A journalist-turned-filmmaker followed The Denver Post through a year of marijuana coverage

Before Mitch Dickman switched from studying journalism to film, his first job was at the Sedalia (Missouri) Democrat. In 2014, he returned to a newsroom, this time to make a documentary.

Dickman is the director and producer of the documentary "Rolling Papers," which follows journalists at The Denver Post for one year as they covered the legalization of pot in the state with the Post's marijuana site The Cannabist.

The documentary debuted last year at South by Southwest and was released nationally last month. "Rolling Papers" parallels an old and troubled industry with a new and thriving one.

"As filmmakers we look for layers of storytelling and we really liked the layer of print journalism in such difficult financial times and how they respond (or don’t respond) to such a historic moment in time," Dickman said. "They are the ones documenting what is happening and also helping frame the conversation for what marijuana legalization looks like."

Dickman spoke with Poynter via email about the film and what's changed since he left journalism.

To start, tell us about "Rolling Papers."

The Post had a tagline that said they had been “rolling papers for 100 years,” and it was just a lightbulb moment that reaffirmed we were on the right track with the film and a title that matched it.

Some reviews point out that this film is as much about newspapers as it is pot. What did you learn about the industry in the process of making this film?

My first job was writing for a small-town newspaper in Missouri, and I first majored in journalism before switching to film, so I’ve always had an interest in journalism. Being in the newsroom and around these journalists only reinforced that respect. A couple key things that I learned were that a lot of people there just take their lunch pail and hard hat and go to work and don’t really work about all the concerns about where the industry is headed. At one point I remember asking someone about it being listed as no. 199 job out of 200 above lumberjack and he was just like, "I can’t control that, I just have to come and do my job because I like what I do." Obviously, (Denver Post) editor Greg Moore, took it one step further and said “it's been awhile since we’ve seen ourselves as just a newspaper,” hence the Cannabist content living largely online.

Any surprises?

Surprises? I mean from a story standpoint, the edibles situation in Colorado totally took me by surprise. We also had no intention of going to South America, but that happened. I also wouldn’t say I was surprised by (Cannabist editor) Ricardo Baca, but throughout the entire year with a crazy amount of pressure — he never cracked.



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