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In Colorado, the coverage of popular issues from fracking bans, to the legalization of marijuana, and same-sex marriage has been eye-candy fodder for the legacy media. But over the past year, two men have worked together to amplify Colorado’s local issues and citizen voices, capturing the real heart of the Boulder state.
Under the leadership of editors Joshua Sharf and Ben DeGrow, Watchdog Wire – Colorado has more than doubled its number of citizen reporters. And these writers are embracing First Amendment issues in their state– from agency overreach and eminent domain, to voting and election integrity, to school district politics and student data.
Joshua and Ben aren’t media professionals– they are regular Americans with full-time jobs and bills to pay. Ben works in education policy and Joshua is a computer programmer. But they have chosen to defend the free press where the rubber meets the road, leading by examples with their own stories. We are honoring their efforts as this month’s Citizen Spotlight.
What motivates you to be a citizen watchdog?
Sharf: The glory. It’s fun finding problems in government, fighting the good fight for freedom and prosperity, and doing so at a level where an article or series of articles can really move the needle on a story.
DeGrow: Every day looking at my three daughters and thinking about what kind of state and country they will inherit, it becomes a lot easier for this naturally shy and non-confrontational guy to put in a little extra effort as a citizen watchdog.
What issue(s) are you most passionate about and why?
Sharf:Elections. I’m a programmer by trade, and figuring out the rules of the system, and how to close up the flaws, is a lot like debugging a program. Plus, voting is ultimately how we as citizens hold our public officials accountable. That and public pensions, since I also have a finance education, and it’s the perfect intersection of politics and finance.
DeGrow: Education, hands down. The cause of improving education to help save the Republic regularly gets me out of bed, and fills my professional life and passion. I work full-time as a K-12 education policy analyst, but find even more deserving stories that don’t get covered in my regular work that I can cover for Watchdog Wire – Colorado.
Which of the stories that you’ve written for Watchdog Wire – Colorado are you most proud of and why?
Sharf: It has to be the story where we caught Governor Hickenlooper admitting that a massive tax increase could end up funding a broken public pension system. We recorded him without him knowing in a public event, and he really wasn’t happy to have that hit the headlines right when ballots were hitting the mailboxes. It was a moment of real investigative journalism, and we think it had some effect on people’s decisions.
DeGrow: I could pick highlighting an overlooked grassroots effort to reform the judicial system or U.S. Senators conveniently ignoring local Redskin mascots. But because of its good news that connects so closely with the work to which I’ve dedicated myself, it has to be reporting the results of last November’s not-so-ordinary Colorado school board elections.
What has your experience been with the mainstream media? What advice do you have for them to better serve their audience?
Sharf: Ask questions. Do your job. Report. Stop being stenographers for the politician of your choice, and challenge things that are transparently risible. Stop being afraid of losing “access,” since that’s a story in and of itself. Stand up for the access of other reporters. They’ve managed to squander literally hundreds of years of confidence and brand equity in about one generation.
DeGrow: Years ago I worked at a small town newspaper. Today, in my full-time job, I have many chances to interact with members of the media. As the newspaper industry wanes, so do the numbers of great reporters, though a few remain. Bias is real in some cases, but addiction to sensationalism is at least as much of a problem. The top area in which the MSM could improve is in taking time to do the investigative homework that shows how government is really affecting people’s lives—like the work done by Complete Colorado or Watchdog Wire – Colorado.
Who is your favorite founding father?
Sharf: Franklin! Well, Washington. Even though I went to Virginia, so it should be Jefferson. Washington was a man of extraordinary force of character, commanding presence, and he was intensely aware that everything he did set a precedent. That’s incredible pressure to live with, but he never wavered publicly.
DeGrow: James Madison, the overlooked genius behind much of the Constitution and the Federalist Papers, a less assuming man who overcame personal challenges and used his ample intellectual and persuasive gifts to make a positive difference in shaping the American Republic.
What advice do you have for others who want to get involved?
Sharf: We have a keyboard, and we have a phone. So do you. Call or write us. As editors, we’re here to teach you how to put a story together. It’s work to get it right, but it’s fun, and you’ll find it’s easier than you think.
DeGrow: Freedom and self-government will not last long if we throw up our hands and cast off our responsibilities on someone else. No one can do everything. But we all have the opportunity to use some of our time and to hone our talents in the service of liberty by focusing on local opportunities.
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