The Denver Post’s ownership comes under scrutiny

Denver Post

Talk about timing.

Colorado’s flagship newspaper The Denver Post has found itself on the receiving end of coverage recently, winding up as the subject of a cover story in the Westword alt-weekly and an in-depth feature blurbed on the cover of Denver’s 5280 magazine in the same week.

Featuring an image of a vampire reading a copy of the paper, the Westword piece, written by Alan Prendergast, carried the headline “Can The Denver Post survive its hedge-fund owners?” 5280‘s cover tease read “Inside The Denver Post’s rapidly shrinking newsroom.” Both are necessary reads that offer a local window into a national trend of newspaper retrenchment— though the Post has some singular issues particularly because of its ownership— and what it looks like from the inside. The two stories approach the issue from different angles: Westword’s piece gives a rich contextual history of the Post and begins with an anecdote by Woody Paige, a recently departed high-profile writer, while 5280‘s, written by Post alum Robert Sanchez, goes right in the front door, following the workday of one of the paper’s most prolific reporters, 24-year-old Jesse Paul, to tell the story of an upended Post in a major transition.

An excerpt from the Westword piece:

At the Denver Post, the chain’s flagship paper, the newsroom has been pruned of more than a third of its employees since June of last year. Fifteen years ago, in the heyday of Denver’s daily newspaper war, the “Voice of the Rocky Mountain Empire” had legions of reporters fanning out across the Front Range and the region, backed by squads of photographers and editors; now barely a hundred staffers remain. Bureaus have been closed and most local arts coverage scrapped or turned over to freelancers, with an increasing reliance on copy from other MediaNews papers (such as the Boulder Daily Camera or the Longmont Times Call), wire services and other organizations to fill the news hole. The editorial page is a ghost of its former self. And the critical tasks of covering breaking news and watchdogging state and local government in all its permutations have fallen on a dwindling pool of overworked, multi-tasking, Facebook-conscious and ever-tweeting diehards.

And here’s one from 5280:

Paul is blissfully undaunted. By noon, he’s already filed a third story to and is making calls on others. This is the new ecosystem of newspapering, not just here in Denver, but nationwide. Paul is the embodiment of that change. When I worked at the Post, I might have written fewer than 100 stories in a year—articles that took days, or possibly weeks, to report and write. Paul might file that many pieces in a month, some of them far shorter and less in-depth than much of what would have been produced just a few years ago. Occasionally, Post stories—at least online—are published with just a single source (sometimes a paid spokesperson) or are simply culled directly from a press release, Twitter, or a Facebook post. That’s not an indictment of Paul or his colleagues; it’s simply an acknowledgement of where newspaper journalism stands today. And perhaps there is no starker example than here in Denver.

With the Post’s cuts and the Rocky’s closure, the city has at least 350 fewer newspaper staffers than just seven years ago. The Post once had four reporters who covered health care in the state; now there’s one. Seventeen writers and editors once covered business; now it’s five. Only one reporter covers education. “Readers should care about this because cuts to a newsroom diminish how much they’re able to know about their community,” says Rick Edmonds, the media business analyst for the Poynter Institute, a journalism training center and think tank.

I recommend taking some time this week to read both of these thoughtful, well-executed stories.

A Colorado AP reporter published a major national investigation into police database abuse

Denver Associated Press reporter Sadie Gurman and D.C.-based AP scribe Eric Tucker came out with a big accountability investigation this week into how police officers across the nation abuse confidential databases to “get information on romantic partners, business associates, neighbors, journalists and others for reasons that have nothing to do with daily police work.”

From the piece:

Among those punished: an Ohio officer who pleaded guilty to stalking an ex-girlfriend and who looked up information on her; a Michigan officer who looked up home addresses of women he found attractive; and two Miami-Dade officers who ran checks on a journalist after he aired unflattering stories about the department.

Yeah. Scary stuff.

The reporters relied in part on open records requests to state agencies and large city police departments for the information. The investigation took six months and 85 Freedom of Information Act requests. The AP teased the big story with this video.

Two’s a trend in beer-based community engagement by Colorado media this election cycle

Last week I wrote about how The Coloradoan is connecting with the community directly through public events. But the Gannett-owned Fort Collins broadsheet and others are doing even more than that this election season. The Coloradoan is also hosting a weekly “Beers and Ballots” series where members of the community can meet reporters at a brewery for a casual discussion about ballot measures. Last week’s tackled the legalization of medical aid-in-dying. Future events will cover raising the minimum wage and the ColoradoCare universal healthcare ballot measure. You can watch a video recap of the paper’s first Beer and Ballots event here.

Meanwhile, The Denver Post is “partnering with other leading Denver media groups to host a series of political events.” Called “Tap the Vote,” its partners include Denver7, the Denver Press Club, the Roosevelt Institute and the state chapter of the Public Relations Society of America. Last week’s dealt with the minimum wage moderated by a reporter for the Post. “The final event is a postmortem discussion by Denver political journalists on this year’s elections in Colorado and nationally. The forum is 6:30-8 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 15, in The Post auditorium,” the paper reported. Following each event is a discussion over beers at the Denver Press Club.

The Boulder Daily Camera went to court in a prior restraint case— and here’s why that matters

It’s rare when a judge tells a newspaper not to publish something, especially if the newspaper obtained that something legally, as journalists for The Boulder Daily Camera did when they got their hands on an arrest affidavit in an attempted murder case. But Chief Boulder District Judge Maria Berkenkotter told the newspaper it could not publish details from that affidavit.

[The 16-year-old suspect] made an appearance in juvenile court on Friday, but the Boulder County District Attorney’s Office subsequently decided to prosecute him as an adult. He was re-arrested and made his first court appearance in the adult case, before Berkenkotter, on Monday afternoon. But prior to that, late on Monday morning, the Camera requested and received from the DA’s office a copy of the adult arrest-warrant affidavit. An arrest affidavit includes evidence that investigators submit to a judge to establish probable cause that a suspect committed a crime. Because Collins’ defense attorney had filed a motion seeking to seal the court file in the case, Berkenkotter on Monday afternoon ordered the Camera not to publish the contents of the affidavit and scheduled an emergency hearing on the matter for Tuesday morning.

A lawyer for the newspaper challenged the order by saying it was unconstitutional, and the judge later reversed herself. But she put her reversal on hold for another week, giving the suspect’s defense attorneys time to appeal it. “Because of the stay, the Daily Camera is still under a judge’s order not to publish the details of the arrest warrant, and prosecutors say they similarly cannot reveal what charges they filed against the 16-year-old,” the paper reported.

Newspaper editorial boards around the state were not kind to Berkenkotter. “What was Boulder judge thinking?” read the headline of an editorial in The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. “The judge deserves the strongest criticism for restraining the press and then keeping that restraint in place even after she realized she had trampled on both the state and U.S. constitutions,” the editorial continued.

The op-ed page of The Longmont Times-Call used the opportunity to explain why fighting prior restraint maters to citizens:

Why does that matter in a court case regarding an alleged assault? Regardless of where it happens, prior restraint — as such an order is called — runs counter to the freedom of speech that is recognized in the First Amendment. A government with the power to order that a newspaper not publish information is a government that has power to order any citizen not to speak or write of something, a pastor not to preach on a certain topic, or a group of people not to assemble peaceably. It’s a power that turns government of the people on its head.

As noted in the section about The Denver Post, newspapers these days are depleted, with dwindling resources. But as is evident in this case they can still stand up for the First Amendment.

The Daily Camera eventually published what it had obtained.

The Colorado Springs alt-weekly hired its new editor from within

This week’s edition of The Colorado Springs Independent came with news that writer and editor Matthew Schniper will take the editorial reigns of the alt-weekly following the June departure of top editor Vanessa Martinez, who ran the show for about a year. Schniper’s promotion came with an introduction from the publisher, and a personal note from Matthew, who started freelancing for the paper in 2004. Ralph Routon, who has been overseeing the editorial department in the interim, published a column about the state of the paper and how “elevating someone from within feels most gratifying, as my role returns to being more in the background.”

What you missed on the Sunday front pages across Colorado

Did you do the football thing and skip reading all the news fit for the big Sunday fronts?

Well, The Durango Herald reported how $1,000 and nine friends can get a candidate on the presidential ballot in ColoradoThe Greeley Tribune reported on the cloudy future of the Weld County Bright Futures scholarship program. The Longmont Times-Call had details about a fire mitigation project. The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel fronted a piece about local pressure to fund public safety. Steamboat Today & Sunday had a big cover story about Routt County’s political shift from red to blue over the years. The Loveland Reporter-Herald ran a story about the city preparing for a visit from Donald Trump. The Gazette in Colorado Springs fronted a story about the push behind a ballot measure to raise the state’s minimum wage. Vail Daily reported how the town of Gypsum is tangling with a biomass firm. The Fort Collins Coloradoan had a cover story on what the ColoradoCare universal healthcare ballot measure means for voters. The Boulder Daily Camera wrote about a mysterious street artist who walks a fine line between beauty and vandalism. The Denver Post fronted a piece about where Donald Trump needs to make gains to win in Colorado.

More comings and goings — OK, just goings

Longtime Pueblo Chieftain editor and reporter Chris Woodka, known as one of the best water reporters in Colorado, has left the paper to become a program coordinator for the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District. Woodka “will continue to write Monday Morning Special, which appears weekly in The Chieftain’s Life section,” The Chieftain reported.

Darry Glenn still isn’t talking to Colorado’s largest newspaper

Denver Post political reporter John Frank included this awkward exchange in his latest Purple State Memo from a short campaign stop by GOP U.S. Senate nominee Darryl Glenn:

Glenn once again declined to talk to The Post. He blacklisted the newspaper and refused to participate in its debate after the newspaper wrote about a 1983 assault charge that was later dropped. Daniel Supranovich, a campaign staffer at the event, told The Post that Glenn wouldn’t talk and then added: “You guys know why? If if you tell the truth, you’ll be alright. Until then, nope.” He continued: “You flat out lied about most of it. You didn’t even take into account what was happening. Don’t even go there. That’s why you guys are failing in your subscriptions.” Glenn then turned from his conversation with a voter to cut off his aide. The Glenn campaign has not pointed to any inaccuracies in The Post’s coverage.

Amendment 71, aka “Raise the Bar,” explained. And feel free to re-publish this.

You might have seen TV commercials about Amendment 71, or maybe someone knocked on your door to talk to you about this ballot measure to amend the constitution that would make it harder to pass future ballot measures to amend the constitution. It’s one of the most important issues facing Colorado voters this November.

So, for The Colorado Independent, my colleague Kelsey Ray and I set out to explain what you need to know about this ballot measure. Some of you who get this newsletter are editors around the state, so if you like what you read you’re welcome to republish our explainer for free with proper credit.

*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 of The Denver Post office building by Allen Tian.