How diverse are Colorado newspaper newsrooms? Well…
Your weekly roundup of Colorado local news & media
Results are in from the latest American Society of News Editors survey on diversity in newsrooms.
This year the group partnered with Google News Lab for an interactive approach. You can search for a newsroom that responded to the survey and see how it stacks up to the audience it covers, which can look pretty remarkable in some cases. Digging into the numbers for Colorado shows some real disparities.
The Chronicle-News, for instance, is 100 percent white while Trinidad, Colorado, is 43 percent white and 51 percent Hispanic. The Greeley Tribune, which is 90 percent white, 10 percent Hispanic, and 43 percent female serves a city that is 57 percent white, 37 percent Hispanic, and 51 percent female. Vail Daily is 100 percent white and 45 percent female while the city is 93 percent white and 44 percent female. The Loveland Reporter-Herald is 92 percent white, 8 percent Asian, and 50 percent female serving a city that’s 85 percent white, 2 percent Asian, 11 percent Hispanic, and 51 percent female. The 100 percent white Longmont Times-Call serves a community that’s 26 percent Hispanic. The Mountain Mail is 75 percent white, 25 percent black, and 25 percent female while Salida is 82 percent white, 0 percent black, 14 percent Hispanic, and 54 percent female. The Telluride Daily Planet is 83 percent white, 17 percent Hispanic, and 67 percent female in a town that’s figures are scrambled in the survey. The Colorado Independent newsroom, which doesn’t appear in the ASNE results, is 80 percent white, 60 percent female, and 20 percent Hispanic. My sense is staff at papers that responded are pretty small and in some cases could be, like, four people. Colorado’s largest papers, The Denver Post and The Gazette in Colorado Springs, don’t appear at all in the results. An editor at The Gazette didn’t respond to an email or voice message, and Denver Post managing editor Linda Shapley says it’s possible her paper was asked and it just fell through the cracks in a busy newsroom.
“Needless to say, the reductions that have happened in the newsroom have been particularly challenging in our attempts to remain as diverse as possible; we take every opportunity to ensure that we are encouraging a broad selection of applicants to our open job positions,” Shapely says. “I believe we score well in gender diversity but racial and ethnic diversity remain areas of concern.”
The latest ASNE results “summarize responses from 661 news organizations, including 598 newspapers and 63 online-only news websites,” the group reports. “Although direct comparisons to 2016 data show slight decreases in the overall diversity of news organizations, this year’s results indicate that newsrooms are still more diverse than they were during the two decades prior to 2016 when diversity figures essentially plateaued and minorities consistently accounted for between 12 and 13 percent of newsroom employees.”
The Denver Post turned 125 years old. And it celebrated in newspaper style.
In honor of its century-and-a-quarter delivering news to Denver, “The Rocky Mountain Empire” and the world, the paper produced a thick insert in its Sunday edition full of a whole lotta Remember When. Featured in it was “Across the battle lines,” which chronicled the Great Newspaper War between The Rocky Mountain News and the Denver Post before the Rocky folded its flag in 2009. (When the two papers shared a building, one reporter would push elevator buttons just to try and slow a rival down a few minutes to gain an edge.) The Post also filmed a 25-minute documentary about the paper’s history, which includes some unflinching commentary about its financial predicaments. Other items include how the news makes it to readers in print and online. There’s a piece about covering prohibition and pot that begins with this lede: “Denver has long been a premier spot for getting wasted.” There’s a timeline, a list of awards and quips about “non-practicing” drunks, boozing and desk-snoozing, “womanizing, carousing and sudden disappearances,” all before drinks after work at The Denver Press Club. There was the paper’s first female reporter who helped get a cannibal pardoned and broke up a newsroom gunfight. There was a “revolution” on the op-ed page, and that one day the Post didn’t publish.
And how’s this for a nut graf about a changing newspaper?
The paper’s editorial silence amid the Teapot Dome political scandal, its early tolerance of the Ku Klux Klan and xenophobic treatment of German and Japanese immigrants during wartime marked professional lows. But all of that stood in stark contrast to its denouncement of “mccarthyism” — editor Palmer Hoyt refused to dignify the term with capital letters — its steps toward more inclusive op-ed pages and staffing and, ultimately, Pulitzer Prize-winning efforts in news coverage, photography and editorial cartooning.
Along the way, The Post underwent the upheaval of multiple ownership changes. Local family stewardship under Harry Tammen and Frederick Bonfils and their heirs survived the takeover bid of one corporate suitor but eventually sold to the Times Mirror Co. in 1980. MediaNews Group bought a struggling enterprise in 1987 and, ultimately, ceded control to Alden Global Capital, a New York-based hedge fund. All of the new owners were greeted with skepticism, although each has left defining imprints and its own legacy of change.
In the mini-doc, Denver Post owner Dean Singleton himself explains the current retrenchment of the paper at the hands of a hedge fund that gobbled up investment shares. “It’s capitalism,” he says. “They’re Wall Street investors, they’re not kids that started working in a newspaper when they were 15, and they weren’t people like you and me that love this business and treasure what we do for our communities and for democracy. They’re investors. And their way of recouping that investment has been to liquidate real estate and take cash off the table. Once you allow there to be investors that’s a bargain you made, and you have to keep the bargain.”
That’s a lot of history. But current editor Lee Ann Colacioppo writes, The Denver Post is “just getting started.”
Speaking of newspapers on newspapers…
The bygone days of those great Colorado newspaper wars are over. And yet. The front page of the latest weekend edition of The Durango Herald led with a story headlined “EPA Refutes Mine Article.” But the article in question wasn’t from The Durango Herald. The headline of the online version gives you a better idea: “Denver Post article about Superfund site’s threat to wildlife catches flak.”
Here’s the lede of the Herald story, written by Jonathan Romeo:
A recent Denver Post article is being called misleading and inaccurate for overstating the risks to wildlife from mine contamination around a Superfund site near Silverton. “The statement that EPA crews found that lead is threatening birds and animals is not accurate,” Environmental Protection Agency project manager Rebecca Thomas wrote in an email Friday. “The terrestrial risk assessment is ongoing and no conclusions have been reached.” Around 7 p.m. Thursday, The Denver Post sent a “Breaking News Alert” for a story titled “EPA crews working on Gold King cleanup find elevated lead threatening birds, animals and, potentially, people.” In the story, the Post draws the conclusion based on a presentation the EPA gave Monday, in which the agency said preliminary sampling of soils around the Superfund site found levels of lead at some locations at 5,000 parts per million.
A little toxic-lead pollution in Colorado’s mountains lasts long after jobs go away. Environmental Protection Agency crews conducting Superfund cleanup-prep investigations along Animas River headwaters revealed this week that they’ve found contamination at century-old mine sites at levels 100 times higher than danger thresholds for wildlife. This lead and dozens of other contaminants are spreading beyond waste-rock piles into surrounding “halos” where they are absorbed by plants and then can be ingested by bugs and transferred from the insects to birds to, ultimately, mammals. EPA officials said tissue samples from deer will be tested to assess ecological harm.
“You start to understand the scope of the environmental problem and how long this is going to take,” EPA Superfund project chief Rebecca Thomas said after a town hall meeting this week in Silverton. “It is pretty overwhelming. … We don’t really have an active mining industry in this state anymore. Yet we still see so many impacts. And we’re just looking at the Bonita Peak Mining District in the San Juan Mountains. Think how much more widespread it is across the Rocky Mountain West. It’s a big problem. It’s going to take many years to solve it — and a lot of money.”
The lead, measured at concentrations up to 5,000 parts per million, surfaced in the latest round of sampling and study that were spurred by a federal declaration last year of a Superfund environmental disaster linked to the 2015 Gold King Mine spill that turned the Animas River mustard-yellow through three states.
The piece goes on to detail how thousands of abandoned mines are leaking in the west and explains the troubles involved in trying to mitigate their impact on the environment. The Herald published its piece without a comment from the Post. But The Denver Post stands by the story, which Finley spent days reporting. And Post senior news editor Dana Coffield says the EPA has not asked the paper for clarification or a correction. She points out that the Post didn’t draw a conclusion about the data, mentioned how the testing was ongoing, and didn’t say deer were dropping dead from lead poisoning.
So what gives? I wondered if maybe this was a new tactic from an agency that has been aggressively restructured under the new presidential administration: Don’t complain to a paper directly about a story but instead criticize it in another paper. That wouldn’t surprise me at a time when government actors are increasingly sowing distrust of news sources. Or maybe there was just some in-town-slash-out-of-town newspaper rivalry going on.
Romeo, the Herald reporter, says he “immediately heard from community members” after the Post’s push notification alert went out. He says he was at the same EPA meeting as Finley and later followed up with the agency for more info and to make sure he understood the results. The EPA’s Rebecca Thomas told him their phone was ringing off the hook about the Post piece. “The EPA expressed concern that the story was misleading,” Romeo says. He says he got a statement about it from the EPA at 3:30 p.m., which, he admits, didn’t leave much time for the Post to respond. “There is no rivalry between the two papers,” he says. “We have a history of having a working relationship to share stories.”
Patch.com is back in Colorado. Meet its new editor.
Remember the hyperlocal website backed by AOL that hired hundreds of journalists to crank out content and crawl all over their cities and towns and counties and states to harness the collective cash cow of local advertising dollars? You might not because the project was short lived. But apparently, after its split with AOL, it’s back in business. And Colorado now has a reporter writing under its banner.
Meet Jean Lotus, the editor of Denver Patch, who has a pretty broad beat. She’s covering Denver but also Colorado Springs, Boulder, Broomfield, Arvada, Golden, Lakewood, and Littleton. “Patch editors have a lot of leeway in what we report …. We get some help from a national desk and a network of other Patch sites around the country,” she told me. They do write real estate stories and promoted job posts, though, as part of the gig. She’s reported recently on the emergence of pay-what-you-want cafes in Colorado, nuns returning to missile silos 15 years after their arrests, and about a recent talk by Clarence Moses-El in Denver who was exonerated after 28 years in prison.
Lotus, who moved back to Colorado from Illinois, has already run into one local reporting buzzsaw in Colorado in the form of the state’s open-records laws that allow local police departments to charge for incident reports, “which makes it difficult to write an accurate crime blotter,” she says.
Followup file(s): Sponsored content and that FOI saga in Craig
In last week’s newsletter, I wrote about some questionable sponsored content gracing the home page and print pages of ColoradoPolitics, the Clarity Media-owned website and statewide politics journal linked to The Gazette in Colorado Springs. This week there wasn’t any sponsored content in the print edition, but online it looks like the web folks moved the paid-for content into a box to make it look more like an advertisement.
On another follow-up front, we have some news out of The Craig Daily Press about its open records saga. In early September I highlighted how the city was stonewalling its local paper and how the paper responded by writing a solid story about open records laws, explaining how they work and how The Craig Daily Press hoped filing some requests under the law could shed light on why the local police chief, Walt Vanatta, was forced out. Well, it took a while, but now there’s news on that front. But the lede? “More questions than answers remain following an open records request to city officials in late August.”
From The Craig Daily Post:
However, the correspondence did shed some light on who led the decision and the timeline in which it unfolded. The request sought all emails and text messages exchanged between Craig City Manager Mike Foreman and members of Craig City Council between June 1 and Aug. 15 pertaining to Vanatta and the police chief position. The writings are public records and subject to the Colorado Open Records Act.
“The results of the open records request did not fully answer why Vanatta was dismissed, nor what the police department’s new direction is,” writes reporter Lauren Blair.
The eventual story “took a lot of probing and searching for little pieces to even put this much together,” Blair told me about the saga. “Alas, we didn’t come to any extraordinary conclusions but at least we learned something about how it played out.”
What you missed on the Sunday front pages across Colorado
The Greeley Tribune fronted a big takeout called “The Red Tape of Rape” about how UNC handles sexual assault. The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel examined an “avoidable problem” of orphan wells. The Longmont Times-Call reported on a potential regional transit authority. The Loveland Reporter-Herald covered historical voter turnout in off-year local elections. The Steamboat Pilot wondered what’s next for the town’s urban corridor. In “A Tale of Three Jails,” The Coloradoan in Fort Collins reported on jail overcrowding. Vail Daily reported on local workforce housing. The Durango Herald ran a story questioning a Denver Post article. The Boulder Daily Camera reported on big money in a local ballot measure battle. The Denver Post surveyed the gubernatorial candidates about their stance on gun laws. The Gazette in Colorado Springs continued its coverage of toxic water in a nearby town.
Kyle Clark: Denver’s ‘social media king’
The alt-weekly Westword took a shine to the 9News anchor and host of the nightly newscast ‘Next’ in the paper’s Best Of Denver issue, calling the best media figure to follow on Twitter, and then did a standalone interview with him about all that.
A few comments that jumped out:
If I’m doing hard-news reporting on social media, it must follow 9News’s standards for reporting on any platform. All of my posts must follow our social-media guidelines. 9News management has never preemptively censored one of my posts or directed me to edit or delete a social-media post.
I think it’s helpful when news outlets allow journalists to find their own way on social media rather than forcing them into using it in a particular way. That kind of awkwardness tends to be pretty transparent to the community.
Read the whole thing here.
The personnel file: RIP Bill Gallo, Welcome Kevin Dale and welcome back Tom Green
Longtime scribe Bill Gallo, “whose words dazzled Denver for decades,” died after a battle with cancer, according to an obituary in The Denver Post. Gallo’s words graced The Rocky Mountain News, The Denver Post, and the alt-weekly Westword. The obit says when he arrived in Denver he “merged the skills of an old-school journalist with the beat of New Journalism exploding in the early 1970s. Gallo applied both styles, a two-finger typist pounding away furiously at a keyboard.”
On the plus-side of the ledger, Colorado Public Radio has brought on Kevin Dale, who spent 15 years at The Denver Post, to be its news director. He “served as a Pulitzer juror and is active in the Online News Association.” Dale’s arrival, CPR said in a release, “allows former VP of News Kelley Griffin to make a return to editing stories and working on community engagement. Griffin has been with CPR since 1993, first as a business reporter, before becoming managing editor, news director and then vice president of news.”
“Tom Green left 9NEWS in 1995,” 9News reports. Now he’s back “more than 20 years later to anchor the evening shows alongside Kim Christiansen.” He talked about what’s different in the news biz and at the Denver NBC affiliate he’s now re-joining.
A Colorado reporter wrote how he got PTSD from trauma reporting
Joey Bunch, the lead political writer for ColoradoPolitics, got pretty personal in his latest Insights column in the statewide politics journal and site. What started out as a piece about Bowe Bergdahl took quite a turn halfway in after some mentions of the soldier’s mental health issues.
From the column:
In 2012 I covered the immediate aftermath of the Aurora theater shooting and the Sandy Hook massacre in with a series of wildfires. It got the best of me, and then some. I interviewed victims, friends and families. I owed them the respect of looking them in the eye and trying to understand their pain. I’ve done this enough to know that people need and deserve that. Nobody shot at me, and I wasn’t ordered to kill anybody. I know I could not do a soldier’s job. I paid a high price for doing my own. In 2013 I was diagnosed with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD. Episodes came from nowhere and came from everywhere. I would wake up drenched in sweat every night I stayed in a hotel room — the only time I was alone in Newtown after days spent at children’s funerals. I stopped eating and lost 30 pounds. I struggled with my thoughts about a world so unquestionably wicked and cruel. I did irrational things, and what people would think of me constantly occupied a place in my mind with my irrational thoughts. On a Tuesday morning in March, I held back jagged breaths in a restroom stall at the office whenever anyone else came in. There was no way to explain why a disaster journalist with decades of experience was crying over strangers’ children months later. I went to the sink, threw cold water on my face and returned to the stall until I looked sane enough to walk across the newsroom to my cubicle. It was an unseen bear that shook my life like a rag doll.
Whew. Bunch told his personal story because President Donald Trump and one of Bunch’s own friends on Facebook said Bergdahl should be executed after leaving his post and getting captured by the Taliban, which led other soldiers to get injured. “It might feel like a rush of patriotism to execute Bowe Bergdahl with your words, but you don’t know where you’re leaving unintended land mines,” Bunch wrote. “You don’t know who is hearing their name.” He left his e-mail address for any reader who needs to talk.
“I went back and forth a lot of times about putting myself in this until I decided I had no dignity to begin with,” Bunch told me. He was kidding, of course. “One of the biggest struggles I had when I was deep into it in 2013 was the shame,” he said. “I kept it completely to myself. And I’m past that. People don’t get the help they need because of the fear of what people will think, and that’s what really struck me about what my friend said.”
Bunch says he’s received about two dozen emails or texts so far in response to the piece. “I think a lot of people who have had mental health struggles know about that kind of shame that makes you hide in restrooms,” he says.
*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 Jon S for Creative Commons on Flickr.
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