Colorado loses another top political reporter— this time to PR

The congratulations from fellow journalists in Colorado started sadly marching down my Twitter feed like a funeral procession sometime before noon Mountain Time. Lynn Bartels, a legendary political reporter for 16 years at the Rocky Mountain News and six at The Denver Post, had taken a buyout. She’ll be the new communications director for Colorado’s Republican secretary of state. She’s the second top-shelf politics reporter in Colorado to leave in a matter of months since TV reporter Eli Stokols departed for Washington, DC in April.

The sentiments on social media were largely the same: Great day for Lynn. Sad day for journalism.

Earlier this year Bartels had been given a special shoutout as a “longtime stalwart” by The Washington Post blog The Fix in its annual list of best state political reporters. Rachel Maddow had tapped her as her political attache for the inside scoop on the Colorado midterm elections when a segment on Maddow’s show aired from Denver in the fall.

On Twitter, Colorado’s politerati recalled Bartels’ “blunt calling of BS,” or how she treated people “like humans instead of stories.” A political consultant said Colorado politics “just got a lot dumber.” A current congressman said coverage here will “never be the same.”

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Why did Bartels leave The Denver Post? The newspaper here on the Rocky Mountain Front Range is in a period of upheaval like many American newspapers, and Colorado is often viewed as America in miniature. A new wave of buyouts recently crashed over the newsroom, and Bartels grabbed one. And so she leaves The Denver Post, a newspaper that was her life line the last time the journalism industry tossed her overboard when the Rocky Mountain News folded in 2009 after 150 years.

“It’s going to be really strange and difficult and hard, and probably wonderful at the same time,” Bartels, a self-described workaholic, told me over the phone today about her new gig, which she’ll start Aug. 10. Journalism is all she’s done for the past 35 years. When she decided to leave she said she cried about as hard as she did when her father recently passed away. But like another reporter I recently wrote about leaving the news business for PR, she cited the long work hours.

“I will say a big factor for me was my family. I will just say that there was basically an intervention,” Bartels said. “If you are going to take the buyout, you’re going to take this state job, which is more a 40-hour workweek.”

In wishing her the best on Twitter, former Denver Post reporter Tim Hoover said he knew “it was a difficult decision.” Hoover is now a director of communications himself at a nonprofit policy think tank.

The official news of Bartels’ departure came on the same day former Rocky Mountain News media critic Jason Salzman, now a communications consultant, published a depressing post at his BigMedia blog: “Stop shrugging or laughing at the collapse of The Denver Post and Colorado journalism.” (The timing was entirely coincidental, he told me.)

Bartels is survived by more than 100 reporters, editors, photographers and other newsroom staffers, according to the paper’s online newsroom directory.

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Corey Hutchins is CJR’s correspondent based in Colorado, where he is also a journalist for The Colorado Independent. A former alt-weekly reporter in South Carolina, he was twice named journalist of the year in the weekly division by the SC Press Association. Hutchins recently worked on the State Integrity In vestigation at the Center for Public Integrity and he has contributed to Slate, The Nation, The Washington Post, and others. Follow him on Twitter @coreyhutchins or email him at coreyhutchins@gmail.com.