‘Collusive newspaper’ claim vs. ‘real threat’ of hedge-fund journalism in Colorado

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‘Collusive newspaper’ claim vs. ‘real threat’ of hedge-fund journalism in Colorado

There’s a lot to say about newspaper ownership in Colorado these days and what it means for readers. Big changes have rumbled the landscape in the past few years and more tectonic shifts could be underway. Would you attend or participate in a public forum about the topic? If so, get in touch.

In the meantime I’ll point to a latest issue on that front.

Earlier this month public radio host Duncan Campbell aired an hour-long segment on KGNU in which he accused The Boulder Daily Camera of being a “collusive newspaper” that was in with local Big Business, developers and Chamber of Commerce-type groups. The paper, Campbell said, was playing a new role since its 2013 takeover by Digital First Media and DFM’s hedge fund Alden Global Capital. The radio host says the hedge fund is “very conservative” and “controlling.” DFM owns The Denver Post, he said, which “got us Cory Gardner” by endorsing him in 2014 over Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Udall. In Boulder, The Daily Camera, Campbell said, was “presumably” set to endorse Udall, but was told a change in policy under new ownership barred the paper from endorsing anyone— only to later get “back in the endorsement business,” supporting a slate of local candidates, at least one of whom won. “That’s an example of how the paper can actually have a very major affect on elections,” he said. “But it is no longer a local paper. It has an agenda,” he went on, saying that agenda is “to be against the democratization of our energy supply.”

On Twitter, Daily Camera news editor Matt Sebastian, took issue with Campbell’s claims.

He disputed that DFM and its hedge-fund owner influence coverage, but he said there are real problems with hedge-fund ownership. The editorial page editor, he said, “made her own decision to end ALL candidate endorsements,” and that year the paper “endorsed no humans, only ballot measures.” The suggestion that DFM and Alden Global dictates the paper’s local coverage, he said, is false. “Pure conspiracy theory stuff. (I’m the news editor, I would know),” he wrote. The paper is owned by a hedge fund, Sebastian said, and that does have a real impact on the local paper. “But not by dictating how/what we cover,” he wrote. The “real story of hedge fund ownership,” he said, “is insatiable demand for profit that’s stripping papers of journalists who care for their communities.” The paper has “fewer reporters, fewer photographers left to tell Boulder County’s stories + inform citizens,” Sebastian wrote. “But we’re still here. Still local.” Therefore, he said, “profit-margin greed, not tinfoil theories about right-wing agendas handed down from on high, is real threat of hedge-fund journalism.” He concluded by saying “a newspaper’s owner has every right/ability to influence coverage. It’s their paper. I’m just saying it’s not happening in our case.”

The timing of this is apt. The Nation magazine this week has a brutal story about the founder and chief of investments of the Alden Global Capital hedge fund and how the tycoon is “destroying America’s hometown newspapers.” Meanwhile the City Pages alt-weekly in Minneapolis ran a recent story with this headline about the local daily in St. Paul: “While hedge fund counts profits, Pioneer Press cuts newsroom… again.”

Camera editor Sebastian began his tweetstorm by saying “If you’re looking for smart/informed take” on how ownership affects his paper, the recent conversation on public radio wasn’t it. So here’s my charge: Let’s have one that is, and one that folds in other big papers in Colorado, too. I’ll take the lead in setting it up, so if you’re interested in getting involved or have ideas, get in touch.

Why the editor of a college newspaper in Colorado ‘threw a fit’ over a closed-door meeting

When an association of students at Colorado State University tried to impeach the student body president, Erin Douglas didn’t think the process was transparent. Douglas is editor of the The Rocky Mountain Collegian campus student newspaper. And when the Associated Students of Colorado State University’s senate tried to hold an executive session to discuss alleged violations by the student president, Douglas spoke up during a meeting. “We’re not going to leave; the press will stay here,” she said, which apparently stopped the panel from going into secret session. Douglas wrote about her public stance for the paper. “I strongly believe that it is not my place as a journalist to interfere with, nor comment on, the topic or group I cover,” she explained. Of course there was a “But…” coming.From her first-person column in The Collegian:

1. The student body deserves to know. … 2. It would set an expectation for the future. … 3. It would damage relationships between ASCSU and the Collegian. … 4. An executive session in this case, is illegal.

The rest of her column hashes out Colorado’s open meetings laws and explains how she believes the student group is violating them despite saying, “ASCSU is receiving legal advice from the General Counsel of Colorado State University that Colorado sunshine laws do not apply to them.” She is urging the student government to work with the student newspaper on “what appears to be an unresolved legal issue in Colorado.” Let’s see if that happens.

Some Colorado examples re: the AP’s big sue-you-for-asking story

At CJR’s United States Project where our mission includes tracking press freedom issues at the local level, we’ve noticed some disturbing instances where a local government will sue a news outlet just for filing an open records request. It happened in Montana, which ended in a positive result, and also in California. But news organizations, even small ones, have barrels of ink and media reporters ready to make national hay out of their battles. Average people don’t. And what’s scary, The Associated Press recently found, is the sue-you-for-asking approach by governments is also being waged against everyday parents and retirees who dared to file a request for information under a state’s open records law.

From the AP:

The lawsuits generally ask judges to rule that the records being sought do not have to be divulged. They name the requesters as defendants but do not seek damage awards. Still, the recent trend has alarmed freedom-of-information advocates, who say it’s becoming a new way for governments to hide information, delay disclosure and intimidate critics. “This practice essentially says to a records requester, ‘File a request at your peril,’” said University of Kansas journalism professor Jonathan Peters, who wrote about the issue for the Columbia Journalism Review in 2015, before several more cases were filed. “These lawsuits are an absurd practice and noxious to open government.”

Government officials who have employed the tactic insist they are acting in good faith. They say it’s best to have courts determine whether records should be released when legal obligations are unclear — for instance, when the documents may be shielded by an exemption or privacy laws. At least two recent cases have succeeded in blocking information while many others have only delayed the release.

Here in Colorado, there are some examples of this happening. Last year the town of Basalt sued “a citizen who requested information … under the Colorado Open Records Act” that included text messages from the mayor. A judge dismissed the suit. A few years ago when a citizen filed open records requests to the Chaffee County elections office, the office “filed a CORA action in district court seeking to prevent disclosure.” (That incident led to an appeals court ruling about attorneys fees in CORA cases.) In 2013, then-Attorney General John Suthers “filed a legal action” against Denver TV station KMGH to keep records a reporter asked for from being released. (h/t Jeff Roberts.)

As for current bizarre open records cases in Colorado…

Here’s a doozie.

It goes like this, per Jeffrey Roberts of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition: Bruce Dierking of Boulder, who is in the booze business, obtained information including liquor license records of another store through an open records request to the City of Wheat Ridge. The city turned over documents. The retailer, Applejack Wine & Spirits, claims the information Dierking got is “filled with highly sensitive personal and commercial information.” So Applejack asked a judge to tell Dierking he can’t possess or use the documents he received.

A judge in May told Dierking to give the docs to the court and destroy any others, Roberts wrote. Stunningly, Roberts continues, Dierking was also given “72 hours to contact anyone else who received the Applejack records ‘to inform them to destroy or return such materials to him at once.'” And that could include journalists. Ernest Luning had written about the records in The Colorado Statesman and also wrote about the clawback attempt, too. Dierking lawyered up and pushed back. Just this week the City of Wheat Ridge joined the Applejack legal effort. A court hearing was scheduled for this Tuesday, but it was cancelled. The public information, open records, and publication aspect I’m focusing on here is what’s interesting to me about this, but it’s also a sidebar to a much larger story about Big Booze in Colorado, much of which you can learn from Luning’s likely impactful legislative reporting on it.

The Colorado Springs police PIO got swamped by crappy clickbait 

A friend in New York has texted me for a week now about the “Mad Pooper” story because I live in the Springs. “Your town,” he texts just the other day. “As a resident, what are your thoughts?” Someone sent him a link to a story about it and then he saw an item on something called OzzyMan. Sensational click-baity local stories like that get around because, yeah poop. (If this kind of nonsense bothers you and you really want to scare yourself, watch this movie and see how close we’re getting.)

OK, so the background: A local TV station goes with the irresistible local story of a female jogger caught repeatedly dropping trou and pooping on or a near a family’s lawn and gets the quotable just-folks quotes from the family and the story goes insane viral to the point where even the lowest-scorer of the Bubble Test has heard about The Mad Pooper. I mean, it even made the NPR news quiz. Sick of it yet? At least you’re not the public information officer of the Colorado Springs Police Department who already has the unenviable job of trying to spin positive news about an agency that’s so resource strapped it disbanded its gang unit around this time last year amid “critical staffing” shortages and scaled back on house calls while asking residents to fill out forms online if a crime wasn’t actively happening. “At 684 officers we’re really, really busy,” the police chief said just this week. “Compared to other cities in Colorado and the nation, we’re significantly behind.” He said crime is growing in Colorado’s second-largest city while the police department isn’t— about four officers leave each month, lost 50 in the past year alone— and the ‘ole chief cited a “pretty busy year for homicides.” But haha Mad Pooper lol. That’s what websites who want clicks were clogging the phone lines of the Colorado Springs Police Department about.

“I cannot give a total number (of calls), there have been so many,” the police spokesman told local TV station KOAA for its own Mad Pooper angle. “I have received requests from New Delhi, India, the BBC, and outlets from New York to California. I just got a call from Chicago in the last five minutes.” Last Tuesday, the PIO told KOAA he “put in a 13 and a half hour day at work due to [an] officer-involved shooting and other events. … On top of all of that, he had to deal with the media craze surrounding the pooper.” The police department, he told the station, did not go to the media with the story until it went viral. “We’re being very careful,” he said. “Yes, it’s humorous, but we want to be careful if this is a mental health issue.” Yeah but, you know, mad pooper haha lol clicks.

What you missed on the Sunday front pages across Colorado

The Longmont Times-Call looked at a stretch of road responsible for four of the year’s 19 fatal crashes in Boulder County. The Greeley Tribune localized a statewide story about the constitutionality of sex offender registries. The Steamboat Pilot zoomed in on the plight of local DACA recipientsThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel reported on a dispute between a local education board and a health insurerThe Loveland Reporter-Herald profiled a local builder of tiny homes. Vail Daily covered a local pioneer celebrationThe Coloradoan in Fort Collins was on the local mall beatThe Boulder Daily Camera reported on the city’s cost to separate from Xcel and form a municipal utilityThe Gazette reported GOP State Treasurer Walker Stapleton’s entrance into the governor’s raceThe Durango Herald reported on what poor Medicaid and Medicare reimbursement costs for ambulance rides mean for a local emergency response agency, and how it intersects with the state’s Gallagher amendmentThe Denver Post continued its series on the rural-urban divide with a piece covering family farming heritage.

The newspaper building in Steamboat Springs has an offer

The City of Denver is on a hiring blitz, as you might have read, and still might move some government offices into the space where newspaper reporters used to work as The Denver Post re-locates its staff out of the county. Meanwhile in Steamboat Springs, “Someone has reportedly made an offer to buy the Steamboat Pilot & Today building on the west side of the city, and it isn’t the city of Steamboat Springs,” the local paper reports. But it’s a secret.

From The Pilot:

The city was in the process of working with an architect to evaluate the newspaper’s headquarters as a potential place for city offices when City Manager Gary Suiter was informed this week someone else had made an offer to buy the building from the newspaper’s former owners. Cam Boyd, the real estate agent who has been trying to sell the building, said Thursday he couldn’t disclose who the potential buyer is at this time.

Not too long ago a consultant was warning the city not to buy the building. But now that there’s an offer members of the city council are throwing shade at not getting in on the deal. The paper doesn’t actually own the building, it’s just leasing it from the paper’s previous owner who has it on the block for $5.5 million. But you want to read a real killer of a story about newspaper owners and real estate with a Colorado link? Here you go.

Learn how to create a podcast from a podcast master himself

Podcasts might the future. They’re hot now for sure. And if you’ve ever thought about learning how to create your own, you’re in luck. Noel Black, who produced the great Edward R. Murrow award-winning “Wish We Were Here” podcast on KRCC in Colorado Springs, is holding classes.

Black will teach a Bootstrap Podclass at the Rocky Mountain PBS Tim Gill Center for Public Media in Colorado Springs from 1 p.m. to 5 on four Saturdays, October 14, 21, 28 and November 4.

“You’ll pitch your ideas, get constructive feedback, and learn the basics of recording and editing rich audio,” he says. “You’ll learn interview prep and techniques, story structure, how to write a script, how to use music (and the legalities), mixing, compression, setting up a web page, publishing, casting, plus lots of tricks and tips for all the above. And of course you’ll connect with a community of fellow podcasters with whom you can share ideas and collaborate.”

Cost is a sliding scale from $200 to $500 with two scholarships available. Email darksandal AT gmail for more information and to reserve your place if you’re interested.

*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 Phil Long 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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