Mystery in southern Colorado: Who’s going to buy The Pueblo Chieftain?
Your weekly roundup of Colorado local news & media
The Pueblo Chieftain, a newspaper in southern Colorado that has been family owned for 150 years, is in the process of being sold to an unnamed buyer.
Following the death of its 92-year-old publisher Robert Rawlings last March, several potential suitors lined up to try and purchase the paper, which comes with an attractive (and potentially lucrative) printing press. In January, those courters gave presentations. Now, the bidding process is over, says Chieftain general manager Brad Slater. But he declined to name who might have won. “They’re just dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s,” he told me on March 8. He said readers might expect an announcement around April.
So, who wanted to buy the paper? According to internal Chieftain emails that went out to employees there in January, “prospective buyers” included Digital First Media, Clarity Media, Adams Publishing, and GateHouse Media.
Digital First Media owns The Denver Post; Phil Anschutz’s Clarity Media owns The Gazette in Colorado Springs and also ColoradoPolitics, among other properties. GateHouse is one of the largest newspaper chains in the country and is known for its cost-cutting. It owns The La Junta Tribune-Democrat and three weeklies in Colorado, and it “scoops up papers whose owners want out of the shrinking business, cuts jobs, centralizes operations wherever possible, and keeps tight control over expenses,” Mark Arsenault recently wrote in The Boston Herald. And then there’s Adams Publishing, a newish family-owned outfit that’s been called “secretive” by Poynter and has been snapping up newspapers by the dozen, including some in nearby Wyoming.
So who made the cut? The Chieftain is doing a good job of keeping it close to the vest. But in conversations with multiple media sources, I’m told the Colorado buyers are out. That leaves GateHouse and Adams. A GateHouse spokesman didn’t return a phone message. The regional president of Adams, Jeff Patterson, wouldn’t confirm or deny a thing when I reached him by phone March 8. “In all acquisitions … it’s been our experience that everybody is under an NDA,” he said, meaning a non-disclosure agreement. He indicated that would remain the case until any public announcement.
Ray Aguilera, a local businessman who sits on the Pueblo City Council, says he doesn’t know for sure who is buying the paper, but people are talking about it around town and he’s heard secondhand rumblings from up at the country club. “It’s been awful quiet,” he said. “They haven’t announced it in the newspaper yet.”
Slater, the Chieftain manager, didn’t offer many clues, and he acknowledged that “rumors are flying” and employees are asking questions. He did say he doesn’t expect a new owner to come in and make drastic wholesale changes. He also said during the bidding process the paper’s management wanted to make sure they retained editorial freedom and control of its newsroom and editorial page. “They didn’t want the oversight of somebody that doesn’t live here and work here in Pueblo and in southern Colorado,” he said. “So we didn’t want those pressures or oversight beyond that. So that was a big part of their decision-making process.”
In recent years I’ve highlighted some accountability journalism from The Chieftain in this newsletter, including how it uncovered a mess at the state mental hospital and that bonkers story in which reporter Tracy Harmon found criminal evidence in a landfill. But the paper has suffered like other print products across the nation in the face of economic pressures, digital disruption, and everything else. Last January, the paper laid off reporters and cut its delivery service west of Cañon City, east of Las Animas, and in the San Luis Valley. It chose not to report its own bad news.
John Rodriguez, who publishes PULP, a Pueblo newsmagazine that has at times written critically of the local daily, says he’s concerned that a non-local buyer could mean the local voice of Pueblo might be diminished at a time when the southern Colorado city is struggling to keep pace with the rest of a booming state. “That provides an opportunity for PULP to be that local voice,” he says.
The Chieftain is a unionized paper whose employees are members of the Denver Newspaper Guild. Journalist and union member Luke Lyons says he and others in the Chieftain newsroom are worried about job security, potential layoffs, or outsourcing that might come from a sale. He added that during the recession, union members took a pay cut that hasn’t been restored. “Whoever buys The Chieftain,” he said, “I just hope they are willing to work with the Guild.”
Who’s going to buy the Chieftain: the vulture-capitalist hedge fund, the activist right-wing billionaire, the cost-cutting conglomerate, or the “secretive” investment group? 🙃 #copolitics https://t.co/8DjI0wiI6J
— Chase Woodruff (@dcwoodruff) March 9, 2018
Meet Colorado’s newest ‘fake news’ researchers
Chianna Schoenthaler and Michele Bedard, two college students, were on a mission to find out what kind of people are most susceptible to “fake news” as part of a research project at Colorado State University-Pueblo.
From reporter Kara Mason:
Sam Ebersole, who taught the research class, had the students design a research project that was in some way related to the topic of fake news — a buzzword that was constantly on the minds of politicos and those in the media throughout and following the 2016 election. Now, Bedard and Schoenthaler say they see it everywhere, and it hasn’t become at all less frequent since they started their research more than a year ago. The students found in their small sample size that people who identified as independent were able to better pick out fake news, Ebersole said. Republicans were the least likely to. Democrats fell somewhere in the middle. Participants ranged from young adults — college freshmen — to seasoned media professionals.
The students are now taking their research on the road, presenting at France’s Web Conference and at a conference at DePauw University in Indiana. “I don’t know if any of us can be savvy enough,” Ebersole told Mason about the stories he comes across. “Sometimes I look at these things and say wow that is extremely clever how they presented it.”
The FCC vs. pirate radio in Colorado
“Word spread quickly about the mysterious unmarked black SUV parked at a highway exit just outside the town of Ward on January 24. In the self-sufficient mountain community perched at 9,500 feet, strangers always attract attention. But the strangers in the SUV weren’t just a curiosity; they were enforcement agents with the Federal Communications Commission, and they presented a real threat to a beloved community resource.”
That’s the lede from Westword’s Chris Walker, who wrote a compelling narrative about “a broader FCC crackdown on pirate stations along the Front Range.”
The recent FCC actions are just the latest in a long-running skirmish between radio pirates and the FCC in Colorado. Over the past two decades, the agency has tried, and failed, to fully force pirate stations into submission. Instead, a resilient and swashbuckling underworld has evolved and adapted, a world replete with colorful DJ personalities, counterculture goals, mysterious guardian angels and even personal vendettas among individual pirates and FCC agents.
The piece is a whirlwind tour of pirate radio history in Colorado replete with fights between colorful DJ personalities and FCC agents and trailers outfitted with transmitters and antennas. As Walker writes, “When it comes to FCC enforcement in Colorado, the higher the altitude, the higher the stakes.” Check out this must-read here.
Speaking of radio news in Colorado…
Here’s something about “Tribal Radio.” That’s the name of a new documentary by the Durango-based filmmaker Sean Owen whose story about the KSUT public radio station on the Southern Ute reservation in Ignacio, Colorado, is making the rounds on the film-festival circuit. The film “tells the story of the Southern Ute Indian staff members who established it in 1976 and how it grew into a regional station with two signals – Tribal Radio and Four Corners Public Radio,” reports The Cortez Journal. Among other public radio programming, KSUT, which is one of the oldest tribal radio stations in the nation, plays “alternative, blues, punk, whatever, it’s different than a contemporary powow, flute music,” says one source in a trailer for the doc.
“The film is politically timely: President Donald Trump has proposed cutting funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which supports KSUT and many other tribal radio stations, Owen said,” according to the Journal. The station is trying to raise money for a capital campaign so it can expand into a new broadcast facility.
What you missed on the Sunday front pages
Summit Daily reported how climate change is hurting forests in the Rockies. The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel returned to coverage of the satanist at City Council. The Coloradoan in Fort Collins looked at the lasting emotional toll of cop killings. The Longmont Times-Call reported Boulder County Schools are suffering high anxiety in the wake of the Parkland school shooting. The Loveland Reporter-Herald fronted a story about the mayor questioning a local development deal. The Steamboat Pilot covered skiing in Canada. The Pueblo Chieftain carried a story about the way the local city council will decide how the mayor is chosen. The Boulder Daily Camera fronted legal wrangling over local development. The Gazette in Colorado Springs reported how sex abuses are rocking the U.S. Olympic Committee. The Denver Post reported how cameras, door locks and a bucket of kitty litter are now “standard” security equipment in Colorado classrooms. The Durango Herald reported on how the Colorado caucuses work.
The Rocky Mountain News closed nine years ago last week
Here’s a video ex-Rocky reporters were sharing on social media as they reminisced.
A lawsuit against The Denver Post’s hedgefund owner
When a hedgefund sues a hedgefund, how can there be a newspaper angle? Well, when one of the hedgefunds controls the company that owns a newspaper…
Alden Global Capital is the hedgefund that controls Digital First Media, which owns The Denver Post and several other Colorado papers. Solus Alternative Asset Management is a hedgefund that owns 24 percent of shares in DFM, and it’s suing Alden, alleging the hedgefund “siphoned hundreds of millions of dollars from one of America’s largest news chains … damaging local news organizations to finance insider investment deals,” according to Julie Reynolds who writes for NewsMatters, a digital project of the DFM workers union. “The lawsuit’s account of millions of dollars in newspaper funds being spent to finance Alden’s independent investments hit hard in DFM newsrooms struggling after job cuts,” she writes. “Some worksites have endured staff reductions of more than 40 percent in the last two years alone.” View the lawsuit here.
And here’s a local take featuring the editorial page editor of The Boulder Daily Camera (owned by DFM) and our own columnist Mike Littwin:
If the charges in this lawsuit are true, Alden has greedily stuffed its pockets with money while eviscerating Colorado journalism. Wait, even if the charges aren’t true, Alden has been greedily stuffing its pockets with money while eviscerating Colorado journalism.
— Michael Littwin (@mike_littwin) March 8, 2018
A conference on covering race in today’s America
On Saturday, March 10, the College of Media, Communication and Information at the University of Colorado-Boulder is holding a free conference open to the public featuring journalist Lee Fang of The Intercept and Terron Moore of MTV.
On the streets, in newspapers, on television and across social networks, the stark reality of racial tensions in the United States has reached critical mass. Wide-scale social movements have been met with violence on university campuses and sparked protests on football fields. As journalists, academics and the wider public seek to understand the fervor of identity politics and the complexities of racial representation, this conference examines and proposes new approaches for reporting on the landscape in America today: the quest for civil rights, the realities of historical prejudice, and the responsibilities we all share.
The event is from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Eaton Humanities 1B50 at 1610 Pleasant Street in Boulder.
Follow-up file: The Casper Star-Tribune unionized
In my last newsletter, I told you about a union drive at The Star-Tribune newspaper in Casper, Wyoming, where journalists were trying to organize for collective bargaining rights, in part so they could better report on their corporate owner, Lee Enterprises. Welp, they succeeded.
The newly formed Casper News Guild, which is affiliated with The Denver Newspaper Guild, has become the first union to form at a paper under Lee, and, as far as the state press association can tell, this is now the first newspaper in the whole state of Wyoming to become unionized. “As we have said from the beginning, our goal is to protect and strengthen the future of the Star-Tribune, as well as Casper and Wyoming’s news, for many years to come,” the union’s organizing committee said in a statement.
*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.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misspelled John Rodriguez’s first name.
Photo by Jeffrey Beall for Creative Commons on Flickr.
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