At a time when the marijuana industry is booming, The Denver Post is cutting the entire editorial staff of The Cannabist, the first MJ-focused news site operated by a mainstream media company in the United States.
“As part of the staff cuts that the Denver Post has been required to make, the decision has been made to no longer have dedicated editorial staff on the Cannabist,” Alex Pasquariello, the site’s current editor, told Marijuana Business Daily.
The website, which was launched in 2013, will remain active, however.
Pasquariello said his position had been dissolved as of Friday. He added that the Denver Post will continue to cover cannabis and that Alicia Wallace, a Cannabist reporter, will continue to cover marijuana policy and business for the newspaper.
“This is pretty ruinous,” Ricardo Baca, the Cannabist’s previous editor, told MJBizDaily.
Baca’s Denver-based marketing agency Grasslands is in early discussions with Post leadership about potentially purchasing The Cannabist should the newspaper decide to sell it.
In the weeks before the cuts, The Cannabist’s staff numbered three. But in 2016, the website had seven full-time staff members, the most during the publication’s history.
Baca said it’s his understanding The Cannabist vertical, which recently underwent a redesign, will remain and consist entirely of wire serve content as well as news generated by Post reporters.
For example, a cannabis-related story written by a Post city government reporter would be reposted to The Cannabist site.
Officials at the Post and Digital First Media – which operates the newspaper – were not immediately available for comment.
Launched on eve of Colorado rec market
The Cannabist was founded in 2013, a year before the world’s first legal recreational cannabis market was launched in Colorado.
As the first editor, Baca led the effort to build the website from scratch, covering the newly legal marijuana industry, including policy, business and culture news.
Baca left The Cannabist in December 2016.
“We weren’t a drain on the Denver Post’s resources,” he said.
After he left, the Post “dismantled” the ad support that the site was generating at the time, according to Baca.
“I don’t doubt that this was a brutal decision that had to be made within the context of the Denver Post’s newsroom,” he said.
“I think it was ultimately a situation where Alden (Global Capital), the vulture capital hedge fund in New York, comes in and says you have to cut X from your budget.”
Alden owns Digital First Media, which operates the Post and other newspapers around the nation.
The latest round of cuts the Post made last month represented a loss of more than one-third of the newsroom staff.
“I don’t doubt that was a painful decision to make,” Baca said. “I wish it didn’t involve the complete gutting of this website that was such a groundbreaking entity for so long.”
California cannabis website
Part of Baca’s decision to leave in 2016 arose from the creation of a sister cannabis news site, The Cannifornian. At the time, Digital First Media was discussing the creation of a stand-alone site with its Bay Area newspapers.
Baca told Digital First Media it was a bad idea.
“Why would they do that when we already had a site that was functioning and working and thriving?” Baca said. “Why would you duplicate your efforts?”
He suggested the Post and Bay Area newspapers combine resources. But the initial collaboration between the newspapers ended in November 2016 and The Cannifornian became a competitor.
“My heart was broken,” Baca said. “I knew that if The Cannabist wasn’t growing, The Cannabist was probably shrinking.”
He decided to leave the Post after 15 years to start his own company, Grasslands.
“It was time to move on,” he said.
But Baca places the blame for the cuts on the shoulders of Alden Global Capital.
“What’s being done is a complete injustice to democracy and the Fourth Estate.”
Bart Schaneman can be reached at email@example.com