Vol. 33, No. 11
Communications Takes to the Road
by Diane Hartman
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CBA Communications Department
On a Mission
Traveling around Colorado in the summer and fall can be invigorating. Traveling with people from the Colorado Press Association and the State Court Administrator’s Office turns the travels into a worthwhile mission.
The purpose of these trips around the state was to get together reporters, editors, judges, and lawyers to talk about issues of concern to all. This was a repeat of what we did in 1998—with a few added stops and several new issues of the day to discuss.
Nine meetings were set up all over the state: in Durango, Grand Junction, Sterling, Colorado Springs, Denver, Pueblo, Fort Collins, Gypsum, and Gunnison. The hope was that every newspaper in these areas would send reporters, editors, or other media/communications representatives to a meeting that was being held nearby.
Ed Otte, executive director of the Colorado Press Association, set up the meeting sites—sometimes at local colleges, so journalism professors and students could attend. Karen Salaz, at State Judicial, contacted judges. Local Bar Presidents called district attorneys, public defenders, and a few lawyers from their area to invite them to participate. A media lawyer for the Press Association also attended these meetings and talked with reporters about what to do when they can’t get access to records or meetings of interest.
Every single meeting was lively, with exchanges focused on local concerns. At each meeting, People v. Bryant came up. Rarely was there someone in attendance who did not have an opinion or comment to make about this highly-publicized case.
Otte says the meetings were "popular and successful. We had 246 people attend the nine meetings around the state. The discussions with judges, district attorneys, and public defenders were very informative. The reporters, editors, and publishers enjoyed the opportunity to talk about specific cases and court coverage in general. The topics varied somewhat at each location but, overall, we think it was a constructive dialogue."
Important Topics of Discussion
The best benefit for the legal/judicial system was the discussion at each stop about how the merit selection system works in Colorado, how judges are chosen and retained, and about the judicial evaluation process. Often, the younger reporters are not originally from Colorado—some hail from states where judges are elected—and are unfamiliar with how this system works.
Courts in Crisis
The meetings presented judges and other court personnel with a forum to talk about the financial crisis and cutbacks that all courts are facing, as well as the subsequent reduction in court services. Reporters got to hear extensively from Karen Salaz, in her capacity as Communications Coordinator for the courts. This is a fairly new position, and Karen has dedicated herself to providing specific information reporters need, as well as putting much effort into general education on a wide variety of subjects related to the courts.
CBA Serves as a Conduit
At every stop we made on the journey around the state, reporters were told that the Colorado Bar Association welcomes calls from them and that we make a concerted effort to put reporters in touch with lawyers who might have answer to their questions.
The CBA also provides educational outreach to journalists whenever there’s a need. For example, besides these press visits, the CBA Communications Department has enlisted water lawyers in various locations to put on seminars that deal with this topic of far-reaching concern. The Communications Department held a two-hour seminar at The Denver Post offices and had a jam-packed roomful of people who wanted to learn about water law. With Ed Otte again setting up meetings, we visited Gypsum, Pueblo, and Colorado Springs (reporters from the nearby areas were invited) to offer explanations about water law to reporters. The response was wonderful—and it was encouraging to see that many of the reporters knew quite a bit about Colorado water law.
Reporters always seem to walk away from these meetings with more legal resources than they had before, and everyone comes away with a better perspective on communication.
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