The world has lost a lot of great newspapers over the last decade, but one place the art of journalism is alive and well is covering America’s fastest growing industry — cannabis.
As with other adult pastimes like micro-brewing and cigars, pot journalism is here to stay, and it’s more localized than it’s ever been before. It’s also more dynamic; today’s newsrooms cover every nook and cranny of the cannabis industry as it makes its way to the light. Journalists are not just covering the strains and policies, but also the problems of the emerging market, ranging from pesticides to general low-quality pot someone from Wall Street thinks is “the fire.”
We reached out to Ricardo Baca, Cannabis Now contributor and founding editor of the Denver Post’s pot-centric site The Cannabist, for insight.
“We were the first outlet to really make the decision that we were going to use resources to cover this from a journalism-centric perspective,” Baca said. “That marked a significant turn from a lot of the coverage you’d seen in the mainstream media over the previous decades.”
Baca said that previous media effort came in two buckets; in the first you had mainstream media coverage on the subject of cannabis.
“It was just riddled with misinformation, and that’s not necessarily the journalists’ faults,” he said. “We lived in a different era. Legitimate information was being suppressed and the public just didn’t know any better and neither did these journalists, who were trying to talk to the people who should know the most.”
The second bucket contained the activist-centered publications that have an interest in and opinion that this plant should be legal.
“High Times has been doing this for 42 years, and the work they’ve done is invaluable,” Baca said. “Then, somewhere in between, you had the mainstream media start to recognize there was so much bullsh*t out there on this subject, and that was the first wave of people starting to cover through a different lens.”
The progress early in the decade helped push the snowball down the hill, and the pros started taking note of this industry on the cusp. Remember, this was pre-Sanjay Gupta’s groundbreaking specials on CNN.
“We were not activists, we were not writing with our opinion one way or the other but we also just suddenly stopped and refused to quote the people or give credibility to the people that refused to live in a modern world,” Baca said. “They kept repeating misinformation on things that had been long proven untrue and that was tipping point in this thing that has come to be known as cannabis journalism.”
NORML Deputy Director, Paul Armentano, has also had his finger on the pulse of pot media for decades.
“It is especially notable that the number of regional, hard copy publications dedicated to cannabis-centric news and profiles is growing at a time when the popularity of print journalism is generally considered to be waning,” he said, adding that these print and online ventures are being backed by both small start-ups and established mainstream media outlets — an indicator that there is a large consumer market which desires these products. “And that conventional media is not yet fully serving their needs.”
Mason Tvert, who led Colorado’s legalization effort for years and has now joined the industry at Denver-based firm VS Strategies, echoed Armentano’s belief that policy shifts have fostered the development of cannabis journalism.
“Changes in cannabis laws and the emergence of legal markets have fostered remarkable growth in the breadth and depth of cannabis-related reporting,” Tvert said. “This is a major shift in social policy that affects various aspects of our society; it’s historic, it’s exciting — and not surprisingly — it’s being covered from every angle and across every medium.”
Longtime High Times Editor David Bienenstock told Cannabis Now he has always considered himself more of an advocacy journalist than activist journalist.
“The laws against cannabis have always been incredibly damaging and based on clearly false premises, and so, to me, the only honest and objective approach is to make that clear at all times,” Bienenstock said. “I respect the work of the Cannabist, but it’s worth noting that the Denver Post actually endorsed voting ‘no’ on legalization in 2012, then immediately turned around and launched a website clearly designed to capitalize on legalization. So while I think it’s important to celebrate that positive change, we should also take a hard look at the legacy of the media not just in propping up propaganda and prohibition, but in refusing to fully account for their decades of terribly flawed journalism.”
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