Cannabis  June 1, 2018

Growing industry suffers from info void

With cutbacks the name of the hedge fund game at the Denver Post, the rumors have also been swirling about the newspaper’s industry-leading marijuana news portal, the Cannabist.

But while most of the reports have stated that owner of the newspaper, Alden Global Capital, intentionally cut the staff of the website that does not appear to be entirely true. A former staff member of the Post said while the portal staff has been decimated recently, most of those jobs were by attrition.

Former editor Ricardo Baca said when he started the portal in 2013, there were seven staff positions, four editorial and three advertising positions. But one producer left the Post to take a job at another marijuana news agency, and another took a position with Baca’s marijuana-based ad agency, the Grasslands.

“They’ve had a hard time monetizing it (the Cannabist) ever since Baca left,” the former staffer said.

Alden’s plans for the portal are unknown, but should be clearer by this fall, when the Cannabist’s lone remaining reporter, Alicia Wallace, leaves to take a fellowship at Columbia University. Most people in the marijuana news business appear to believe that the portal will go on virtually unstaffed, including Baca, who has made an offer to buy the portal assets.

“The people who follow this industry, follow this site for news and culture,” Baca said. “The Post isn’t going to build the site by robots.

“One thing that set it aside from its competitors was we were taking the middle ground that wasn’t being covered. We were ignoring the blind activism of High Times, but we weren’t buying into the bull—- coming out of the prohibitionists, either,” he said. “It was just a modern approach, and now we’re not seeing any news organizations placing much emphasis on this brand-new and buzz-worthy beat.

While Baca believes the Cannabist could still be a big money maker, there are numerous competing sites and industry magazines out there today. He said that the Leafy website, which is tied to a private fund, operates in a similar journalism mode, though it does appear to be remarkably short of advertising.

“They practice responsible journalism,” Baca said. “They do long form and some investigative work.”

Trade magazines appeal to largely to cultivators, but Jim Marty, a leading national accountant for the marijuana industry, said he subscribes to a handful of daily email blasts, including  Ganjapreneur, the Marijuana Retail Report and Cannabis Business Executive. Trade shows are also becoming a staple in the industry, he said.

“That’s really how a lot of information is disseminated,” Marty said.

There are also a number of new portals springing up, such as the News Station headquartered in Boulder, as well. Editor Peter Marcus, who was a statehouse reporter for 14 years before helping start this portal, said his website’s focus is much the same as the Cannabist, despite being owned by a major marijuana retailer, Terrapin Care Station.

“I am trying to apply similar journalistic ethics,” Marcus said. “Of course there is an agenda, but that being said there’s no reason you can’t have an agenda and still tell the truth.”

Marcus said his owners have already positioned funding for more freelance articles, as well as looking at syndicated news sources, but a large amount of his current traffic comes from the website’s “Fake News” category, debunking many industry opponents. He said mainstream news outlets are sometimes a little slow to call out some of the hysterical fabrications, such as a politician recently stating that Colorado’s traffic fatality rate had skyrocketed after marijuana legalization, or a national news source stating that Gov. John Hickenlooper said he wouldn’t rule out repealing legalization — something he can’t do and did not say.

“When our opponents are out there claiming people are dying, it’s damaging” to the industry, he said. Debunking the Hickenlooper story — the governor’s office was also a bit alarmed to be informed of the story — drew more than 2,500 visits to the site, he said.

Still, Marcus said the dismantling of the Cannabist, despite helping his own site, will be a considerable loss to the industry.

“Nothing the Post is doing is surprising me; you are talking about vultures bleeding them dry,” he said. The owners will, “take as much money as they can and then destroy it.”

Baca said the Cannabist was unique in having the backing of a large newsroom behind it, meaning staff writers were absolutely benefitting from statehouse and municipal reporters on a regular basis. Green State, which is owned by the San Francisco Chronicle, has a similar arrangement but bills itself as having a focus on lifestyle, rather than industry news.

Baca hasn’t heard back on his offer, which he declined to enumerate, and noted that Alden Global might be disinclined to sell to him, since he has been a frequent critic of the owners since parting ways with the company. Still, he thought the backlog of stories, which have tremendous SEO value, as well as buying the URL and the name, would be a great investment, and one that the Post appears to be ignoring.

“You are buying guaranteed traffic, and for me it’s a little sentimental,” he said. But “it goes without saying the Cannabist is worth less as time goes by. It will be worth quite a bit less by June.”

With cutbacks the name of the hedge fund game at the Denver Post, the rumors have also been swirling about the newspaper’s industry-leading marijuana news portal, the Cannabist.

But while most of the reports have stated that owner of the newspaper, Alden Global Capital, intentionally cut the staff of the website that does not appear to be entirely true. A former staff member of the Post said while the portal staff has been decimated recently, most of those jobs were by attrition.

Former editor Ricardo Baca said when he started the portal in 2013, there…

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