Last week, Vince Bzdek, editor of The Gazette in Colorado Springs, gave a talk at Colorado College where he graduated in 1982. English professor and novelist Steve Hayward organized the event (disclosure: he paid for a beer afterward), and Bzdek explained some recent big moves by the Phil Anschutz-owned newspaper.
Coming from The Washington Post, Bzdek took over as editor of The Gazette in the spring. Since then he’s hired away some top writers at The Denver Post and other news outlets and just launched the website ColoradoPolitics.com. Writers for the site, including a former editorial writer and GOP staffer in the Colorado legislature, will cover politics for a statewide audience. “It doesn’t really have a print component at all,” Bzdek said. “That’s a business within a business.” Asked what factors are behind The Gazette’s new hiring and big investment in statewide political coverage at a time when other papers are slashing budgets and laying off journalists, Bzdek said quickly, “It helps to have a billionaire own your paper.”
About his boss Anschutz, a publicity-shy Denver billionaire and big-time Republican donor who has bankrolled Christian conservative causes and has been dubbed “The Man Who Owns LA,” Bzdek said he had a commitment to the public trust and the local community.
He also said:
“I’ve been trying to figure out, so why is Anschutz interested in this? He’s got all these giant businesses. And part of it is … he really believes in community and that a community is better if it has a good newspaper. And that’s what his belief is in the Colorado Springs paper. You know, before I got here I interviewed a lot … sort of trying to find out ‘Is this going to be a mouthpiece for this guy? Is this something he’s going to use to drive his agenda?’ I’ve not found that to be the case. I found that he has this very sort of Penrose-like commitment to the betterment of Colorado Springs.”
As someone who has wondered about some of that myself, this was good to hear. Bzdek also might have broken a little news about Anschutz, or at least confirmed something long believed by close media watchers in Colorado. “He tried to buy The Denver Post— he would love to do the same thing in Denver— but The Denver Post would not sell to him,” Bzdek told the crowd of about 50. “If they would sell he would buy it tomorrow.”
At another point in the talk, Bzdek showed an early mock-up of The Gazette’s Election Night coverage with a photo of Clinton and the headline “Madam President.” Later in the night that changed to “CLIFFHANGER” (funny aside: an ad wrapping around half the paper would have made it read just “ANGER”), and then finally to “Trump Wins.”
PODCAST: Denverite’s editor talks about the digital startup and the future of local news
Last month I sat down with Dave Burdick, the editor of Denverite, for the second installment of a local news podcast for Columbia Journalism Review’s United States Project. We talked about the challenges of launching a hyperlocal, digital-only news product, how he’s building new audiences, and what a potential revenue stream might one day look like. The man has a passion for local news.
The cross-platform, digitally-distributed news organization, which has 10 journalists in an office in downtown Denver, launched in the spring. I wrote about Denverite at the time saying it had the feel of a national startup, and that Denver is actually the pilot project for a potential string of local news sites in other cities. So I wanted to check in with Burdick about the journey since May. Give the podcast a listen here.
The Colorado Republican Party targeted the press before this year’s election
On the Friday before Election Day in Colorado I opened my mailbox to what might as well have been a cartoon Tom & Jerry jack-in-a-box where you crank the lever and get punched in the face with a boxing glove on a spring. Instead of the glossy run-of-the-mill Hillary attack pieces I’d been getting for days paid for by some Republican committee or another, Friday’s took aim at, well, me.
“The media can’t be trusted,” read the front of the mailer, paid for by The Colorado Republican Committee. Elsewhere the mail piece stated “96% of journalist donations go to Clinton,” and how journalists shower Clinton with cash. Seeing it was like a one-two punch. Because the news organization the Republicans cited, The Center for Public Integrity, is one I’ve actually worked for. But as others have pointed out, the story, which revealed hundreds of media people donated some $380,000 to Clinton and only $14,000 to Trump counted academics and lifestyle, sports, and food writers. As WaPo reported, “There are no campaign trail reporters on the list.”
More from WaPo:
One could argue that people who work in the media — in any capacity — should refrain from making political donations. But because not everyone subscribes to that philosophy, let’s be clear about who the donors are: They are TV and food critics, sports and fashion editors, and local news reporters.
But at least one of those who donated was writing about the candidates, and she told Public Integrity she understands the concern about disclosure. So that’s how a GOP attack mailer against media in Colorado was made. But just like Republicans shouldn’t extrapolate that to all journalists, journalists shouldn’t blame the mailer on all Republicans.
When I texted a picture of the mailer to a GOP official in Colorado, I got this reply: “Yeah, sorry about that…”
Warning: The Denver Guardian is a fake news source. Just…don’t read it.
In case you haven’t noticed there’s a plague of fake stories infecting your news stream. Fake news is on the rise. Facebook, where fake news finds perhaps its largest audience, does not vet what hits is News Feed, and hyper-partisan Facebook pages “represent a new and powerful force in American politics and society.” In response to an outcry after the election, Google and Facebook have taken aim the revenue sources of fake news sites.
Here in Colorado, The Denver Post had to dedicate an entire story to exposing a site called The Denver Guardian as a fake news source. “The address listed for the newsroom is a tree in a parking lot next to a vacant bank building on Colfax,” the Post reported.
What Colorado newspapers ran on the front page on the Sunday before Election Day
The Greeley Tribune carried a front-page story citing experts saying the University of Northern Colorado was right to allow Donald Trump to speak there. The Loveland Reporter-Herald reported on a federal judge’s ballot-selfie ruling. The Pueblo Chieftain reported on the local campaign ground games. The Chieftain carried an AP report out of Reno with the headline “No gun involved in Trump dustup.” The Gazette in Colorado Springs reported on Republicans making up ground in mailed-in votes. The Fort Collins Coloradoan had a cover story about local police getting a 17 percent funding bump. The Boulder Daily Camera channeled Hunter S. Thompson in its local election coverage with the lede “There is fear, and yes, there is loathing, too,” which also led the front page of The Longmont Times-Call. The Durango Herald reported how women were leading in early voting in La Plata County. The Denver Post reported the top 10 questions for Colorado on Election Day.
What Colorado newspapers ran on their front pages the Sunday after the election
“Fears of some voters affirmed,” read the A1 headline above the fold of The Boulder Daily Camera with a subhed reading “Multiple incidents of intolerance, aggression reported in days following election.” “Will Trump make energy great again,” asked The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. “Many immigrants living in fear,” read the front page of The Gazette in Colorado Springs. The Coloradoan in Fort Collins said hundreds rallied in solidarity against Trump. The Greeley Tribune fronted a big enterprise piece on gray areas in Colorado’s domestic violence laws. The Loveland Reporter Herald fronted a piece about taxing drivers per mile driven. The Longmont Times-Call had a piece about the end of one of the nation’s largest family-owned vegetable farms. “Could civility be a quaint memory” asked The Pueblo Chieftain with a wire report. Steamboat Today had a touching story about an old barn. The Aspen Times fronted a big pullout about the risk of over-using antibiotics. The Durango Herald reported on rural residents questioning code enforcement. The Denver Post fronted a piece about what Coloradans can expect from a Trump presidency.
Will The Durango Herald replace its statehouse reporter?
Peter Marcus, aka, MediaMarcus, will leave The Durango Herald as the newspaper’s Capitol and state government reporter for The Gazette by the end of this month. He’ll stay in Denver. Will The Durango Herald, one of the few regional papers with a dedicated statehouse reporter be filling his position? “[W]e plan to continue our coverage from the state capitol, but haven’t yet replaced Peter,” said editor Sue McMillin when I asked. But the paper did get a new website this week and tweaked its paywall.
The Aspen Daily News is looking for a reporter
In response to the news of layoffs at multiple Colorado newspapers I reported in the last newsletter, the editor of The Aspen Times let me know they are hiring a full-time reporter. Here’s the listing if you know anyone who is “a prolific writer capable of producing eight to 10 stories a week including breaking news, analytical features and accountability coverage of multiple government agencies.”
Now for some news on the local media front from CJR’s United States Project
My colleague Jackie Spinner asks the question: Mike Pence is a moderate Republican? Because that’s news to the Indiana press corps. Carlett Spike writes about a place where political talk radio is driven by a sense of community, not partisanship. Michael Oreskes writes about how journalists can regain the public’s trust by reaffirming basic values. And I published my podcast about Denverite and local news.
And because it’s never too early to talk about the next election..
Clinton’s loss means Ken Salazar stays in Colorado. So I sketched out the chess board for the 2018 Democratic primary for governor. Because I just couldn’t help myself.
*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 Tian