Embattled Colorado newspaper The Denver Post is no longer staffing its groundbreaking, first-of-its-kind marijuana news vertical The Cannabist, newsroom leadership confirmed Friday.
The Cannabist was founded in 2013 by veteran journalist Ricardo Baca as the world’s first adult-use cannabis market was about to launch in Colorado. As The Post’s first-ever marijuana editor, Baca and his team created the site from scratch and developed a robust national readership that appreciated the unique vertical’s journalism-first approach to covering the newly legal industry, the policy surrounding it and the culture that grew from legalization. Feature-length documentary Rolling Papers—a film “more about marijuana journalism than the big picture, and as such it’s a worthwhile endeavor,” wrote Chicago Sun-Times film critic Richard Roeper in his three-star review—documented both The Cannabist’s debut and the 2014 world premiere of state-regulated legal marijuana sales.
As the site’s founder and original editor-in-chief, journalist and thought leader, Baca was brokenhearted to hear the news.
“I am absolutely gutted today,” says Baca, who founded Grasslands: A Journalism-Minded Agency in early 2017 after resigning from The Post, where he worked as a reporter, critic and editor for 15 years. “We were so lucky to know The Cannabist as we did, and The Denver Post was lucky that we caught this lightning in a bottle during those historic days. We avoided the blind, pro-legalization activism of publications like High Times, and we also were an objective news source to counter prohibitionist misinformation that had plagued so much of the mainstream media’s irresponsible coverage of cannabis throughout the last eight decades.
“But it’s devastating to have helped create a news and culture site that changed the way so many people, journalists included, talked about marijuana—and to watch it fall apart, especially now that legal cannabis is increasingly becoming the law of the land. Now more than ever, we need serious journalists covering these state-legal marijuana markets, but this trend is not encouraging, as we’re also seeing staff reductions at the San Francisco Chronicle’s Green State vertical and elsewhere. If The Post’s most recent staff reduction broke my heart, which it unquestionably did, this news about The Cannabist losing its dedicated staff is thoroughly drubbing the rest of my internal organs with a meat tenderizer.
“These layoffs are putting The Cannabist on life support and destroying The Post’s ability to comprehensively cover Colorado, and it is entirely to blame on Alden Global Capital, the black-hearted hedge fund that owns Digital First Media and 100 American newspapers, including The Post. These vulture capitalists are literally hated throughout Denver, and while everyone from Gov. John Hickenlooper and Mayor Michael Hancock stands in support of The Post, we need to continue to let Alden Global Capital know that they are not welcome in Colorado, and they need to sell The Denver Post to a more responsible owner who will finally curb this undemocratic bloodletting.”
In less than two years under Baca’s leadership, The Cannabist was luring more readers than veteran publication High Times’ website, according to media-tracking organization comScore. In less than three years, Baca had grown the staff from just himself to a seven-person full-time team that included four editorial and three advertising employees.
But after Baca resigned from The Post in December 2016, the newspaper started making cuts to the vertical’s staff, nixing the general manager advertising position and reassigning the remaining two Cannabist-focused sales staff in early 2017. That December, The Cannabist’s editorial staff was cut from four to three during a separate newsroom-wide staff reduction.
And in April 2018, after the newspaper’s editor told newsroom staff that it would be laying off one-third of its editorial employees, two Cannabist staffers announced they were leaving for other opportunities; later that month, Cannabist editor-in-chief Alex Pasquariello was told the paper was cutting editorial staffing to the site and that his position no longer existed.
The Post has been in the national news recently because of a historic staff reduction and the resulting editorial-page public revolt against the newspaper’s hedge-fund ownership via a package of op-eds and columns. Baca returned to newsprint recently to pen one of the cover op-eds for The Post’s attention-grabbing opinion section.
Baca’s agency Grasslands is in early discussions with Post leadership about potentially purchasing The Cannabist should they decide to sell it.