Tuesday, October 20, 2015

How Cam the Ram got political with a bull

Cam the Ram in TV ad for question 2C. (Source: A Smart Deal for Denver)
It flashes by so quickly, most TV viewers in Colorado might not give it a second thought.

Cam the Ram, the mascot for Colorado State University athletics, appears on screen for two seconds of a 30-second political ad asking voters to vote in favor of extending a tourism tax to benefit the area around the National Western Stock Show complex.

He's there because CSU stands to gain a new Agricultural facility as part of the master plan that ballot question 2C would help to fund.

While working on a Truth Test of the ad for 9NEWS on Monday, I wondered how it came to be that CSU would participate in a political ad this way.

In similar circumstances, local school district officials are loathe to appear as though they are campaigning in favor of bond issue questions, even if they think the measures are vital.

So, we asked CSU what made it okay to use Cam on camera.

"In August, the CSU Board of Governors approved [a] resolution in support of the tourism ballot measure," said university spokesman Mike Hooker. "Because of that official action of support by the board, the university approved the use of CAM in the video."

The resolution cites a specific Colorado law, which states that agencies are not prohibited from "passing a resolution or taking a position of advocacy" on ballot issues.
Sources familiar with school district bond issues told me that school boards tend to turn over advocacy for their bond measures to independent committees, who are allowed to raise funds for campaign purposes.

In this case, an outside group is also doing the campaigning for the ballot question. CSU simply allowed its mascot to appear in the ad.

It's a tricky business, though. Even when it's perfectly legal, sports mascots have to be careful not to upset fans-- remember when the Nuggets mascot Rocky made an "unsanctioned" appearance at an GOP rally with Mitt Romney and gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez?

With much less of a partisan edge, it's doubtful that Cam's appearance would rile too many fans here-- and CSU does stand to gain if the plan at the stock show complex moves forward.

In its resolution, the board of governors states that CSU plans "an equine sports medicine clinic, a water resources center, and a collaborative education and research center, and CSU's programs and facilities at the Fort Collins campus would provide support to and integration with those activities at the National Western Center."

But if the ad made you go, "hmm," now you know how it happened.

Friday, July 10, 2015

"WEED got that b-roll!"

A presumably normal woman, blowing marijuana smoke. (Image: DPA)
After celebrating some victories on the ballot, marijuana advocates have another issue to blunt: They want pot to be seen as a substance that normal, everyday people do.

Which is what sparked a new high in pro-marijuana public relations.

I give you: the marijuana b-roll project.

Put this in your pipe and smoke it: Yes, the puns in this post are on purpose. This is all supposed to be in good fun.

B-roll is TV shorthand for footage that can be shown while somebody talks. The Drug Policy Alliance is (fairly, I think) sick of, in their words: "watching cheesy b-roll footage of textbook stoners for every television news story about marijuana."

What they offered is an amusing, too-perfect collection of 21 clips of people buying and using marijuana-- which brings back fond memories of the infamous "we got that broll" YouTube sketch:

1. He's helping, but looks like grandma's teaching Bong 101

DPA title: "Young man helping older woman smoke marijuana with a water pipe"

2. Weed makes me bendy (in a healthy way, though)

DPA title: "Woman using a marijuana vaporizer pen and doing yoga"

3. Pass the Sorry on the left-hand side!

DPA title: "Diverse group of women smoking marijuana around a table"

4. OMG! Pot makes YouTube even FUNNIER!

DPA title: "Young woman and man (couple) vaping marijuana at home"

5. Wait for it... aaaaaaand... action!

DPA title: "Young man uses water pipe to smoke marijuana"

MORE: see the entire collection at DPA's marijuana b-roll project page

Okay, okay... so the likelihood that major news organizations will use this material is slim-to-none.

We generally prefer our own video and we avoid staged video as much as we possibly can.

These just don't scream authenticity.

Just casually using my bong in my bamboo garden! (Image: DPA)
That said, the folks at DPA raise a fair point: the file footage that many TV stations have in their archives was shot back to the days when we had to find people willing to let us shoot video of them committing a crime, a problem we are no longer saddled with in Colorado.

Many people have a stereotypical image of pot users and there's a good reason for pro-pot groups to try to burn this one down.

With marijuana legal in states like Colorado, it opens the drug up to more casual use. People can pop into a shop for an occasional purchase and get a nostalgic dose of their college days.

Others may just have a little pot to unwind, in much the same way they'd have a beer at the end of a long workday. (With the caveat that in Colorado, you can legally get fired for this.)

The stereotypical stoners are still there, and they still represent a healthy chunk of the millions of dollars worth of pot sales being made in legal shops in Colorado.

Bored games? Not when you have a joint! (Image: DPA)
But it's not unfair to try to get those of us in the news media to use shots that look more like your friends and neighbors who casually use pot.

This is just one front in a much larger fight.

Marijuana advocates are also trying to reshape the language that we use to talk about it.

I've had people take issue with my use of the word "weed" and even my use of the word "use."

The trouble is, particularly in broadcast news, we use conversational English in our writing.

I might write:

"A bunch of people smoked pot at the rally."

Pro-pot groups would much rather have me write:

"Many people consumed cannabis at the rally."

I'm not going to write that way, because you would never actually say that out loud.

RELATED: That's not marijuana-- that's cannabis (by Trevor Hughes)

Vaping... on a couch! (Image: DPA)
The news media is just a group of people-- which means to some degree, it's always going to reflect mainstream societal views.

If people start thinking and talking about pot differently, you'll see the media do the same.

It's a chicken-and-egg conundrum for those who want to normalize marijuana.

This b-roll project isn't likely to hatch up new opinions in the intended manner.

But hey, it's got us talking about the issue.

Come to think of it, I think our own archive footage of pot smoking could use an update...

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

What's it like in there?

It's a question I keep getting in some form as the Aurora theater trial crawls forward: "what's it like in there?"

As I write this we are in week 3 of what's anticipated to be a 4-5 month long mass-murder trial, so large in scope that it can be hard to grasp.

This case has more victims of attempted murder (those wounded in the July 2012 shooting) than there are seats in the courtroom.

Countless others are touched by the loss of the 12 people who died as a result of the attack.

The truth is... there just isn't a simple answer to the question of what it's like to cover this trial.

There are many moments in which I feel like I'm on a 1,000-mile long moving walkway: this thing is moving, but I can't even imagine being near the end yet.

There are other moments that I know I'll remember for the rest of my life. I can't even begin to fathom what it's like to have lost a person to an attack like this, but I do get glimpses.

Inside the courtroom, raw emotions are palpable. You can feel pain and sadness from across a room.

And those are the moments that have made it hard to sleep some nights.

Perhaps the most pointed memory of the trial for me came on day 4 as investigators walked the jury through photos of the 10 bodies left to lay in the theater.

The press sits on the left side of the courtroom behind the defendant. Victims and family typically sit on the right side, behind the DA's table.

On that day, just across the center aisle from me, I watched a woman (I presumed a grandmother of one of the victims I'll choose not to name here) break down and leave the courtroom in tears.

She'd made it through two photos of her granddaughter's body lying between rows of seats.

When a third, wider angle, was shown-- she didn't see the girl at first. There were two other bodies in the frame.

When the prosecution pointed out the girl's body on the edge of that photo, the woman across the aisle lost it. I felt an impulse to chase after her and give her a hug.

I can only begin to imagine the tug of war that goes on on your brain in that circumstance: wanting to know everything you can about how your loved one passed and not being able to bear one more ounce of the sheer horror of that reality.

I saw images that I'll never un-see that day, but the graphic nature of what was in those photos is only part of the reason it'll be forever burned into my memory.

It's the impact it has.

It's the pain.

It's the immeasurable human suffering.

And observing people trying to cope with that which cannot be understood.

There's nothing I'm going to say that's likely to make anybody connected to this case feel better.

I can't feel what they feel, but I feel that they're feeling it.

I wish them well. They've suffered more than anyone should have to.

-Brandon Rittiman

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Rep. Klingenschmitt Sings a Motion

Rep. Klingenschmitt reaches the end of his song.
You never know what you're going to get when you show up to the Colorado legislature.

On a snowy February Thursday morning, business got underway in the state House of Representatives with an original song.

Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt (R-Colorado Springs,) who arrived in the legislature as a polarizing figure, belted out a motion to start up business for the day to the tune of "Yesterday" by the Beatles.

Just watch it:

If you find yourself inspired, here are the lyrics so you can sing at home: