It's Time for Media to Seize Its Big Cannabis Moment

Tameka Kee

With publishers facing so many external threats, one would think they'd jump at a great opportunity to make money and prove themselves indispensable to a growing audience.

I'm talking about covering the burgeoning cannabis industry (in states where it is legal), which would provide significant reader value and education.

While many savvy entrepreneurs are using this opportunity to launch media startups serving this lucrative market, the traditional publishers have been further behind the curve.

And even those who made smart decisions at the height of the movement are dropping the ball now.

With Colorado being one of the founding states for recreational marijuana in 2012, the state has a reputation for being a cannabis tourist location. And the big business of cannabis has done wonders for local businesses and the tax collectors.

So The Denver Post smartly seized upon the moment by launching the Cannabist in 2014 and asking a staff music journalist to helm it: Ricardo Baca. It did not take long for Baca and the Cannabist to become the de facto source for other, mainstream outlets to cover this industry. If there was a national broadcast report, you were likely to see Baca on it.

Fast forward to 2018, and the Cannabist editors claim they have been fired and replaced by bots. While that move appears to be part of a much larger issue, it underscores the reality that not many newspapers followed suit.

> (17) Content will be aggregated based on what's tagged "marijuana." There will be no editorial team to give the site a voice, perspective, or blood. Readers will pick up on this, and it will wither on the vine.

> — Jake Browne (@fakejakebrowne) April 27, 2018

In looking at the major papers for the states that have legalized recreational cannabis, for instance, there's a mixed bag. It's not just about covering the topic; it's about making a home for the burgeoning number of your readers who are or will become recreational or medical cannabis users.

The LA Times has a cleverly titled scrolling blog The Rolling Paper, but not something nearly as substantial at the Cannabist was in its heyday. As a comparison, look what LA Weekly is doing.

The Sacramento Bee has a good, dedicated marijuana section, but it's covered more-so from the perspective of an outsider than someone with deep roots in the culture.

The Oregonian also has a dedicated section, but a few staff-written articles are interspersed with AP wire pieces and articles sourced from external publications.

What these brands are missing is what led the Cannabist (which, was predominantly focused locally) to become a true destination racking up 1 million uniques and hosting a popular podcast and awards show.

> (8) Readership (or eye-balls) followed. By November 2016, we had beaten High Times' comScore in consecutive months, attracting nearly 1 million unique visitors. We had our own awards show, studio talk show, and the mile-high sky was the limit.

> — Jake Browne (@fakejakebrowne) April 27, 2018

The cannabis movement is a big opportunity for a number of small and large businesses, and if any market needs an opportunity like that, it's the publishing industry.