The City of Loveland has hired longtime journalist and current Loveland Reporter-Herald (RH) reporter Thomas Hacker to be the city's next "Public Information Officer" often referred to as the "PIO." The city's current PIO is Andy Hiller who is retiring from the city this summer after serving in the position since 1996.
Ironically, the City of Loveland nor the Loveland Reporter-Herald newspaper have been forthcoming with the public about this news and therefore details are scant. Hacker competed for the opening against a former colleague and was not the first choice of a number of members of Loveland's City Council. The hiring decision was made by Loveland's City Manager Bill Cahill who has the authority to hire senior staff at the city. The move is not atypical as cities are now bypassing local media and publishing their own news stories via city operated websites, utility circulars, radio stations and other city owned media outlets.
Hacker received a B.S. in journalism from the University of New Mexico in 1980 and later a Master's in journalism from the prestiges Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Hacker previously served as the Editor of the Northern Colorado Business Report from 2004 to 2009 before joining the RH. For most of his tenure at the RH Hacker worked the city beat attending long council meetings and reporting on the city's business development efforts. Bringing more experience to the position than his predecessors, Hacker's succinct writing style and aggressive pursuit of news stories set him apart from his colleagues.
Controversies Surrounding the Choice - Cahill Pokes Council's Republican Majority in the Eye
While professional journalists often try to conceal their own prejudices and political bias in their reporting, Hacker's own views became more apparent over time as he covered city issues and politics.
While reporting on the ACE Project and Rialto Bridge Hacker was a staunch city supporter feeding the public any tidbits the promoters would feed him. In the end, the credibility of the RH suffered when a nationally recognized NASA blog (NASA watch) mocked local coverage and ultimately Lovelanders discovered NASA's relationship to the project was more promoter hype than any real substance. A number of stories referred to lower-level staff positions at NASA centers as "Administrators" of NASA and in general provided a false impression about NASA's involvement (or lack thereof) in the project.
In time, a close friendship developed between Hacker and Loveland Councilwoman Joan Shaffer, a staunch ACE promoter and Democrat Party activist, that many believe influenced the newspaper's coverage on more than city business development issues but also council politics. One example was the controversial special election last November between current Councilman Dave Clark and community activist Paul Mueller to represent Ward IV on Loveland's City Council. The RH attacked Clark for being a partisan candidate over and over again while ignoring the partisan groups organizing behind Mueller. (see article on last year's special election coverage).
In an article published in 2010 by the North Carolina School of Journalism titled "Being a Small Town Biz Reporter," Hacker admitted he made close friends from "sources" while at the Northern Colorado Business Report when he wrote, “But some of the relationships I cultivated there grew into friendships so close that I had to cross some names off my reporter’s source list. We had become too cozy for journalistic comfort."
Since Hacker joined the RH in 2009, Lovelandpolitics has heard regular complaints from city officials who questioned Hacker's close relationship with Shaffer and were especially concerned information was leaking out of closed session. Unlike her Republican colleagues, Shaffer was never the subject of any critical reporting by Hacker that seemed to have extraordinary access to information distributed at closed session meetings. Some believe Shaffer was the "deep-throat" informing Hacker of confidential city litigation and other closed session items for a period of years in exchange for favorable news stories about her own pet projects and friends running for office.
Hacker's friendship with Shaffer became a central issue regarding his coverage of the Mirasol senior housing resident's fight with Loveland's Housing Authority. Despite a clear ruling by HUD (U.S. Dept. of Housing & Urban Development) that the city's housing authority inappropriately over-charged senior residents, the RH coverage reported differently. Many Mirasol residents were appalled at Hacker's reporting that seemed to always side with the city's Housing Authority and attempted to undermine their credibility and complaints to HUD. Councilwoman Shaffer is the city's liaison to the Housing Authority and was heavily involved in trying to counter-spin the media coverage on behalf of the city and housing authority. Though no hard evidence of a connection was produced, a number of Mirasol residents felt they couldn't trust Hacker or the RH given his close relationship with Shaffer and pattern of defending the housing authority against HUD rulings.
Not The First Time
Hacker isn't the first RH reporter to abandon journalism in search of better pay and benefits working for an entity he previously covered for the newspaper. Former RH reporter Alicia Beard took a job with McWhinney following a series of favorable articles she wrote covering the developer's projects in Loveland.
RH Reporter Abandons Journalism To Become City "Public Information Officer"