Boulder newspaper opinion editor fired after writing about his paper’s hedge fund owner
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Three weeks later, fallout from The Denver Post’s editorial rebellion against owner Digital First Media’s hedge-fund controller hasn’t abated. On Wednesday, Dave Krieger, the editorial page editor of The Boulder Daily Camera, said he was fired, or, as he says his publisher put it, “terminated.” According to the paper’s masthead, the publisher is Albert J. Manzi.
Yes, I can confirm that I was fired today by @dailycamera. Actually, the verb the publisher used was "terminated." As a euphemism for fired, it's actually way worse. I'd much rather be fired than terminated. Thankfully, that's what happened. 1/2
— Dave Krieger (@DaveKrieger) April 26, 2018
The move comes a week after Krieger published an editorial on a blog that he says his publisher blocked from appearing in the pages of the newspaper. The Camera is owned by Digital First Media, which is controlled by the New York hedge fund Alden Global Capital, the same owners of The Denver Post.
Here was part of that spiked editorial:
The Camera takes pride in serving as our community’s public square for discussion and debate of many local issues. To refuse to acknowledge this one would be tantamount to declaring that the Camera’s loyalties lie with its corporate overlords and not the community it serves. If we do not host this conversation, other platforms surely will.
Krieger’s editorial also called out its owner for endangering the local paper with its cost-cutting. On the evening he was canned, Krieger said he would likely have more to say in the future, but for the time being, he was having “a cocktail.” The news quickly generated a brief Associated Press wire story that was published in The New York Times and The Washington Post. We’ll see which Colorado news outlets also choose to publish it. Krieger recently appeared on a public panel about newspaper ownership, which you can watch here.
Other newspapers in the DFM chain have followed The Denver Post’s lead, but not as forcefully. The Southern California News Group published its own 10-piece editorial package but didn’t name Alden Global in its coverage. This is the first firing I’ve seen during the DFM Revolution Spring. The Denver Post’s op-ed page editor Chuck Plunkett said he nearly got the ax for what he did. At least one editor at a DFM paper on the East Coast told me about fears of potential reprisal.
On Thursday, Krieger published a new blog post reflecting on his decision and giving readers the inside scoop as to how he was fired. It includes this cup of acid thrown in the face of Digital First:
I should interject here that when I say DFM I am talking about a front for Alden Global Capital, the New York private equity firm actually demanding these profits while strangling the businesses that produce them. “Digital First” is by now an Orwellian name for this outfit. It may once have aspired to digital innovation, but that went away as soon as they discovered digital innovation costs money. A member of our editorial advisory board who knows about such things documented more than a hundred dead scripts running on our website. Sometimes, it takes forever to load. Sometimes, that spinning wheel never stops spinning; the site never stops loading. This is not exactly digital innovation at work. DFM knows. They just don’t care.
This is where the division between the journalism side and the commercial side of the business is most obvious. On the journalism side, we wrestle with this. Historically, in good newspaper companies, there has been a recognition on the business side that they need to keep their nose out of what we publish for exactly this reason. This is the line that Al crossed in my view when he started making editorial decisions to please our corporate overlords. He’s an extremely capable publisher, but he is not a journalist and should not be making editorial decisions. He quite literally does not know what he’s doing.
Historically, he has not interfered. Kevin has done a good job defending editorial prerogatives — he backed me in every situation where Al objected to a letter criticizing us or an advertiser or some other business. This is a norm that is generally understood and respected in good journalism organizations. Our financial interests — the business side — cannot dictate or even influence what we publish on the editorial side. Until this month, the Camera respected that. Some Boulder activists routinely accused us of carrying water for our corporate overlords whenever we failed to support their causes, but until this month it was a figment of these ideologues’ imaginations. I had never gotten a call, not once, from anybody at DFM or Alden about anything I wrote or published. They care about cash, not content. Except, as it turns out, when the content is about them.
Read the whole thing here. You will not be disappointed.
Meet Mayor McNewspaper
This Denver Post story is still bubbling. On Sunday, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock was on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” saying he would “love” to see the paper sold to “responsible owners,” and even suggested local government might get involved. “We move in and work with entities, institutions, private businesses every day, to try to keep them in the city because this is about jobs,” Hancock told host Brian Stelter. “It’s about an industry that is very important.”
A contrarian view…
Writing in The Weekly Standard, a magazine owned by Phil Anschutz’s Clarity Media, which owns The Gazette, ColoradoPolitics.com, the rights to The Rocky Mountain News name and URL (and who has been identified as a potential buyer for The Denver Post), senior writer Philip Terzian asked if newspapers are even necessary. “The fact is that newspapers are not just a relatively recent invention—large metropolitan dailies like the Post scarcely existed before the Civil War—but for some time ‘our grand democratic experiment’ progressed reasonably well without them,” he wrote. His conclusion: “The survival of the Denver Post would be nice, but is it necessary?”
Looking to Utah…
Meanwhile, Nicholas Riccardi and Brady McCombs, who write for The Associated Press from Colorado and Utah respectively, penned a wire story about a tale of two newspapers. One, the hemorrhaging Denver Post, and two, the Salt Lake Tribune, which was purchased from Digital First Media by a local family two years ago.
From that story:
Since then, its reporters received their first raise in a decade and won a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting. Though its home city is less than one-third the size of Denver, the Tribune’s newsroom staff of about 90 is larger than the Post’s roughly 60, who work out of leased offices in an industrial area northeast of the city.
The piece, which notes that it’s unclear if the Post is even for sale, sketches out some of the nascent conversations swirling around about potential buyers.
On that front, The Coloradoan in Fort Collins reports local progressive billionaire Pat Stryker is in the mix “as a potential buyer or contributor to a group effort to purchase the Denver Post. ” Stryker, “via a spokesperson from her Bohemian Foundation,” declined to comment for The Coloradoan story. Stryker “has spent millions over the years on various political and civic causes,” the paper reported.” In 2016, she donated $750,000 to support Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign for president, and she spent $25,000 locally in 2015 to support the spiritual successor of the Building on Basics sales tax.” The Bohemian Foundation has also donated to The Colorado Independent.
Colorado Public Radio spotlights Alden…
This week, the growing news station had Washington Post media reporter Paul Farhi on its statewide Colorado Matters show talking about his reporting on Alden Global Capital, a hedge fund so secretive, he said, “that its entire website consists of nothing more than its name over a glossy nature photograph.”
From the segment:
Headquartered in New York with investment funds domiciled in the tax-lenient Cayman Islands and a clientele that is mostly foreign, Alden has been investing in American newspapers since 2009. Through its majority control of a management company called Digital First Media, Alden owns nearly 100 daily and weekly papers, including such big-city dailies as the Mercury News, the Denver Post and the St. Paul Pioneer Press. The company’s holdings are notably concentrated in California, where it effectively owns every major newspaper around Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay area with the exception of the Los Angeles Times and the San Francisco Chronicle.
Wither the sports page…
For a look at how the decline of The Denver Post under DFM/Alden has affected the sports page, The Ringer, a sports site affiliated with SB Nation and Vox Media, has you covered. The in-depth feature by Bryan Curtis goes long on the halcyon days of the Denver sport-section newspaper wars where “If you could find out what kind of candy John Elway was giving out at his home on Halloween, that counted as a scoop.” Back then, a sports reporter could get poached by the paper across town for “about a $20,000 raise.” Even in 2009 when The Rocky folded it seemed clear to some what might happen years later.
From the story,”Rocky Mountain Low“:
The Post won the newspaper war when the Rocky folded in 2009. USA Today’s Lindsay H. Jones, who was then on The Post’s Broncos beat, said: “I remember the reaction being, ‘Oh, shit. What does this mean for journalism in Colorado?’” Everyone knew the same market forces, if not the vulture capitalists, would soon descend on The Post. “We’ve already seen the death of one great paper,” Schefter said. “We could be close to seeing the death of another. “It just makes you sad,” he continued. “It’s like hearing they’re tearing down your old high school.”
The story’s kicker is brutal. “Lately, when [a former reporter] goes to fetch the paper, he has noticed rocks in the plastic bag it arrives in. The Denver Post has gotten so thin—has been drained of so much of what made it great—that the delivery man needs extra weight to throw it across the driveway.”
Plunket honored during ‘Real News Day’…
For Denver’s “Real News Day,” The University of Denver tomorrow, April 27, is shining a light on the importance of journalism for a day of honor and activities along with The Denver Press Club. Denver Press Club, by the way, hosts WaPo editor Marty Baron as its Damon Runyon Award winner tomorrow night. DU is hosting WaPo Pulitzer Prize-winning national investigative reporter Kimberly Kindy who will speak at a DU lunch. DU’s Department of Media, Film & Journalism Studies is also honoring Chuck Plunkett, who led The Denver Post’s editorial rebellion, with an award for Journalism in the Public Interest. Learn more about it here.
‘Literary social work’: An economic hardship grant for ex-Post journalists
As I wrote on Friday for Columbia Journalism Review’s United States Project, the Post layoffs gave way to national coverage of that paper’s owner, but less attention has been paid to the circumstances of individual journalists pushed out of the Post who hope to continue reporting. One journalism nonprofit, the Economic Hardship Reporting Project, has zeroed in on that, offering $10,000 in grant money specifically for journalists forced out of The Denver Post’s newsroom to write about income inequality.
From the piece:
Founded by Barbara Ehrenreich, author of the 2001 book Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, the project supports independent journalists whose livelihoods have been imperiled by an upended media industry. Since 2012, the nonprofit has commissioned stories about income inequality and helped financially troubled journalists place pieces in magazines or newspapers like The Guardian and The New York Times. The latest fund dedicated to former Denver Post journalists is something of a public statement, according to Quart. “We’ve been sort of focused like a laser [on] supporting staff that are being laid off when there’s a bad actor involved like Alden Global Capital,” she says. Last fall, when billionaire Joe Ricketts shut down local news sites Gothamist and DNAinfo after staff voted to unionize, EHRP offered a $5,000 grant to writers displaced from the sites.
Quart likens the EHRP effort to “literary social work,” she told me. The $10,000 “will fund up to eight ex-Post journalists to produce feature-length stories about economic hardship and income inequality. Each writer will be paid by the nonprofit project and again by the publication that ultimately runs the resulting story. They can also suggest outlets that might be interested or help place them.” Read the whole story here. (Question: Does Krieger count? “It’s not the letter of the law,” EHRP managing director David Wallis told me about grant eligibility. “It’s the spirit of the law.”)
Other non-DFM Colorado newspapers weigh in
Last week we looked at how other Digital First Media-owned papers in the chain were reacting in and outside Colorado— or weren’t— to The Denver Post throwing down its lightning bolt. This week let’s look at what some Colorado papers outside the Alden umbrella have to say.
In an editorial by The Coloradoan in Fort Collins, owned by Gannet, the paper wrote how the “public tension between the Denver Post’s hard-working staff and managers of a soulless hedge fund is symptomatic of broader issues that cut across Colorado and the country. It reflects the state of journalism and how it is practiced in these turbulent times.”
The editorial board of Vail Daily, owned by Swift Communications, touted the importance of a robust statewide newspaper to its own existence:
Vail Daily readers benefit from the Denver paper’s coverage of federal courts, state politics and similar issues. The Vail Daily, and other newspaper groups around the state, provide the Post with news from areas outside the Denver area. It’s an arrangement that’s worked pretty well, for both participating publications and readers.
The Steamboat Pilot, also owned by Swift, bounced off the news to urge its readers to support community journalism in tough industry times this way:
So when you read this column and find yourself feeling grateful for your community newspaper, send the publisher, the editor or your favorite reporter an email thanking them for what they do. More importantly, you can also show your support for journalism by reading the paper each day, paying for a subscription, taking out a classified ad and supporting the advertisers who recognize the newspaper as the best means for generating commerce in local communities. News is not free, but it’s worth every penny.
The Mountain Mail in Salida, owned by Arkansas Valley Publishing, wrapped the Denver Post editorial news up with the governor’s Journalism Week: “The role of journalists, of the news media, of newspapers, is to dig, to ferret out and gather the news and present it to citizens independent and free of government intrusion, to inform and educate on what governments and government officials have done, are doing or are about to do.”
The Durango Herald, owned by Ballantine Communications, went doom-and-gloom on the newspaper business model, noted The Denver Post’s rebellion, and then made its ask: “The companies they work for ask you to subscribe if you do not already, use the classified ads and shop at the advertisers that recognize the value in a paper’s print and digital formats. For all the attention that online shopping receives, studies show that 85 percent or so of sales volume occurs at brick-and-mortar retail locations, many of which are our advertisers.”
What you missed on the Sunday front pages across Colorado
The Longmont Times-Call reported how Boulder County is denying property tax appeals at a record rate. The Loveland Reporter-Herald reported how Larimer County is focusing on unsolved shootings. The Steamboat Pilot covered the local bald eagle population. The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel fronted a piece about fewer doctors on call in the region. The Pueblo Chieftain covered local wildfire prep. The Coloradoan in Fort Collins profiled a local ‘pedophile hunter’ mom. The Cortez Journal reported how Trump has opened a to door to more local oil and gas drilling. The Gazette in Colorado Springs reported on a week of fire in El Paso County. The Boulder Daily Camera fronted a downtown pro-gun demonstration against an assault-weapons ban. The Denver Post reported how top CEOs in Colorado earn in three days what a typical worker earns in a year.
The Colorado Independent’s editor testified on an open records bill
Susan Greene, editor of the online nonprofit Colorado Independent newsroom, who recently won the Colorado chapter of the Society of Professional Journalist’s First Amendment award, testified this week in favor of a proposed state law at a legislative committee on behalf of the Colorado Press Association where she is a board member. The law would make completed internal affairs investigations into police misconduct publicly available.
From Jeffrey Roberts at the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition:
A study released in early February by a University of Denver law professor and her students found that many law enforcement agencies in Colorado routinely reject public records requests for internal affairs files, leaving Coloradans “largely in the dark with regard to allegations and investigations of police misconduct.” … Last spring, the Greeley Police Department denied the Greeley Tribune’s request for records involving a detective accused of lying in an affidavit related to a woman’s arrest on suspicion of prostitution. The woman was found not guilty, the city paid her $150,000 and the detective left the department. But disclosing the files “would not be in the public interest,” the newspaper was told. The Colorado Springs Police Department has rejected multiple requests from the Colorado Springs Independent to examine files on an officer accused of slamming an 18-year-old woman to the floor, face-first, while she was handcuffed in a hospital waiting area in 2013. The city paid $100,000 to settle a lawsuit she filed against the officer.
Critics of the bill say it would prevent officers from being candid and open during investigations and remove the role of the courts in balancing the privacy of law enforcement officers with the public interest.
A bizarre story out of Yuma involving a Breitbart benefactor, Cambridge Analytica, concealed weapons, and allegations of ‘fake news’
Last week, Bloomberg News had a strange story about how Robert Mercer, the 71-year-old computer programmer from New York who helped bankroll the Breitbart website, the controversial data firm Cambridge Analytica, and former Trump advisor Steve Bannon’s activities, is apparently a volunteer member of the Yuma County Sheriff’s Office in Colorado. That’s a county of about 10,000 people on the Eastern Plains where Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner lives. Bloomberg reported Mercer, whose wealthy family is kind of a like a more under-the-radar and pro-Trump Koch Brothers outfit, also donated Tasers and a new pickup truck to the Yuma County Sheriff’s Office.
Why might Mercer want to be a member of the Yuma County sheriff’s department’s volunteer posse? From Bloomberg, quoting Yuma County Sheriff Chad Day:
The Yuma County posse has about two dozen members, Day said, of whom seven or eight live outside the county. He said some but not all posse members qualify for privileges under the Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act, the 2004 federal law that allows officers to carry concealed weapons nationwide.
Different states have different laws about who can carry concealed weapons and where. But this federal measure allows certain people the right to carry concealed in every U.S. state, Bloomberg reports. “Sheriff Day rejected a Bloomberg News request this month under Colorado’s public-records law for documents relating to Mercer and his associates, including information on their qualifications and duties. He said disclosing the names of volunteers could endanger their safety,” wrote reporters Zachery Mider and Zeke Faux.
The Yuma County Sheriff’s Office didn’t appreciate the publicity. The office called it … wait for it… “fake news.”
From a news release:
-Just because a journalist from Bloomberg news in New York writes a story with a very specific narrative, that does not make it so. When was the last time Yuma County referred to Michael Bloomberg’s anti-gun, anti-soda, anti-sodium media outlets for useful, pertinent, and reliable information?
“No one who offers to help our agency gets some sort of magic special treatment outside of our gratefulness and commitment to be responsible and productive with whatever was provided,” the news release went on. The office did not deny Mercer is a volunteer posse member or say if his status allows him to carry concealed weapons across state lines.
Sinclair won’t gobble up this Denver TV station
In news certain to please anyone who watched that troubling mashup video of local news anchors who work for the broadcast giant Sinclair parroting Trump’s anti-media rhetoric, Denver’s KDVR won’t get swallowed up in a potential big merger.
Instead, the Fox affiliate will become part of a divestiture bid Sinclair has proposed to ease approval of its merger with Tribune Media with federal regulators. … Maryland-based Sinclair said Tuesday that the Denver station will be among several sold to an as yet unidentified buyer or buyers as part of a 23-station deal aimed at easing regulators concerns about ownership concentration.
Woohoo. Just what Colorado needs, another mystery owner in the local news biz.
*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 Alan Levine for Creative Commons in Flickr.
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