Rogers: What ignoring an election says about us
We journalists puff ourselves up, Macy’s balloons on parade, going on about our earnest concern for democracy. Yet we don’t bother with elections we deem, well, … boring.
Such as Holy Cross Energy’s. Did you know?
Ballots went out last week to 45,000 member-owners scattered through Pitkin, Garfield, Eagle, Mesa and Gunnison counties. Eight candidates are running for two positions. Supporters are filling our letters pages.
To my knowledge, The Aspen Times was alone in covering this last week. None of the other papers did.
Holy Cross is a leader among energy utilities with audacious goals for renewable energy production. Far more controversial and transformative, the utility is leaning into charging for delivery of energy over production — to the dismay of homeowners who have increasingly turned to solar panels.
The cooperative is right at the front lines of that existential crisis from greenhouse gas emissions drying up rivers, swelling the seas, cooking the world. This would seem to rival the relative grunt and grind of county and municipal governance.
But I’m told they aren’t a real government, few vote in their elections, and what they do might be important, but no one cares who sits on their board. All true.
Still, doesn’t Holy Cross Energy walk like a duck, quack like a duck and govern by the direct will of those 45,000 member-owners, even if only 7% turn in ballots? Pitkin County serves about 17,000 residents, Aspen 7,000. Not like Holy Cross lacks a constituency.
Another problem: The Holy Cross candidates tend to be serious, knowledgeable — that is to say, yep, boring. Nary a Boebert nor a Trump to be found. Interviews can only be tedious, spinach for stories. Readers couldn’t possibly care. Why should practical, data-driven journalists?
Oh, my tribe likes democracy well enough, good for pretty words while accepting prizes and in subscription pitches. But it’s not really our jam.
No, we light up for stories. What makes for great stories, ones that get you buzzing? That’s what we’re mad about.
We’re all a bit addled, I think, you and us. Our ardent concern for democracy is a myth, trumped by altogether different cravings.
THE GREATER GOD
Fox and other cable news organizations stand out as black eyes, but they do tap something all too common in today’s journalism across the mediums, heightened by social media and poised to rocket with artificial intelligence that soon will scream past ChatGPT.
Truth now is the lesser god to Audience. Beneath the giant networks swallowing society whole — Meta and Alphabet the cold businesses specifically kicking out the legs supporting local journalism — is this fundamental.
Information no longer is informative. Delivery is the key. The algorithms are set more to dopamine and cortisol, a means of addiction, than the content itself. Fox and ex-President Trump have mastered the art. Make those hormones roil and boil. You’ve got ’em then.
Dry rot in the “serious” journalism — ridiculed as mainstream — shows up as the news deserts continue blistering across the nation, though this desertification has more to do with the business than lack of interest in local news. Everyone wants news. No one wants to pay for it.
For advertisers, there are ever more and cheaper choices unburdened by the costs of journalism. Advertisers and even the people running the local news media businesses are quick to discount the sales power of credibility, an overlooked jewel in marketing.
But cred is ineffable, hard to suss out compared to simpler metrics. If you can tap certain human instincts with the right recipe, well, craving is way more powerful and easier to scale.
We’ve only really started into the age of information meth. Everyone must have Audience now. Signs of the infection are plain enough to see in my world. I’m counting, too.
So, the stealth election in our part of the Western Slope, what the lushest local news media mecca in the land has left to wither as if desert, what’s going on with that? Who’s running, what’s at stake, why should anyone care or vote if a customer-member-owner? Nine out of 10 won’t, after all.
The cooperative formed by ranchers and farmers in 1939 to finally electrify rural western Colorado now aims to be the first in reaching 100% clean energy, by 2030. Um, that would be the board of elected members who decided that.
Today the mix looks like this: 48% renewable energy, 31% coal, less than 1% mine methane, and 5% natural gas.
There will be consequences in the stampede to reach 100% renewable, no doubt including with rates, the effects on home solar from charging more for delivery than production, possibly in reliability.
The lack of participation or interest in Holy Cross Energy elections over the years opened a barn door for green energy advocates to go all in, building their desired board election by election.
I happen to like what they are doing. But it’s not so different in concept than, say, the infiltration of a certain strain of conservatives into the judiciary on up to the U.S. Supreme Court — an unnoticed germ, at first. Boring stuff.
Maybe the outcome of inattention freeing an elite to do its work is for the better in this case. Holy Cross certainly seems way more aggressive than the private utilities.
But we know from the research what happens with spending, taxation and decision-making when no one is there to cover real local government, including elections.
I kind of hate to see this done on purpose. Seems we’re serving the wrong god.
Aspen Times Editor Don Rogers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org