The Big Shift: Colorado’s media landscape is changing in 2017

With a new year come new opportunities, and some of Colorado’s most visible journalists are making moves. Ricardo Baca, The Denver Post’s marijuana editor, announced he is leaving the paper for a not-yet-disclosed startup venture that’s currently in “stealth mode” and he says is “not media.” But he said he’d still be writing and publishing.

Here’s what stood out to me from a recent interview Baca gave on his own Web show:

“Here I am, I’ve been at this newspaper for 15 years, I created this site more than three years ago. And I’m incredibly proud of the many things I’ve been able to do in that time. But also in that time I’ve been writing, and honing the craft of journalism and it’s very important. But as we all know journalism is under attack from all fronts and I have the opportunity to pick up an entirely new skill set. And turning 40 years old in a couple months, I was like, ‘Hey.'”

Baca became the first dedicated marijuana editor at a major American newspaper following a voter-led legalization effort in Colorado. The Post is conducting a national search for his replacement. The job listing is here. Baca said The Cannabist is still moving forward and he expects good things.

Meanwhile, Associated Press reporter Sadie Gurman is leaving Colorado to join the AP’s Washington, D.C. bureau where she’ll cover federal law enforcement and the Justice Department. Recently, Gurman partnered with Eric Tucker on a major national reporting project about how police misuse databases to snoop on neighbors and colleagues. Gurman was also vice president of The Denver Press Club, a title she has relinquished to Colorado Public Radio’s Nathan Heffel.

In TV land, Marshall Zelinger of the ABC affiliate Denver7 is leaving to join 9News. Zelinger was a co-host of Politics Unplugged and you might recall him from this newsletter as the reporter inaccurately accused by a 2016 U.S. Senate candidate of “creeping around” the candidate’s house. (The reporter was at his door looking for an interview since the candidate dodged him for so long.) Zelinger exposed that candidate’s campaign of hiring a petition gatherer who later pleaded guilty to forgery.

An interesting tidbit from one write-up about the move:

Because local TV stations have non-compete contracts, Zelinger will stay off the air for six months, working behind the scenes and joining [the 9News show] “Next with Kyle Clark.” Eventually, he’ll return to daily investigative stories, he said.

In Colorado’s ideologically oriented online news world, investigative scribe Todd Shepherd is leaving Complete Colorado and the libertarian Independence Institute for a gig at The Washington Examiner in D.C. Westword’s Michael Roberts has an interview with him about that here. Last year I wrote for Columbia Journalism Review’s United States Project about how Shepherd’s libertarian news site was fact-checking mainstream TV fact-checkers and getting results. And Arthur Kane, formerly of, left Colorado for a job on the newly formed investigative team at The Las Vegas Review Journal, which is in the process of hiring five people for the team under an editor who came from The Chicago Tribune. 

As for newsprint people, Dana Rieck, a young staff writer for The Loveland Reporter-Herald, is off to The Belleville News-Democrat in Illinois. Reporter Luke Perkins has filled the vacant Denver bureau position for The Durango Herald.

Know of any other big moves in Colorado media? Send tips my way for next week’s newsletter.

Why The Aurora Sentinel showed a ‘ghastly’ picture of a body bag containing a child in the newspaper

“I don’t have to pause for a moment to know the worst part of journalism is the death of children.” So begins a column by Aurora Sentinel editor Dave Perry about why he decided to publish a photograph of a body bag containing a dead child who authorities found in an icy pond. He called the process of deciding which photos to publish “unnerving,” and explains why he chose not to publish at least one of them. “I knew the phone would soon ring with complaints about how insensitive it was to run such a ghastly picture,” Perry wrote. “And it did.”

Here’s his justification:

Our job is [to] convey to you in the most cogent way, the good and the bad in our world. It’s one thing to tell someone about how horrible it was that a little boy apparently wandered onto dangerous pond ice, and to show you a picture of how that ended. It’s one thing to describe to you what it’s like to watch a park full of cops and rescuers, most of whom have children of their own, stare as a young boy is pulled from his icy death — and instead let you see for yourself as they follow the body bag being carried to shore. You need to see the scene to truly understand the story.

The editor also appeared on the “Next” TV show at 9News in Denver to further explain his reasoning.

And now a charge to media … from media

Denver magazine 5280 editor at large Luc Hatlestad had a charge for journalists in a recent item about how “the press in Colorado — and everywhere else — must strive to be much better.”

From the piece:

Here in Colorado, the media could start its makeover by returning to another journalistic adage: Follow the money. For example, all those construction cranes looming over our landscape and the rampant development happening throughout the Front Range might simply be the signs of a strong economy; it’s up to us in the media to sort out whether that’s indeed the case, or if some part of those efforts are designed to enrich the already powerful while disabling or displacing people who can’t afford to defend themselves from the encroachment.

That’s nice to read, especially from an editor at a magazine who presumably has writers and editorial space in a publication at his disposal.

A ‘fake news pledge’ vs. Colorado lawmakers

Jason Salzman, a progressive consultant who runs the Big Media blog, has been asking Colorado lawmakers to sign a pledge that they won’t knowingly spread fake news on social media after he caught a few doing it. One GOP state senator, Kevin Lundberg, said he won’t sign it. “This new term ‘fake news,’ to me smacks of a new censorship that ultimately could do more damage than what inaccurate news could ever do on its own,” Lundberg wrote to Salzman. Find Salzman’s reply here, and some Twitter banter about it here.

Colorado Public Radio is hiring, hiring, hiring…

Looks like CPR is ramping up its team, hiring a Southern Colorado regional reporter, a general assignment reporter/backup host, a digital producer, and a daily editor. Here are the listings.

Another homeless newspaper hits the streets in Colorado

 I recently spotlighted the Denver Voice newspaper, written and sold by area homeless people. Now there’s another. Welcome The Springs Echo, launched Sunday in Colorado Springs. The alt-weekly Independent in Colorado Springs was first to report on the new publication, which launched Jan. 1. “I’m thinking this could really be transformative for us,” the paper’s founding publisher told the alt-weekly.

Year in review for the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition

As far as year-end wrap-ups go, it looks like the CFOIC, an organization dedicated to helping journalists and citizens pry open records from governments, had a good year. Last year I profiled the groups’s director, former Denver Post reporter Jeffrey Roberts, for CJR, about his open-records advocacy. “I still see myself as a journalist,” Roberts told me. “I have other roles as well.” This week Roberts published a look back at the year, from fake news, to fishing expeditions, an attempt to refresh the state’s access-to-information laws, wage-theft secrecy, private dinners, and more. And, he asks: “Will 2016 be remembered as the year we realized just how much our democracy depends on an informed citizenry?”

An international perspective on privacy, and how some readers get their very local news

While spending the holidays in Germany this year, first in Berlin and then a small town in Bavaria, I became acquainted with some rather different norms in regard to news consumption. The first was when a terrorist plowed a truck into a Berlin Christmas market killing 12 and wounding dozens of others while I was in a theater across town watching a play about how the copyright expiration of Mein Kampf intersects with public decency and the country’s dissemination laws. (Two actors discussed whether they could legally distribute a copy of the book to audience members.) In the aftermath of the attack, some German media partially obscured the suspect’s face. I had noticed in local newspapers elsewhere in the country the faces of people in other news coverage were blurred. Turns out Germany has privacy rules that bar publication of people who don’t give permission. After I took an iPhone photo of someone riding a bike in the German countryside without asking, a German friend told me I shouldn’t have posted it on Instagram. I found myself in a discussion about the Clarence Arrington vs. New York Times case from the 1980s.

Meanwhile, I learned a new German word, and a different way some younger people get their news in Germany. The word is Gwaaf. Only people in certain parts of Bavaria would know what it means: Basically, small-town gossipy bullshit. One 30-year-old had created an invite-only WhatsApp group called “The Daily Gwaaf” where he and friends from their hometown discuss what’s going on in their community. In a way it is a particular and curated way they provide and receive their own very local news.

*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 John for Creative Commons on Flickr.