How an ex-Colorado reporter covers America’s urban-rural divide for NPR

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How an ex-Colorado reporter covers America’s urban-rural divide for NPR

Not long after the 2016 elections, Kirk Siegler—a reporter on NPR’s national desk— traveled from his home in Los Angeles to Orofino, Idaho, a city with a declining logging industry and a population of about 3,000. A timber mill had closed, the second to shut down in six months, and Siegler went to talk with Trump voters about their hopes for the local economy.

Siegler, who used to work in public radio here in Colorado, now covers America’s “urban-rural divide,” which, his NPR bio notes, explores “the intersection between urban and rural life, culture, and politics.” The beat is a relatively new one for NPR. I caught up with him over the phone for a piece at Columbia Journalism Review’s United States Project to talk about what it’s like covering this urban-rural divide in America.

An excerpt from the piece:

Some people would like to see NPR defunded. Does that raise any issues for you in your work?

It for sure comes up, and when it does I’m happy to do the standard line— give them some statistics about who’s listening, how balanced our coverage is. In this landscape people have already made up their minds about a lot of things. But, that said, a lot of people continue to talk, even though they may think we’re liberal or conservative or whatnot. Oftentimes in small towns, the NPR member station is the only news station on the radio. There are some commercial FM stations that do news breaks and play country music or classic rock and air their local high school basketball games, but for the most part we’re on the air. We’re still a very primary news source in a lot of areas. Eastern Oregon is a great example of that. There has been a big investment over the years to connecting rural America with NPR. When you go out to many of these places, there we are.

You can find the rest of my Q-and-A with Siegler here. I hope you enjoy it and share it widely.

A blogger for The Gazette’s new ColoradoPolitics.com site testified in court this week

Last week I wrote about a media s#!itstorm brewing in the Springs and said I hoped to have more on that front. This week, Dan Njegomir, a writer for The Gazette’s new state politics blog— and a subject of that s#!itstorm— testified in a campaign finance court hearing in downtown Denver. I wrote about it as part of a 3,500-word deep dive for The Colorado Independent into Colorado’s unique system of private party enforcement of campaign finance compliance, nonprofit law, and political free speech.

So why was a writer for ColoradoPolitics.com testifying in a dark money campaign finance case? Because— and this came out in testimony— not long before joining ColoradoPolitics.com he did work for a conservative political nonprofit called Colorado Pioneer Action run by former GOP Congressman Bob Beauprez. The nonprofit is the subject of a campaign finance complaint filed by Matt Arnold of Campaign Integrity Watchdog that accuses the nonprofit of improperly getting involved in elections. Arnold asked Njegomir about his level of disclosure at ColoradoPolitics.com while writing about certain politicians or groups given his recent previous work. My coverage of Njegomir’s testimony is here. Megan Schrader, a columnist at The Denver Post, wrote about how she thought the case “touches on questions of journalistic integrity.”

From her column in the Post:

In an interesting display of questionable ethics, both the Gazette editorial board and Njegomir wrote negative pieces about Arnold in the months leading up to the administrative law court case last week. Neither disclosed their connection to an entity Arnold was suing. At least not until a separate media outlet disclosed that the nonprofit paid Njegomir for his services. And even then, using the word “disclosure” in this context hardly fits. Instead, Njegomir wrote an odd blog post about the fact he had been subpoenaed by Arnold in the case and blamed Arnold of engaging in “plain-old payback.”

Njegomir, who was a newspaper reporter, became an editorial page editor, later worked in politics, and is now a blogger for the ColoradoPolitics.com site, says he didn’t previously disclose his involvement with the political nonprofit because he didn’t yet know Arnold was suing it. He only found out when he got a subpoena. I’m not sure that’s the biggest issue anyway. What came out in his testimony was that he had done work for a political nonprofit about at least one lawmaker, Gordon Klingenschmitt, about whom he had written for ColoradoPolitics.com without mentioning the work he did on him for Colorado Pioneer Action. Asked if there might be other people about whom he has written— or might write about in the future— in Colorado politics who might also wonder if he has done political work on them, Njegomir told me, “I can only give you my word, I will disclose where it is germane.” He says he wasn’t thinking of his work for Pioneer when he was writing about K-schmitty for ColoradoPolitics.com. Wasn’t that germane? “Sure,” he said.

While the traditional bedrocks of journalistic ethics are still important, Njegomir said, he thinks journalism is changing, media is more democratized and people might care less about what bloggers like him did in the past than they do about the information he’s providing them now and how his previous background might inform it. “There’s more to disclose, yes,” he told me about coming back to “the monastery” after working in politics. “But the flipside of it is I know more. … Where it’s germane and if I’m aware of it, I will disclose. … I worked a whole lot of years out there. I cannot tell you all the gigs I did. I do not remember them.”

How Ken Salazar scooped The Denver Post’s news section

One of the largest lingering questions for 2018 in Colorado was whether former U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, aka “Mr. Colorado,” would run for governor. He had been silent or coy, and then floated a trial balloon in an interview with The Denver Post on March 5Two weeks later he made up his mind. Who got the scoop? Salazar, who broke the news in a guest column published at 10:10 p.m. in The Denver Post on March 22. The Denver Post’s news section didn’t have a story on it until 10:49 p.m. In the meantime, ColoradoPolitics.com published a news item about it at 10:26 p.m. based on the column. In the piece, reporter Joey Bunch wrote, “The op-ed piece posted at 10:10, safely past the start of the 10 p.m. newscasts lengthening the Post’s scoop.”

What does all this say about anything? Nothing too significant except how sometimes even a non-candidate can control the news narrative. Westword editor Patty Calhoun, however, had her own take during an appearance on Colorado Inside Out.

“Interesting that he announced this in an essay in The Denver Post, which kind of shows what generation he belonged to,” she said. “Other people would tweet it, or have it on social media saying ‘This is my decision now.’ He used old-form journalism to do it.” Hashtag cringe-face emoji.

Nothing ever disappears from the high school paper

You know the saying “Nothing ever disappears from the Internet?” Well, in Steamboat Springs, it looks like nothing ever disappears from the archives.

From The Steamboat Springs Pilot & Today:

…beginning this month, the treasure trove of firsthand accounts contained in the local high school publication Three Wire Winter, including audio recordings of the interviews, will be shared globally.

Two teachers launched the publication in 1976 and it ran for 12 years. Staff at the Tread of Pioneers Museum digitized cassette tapes containing interviews. The Bud Werner Memorial Library “has the technical resources to place all of the ‘digital artifacts’ associated with the collection onto a highly searchable web page with global reach.” Sounds like a blessing and a curse!

RIP Robert Rawlings, The Pueblo Chieftain’s publisher

Robert Hoag Rawlings, the longtime publisher and editor of The Pueblo Chieftain, got a hero’s goodbye when he died last week at 92, hailed as a guardian of Pueblo and southern Colorado who was “never afraid to give challenge to people in power.” One local attorney had this to say of the man: “He told governors, senators, generals and majors, regardless of party, where to go if they did not support Southern Colorado and its water. He dispatched them out of his office and straight to hell and without a glass of precious water. And then he skewered them on the editorial pages. Bob was a rarity in the newspaper business. He was never seduced by growth and leveraged buyouts. That is why The Chieftain stayed a voice in the community.”

Sirota might not be running the left’s answer to Breitbart, but…

Denver journalist David Sirota, who is investigations editor at The International Business Times, was tapped in January to run the editorial department of True Blue media, which aimed to become “the left’s answer to Breitbart,” until he decided against it. But it looks like he caught a ride on a different comet. After raising $1.5 million in crowd funding, The Young Turks, which calls itself the “largest online news show in the world,” went on a hiring spree, including adding Sirota to its ranks as a part-time commentator. This man stays busy.

What you missed on the Sunday front pages across Colorado

The Longmont Times-Call reported on a new curbside composting program. The Loveland Reporter-Herald explored how Weld and Windsor counties are hotspots for housing. The Steamboat Today & Pilot covered local competitive canines. The Greeley Tribune looked at an effort to abolish the statute of limitations on rape in Colorado. The Pueblo Chieftain looked at the city council’s view on having a strong mayor. The Boulder Daily Camera covered an effort to expand the city’s limits. The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel covered local concern over plans for 35 oil-and-gas wells. The Denver Post profiled a couple’s struggle to use the state’s new aid-in-dying law. The Aspen Times launched the first in a six-part series about healthcare costs in mountain towns. The Coloradoan in Fort Collins quoted the Rocky Mountain National Park chief saying it’s become harder to “accomplish our mission.” The Durango Herald covered what keeps local police busy.

The Denver Post on social media’s potential role in news homicide

Recently a friend posited that eventually someone is going to write the definitive piece about how we’re in the darkest timeline of the Internet and how a lot of it is social media’s fault. Not long after, I caught this headline in The Denver Post: “Is social media destroying the news?” Written by Daniel Petty, senior editor of the paper’s Now team, it begins with this line: “I owe my career in journalism to social media.” I agree. Petty runs down the numbers showing “62 percent of U.S. adults get news on social media, and 18 percent do so often” and writes about how audience migration to the web hasn’t meant greater revenue and hasn’t closed the gap from lost print ads. He recounts other horrors about which close observers of the industry are well aware.

What to do about it? From his piece:

Most importantly, support local journalism. I laud the subscription bumps going to the big national players as much as anyone, but the places that need your support more than ever are local journalists. Sign up for a newsletter, donate to a journalism nonprofit, buy a digital, or print, subscription. Digital startups and nonprofits are cropping up in Denver and other communities to try to fill the gap with innovative approaches to the news. But as of now, they are not replacing the accountable reporting being lost. In the end, we get the media we pay for.

And if you’re feeling helpful right now, here’s how you can donate to The Colorado Independent. Oh, and about us being in the darkest timeline of the Internet, read this and think about it.

More drama in Durango for Coloradans who want the ability to watch Colorado news on TV

Earlier this month there seemed like some good news for residents of La Plata County, Colorado, who want to turn on their TVs and find news from Colorado. Because La Plata is something called an “orphan county,” Durango-area homes are beamed in TV news from Albuquerque, New Mexico, the closest big city. La Plata County had to ask the FCC for permission to get news from Denver stations beamed in. The FCC said yes— a first in the nation. But while this new development from the FCC will benefit satellite TV subscribers, “cable customers, at least for the moment, might be left out in the cold,” because the FCC decision does not apply to them, The Durango Herald reports.

From The Herald:

Durango resident and Charter customer Don Ratcliff predicts that the FCC’s new ruling for satellite providers could convert cable customers such as himself. Ratcliff moved from Vail, where he was accustomed to getting Colorado news. “It’s kind of silly to listen to what’s going on in Albuquerque,” he said. “The economics of the FCC decision seem unfair to the cable company. People will make a conscious switch. I would think the cable companies could lose a lot of business.”

“It’s really strange. It’s like you don’t live in Colorado,” he told the paper. “That’s overdramatic; it’s only television, but it would just be nice to have some Colorado news.”

Behold the Colorado Springs alt-weekly’s new website

Big news for the local alternative weekly in Colorado’s second-largest city that hasn’t updated its website design since 2009.

From The Colorado Springs Independent’s digital editor Craig Lemley:

The Indy has always had our own kind of form and function, valuing our editorial content, sponsors and advertisers no more than we do our readers, and that’s something I believe is embodied in our renewed digital spaces (no clickbait, pop-up ads, silly survey questions or paywalls around here). The new csindy.com is meant to be just as much of a community resource as it was before, open for free local music and event listing submissions, news tips and Letters to the Editor, restaurant and local business locations, and advertising information all at the bottom of the page.

Bounce around the new redesigned site here.

A newspaper series on healthcare in Colorado’s mountain towns

The Glenwood Springs Post-Independent this week launched a six-part series on why healthcare costs so much in Colorado’s mountain towns— some of the highest costs in the nation. “It’s hitting almost everybody — from the people who get their insurance from work and are seeing premiums and deductibles rise every year, to the employers who say costs are getting unsustainable, to the freelance writers and ski instructors, the self-employed and the entrepreneurs,” the paper reported. “People in Breckenridge, Glenwood Springs, Basalt, Avon and Carbondale talk of paying more for their family’s health care than they do for their mortgage — and their mortgages are steep enough, thank you very much.”

Here’s installment one, two and three so far.

Your March madness-local-newspaper connection

How do you draw a connection to that current thing everyone is talking about (college basketball) to that niche thing you write about (Colorado local news and media)? I’ll give it a shot: Read the managing director of the hedge-fund that owns The Denver Post talk about buying a Duke basketball player’s jersey for $119,000. And try not to cry— especially if you or one of your colleagues recently took a buyout or got laid off.

Now for some news on the local media front from CJR’s United States Project

My colleague Trudy Lieberman wrote about how local news sounded the alarm over the GOP’s defeated healthcare plan​. Catherine V. Moore covered how in West Virginia, a state financial crisis poses the greatest threat to public media. Shaya Tayefe Mohajer explained why crime victims like Timothy Caughman deserve more respect from reporters. Tasneem Raja wrote about what it’s like covering Arkansas’ rush of executions​. Christopher Hoffman wrote how Newtown is trying—and so far, failing—to get Trump to acknowledge the Sandy Hook massacre. Jeremy Borden told how two Marshall Project collaborations shined a light on prison payments.

*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.

Photo by alex de carvalho for Creative Commons on Flickr. 

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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.

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