Media: Are Colorado politicians violating your social media free speech rights?

Your weekly roundup of Colorado local news & media

Media: Are Colorado politicians violating your social media free speech rights?

A Virginia federal judge’s recent ruling that a school board member violated her constituents’ First Amendment free speech rights when she banned them from commenting on her official Facebook page has stretched into Colorado.

This week, reporter Erin McIntyre of The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel reported how some blocked or banned constituents of Western Slope GOP Sen. Ray Scott believe their access to commenting on his Twitter and Facebook pages should be restored because of the ruling in Virginia.

From the Sentinel:

Martin Wiesiolek realized he was blocked from posting on Scott’s Facebook wall after he attempted to comment on the senator’s proposal to tax bicycles. He provided a copy of an email he wrote to Scott on July 20 asking why he was blocked from participating in the public forum. Wiesiolek said he suspects the blocking had something to do with a derogatory comment he made about Scott months ago. Wiesiolek, who came to the U.S. in 1986 as a political refugee from Poland, is a veteran and served in the U.S. Army for eight years, including service during the Gulf War. He’s a citizen and enjoys participating in the political process, not only by voting but also taking part by giving feedback to elected officials. He recalled his first online interaction with Scott in February, which involved the senator’s claims that The Daily Sentinel was “fake news” after a critical editorial was published. Wiesiolek responded to an article Scott posted about the ordeal, questioning Scott’s characterization of the newspaper’s political leanings and said “It is a good but a totally conservative paper. It always has been. Sen. Scott is a disgrace to Colorado.” Scott replied, “Your (sic) a foolish democrat. Go cry somewhere else.”

The newspaper confirmed the existence of three other Scott-blocked constituents.

At the federal level, Rebecca Buckwalter-Poza, a legal analyst and advocate who writes for The Pacific Standard about President Donald Trump and the law, is suing Trump for blocking her on Twitter, saying it harms her professionally. Meanwhile, the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University is representing a group of Twitter users who were blocked by Trump and say they can’t join the discussion threads on his Twitter page. The New York Times said the suit raises “cutting-edge issues about how the Constitution applies to the social media era.” Federal Justice Department lawyers are fighting the lawsuit, saying a ruling against them “would send the First Amendment deep into uncharted waters to hold that a president’s choices about whom to follow, and whom to block, on Twitter—a privately run website that, as a central feature of its social-media platform, enables all users to block particular individuals from viewing posts—violate the Constitution.”

Back in Colorado, the Sentinel published this in an editorial on the matter:

There’s no certainty that the ruling directly applies to how Scott manages his social media accounts, but it’s certainly a persuasive precedent. It might take a lawsuit to find out how binding it is.

Hmm. Sentinel publisher Jay Seaton is no stranger to raising the possibility of lawsuits against Senator Ray Scott. On Thursday, the paper reported that three constituents filed an ethics complaint against Scott and asked for the Colorado Senate’s president to investigate him for violating their free speech rights. Scott told the paper he doesn’t use his social media pages in his official capacity, and “said he only hides or blocks comments that are inappropriate or off subject, particularly if they are profane. A search of his Facebook and Twitter accounts revealed several posts critical of him.”

UPDATE: Responding this item, John Rodriguez, publisher of PULP newsmagazine in Pueblo, posted this:

Speaking of Grand Junction… Here’s The New Yorker’s Hessler on his Trump-Colorado piece

For a United States Project story in Columbia Journalism Review this week I spoke with The New Yorker’s Peter Hessler, who now lives in Ridgeway, Colorado, to talk about his approach to a much-trafficked story he wrote recently about Trump supporters in the city on the Western Slope. Hessler, who’s used to filing stories for the magazine from Egypt and China, told me he reported the Grand Junction piece like a foreign correspondent. “I’m comfortable in the United States, but it’s never totally familiar to me at this point,” he said. “There’s always a level of foreignness to it, which I like, and it’s a useful perspective.”

Here’s an excerpt from our Q&A:

There was quite a bit about distrust of media and coastal elites in your story. You write for a publication called The New Yorker. Was it tough to get people to talk?

One of the big problems when you go to a place like Grand Junction and you write for The New Yorker is a lot of people don’t trust you. It was a big issue. I’m very sympathetic to reporters who are trying to do this kind of story. Because people don’t want to talk to you. Matt Patterson [the former magician] would tell me “everybody thinks you’re doing a hatchet job.” And I didn’t make any promises to him about what I was doing. I said, “I’m trying to get to know this place and what people think, and that’s really my only agenda. You can look online and see the kind of stuff I do.” There’s nothing you can do about it, it’s just the way things are. And even though I live in Ridgeway—I live in Colorado, my daughters were born in Grand Junction—that’s not going to put people at ease. So I did what I could. There was one person who actually asked to be removed from the story during the fact-checking process. I explained to her the fact-checking is there to check the facts, not to renegotiate the terms of the interview.

We talked some more about the magazine’s famous fact-checking process, and a whole bunch more about other aspects of how Hessler reported the story. I also spoke with Grand Junction Daily Sentinel publisher Jay Seaton, who indicated the piece was a bit of a wake-up call for those in Grand Junction. He said he hopes the Hessler story one day will be viewed as a “before” picture of a city that changes for the better. “I think that we’re poised for some really great things around here,” Seaton said. “But like anyone in their personal life who has a problem, or a company that has a problem or a community that has a problem, you have to identify the problem before you can make changes. And Hessler’s piece does a good job of identifying some problems around here.”

Hey, so… how about a ‘solutions journalism’ story out of Colorado?

Last summer, the Solutions Journalism Network and the LOR Foundation announced the launch of a new project called Small Towns Big Change. It’s a “network of seven newsrooms across New Mexico and Colorado collaborating to produce solutions-oriented reporting on issues facing rural towns in the intermountain West.” A few months later I spoke with some of the local reporters on the project and the folks from the Solutions Journalism Network for a podcast to see how the project was playing out on the ground. We talked about how to write a “solutions” story without it coming off like a puff piece, why newsrooms who might normally compete with each other decided to collaborate, and how a solutions-oriented approach creates opportunities for local outlets to take a broader perspective.

This week, Leah Todd, a pool reporter for the Solutions Journalism Network, wrote a piece about how journalist Lyndsey Gilpin approached a Colorado story with a solutions-oriented angle. Gilpin “needed a new angle to what had become an old story,” Todd writes. “The narrative felt too familiar: Coal mines close. Unemployment spikes. What’s next for this small town? It was an urgent problem in Gilpin’s town of Paonia, Colo., a community of 1,500 people in western Colorado where High Country News magazine is based, and where three mines had closed in very recent memory.” She wanted an underreported angle for a story in High Country News that had already been well-covered. She knew a “fledgling solar-power campaign in the community employed at least a few people locally, and she decided to take a magnifying glass to the effort.”

Here’s an excerpt from Todd’s convo with Gilpin:

Why don’t more journalists do this sort of reporting? What are the barriers to doing this kind of reporting, and doing it well? 

LG: It’s really easy to find stories that go along with the typical narrative of, especially with rural communities, whether they’re in Colorado or Appalachia or Texas, saying that there’s this economic downturn and that these places are desolate and there’s not a lot of hope. That’s an easy narrative. It’s a simple way to tell a story, and it’s effective. It will grab people’s attention and you can easily find characters to tell that story. It’s a lot harder to find a story about something that is doing well. … That takes an extra step, and sometimes it takes more time.

You can keep up with what the Solutions Journalism folks are up to in Colorado and elsewhere here.

What you missed on the Sunday front pages across Colorado

The Longmont Times-Call covered a witnesses account of a shootingThe Greeley Tribune tracked how local oil makes its way to global marketsThe Loveland Reporter-Herald profiled a local public artist coupleThe Pueblo Chieftain reported on a local American Legion paradeThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel fronted the senator and social media storyThe Gazette in Colorado Springs covered local back-to-school issuesThe Coloradoan in Fort Collins had a cover story about the state’s GOP U.S. senator titled “Where’s Gardner?” Like plenty of other papers, The Boulder Daily Camera localized the upcoming eclipseVail Daily looked at how a vacation rental zone could growThe Durango Herald questioned whether the city needs a new water treatment plantThe Denver Post reported on whether a proposed $1.8 billion airport project is a good deal.

Top Colorado newspaper editor –> instructor –> digital marketer

Last March, when Denver Post editor Greg Moore suddenly announced he was stepping down as editor after 14 years, he told staff that budget cuts and layoffs had taken a toll and he didn’t like how he was using his brain. He also took himself out of the running for a position as public editor of The New York Times. (Maybe a dodged bullet: the Times recently killed that position.) Moore then taught journalism at The University of Colorado at Boulder. Now, in his new job as editor in chief of a Colorado online marketing company called Deke Digital, he’s back to talking about his brain. It’s tired, he says, but, “in a good way.”

As a digital marketing editor, Moore says he’s learning plenty about health care, entrepreneurship, financial tech and other areas. “It is great to be a part of a startup-like culture, building something new and different,” he says. “I miss some aspects of daily journalism but this is firmly in my wheelhouse of experience as an editor and creator of content. It is meaningful work and my brain is tired— in a good way— at the end of the day.”

So what does Deke do? When founder Dave Maney launched the company a few years ago, he sent an e-mail describing it like this: “Deke provides content-driven digital & social marketing services to companies that sell sophisticated financial services: wealth management firms, private equity funds, hedge funds, investment banks, insurance & benefits brokerage firms, accounting firms, and other related services.” On its website, the company says it helps clients “shape and edit their thoughts – helping them turn exceptional insights born from their life’s work into powerful essays and op-eds capable of broad impact.” For a better idea, here are some examples of how the firm got some of its clients placed in media.

Is there anything broader to say about this Moore move? Perhaps that it’s just another mile marker in our state and nation’s changing media landscape, where well-worn journalists see brighter futures on the public relations horizon. (See: Hoover, Tim: think tank PR; Hanel, Joe: Healthcare PR; Crummy, Karen: oil-and-gas PR; Hubbard, Curtis: public affairs PR; Murphy, Chuck: political PR; Bean, Joanna: university PR; Bartels, Lynn: government PR; Baca, Ricardo: cannabis PR; Marcus, Peter: Cannabis PR.) There are likely plenty more, but that’s just what came off the top of my head.

CU’s Center for Environmental Journalism is old enough to rent a car

The center, which turns 25 this month, is holding a series of events in Boulder to celebrate.

From the school:

Events, which are free and open to the public, will celebrate the anniversary on Saturday, Aug. 26, beginning with two panels featuring journalists and environmental experts. “Science and policy in uncertain times,” will begin at 10 a.m., followed by the panel, “After years of upheaval, is journalism finding its voice?” at 1 p.m. Both panels will take place in the ATLAS center on CU Boulder’s central campus.

“The center also will celebrate the 100 journalists who have been awarded the Ted Scripps Environmental Journalism Fellowship, a rare opportunity for mid-career journalists to spend nine months studying and working on special projects with support from the center,” the school says. “The fellowship is funded by the Scripps Howard Foundation.”

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

Darrel Frost checked in on California’s Carmel Pine Cone newspaper about informing the community and interviewing Clint Eastwood. Kenneth Feder and Noa Krawczyk offered four facts every journalist should know when covering the opioid epidemic. Anna Clark showed how teamwork and hustle led the Toledo Blade to dominate after the Charlottesville attack while Brendan Fitzgerald reported on an outrageous editorial by a Charlottesville daily that preceded the violence. Jackie Spinner did a Q&A with a filmmaker about FBI surveillance of the filmmaker’s neighborhood and the fight for the records that prove it. And I wrote about an inconsistency in obtaining press credentials at the North Carolina capitol.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misspelled Lynn Bartels’ first name

*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.

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