Why Denver is the test market for a possible string of local online news sites

Jeffrey Beall

So, what are my plans to celebrate the end of #BurdickWatch? That was what former Denver Post deputy features editor Dave Burdick asked when I called him to talk about the launch of his new online local news startup called Denverite, which is backed by some “heavy hitter investors” and already has a staff of 10, some hired away from local newspapers. I told Dave that #BurdickWatch isn’t ending. We’ll just watch more closely.

Last week I caught up with Burdick and one of his investors for a story in Columbia Journalism Review about why they chose Denver as the test market city for a potential string of for-profit local news sites, and, more importantly, what the content is going to look like when the new outlet launches in earnest later this month.

An excerpt from the piece:

At the new site, Burdick said, reporters will have broad beats—someone will follow city and state government, among other things; another will pay attention to real estate, another to sports—and they won’t try to cover everything. The original reporting will aim to offer “cool, thoughtful, explanatory, newsy pieces in addition to consumer-y fun stuff,” he told me, and Denverite will be trying to reach readers on their phones, and on social media.

For now, you can sign up for Denverite’s e-mail newsletter, follow it on Twitter and Instagram, and read more about what’s in store from my story at CJR’s United States Project. I hope you read the piece and share it widely!

Boulder Weekly calls out “underreporting” of oil-and-gas industry protests

Saying the state’s media underreported or neglected to report on two protests of oil-and-gas interests this week by anti-fracking activists, Boulder Weekly ran a photo essay of what happened at each.

From the alt-weekly:

Last week, there were two separate actions in Colorado that confirmed this evolution in the movement [toward civil disobedience]: one at a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) oil and gas lease auction at a Holiday Inn in Lakewood; the other at the proposed site of one of the state’s largest drilling and production operations to date, which is located near Silver Creek Elementary School in Thornton.

The BLM protest on May 12 received a small amount of press coverage. The all-day protest in Thornton on May 14, which included an unpermitted makeshift anti-fracking festival on open space with speakers ranging from author and 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben to rapper Jonny 5 of the Flobots and Rep. Joe Salazar (D-Thornton), did not receive any news coverage. This despite the protest culminating in the takeover of the well site after the warnings of 15 police officers dispatched to the location.

Apparently, there were just too many oil-and-gas-are-good-for-you commercials on TV that day for local stations to squeeze in coverage of one of the state’s biggest news stories. The Post and the state’s other chain-owned newspapers were also apparently too busy to send a reporter.

“This underreporting is why Boulder Weekly felt compelled to provide our readers with a photo essay of these two important events,” the paper reported. “We believe they mark a turning point in the battle over oil and gas extraction in the state of Colorado. Civil disobedience now appears to be at the core of the anti-fracking movement, and with the recent Supreme Court ruling, we believe it will likely remain there well into the future.”

Read the rest of the story here.

Speaking of Boulder Weekly, here’s why you might want to pay attention to it…

This week the Association of Alternative Newsmedia announced its list of finalists for the group’s annual national awards— a big deal in the alt-weekly world. Boulder Weekly is a finalist in the investigative reporting category for Joel Dyer’s Sept. 17 report “Behind the Curtain: An inside look at the oil & gas industry/Republican ‘REDPRINT’ for turning Colorado from Blue to Red.”

Last October I highlighted the report in a newsletter, breaking it down like this:

The gist of the story seems to be this: Colorado University’s School of Business (The Leeds School) agreed to use an economic projection model, called REMI, to prepare its economic reports about fracking and education— and REMI is run by groups and people with ties to oil and gas interests and the conservative education reform movement. Boulder Weekly, which split the cost of a Colorado Open Records Act request with Greenpeace to obtain documents for the story, lays out the connections among those groups and people [including former Republican lawmaker-turned political consultant Josh Penry] and their political interests along with a seven-page map showing, in the paper’s words, “how the oil and gas industry and Republicans are turning Colorado red.”

At the time I asked subscribers of this newsletter (there are a whole lot more of you now, so thanks!) what they thought since I hadn’t seen much local pickup of the story. I went back and re-read the replies and this one stood out from one Colorado reporter: “Boulder Weekly connected the dots in a big way for those of us who know who Josh Penry is and was. And that it showed how gullible or indifferent CU is to being used.”

Denver’s alt-weekly Westword also has multiple entries as finalists this year in the AAN awards.

The Boulder Daily Camera stops feeding the trolls

Boulder’s daily newspaper is the latest to cut off comment sections on its website. Why? Because in case you haven’t noticed, reading the comment sections of local daily newspapers can often be like stumbling across a dead deer in the forest and watching the maggots feeding on its bowel tracts.

From the paper’s own write-up about why it’s killing comments:

The vast majority of the time, the comments are dominated by a small group of people, most posting anonymously, and who, frankly, tend to simply shout down or ridicule any opposing view. Commonly, our comments sections are filled with vitriol, personal attacks, profanity, and angry and hateful speech — and worse, unfortunately. That is not acceptable.

The paper points out that sometimes comments can be constructive — pointing out errors, offering a news tip or fresh angle on a story. And maybe The Daily Camera will bring back the comment section if humanity takes a colon cleanse. The paper is calling its move a “hiatus” after all.

Comment sections have been a perennial hassle for newspapers since the internet, but one thing I think many people assume is that they’re a problem caused by the internet. Not so much. Some of the first newspapers left blank pages at the end so readers could write notes before they passed the paper along to others readers. Those papers include America’s first newspaper, Publick Occurrences, which reserved one blank page in its first and only edition in 1690 for, well, comments.

Should The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel have posted a picture of an offensive meme?

Trigger warning: This section contains descriptions of an offensive meme. Here’s the backstory: Jason Salzman posted an item at his BigMedia blog about the Delta County Republican Central Committee chairwoman posting an image on Facebook of Ronald Reagan holding a chimpanzee that included this text: “I’ll be damned…Reagan used to babysit Obama.” Salzman contacted the chairwoman, who told him, “I really don’t care if people are offended by it.” The story changed when reported by The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. A new response was that the chairwoman’s Facebook account was hacked. In its online story, the newspaper called the Facebook post “an overtly racist Internet meme.” And posted a photo of the meme with the story.

Readers responded with “several letters” and “a volume of calls,” complaining the paper reproduced the image. The paper responded back with a defensive editorial titled “A welcome backlash” in which it described the criticism broadly as the paper’s readers wanting their newspaper to sanitize the news. “A picture is worth a thousand words,” the editorial stated. “Why not let readers see for themselves the unvarnished ugliness at the heart of the controversy?”

I probably wouldn’t have included the image, but I’m not the editor. This newsletter goes out to many journalists and editors in Colorado, though, so I’m curious what you think. One Colorado story it reminded me of was when a newspaper once ran a story about the controversy over publications shaming “johns” convicted in prostitution busts (and whether it’s effective) by publishing their mugshots— while at the same time including the mugshots of local convicted johns in the same story. Meta.

The Denver Post gets its first female editor … ever

“For the first time in its nearly 124-year-old history, the Post’s newsroom will be led by a woman,” reports The Denver Business Journal. That editor is Lee Ann Colacioppo, who held the title as interim editor after the resignation of top editor Greg Moore in April. “Colacioppo has been with The Post for 17 years, serving in a variety of editing positions, including news director and city editor. Previously she was with the Des Moines Register, Greenville News in South Carolina and Kingsport Times-News in Tennesse,” the DBJ reported.

More context from the DBJ on the move:

Colacioppo is the first Post editor to be promoted from within since the early 1990s, when Neil Westergaard — today the Denver Business Journal’s editor-in-chief — was named to the post. Since then, former editors Dennis Britton, Glenn Guzzo and Moore were brought in from other newspapers.

Owned by a hedge fund, The Denver Post recently offered 26 buyouts. That announcement followed news of byline counts for reporters and union negotiations, which has created an atmosphere of anxiety in the newsroom.

Seven newsrooms will collaborate to cover rural parts of Colorado and New Mexico

A report on “mountain news deserts” by the Solutions Journalism Network found that residents of small towns, including some in Colorado, believe local news is not consistently relevant or valuable to them and local news is too negative. The study also found “gaps between what people said they’re interested in and the local news coverage they actually get.”

More from the report in the Colorado section:

In Alamosa, Colorado, one focus group participant there told us, a nonprofit group acts as a hub for news for the Spanish-speaking immigrant community in the area, many of whom couldn’t read a Spanish language publication even if one existed in town. Immigrants call or stop by the office with questions, and likewise, the workers call immigrants when something is going on they need to know.

The study consistently found in small towns people cited word of mouth as their primary news source. “Even in Saguache, Colorado – a town of 500 without a dedicated local news source – some people say they manage to get the news and information they need, when they need it,” the report found, quoting one woman there as saying, “We might say there’s gossip, and murmurs and some false information, but basically, you keep your circle large enough, you will find accurate, factual, good information.”

Facebook is also filling the gaps in traditional local news coverage for some. “When an elderly person went missing from Crestone, Colorado, one resident there said, community members posted search updates on a local page called ‘Crestone Chill,'” reads the report.

In response to the findings, Nieman Lab reports, the Solutions Journalism Network and the LOR Foundation will “launch a new project this year: “a network of seven newsrooms across New Mexico and Colorado collaborating to produce solutions-oriented reporting on issues facing rural towns in the intermountain West.”

*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: Jeffrey Beall via Creative Commons in Flickr]


  1. So, once again the republicans and a few Blue dogs sold us out to Big Oil and Gas…this is no surprise, really…these folks have been telegraphing their intent, ever since the Fracking Ballot issue was pulled…and the corrupted process of the blue ribbon panel was initiated…

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