Colorado’s Park County ‘filed a legal complaint’ against Evergreen Newspapers and two of its reporters to block access to a teen’s autopsy

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Colorado’s Park County ‘filed a legal complaint’ against Evergreen Newspapers and two of its reporters to block access to a teen’s autopsy

A board of commissioners in Park County, acting “by and through” the county coroner, “filed a legal complaint against the Canyon Courier’s umbrella organization Evergreen Newspapers, as well as reporter Sal Christ and editor Michael Hicks, seeking to restrict access to Maggie Long’s autopsy,” The Canyon Courier reported late last month. As the paper reports, Long, 17, died Dec. 1, 2017 in connection with a fire at her family’s home in Bailey.

From the paper on May 22:

The complaint, filed in Park County District Court on Monday, seeks to legally bar the inspection and release of Long’s autopsy on grounds that allowing public access to the files would “do substantial injury to the public interest by jeopardizing and hindering the investigation of her death.” The complaint comes a month after Evergreen Newspapers sent letters of intent to sue the coroner, as well as 11th Judicial District Attorney Molly Chilson, over their failure to fulfill a Dec. 14, 2017, Colorado Open Records Act request for access to Long’s autopsy. As the Courier previously reported, [the coroner] has repeatedly denied requests to release the autopsy since January at the request of Chilson.

Interestingly, something that made the situation stickier was a bill legislators passed this session that would close all public access to the autopsies of minors. But, just recently, Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper vetoed the proposed law, saying he was swayed by news organizations and their allies who said the bill would be a hurdle to open government and the public’s right to information.

So, did Hickenlooper’s veto help this small local news outlet in its legal fight with a local public official? “Our interest in acquiring access to the autopsy report is still vital in our reporting on this case,” Evergreen Newspapers editor Michael Hicks tells me. “That said, it makes little sense at this time to fund a legal battle knowing that we are, in all likelihood, only going to get information that we already have about the case. We are still pursuing multiple reports … and we’ll continue to do so until there is no stone left unturned.”

Will unaffiliated politics reporters vote in the Colorado primaries? 

In 2016, Colorado voters passed a law allowing unaffiliated voters to participate in party primaries for the first time. Here, more voters— 1.2 million of them, which include many journalists— choose not to belong to a political party than to register as Democrats or Republicans. This week, unaffiliated voters will get a Democratic and Republican primary ballot in the mail and they can choose which one to mail back in. Here’s the catch: their choice will become a public record, available for anyone who asks the election agency about it. Primary ballots are now hitting mailboxes around the state and they include important races— for governor, Congress, attorney general and more.

Around this time last year, I surveyed members of the press corps at the Colorado Capitol to see whether they were registered with a party or if they were unaffiliated and if they might vote in the primaries when the time came. The response was mixed. “On one side were reporters who said journalists don’t automatically give up their right to vote in exchange for the job,” I wrote. “On the other were those concerned that a partisan source could wield their public voting history as a way to try and discredit their work.”

This week, I put out a call on social media to see if some political reporters were thinking of choosing a primary and voting now that our ballots are landing in our mailboxes.

Here’s a roundup of the reactions: “I’m not, but nobody wants my vote,” said Joey Bunch, lead ColoradoPolitics.com reporter. Longmont Times-Call reporter Karen Antonacci says she won’t vote either. Nor will Marianne Goodland of ColoradoPolitics or Joe St. George of KDVR. “Beware, journos, beware,” said Kevin Duggan, who covers local government for The Coloradoan in Fort Collins. “Reporters shouldn’t vote,” said Associated Press western political reporter Nick Riccardi, using the hashtag  #confessyourunpopularopinion. AP regional director Jim Clarke said he would not be voting in the primaries. “Uh, no. No, I will not,” said Kara Mason, a political reporter for a variety of publications and the president of the local SPJ chapter. “A journalist who votes in a primary is just BEGGING to be labeled a partisan under the new law,” said Colorado Public Radio reporter Vic Vela. Click the tweet to see the reactions.

*Public Service Announcement for those unaffiliated voters who will participate: Here’s one weird trick to make sure your vote counts. Watch the video below. 

Why are so many Denver Post reporters voluntarily leaving? Do they have a plan?

In the past few weeks, some longtime big-name editors and reporters have resigned from The Denver Post voluntarily. They include senior editors Larry Ryckman, Dana Coffield, investigative reporter Jen Brown, long-form scribe Kevin Simpson, Eric Lubbers and others. That follows the voluntary resignation of outdoor writer Jason Blevins. So, that’s editors, reporters, and an online editor with a background in online innovations and digital stuff. Are they all leaving to form some kind of new news outlet in Denver? That’s what some in the Colorado media world were wondering this week. “We’re not talking about anything just yet,” one of the departed reporters said when I asked what’s up. One of the departed editors, Ryckman, said, “There’s a lot of energy right now around possible startups … There’s a lot of positive energy about saving local journalism.” For his part, he says he’s still rooting for The Denver Post but is excited about what comes next, “whether that’s a group to buy The Denver Post or create some sort of startups.” He said he wasn’t in a position to talk about his personal plans.

Around this time two years ago, Denverite launched with a splash as a for-profit digital startup and a test pilot for a string of similar sites across the country. A trio of investors seeded the site with capital but without a real plan for generating revenue. Ten months later it merged with Spirted Media, and seven months after that laid off nearly a third of its newsroom “undercutting hopes that the company and its team of investors may have cracked the code for a profitable and sustainable business model.” Meanwhile, The Colorado Independent, where I cover politics and media, provides the nonprofit approach to covering statewide public affairs. Colorado Public Radio seems like it’s expanding, and ChalkBeat Colorado offers a niche-market model for education while The Athletic and others cover Denver sports. In the past two years, billionaire-owner Phil Anschutz’s Clarity Media has a made a big push to dominate statewide politics coverage with its launch of ColoradoPolitics.com and its purchase of The Colorado Statesman. Other outlets abound trying different approaches.

National organizations like Civil, which seeks to harness blockchain technology, are exploring the space for new innovations in local news while others like Hearken are working on better audience engagement. Might Denver once again become a testing lab for the future of local news? Regardless of whether anything new launches, how journalists, readers, and advertisers of The Denver Post respond to what’s happening there will offer at least some kind of answer to that question in the coming years.

No more jeans at The Pueblo Chieftain since GateHouse bought the paper

“It’s official: GateHouse Media is the new owner of The Pueblo Chieftain.” That was the headline Tuesday in the southern Colorado newspaper that was for the past 150 years owned locally. GateHouse Media is the nation’s largest newspaper chain, which NPR recently called a “New York-based hedge fund.” (Sound familiar?) For about two months, journalists at the Chieftain didn’t know who would own the paper as a sale was pending. Now that it happened, have there been changes? Yep.

Luke Lyons, a reporter and the unit chair of the Chieftain’s newsroom union, says there have been a “few” layoffs since the out-of-town takeover. Paginators, he said, were also told they could move to Austin where GateHouse’s design hub resides or be laid off. Because of some accounting changes, he says, journalists are taking a monetary hit. Also, the newsroom has a dress code. No more jeans at work. “It has to be slacks and collared shirts,” he says. “Even for the sports guys.” But, hey, I’m told there were no drug tests. GateHouse is recognizing the union and they’ll be negotiating a new contract in the coming months, he adds.

What you missed on the Sunday front pages across Colorado

The Longmont Times-Call reported on the opening of a historic millThe Loveland Reporter-Herald covered a medieval festivalThe Steamboat Pilot got readers ready for local summer funThe Greeley Tribune brought readers inside the local school district’s biggest summer program yetThe Pueblo Chieftain reported Gov. John Hickenlooper signed two opioid bills into lawThe Coloradoan in Fort Collins covered the arrival of homeless lockers to the areaThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel looked at how targeted areas led to a drop in crimeThe Boulder Daily Camera reported how local educators are teaching trans-Atlantic slave historyThe Gazette in Colorado Springs fronted an ugly fight to control the Denver BroncosThe Denver Post looked at how identity politics is shaping the race for governor. “Hundreds flee wildfire,” read the Sunday headline in The Durango Herald.

How Trump’s tariffs are affecting a local Colorado newspaper

Across the country, recent tariffs imposed on Canadian newsprint are driving up business costs, and one small newspaper in Colorado told its readers about it this week. In an editorial, senior editor of The Left Hand Valley Courier, Mary Wolbach Lopert, wrote her paper is “is looking at ways to further cut costs” because of the tariffs.” At the moment, the only way we can continue to print is to raise ad rates,” she wrote. “No one wants to do this, but it’s the unintended consequence of national and international issues over which we have no control. There is no way to cover our costs without an increase. We believe that the Courier provides a valuable community service. We work hard to highlight people, schools, events, and businesses that Gunbarrel, Niwot and Longmont have to offer.”

As CNN reported, “The US Commerce Department applied the tariffs to Canadian paper in January and March, causing the price of newsprint to spike about 30% overall, according to print publishers. The increase is making companies consider whether to cut staff, drop pages, or print fewer editions.”

How Trump’s FCC is affecting a different local Colorado newspaper

The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel is buying four FM radio stations. From a memo to staff last month from publisher Jay Seaton:

The Federal Communications Commission earlier this year ended the prohibition on cross-ownership between newspapers and radio stations. I believe we are the first company in the country to do this kind of transaction. This acquisition will offer our company enormous opportunity for cross-promotion, advertising synergy and community connection. The possibilities, frankly, are wide open.

This week, he updated staffers on the plan, saying the newspaper is taking a “giant step forward” in the local advertising scene. More from Seaton:

In the last 18 years, newspaper print advertising revenue in this country has declined from $60 billion in 2000 to less than $20 billion today. The Sentinel’s performance reflects these numbers. If we intend to continue our mission (and I think we have a moral imperative to do so), we must add revenue opportunities. But it’s not just a hedge against declining print revenues. I firmly believe there will be synergistic effects that offer 1+1=3 opportunities from a revenue standpoint. So, that is my long-winded answer to “Why radio stations?”

“We are the first newspaper company in the country to buy radio stations since the cross-ownership prohibition was lifted,” Seaton told employees. “That means we have the opportunity to pioneer new ground here.”

Chuck Plunkett got a new gig

The architect of the Denver rebellion, former Denver Post editorial page editor Chuck Plunket, who very publicly resigned citing censorship, will now help architect young minds as director of CU News Corps at the University of Colorado Boulder.“I loved working in newsrooms, and I didn’t want to leave them. But it is also true that, before I started my career in journalism, I hoped to find myself teaching in university classrooms,” Plunkett said. “Over the years I’ve often thought longingly about returning to the academy and its mission. The CU News Corps program offers incredible opportunities to help train the next generation of journalists and maintain that connection to the profession that has defined my adult life.”

Denver TV ratings are like that old 311 song

Down. From Denver’s alt-weekly Westword:

Comparing today’s numbers for 10 p.m. weeknight newscasts to figures from 1998 and 2008, as documented in a February 2008 Denver Post piece, offers stark evidence.

9News in 1998: 29 share 9News in 2008: 18 share 9News in 2018: 8.03 share CBS4 in 1998: 23 share CBS4 in 2008: 12.8 share CBS4 in 2018: 4.47 share Denver7 in 1998: 10 share Denver7 in 2008: 11.2 share Denver7 in 2018: 4.32 share

“Fewer and fewer people are watching late local newscasts the way previous generations of TV viewers did — as a way to catch up on what happened that day before hitting the hay,” reports Michael Roberts. “And those who still do will likely become even rarer as time goes by.”

Western Conservative Summit denies Samantha Bee press credentials for this weekend

If Samantha Bee, the comedian and star of the “Full Frontal” show on TBS, wants to attend the Western Conservative Summit in Denver this weekend, she’ll have to get in through the back door. Organizers of the conference, which is known as the largest gathering of conservatives outside D.C., have denied her press credentials. Centennial Institute Director and Western Conservative Summit Chairman Jeff Hunt said Bee’s production team has previously attended the summit and has a history of bullying and harassing attendees, the AP reported.

A DFM reporter knocks on the door of his hedge-fund owner— and greets him

In this newsletter in recent weeks we’ve learned about Denver Post reporters protesting their hedge-fund owners outside their own building (in Adams County) and outside the Lipstick building in New York City. In interviews, at least one Denver Post reporter said she was hoping for a conversation with a leader of the Alden Global Capital private equity firm that controls the Digital First Media company, which owns the paper and nearly 100 others around the country.

Recently, one reporter for a DFM newspaper,  Evan Brandt, took a sign reading “Invest in us or sell us” to protest outside a vacation home of Alden leader Health Freeman, “a $4.8 million, five-bedroom, five-bath mansion overlooking Lake Montauk at the tip of Long Island.” Not only that, he knocked on the door and was let inside by a housekeeper. There, he says he saw Freeman. Read his account here.

More Colorado media reading for the week

Bloomberg News wrote about the “hard truth” that hedge funds are in charge at newspapers across the country and how taxpayers lose in the bond market when local newspapers fold. In Grand Junction, budding journalists have started their own newspaper at school. The South Metro Villager “reviewed a recent Sunday Denver Post front section and counted exactly one journalist with a direct byline whose work was included in the entire 24 pages.” Editor & Publisher magazine published a “call to action” following the Denver rebellion. Andrew Elliman, a Denver tech marketer who blogs on the side has written his own perspective about The Denver Post for Medium. This week I appeared on The Young Turks TV show “Reporting In” talking about Denver as ground zero in the new newspaper wars, and also across the radio waves on FAIR’s show “Counterspin.”

Photo by Sal Christ

*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 Corey Hutchins.

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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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