “They went to The Dark Side.”

Countless journalists have done it before me. And more and more by the day. I survived as a (borderline) millennial in a field that saw its glory days at least 20 years before me. But I made it.

And yet as I become a has-been, I’ve found myself sentimentally recalling the army of journalists and editors before me who helped to thrust me to the top of the state-based political journalism food chain.

I remember sitting in the Longmont Times-Call offices in Longmont, Colo. about two weeks into my internship in 2005. I had some fluff assignment to cover a new business that catered to children through a laser-light experience. Somehow it was going on the front page of the weekend business section. I couldn’t have been more excited.

I remember filing the story in an intranet system that sadly resembled the systems we still use in journalism today. Yes, the profession has not progressed rapidly.

I was sitting next to my editor, Eric Frankowski, who I thought was going to be so pleased with the copy I had just presented to him. Man, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Frankowski, to his credit, patiently tore my story apart. It was total crap. But on the last day of my internship, which I left early for a job at the Denver Daily News, Frankowski took me out to lunch with the newsroom and wished me the best. He saw something in me, and I hope I didn’t let him down.

The Washington Post has since twice named me one of the nation’s top state-based political and legislative reporters. I’ve won more than a dozen awards from the Colorado Press Association. And I’ve since continued to grow within the profession.

I recently had a colleague ask me, “What are your highlights?” I couldn’t even begin to recount my career in journalism. Every day as a journalist you throw a dart at the wall and become an expert in whatever you report on. I couldn’t even begin to recall all the subjects I’ve crossed.

In my early days with the Denver Daily News, a now-defunct publication that was distributed for free, I was proud to call the city of Denver out for a flawed ban on pit bulls that only led to an increase in dog bites from other breeds.

As I progressed into politics, I reported on the 2011 Denver School Board race, in which Colorado saw one of its first shots across the bow from the education reform movement. The movement is now an effort backed by interests from both the far left and the far right. It is an issue that will play into the current gubernatorial race seven years later. That reporting was done for the Colorado Statesman, a weekly political “trade” publication now owned by Colorado Politics. My journalism career nearly came full circle.

When the Durango Herald hired me in 2014, the job description mostly revolved around the statehouse. To my surprise, I was in Durango visiting the “mothership” when the Gold King Mine spill occurred in August 2015. Let’s just say there was no reason to immediately return home after that. The eyes of the world were on little Durango, Colo. for this epic Environmental Protection Agency screwup.

Somewhere along the way I caught Gov. John Hickenlooper in a skirmish with the EPA over the quality of the water in the Animas River. Later, we made the governor drink from the Animas to prove that the water was safe. Don’t worry, he survived.

We held the EPA accountable every day after that, proving that the catastrophe was the agency’s error. And when I got word that new EPA Director Scott Pruitt was visiting Durango in early August of this year, I was so happy to break that news. It was a story that I felt like I had a duty to continue to report on, even though I had moved on from The Herald.

Speaking of Gov. Hickenlooper, he is the most closely-watched politician I have covered in Colorado. I was at a press conference in 2006 when we in the local media declared that his “honeymoon” as mayor of Denver was over following a Christmas blizzard.

Hickenlooper went on to become the governor of Colorado, and he is now being encouraged to run for president. Sometimes we get things wrong. Hickenlooper is an elected official that I will always respect and admire. And I will deeply miss getting to know politicians such as him personally while reporting on them at the same time.

A skill of journalism that has been lost over the years is the notion that there is a balance between becoming friends with your subject while still reporting accurately on them and in the full spirit of transparency.

The best way to tell the truth is to get to know your subjects personally. Too many reporters have based their careers around some movie in which journalists are portrayed as always having an adversarial relationship with their subjects. The best way to get an honest answer is for your subject to know that while you’re just doing your job, you respect them as a human and as a public servant.

In just my nine months at Colorado Politics I learned so much more about the sacred relationship between a journalist and their source. Sourcing is the most important aspect of journalism, and I pray the next generation of journalists after me will grasp the significance. It was my sourcing that allowed me to be the first to report some of the most critical political developments of our state.

But much more than that, it was competition, namely with the Denver Post, which has a team of talented journalists that are woefully mistreated and pressured to succeed with few resources.

In the last year, Colorado Politics has forced a renaissance of political journalism in Colorado. It has spread a spirit that hasn’t been seen in the state since the Rocky Mountain News sadly closed in 2009. Competition breeds better journalism, and I thank the Denver Post for keeping me hungry for so long.

As I walk away from this thing called journalism for a paycheck in the marijuana industry, I know a part of me will always crave the work of the Fourth Estate.

But as I head into the annual Labor Day Phish weekend at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, all I can think is that I’ve been “waiting for the time when I can finally say that this has all been wonderful but now I’m on my way.”

It’s not you, it’s me.

Peter Marcus

Peter Marcus

Peter Marcus is senior statehouse reporter for Colorado Politics. He covers the legislature and previously covered politics, the governor’s office, the legislature and Congress for The Durango Herald. He joined The Herald in 2014 from The Colorado Statesman, a Denver-based political weekly. The Washington Post twice named Marcus one of the nation’s top state-based political and legislative reporters.