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Ricardo Baca was on his way to a taping of “The Colbert Report” in late 2013 when Denver-based producer Britta Erikson called. She wanted to know if he’d be willing to let a film crew shadow him and his staff for a documentary about his job as the country’s first full-time marijuana editor at a major daily newspaper.
Baca anticipated a certain degree of notoriety when he became The Denver Post’s cannabis editor. In addition to “The Colbert Report,” Baca has appeared on CNN and “The View” and has been featured in The New York Times and numerous other outlets. Some interviewers appeared skeptical or mildly amused by Colorado’s legalization of marijuana. While others, like “The View” host Whoopi Goldberg, seemed fascinated by the story and interested in how Baca and his team would cover it from a journalistic standpoint.
The whole world, it seemed, wanted to know what would happen after Jan. 1, 2014, when the first dispensaries began selling recreational marijuana to adults ages 21 and older in Colorado. Baca was more concerned about getting The Cannabist website up and running in just five weeks, however. The site is the repository for The Post’s ongoing, multi-faceted and well-rounded coverage of one of the biggest news stories to come out of Colorado in years. Goldberg has even contributed several articles to the site since its launch, and Baca has also brought in several other high-profile contributors in his role as editor.
“Before The Cannabist launched, people were almost expecting it,” said Baca. “And all the weirdness that came along with it was great for the site and great for the paper, in my opinion, especially when you’re trying to launch something new.”
“The legalization of cannabis in Colorado is a cultural game changer and marks the creation of a new industry in our state that deserves serious, deep and creative coverage,” said The Denver Post Editor-in-Chief Greg Moore.
“We felt Ricardo would be comfortable with the spotlight that comes with being the first marijuana editor at a major newspaper. He has been a great ambassador for the journalism we are doing.”
Baca had been The Post’s music critic for 12 years and entertainment editor prior to that. In addition to his award-winning music coverage and criticism, Baca also started the paper’s “Reverb” music blog as well as The Underground Music Showcase, a highly regarded music festival that provides a format for up-and-coming bands to reach new audiences. Without anyone asking, Baca recognized a need for a music blog at The Post, as well as for a music festival, and so he took the initiative to start them. Both are still going.
“I think that’s one reason why they approached me about the [cannabis editor] position,” Baca said. “The overall goal was to create something comprehensive and fun on the subject, and I knew that it had to be fun and readable, as well.”
A Colorado native, Baca wrote for his school paper at Westminster High School and enrolled at MSU Denver on a full scholarship from The Rocky Mountain News. Baca covered music and theatre for The Metropolitan, wrote for The Rocky Mountain News each summer and clerked there during the school year.
“The scholarship is what brought me to Metro and introduced me to the passionate, intelligent and demanding professors there who pushed me to do better,” Baca said. “MSU Denver’s employment of adjunct professors working in current fields is a powerful attribute to what the school offers those studying professions like journalism.”
Of course covering marijuana isn’t the only thing in Baca’s life these days. He’s newly married and will be appearing on a movie screen near you: “Rolling Papers,” the documentary about Baca and his work with The Cannabist, recently premiered at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin and was picked up for distribution.
Photo: Craig F. Walker, Denver Post