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Our View: Sun reporter booted from state GOP assembly for doing the right thing

The Colorado Sun reporter Sandra Fish, who was kicked out of the state GOP assembly in Pueblo on Saturday, excels at the most unsexy forms of journalism – digging deep into databases and documents to follow trails of money to politicians, organizations or wherever it leads her.

Colorado Republican Party Chairman Dave Williams ordered her removal, saying her reporting was “very unfair” and Fish was a “fake journalist.”

Williams behaved as if the assembly were a country club and she was not worthy of admission.

But anyone who knows Fish will defend her to the nth degree. She’s covered government and politics for decades, sticking to her gumshoe journalism training of focusing on facts and solid systems that chart the course to combat misinformation and disinformation.

Methods that are tedious and eye-straining. By leaning into verifiable truths, she has earned integrity and trust with colleagues, and information consumers of all stripes.

Here’s the thing about building credibility over time. People step out of the wings to offer support – both publicly and privately – including prominent conservative and MAGA Republicans.

Williams booted Fish because she reported on what she discovered – how Williams tapped GOP money and resources for his own campaign, and benefit.

Williams used the party’s email list to promote his run for the 5th Congressional District. Fish told CNN that in February, the party spent about $7,000 on postage and $10,000 on mailers that attacked Williams’ competitor Jeff Crank, Nikki Haley and The Gazette in Colorado Springs.

Meanwhile, the state GOP didn’t pay its full-time staff in April – a first in 20 years.

Fish documented all claims. No matter your political persuasion, can we agree this is worthwhile reporting because the evidence is indisputable?

On first impression, Fish’s petite size could disguise her might. At the Colorado Press Association in September 2023, she demonstrated how to mine information to reap treasures. Her session didn’t brim with attendees that way that those did on Artificial Intelligence or the analytics of online clicks. But she connected with those of us waiting in line to say hello or ask about a new database or reporting challenge.

Her manner is quiet, deliberate and generous. She’s that person checking in with students and other journalists about their own work. Sharing contacts and asking whether we had worked with so-and-so. Offering to get together.

Fish is the real deal. A former full-time journalism instructor at the University of Colorado, Fish’s work has appeared on CPR, KUNC and in The Washington Post, Roll Call and other media outlets. She’s also covered government and politics in Iowa, Florida and New Mexico.

Fluent in old media systems and equally proficient on the latest media platforms, her purple hair hints at her sense of fun and unpredictability.

If Williams hadn’t realized not to underestimate Fish, he surely knows now.

If there’s a silver lining in all the misinformation and disinformation passed around these days, it’s the conversations on polishing journalism strategies that stem from old school work that Fish has always practiced.

Knowing a sect of the population will always be skeptical, we’ve huddled within the industry to ask why and up our game.

We’re considering more closely how to pre-bunk disinformation and convey credibility in ways that readers, listeners and viewers can understand. What language didn’t sit right? How do we better lay the groundwork for audiences to understand what the motivations are and the psychology behind disinformation?

Who knows? Something good might result from this. More people could come to realize that a free press is literally American value No. 1.