In Colorado, scrutiny on billionaire and millionaire newspaper owners

Your weekly roundup of Colorado news and media for July 7

In Colorado, scrutiny on billionaire and millionaire newspaper owners

Why would a newspaper in Oklahoma have its investigative reporter write a package of puff pieces on a five-star resort located in Georgia? We don’t know, because management at The Oklahoman, the state’s largest paper, isn’t talking. But here’s what we do know: The resort’s new owner just so happens to be Denver billionaire Phil Anschutz, who also owns the The Oklahoman newspaper where the stories were published. I wrote about this odd development this week for Columbia Journalism Review’s United States Project. Anschutz’s Clarity Media also owns The Gazette newspaper in Colorado Springs, plus The Broadmoor hotel and other properties in Colorado. The Oklahoman gave its billionaire owner the soft touch in coverage after he bought the paper in 2011. As I wrote in the CJR piece, “It’s five years later, and maybe not much has changed—except now there are more billionaires owning local newspapers.”

Speaking of Anschutz and media…, an “experiment with citizen journalism,” is shutting down “eight years after the company owned by Denver billionaire Phil Anschutz started local websites across the country,” reported The Denver Business Journal this week. The content will be taken down July 10.

More from DBJ: launched in 2008, as a locally-written news and entertainment platform that paid writers pennies each time a reader clicked on their stories. The online operation was originally part of Anschutz’s Clarity Media Group. A team of editors in Denver, many of them recruited as the Rocky Mountain News newspaper shut down, cultivated a network of tens of thousands of blogging “examiners” around the country, and the company — like Denver-based Associated Content and AOL’s Patch — was watched as a potential new media model.

But apparently the site relied too much on Google algorithms that were tweaked around 2011 to weed out so-called content farms like Examiner. Traffic at the sites cratered — and ad revenue went with it. “To be around nine years and have the footprint and impact that has had is a significant thing,” Justin Jimenez, a spokesman for’s parent company AXS, told the DBJ. “But in the media environment today, it takes a good amount of investment to be competitive.” Truth.

And since we’re on the topic of wealthy Colorado newspaper owners…

Jason Salzman, a progressive consultant who runs the blog BigMedia and cross-posts at The Huffington Post, this week laid out a paper trail connecting The Colorado Statesman to big-money GOP donor Larry Mizel. The occasion? Mizel hosted a fundraiser for presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. Which led to Salzman’s HuffPo headline, “Trump Co-Host Owns Colorado Statesman Newspaper.”

Here’s that paper trail:

A search on the Colorado Secretary of State website reveals that the “trade name” of the Colorado Statesman is owned by “Mistro, LLC.” The registered agent for Mistro is CVentures, Inc., and a simple Google search turns up numerous references to Larry Mizel as a director and chairman of the board of CVentures.

Salzman calls Mizel “one of the most powerful Republicans in Colorado.” So there you go.

Station management kills local long-form public radio journalism in Colorado Springs

In May I highlighted a local hourlong monthly podcast called “Wish We Were Here: Tales and Investigations from the Shadow of America’s Mountain” that airs on the NPR station for southern Colorado, KRCC, which is based in Colorado Springs. Two years ago, pre-“Serial,” producers Noel Black and Jake Brownell were ahead of the curve on the long-form podcast thing. In that time, according to the Colorado Springs Independent alt-weekly, they “introduced listeners to the most armed man in Colorado, a 12-year-old paleontologist, the city’s first black detective, an aspiring autistic newsman and all sorts of real characters who complicate the narrative of Colorado Springs as inhospitable to free-thought or non-conformity.”

But now the show is no more. Cancelled. Kaput. Seriously, what a shame.

More from The Independent:

On June 20, KRCC general manager Tammy Terwelp’s letter to listeners said, “The decision to discontinue the program has absolutely nothing to do with the quality of the program, but the economics of it.” … Terwelp said her goal is to modernize the station. She struck unnecessary line items from the budget, updated equipment and evaluated program scheduling. As for WWWH, she says, “People definitely really liked it, as far as I could tell. I never got any complaints.”

The general manager, who came to KRCC last fall, called her decision to cancel the show “the worst day of my career.” Read the story from The Indy here, and about the podcast’s launch in 2014 in The Indy here. I hope there’s more to come about this development.

What you missed on the front pages of Colorado newspapers on a random Wednesday in July, 2016

Welp. Did you do it again? Let a holiday get the best of you? Gobble something that looked like taffy at a cookout only to read the package and see it was a brand by Snoop Dogg? Blow your whole Sunday and not get around to reading all the stories on the front pages across Colorado? Wait. That would have been Monday. OK, no excuse then! But I don’t have you covered on the Sunday fronts this week regardless. So instead, here’s what you missed on the front pages of Colorado’s largest newspapers on a random Wednesday in July, 2016:

The Greeley Tribune continued its enterprising local coverage of UNC’s “Bias Response Team” with a piece titled “Prof. Breaks Silence in University of Northern Colorado Academic Freedom Case.” The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel had a piece about local squatters at a city-owned lakeThe Longmont Times-Call fronted a story about Lafayette weighing a local tax hike to fund public transitThe Pueblo Chieftain ran a piece about a local woman pushing CDOT to install median cable guards on I-25. “Fireworks a Success” was the print headline in The Sterling Journal-Advocate two days after July 4. The Steamboat Pilot fronted a story about a potential joint law enforcement facility in the area. The Fort Morgan Times had a piece about repairs to a local bridge. Residents were pushing the local city council for answers about a police chief’s credibility on the front page of The Loveland Reporter-HeraldThe Boulder Daily Camera ran an above-the-fold piece about a business dean at a local college getting dinged in a faculty review over treatment of women. The Cañon City Daily Record ran a feature on summer art. The Aspen Times ran a story about a ski liftThe Fort Collins Coloradoan fronted a feature about the third-hottest June in 128 years being a fire risk for the city. The Durango Herald had a piece about farming therapyThe Colorado Springs Gazette had a story about The Air Force paying $4.3 million to try and fix a local water contamination issueThe Denver Post fronted a story about tree-killing moth caterpillars pillaging Colorado.

Author Gay Talese disavowed— then defended— his new book about the creepiest hotel in Colorado

Remember that New Yorker story a few months ago by renowned New Journalism icon Gay Talese in which he writes about a Denver area motel owner named Gerald Foos (still alive, still in Colorado) who told the author he spent much of the 1960s to the ’90s spying on his guests and kept a detailed journal chronicling their sex acts? The New Yorker piece was a teaser for a forthcoming book Talese wrote about Foos and his escapades titled The Voyeur’s Motel. But Talese briefly disavowed the whole enterprise in the face of increased scrutiny. Almost immediately after the fascinating and too-good-to-be-true story hit The New Yorker’s pages, the author came in for criticism for how he handled his source. Then journalists started doing some fact checking that Talese hadn’t done.

On June 30, from The Washington Post:

Talese overlooked a key fact in his book: Foos sold the motel, located in Aurora, Colo., in 1980 and didn’t reacquire it until eight years later, according to local property records. His absence from the motel raises doubt about some of the things Foos told Talese he saw — enough that the author himself now has deep reservations about the truth of some material he presents.

Upon learning that, the 84-year-old author said he should not have believed a word his source told him for the story and the book, and he further said he would not promote the book when it comes out on July 12. “How dare I promote it when its credibility is down the toilet?” he said. Then he changed his mind, defending his work in a statement to The New York Times, which reads, “I was surprised and upset about this business of the later ownership of the motel, in the ’80s … That occurred after the bulk of the events covered in my book, but I was upset and probably said some things I didn’t, and don’t, mean. Let me be clear: I am not disavowing the book, and neither is my publisher. If, down the line, there are details to correct in later editions, we’ll do that.”

As NYT’s Alexander Alter writes of Talese, “Whether his new book will withstand further scrutiny remains to be seen.” Indeed.

Seven months later, Colorado’s USA Today correspondent still hasn’t bought a handgun

At the end of last year, Trevor Hughes, USA Today’s Denver-based correspondent, wrote a first-person column about why he was choosing to buy a handgun. The bottom line from the Dec. 25 piece: Hughes has covered plenty of mass shootings in Colorado as a reporter, feels like the government can’t protect him anymore, and is looking for other alternatives. The following month I’d asked if he’d yet purchased a firearm.

“My plan – once we get through the craziness of these holidays and the start of the New Year — is to take a familiarization class before I buy any handgun,” he told me then. “I’ve never fired a handgun, and so I don’t know what caliber or brand or size to get, and taking a class seems to be the best way to learn that. My plan would then be to determine what handgun to buy, and then take a concealed weapons class with it.” He said at the time he wasn’t sure going through with it would ultimately be the right decision for him, “but as a reporter, I tend to want to experience things for myself before making a final decision.”

Out of curiosity I caught up with Hughes this week to see if he ever— oh, you know I can’t resist— pulled the trigger. He hasn’t. The reporter says he’s still looking for something reputable and reliable. His paper’s ethics policies “prohibit me from accepting any gift of a weapon or a class, which means I have to purchase it all myself,” he said.

Last thing. Ex-radio man, ex-owner of The Colorado Springs Sun newspaper, and ex-a-lot-more died this week

Bill Armstrong, who was a U.S. senator from Colorado, president of Colorado Christian University, and once owned the defunct Colorado Springs Sun daily newspaper, died this week at 79. He had cancer. In his much younger days Armstrong was a radio man, and he bought a radio station in Colorado when he was 22. As The Gazette points out, his start in media ended up making him a millionaire. I didn’t know Armstrong, but I did interview him in December when his university invited Dick Cheney to give a public talk. Armstrong’s message to me at the time was “Anybody but Trump,” and he predicted The Donald would not get the GOP nomination. Cooler heads would prevail, he believed. I’d been trying to get a hold of Armstrong in the past few weeks to see if he’d come around, like others have, to Trump’s candidacy, but I couldn’t get through. Now I know why. The last someone told me, on Saturday, was he was ill.

*This roundup appears a little differently as a published version of a weekly e-mailed newsletter about Colorado local news and media. If you’d like to add your e-mail address for the unabridged versions, please subscribe HERE

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About the Author

Corey Hutchins

is a journalist in Colorado, and Columbia Journalism Review's Rocky Mountain correspondent for the United States Project. Follow him on Twitter @CoreyHutchins and email him at CoreyHutchins [at] gmail [dot] com.

1 Comment

  1. Donald E. L. Johnson on said:

    Anyone who has worked on a newspaper knows that the owners let numerous conflicts of interest get into their papers and usually submit stories as “must run”.

    Their travel, food, auto, real estate and entertainment sections are pure cess pools of conflicts of interest. There are good ad sales reasons that the NYT has a huge section devoted to the arts and what’s happening on Broadway.

    Touting a Georgia resort is a puny conflict of interest, relatively speaking. :)

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