An Aspen reporter got drunk for journalism— and the cops bought his drinks

Carles Escrig i Royo


Best assignment of the week? Maybe for Aspen Times reporter Jason Auslander who penned this lede for an April 30 front-page story:

On Tuesday, my job was to get drunk.

This being Aspen, I know some of you might be vaguely familiar with the concept, especially now that spring offseason is upon us.

However, day drinking is not my usual professional routine, so the invitation to imbibe made me hesitate at first. But, hey, pretty good work if you can get it, right?

Indeed. Auslander writes that not only did his boss sign on to his daylong bender, but “enthusiastically” supported it. What’s more, the local police bought his drinks. The perks! The reporter’s story was about local cops getting re-certified for field sobriety testing and how they use volunteers.

More buyouts hit The Denver Post— plus a big new reorganization of the newsroom

When editor Greg Moore abruptly left The Denver Post last month he was asked during his announcement if it was true the paper was looking to cut 30 jobs. He pondered, then said it wasn’t. Welp, turns out the number is 26. That’s how many buyouts are being offered to Post journalists who have worked there for 10-20 years. The Denver Business Journal and the alt-weekly Westword had that news.

Some disheartening context: If everyone takes a buyout, the newsroom of The Denver Post will have been slashed by one third in the past year alone. During a Thursday meeting, reporters grilled the publisher about the longterm goal of the Post. Buyouts aren’t the only big change, though. Post journalists say the paper is reorganizing its newsroom, breaking up traditional desks like features, metro, and business to create four divisions: Now, Enterprise, Productions, and Obsessions. (Obsessions will be for reporters to write about their own passions outside of their journalism jobs.)

The Colorado Statesman’s new editor covering politics is … a Tea Party activist?

At the start of this year’s legislative session, The Colorado Statesman released a slickly produced video stating how the paper “has been providing non-partisan reporting on political news” for generations. “The great thing about The Statesman is it’s not partisan,” said Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper in one video testimonial.

In the past year the subscription-based publication has undergone a revamp, bringing on a former Republican lawmaker as its publisher, updating its website, and locking digital content behind a paywall.

This week, progressive consultant and media watcher Jason Salzman pointed out on his BigMedia blog how The Statesman’s new executive editor, Jennifer Kerns, is a Tea Party activist. She’d recently penned a front-page story for The Statesman about a Democratic U.S. Senator up for re-election (about whom she’d recently opined negatively on the radio)— a piece that included “an inaccurate conservative attack” against him, which was later removed from the story.

Salzman spoke with publisher Jared Wright, who told him he thinks advocates can make good journalists and expects the outside political work Kerns also does to end soon.

More from Wright:

“It’s important to have journalists but also to have people who have been very active in politics, and of course the only place you are going to find those people is on one side of the aisle or the other. So as long as we have a balance of those people on the team, I think we’ll be in good shape.”

There’s more in the Salzman item, which is pretty illuminating.

How Green Mountain Falls’ Google News results became a complete disaster

Do a Google News search for “Green Mountain Falls” right now (or just click here) and you’ll see dozens of headlines from big outlets from as far away as the U.K. about how this small Colorado town suddenly lost its entire police force. I went there for a story in The Colorado Independent and found the alarmist desk-bound aggregation and coverage was way overblown. The police force was one full-time employee and three volunteers. The town had been without a local marshal before. It wasn’t the end of the world, and likely did not deserve breathless coverage in TIME magazine.

So how did we get here? Colorado Public Radio was nice enough to invite me on their Colorado Matters program Friday to talk about it. You can listen to the interview here. A few days later the little town got hit— again— with more misleading headlines, this time from a nearby TV station.

What you missed on the front pages across Colorado

It was housing, housing, housing on the front pages of at least five Colorado newspapers this snowy Sunday, making up more than 25 percent of the front page real estate. They ranged from stories about red-hot markets to infilling dense neighborhoods with tiny homes, incentive programs, and the seeming impossibility for some millennials to become homeowners.

It’s “almost impossible” for millennials to buy homes in Boulder County, according to The Longmont Times-Call.  The Greeley Tribune had an A1 story about a homeowner’s incentive program one year laterThe Boulder Daily Camera reported on a neighborhood looking to “gentle infill,” find room for “tiny homes, accessory units and plain-old smaller homes tucked around existing houses on lots that have room.” The Colorado Springs Gazette reported the area real estate market is “red hot”— the 12th hottest in the nation. Vail Daily reported how real estate sales in the Vail Valley are bouncing back. Meanwhile, a Berthoud family searches for a home for an antique carousel, per The Loveland Reporter-HeraldThe Durango Herald wrote more about the EPA reimbursements for the Gold King Mine spillThe Aspen Times fronted a fun piece called “When drinking helps police.” In “Food Stamp Fiasco,” The Fort Collins Coloradoan had a cover story about thousands of Colorado food stamp recipients forced to pay money backeach year because of agency errors. The Pueblo Chieftain fronted pieces about heroin and gangs. Steamboat Today had a cover story “Ringing the bell” about local efforts to embrace a national awareness of football-related concussions. The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel had a piece about potentially re-using methane gas from coal mines. The Denver Post had an enterprise human interest story about a new law allowing access to birth certificates for adult adoptees.

The Denver Post busts a congressman for letting his biggest donor write legislation

Reporter Mark K. Matthews, who watchdogs Colorado’s congressional delegation for the DP, did just that this week, blowing up Republican Congressman Scott Tipton for allowing his largest donor— an oil-and-gas company— to write a piece of draft legislation for him. We hear a lot of criticism about money in politics and there’s always the question: what does it look like in practical terms for those who give big bucks to politicians?

From the piece:

In an interview, Tipton confirmed its origin, and documents obtained by The Denver Post show that Tipton’s draft legislation duplicates — word for word — entire sections of the proposal offered by SG Interests.

That’s like the grown-up version of a state lawmaker allowing a lobbying group to run its PR talking points under his own byline as an op-ed for the local newspaper.

Speaking of Colorado energy issues… have you seen The Invisible Plume?

So, Arch Coal’s West Elk Mine in Colorado is the state’s “single biggest methane polluter,” wrote my colleague Kelsey Ray this week for The Colorado Independent. “It spews more of the greenhouse gas each year than the state’s largest oil and gas operator – enough to power almost 30,000 homes. A proposed expansion would push its already massive methane emissions even higher. So why is the otherwise tough-on-methane Hickenlooper administration supporting it?”

From her piece:

Gov. Hickenlooper was hailed as an environmental champion in 2013 when he passed his “zero tolerance” policy on methane emissions from oil and gas operations. Colorado became the first state to impose such a rule, which requires drillers to capture 95 percent of all methane and to find and fix all gas leaks.

But the governor’s low tolerance for methane doesn’t apply to the coal industry. Colorado, like the federal government, doesn’t regulate coal mine methane beyond mandating that large polluters report their emissions to the EPA.

Read Ray’s whole story on it here and about how she trekked out to the mine with a group and an infrared camera to film the methane venting on public land.

Alt-weekly spotlights Anschutz ownership of The Gazette during a local land-swap controversy

In an alt-weekly Colorado Springs Independent cover story last week titled “Philip Anschutz’ influence knows no bounds,” reporter Pam Zubeck covered the press-shy Denver billionaire’s juice in Colorado Springs amid a controversial land-swap deal between the Anschutz-owned Broadmoor hotel and the city. Her piece raised a concern from one local activist, Richard Skorman, which the reporter said was “voiced by many during the land swap process.

“I have concerns about Anschutz owning the major daily newspaper when there are controversial issues like this [that] they have a stake in,” Skorman says.

Prior to the cover story, Zubeck had questioned why the paper had held a story about houses near the Broadmoor being built in landslide zones.

Now for some news on the local media front from CJR’s United States Project

Trudy Lieberman, who writes about healthcare coverage, explains how the failure of Obamacare healthcare “co-ops” hasn’t been covered enough, but is starting to see some stellar reporting in the business press. Deron Lee asked whether readers will pay for local news, and how one investigative journalism startup in Tulsa is betting that they will. Timothy Pratt writes about how one woman’s “hyperlocal C-Span” is bringing transparency to politics in Georgia. Jackie Spinner explains how two brothers are using Instagram to “engage new audiences for investigative and accountability-minded reporting” in Chicago. And I wrote about the South Carolina alt-weekly where I got my start being sold to a daily newspaper.

Last thing. Want to know the future of hyper-local newspapers?

Colorado’s own Amy Maestas, the senior editor at The Durango Herald, is one of this year’s Knight-Wallace fellows where she’ll work on a project about that topic.

*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 credit: Carles Escrig i Royo via Creative Commons on Flickr]