Polis and the press

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis provides an update on the state's effort to curb the coronavirus outbreak on Friday, April 17, 2020.

During his Friday briefing on the pandemic Gov. Jared Polis was asked whether tax dollars should support struggling media, especially in parts of the state where news and public information is endangered or extinct.

Polis acknowledged that there's a lot more consumption of news now, but the advertising dollars have dried up, putting a bite on TV and print companies already struggling.

Many have instituted layoffs or furloughs to overcome financial losses.

"Government intervention is a tough one, Alex," he said to Denver Post reporter Alex Burness, who posed the question. "We have a free and independent press. That is hard to reconcile with government assistance.

"The minute you have a Gov. Polis or a President Trump paying you, or propping you up, that causes if not a compromising of professional independence, if not an appearance of impropriety."

He noted that there have been balances struck, citing public broadcasting and the BBC that are partially government funded.

"In general, I would worry about having government support with the strings it came with that would prop up and influence an independent press."

Polis, a tech millionaire whose fortune started with a family greeting card business in Boulder, spoke to the business dynamics of the current press landscape.

"It's a challenge of how do you convert those eyeballs into a meaningful revenue stream, knowing that the advertising side of things is going to be tough," Polis said. "Hopefully it'll come back in some way."

He added, "Having a lot of eyeballs is a good thing, first of all. It's good for the business model of anybody, no matter what your business model is. If you're getting less revenue per eyeball, whatever fixed amount you're getter per eyeball, you still want more people viewing, because that means more."

He also spoke about legal ads small governments and private citizens are required to publish in a print publication. While newspapers are hurting during the pandemic, he has no interest in getting rid of the requirement. But that might change, he said. 

"Talk to me about it in three or four years and I'll get rid of that requirement, and you guys will oppose it," Polis said to the assembled press.

He called himself "a free market guy," adding "Let me just say if they tried to do that now I'd veto it because we've got to keep that little revenue source there for our press."

When the Rocky Mountain News ceased publication in Denver in 2009, Polis spoke to the business model, then, as well.

He blamed the internet.

"I have to say, that when we say, 'Who killed the Rocky Mountain News,' we're all part of it, for better or worse, and I argue it's mostly for the better," the freshman congressman told a gathering of liberal bloggers. "The media is dead, and long live the new media, which is all of us."

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