How And Why We Cover Colorado’s Congressional Delegation

United States Capitol
Mark Tenally/AP Photo
The United States Capitol building, east facade, at dawn is seen in this general view, Monday, Jan. 27, 2020, in Washington, D.C.

In a democracy, every official in government, especially at a level as high as the U.S. Congress, deserves scrutiny. And that means more than just paying attention in an election year; it means tracking what they do — and don’t do — throughout their terms in office. 

As of 2019, CPR News is the only Colorado-based news outlet with a full-time reporter in Washington, D.C. This position enables our newsroom — and more importantly, you — to keep a better eye on Colorado’s representatives and senators. It allows Coloradans to ask questions on a regular basis of their elected leaders. It provides a record of facts about what these elected officials are up to on a day to day basis.

Those things sound simple. They are, and they’re also fundamental to a democracy. But we can’t take for granted that this kind of oversight and accountability is always happening, because there have to be journalists to do it — particularly given how inaccessible members of congress can be both to their constituents and to the news media once they are elected.

This kind of coverage also presents challenges, especially given the rise of misinformation in America, and the gulf that exists between what many people believe is the truth and what the facts show. This is true in all political reporting, but especially in Washington right now, and we get regular questions via email and social media about why and how CPR News covers politics and politicians.

Here’s some explanation of how we make decisions in our political coverage, and our philosophy behind it.

CPR News’ guiding principles around covering politics

Our political coverage is meant to serve several purposes, which include:

  • To help the public hold people in political office to account for what they are or aren’t doing on behalf of Coloradans
  • To provide information that voters and constituents can use in their own lives and at election time
  • To illuminate how decisions are made at various levels of government that affect Coloradans and the people and groups that influence those decisions
  • To explain how government works and doesn’t work
  • To hold institutions accountable for structural inequities like racist systems and class discrimination
  • To explore political identities and how Coloradans see themselves represented (or not) by political parties and their elected officials; and at times to even inspire people’s civic participation, no matter what part of the political spectrum they sit on

We want to hear the issues that are important to you

Just as our journalists ask questions of members of Congress, it is also part of our job to bring the concerns and opinions and experiences of Coloradans to the conversation. That’s why, ahead of the 2020 election, we decided to let voters drive our coverage. The idea was to let you — not political candidates — dictate what issues got talked about as the candidates competed for your votes. 

This should happen even outside an election year. By listening to you and seeking your opinions, CPR News helps Coloradans set the agenda for their politicians on an ongoing basis. 

In doing this work, we believe it’s important for readers and listeners to hear opinions they don’t agree with. That too, we believe, is critical to a functioning democratic society.

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How we address misinformation

There are times when misinformation is amplified by people in authority or spreads so widely in the public, that it becomes important to report on it and let people know what is being claimed and what the truth is. But there are guardrails: We don’t intend to let people use our platforms to lie. 

On social media, we monitor your comments, messages and posts on our Instagram, Twitter and Facebook pages each weekday, responding and moderating often and according to our community standards

If someone we interview makes a misleading or false comment, we consider the value in putting it out to the public, and if there is a reason to do it, we put the statement in context. We practice the “truth sandwich”: let the public know the official is making false statements, but present the truthful information before and after anything misleading. 

When something happens live on the radio, we take every measure we can to correct the record in the moment; when that’s not possible, we do it as soon as it is possible. If someone, even an elected official, demonstrates a pattern of lies or falsehoods on our air, we will no longer give that person a live platform, though we will still talk to them in a forum that allows our journalists ample time to fact check and present the truth to the audience. Ignoring that official altogether would be a disservice to the people of Colorado who depend on CPR News to stay informed about what their elected officials are saying, including when they say things that are false.

We fact check claims in our stories in many ways, including:

  • In preparation for an interview with an elected leader or with voters, we brainstorm questions and issues that will come up, and we educate ourselves on the facts that exist about any topic we intend to bring up in the interview. That puts us in the best position to fact check in the moment, which is important whether the interview is being broadcast live or not.
  • We correct false or misleading information in real-time on the air. When that’s not possible, we do so as soon as we can, either later in the hour or on the next day’s program.
  • Online, we include references to false claims in stories only when necessary to illustrate a point, and we put it adjacent to the truth, when possible with links to supporting information so that readers have the accurate information in front of them.
  • We follow up with elected officials after interviews to clarify or correct points that are untrue or unintentionally inaccurate.
  • We solicit feedback from sources and our readers and listeners and promptly correct any inaccuracies when they are identified. It’s just as important to correct things quickly as it is to publish a story in the first place.
  • We vet photographs and videos to make sure they are authentic and accurately representing a situation.
  • We explain people’s motives when they spread misinformation, as a way of deepening your understanding, and we avoid repeating a falsehood when debunking it whenever possible.

What we prioritize when reporting on Colorado’s congress members

We report on news of the day when it’s part of a broader long-term storyline; because it’s a development you should definitely know about if you want to keep track of what your elected officials are doing in your name; because a policy or proposal they’re championing could have a significant impact on Coloradans; or because something they’re doing is particularly unusual. 

We also take seriously our role in explaining the news, to help you make sense of your world in more depth, to help you make connections. That often requires more time, and more enterprising, from our journalists to uncover patterns or explain trends. Making time for that kind of work means we have to be judicious about what daily developments we cover.

As we reported around the 2020 election, we ask ourselves these questions when deciding whether to pursue stories:

  • Who does this impact, and how? 
  • Does this help Coloradans understand each other? Does it help them understand the issues they will have to decide on? 
  • Is this information our readers and listeners are seeking at this moment? 
  • Is this topic already thoroughly covered in other outlets or will we bring something new with our story? 

Determining when to not report on something

We draw boundaries around covering daily conflicts or statements from politicians when they lean towards attention-getting techniques, rather than substantial developments that could impact Coloradans. This is partly because the response to those actions is often limited to highly opinionated spaces (like Twitter) — and partly because we simply don't have the resources to report exhaustively on daily happenings.  

It’s not our intention to make someone’s political fortunes a primary focus of our overall coverage. In other words, we don’t think like a campaign strategist in our daily newsmaking decisions. We at times report on political tactics because they can be important for voters to understand but focus on the substance and consequences of politicians’ actions and words first.

And finally, CPR News does report on politicians’ legal and financial troubles as it’s relevant to their jobs and their representation of Coloradans. We do not report on politicians’ minor children in our coverage, though, in an effort to protect their privacy.

Ultimately, we hope our coverage informs your life, reflects your world, and opens your mind to other perspectives. That’s true in all of our work, including in coverage of policy and politics.

Where you can find us and our stories

Many CPR News reporters cover politics and Colorado’s congressional delegation, including:

You can find most of our political stories here.

And listen and subscribe to Purplish, our podcast about state government and politics, Colorado policy and political identity.

CPR's Francie Swidler, Megan Verlee, Caitlyn Kim, Jim Hill, Matt Moret, Kevin Dale and Dave Burdick contributed to this article.