Colorado newspaper hits back at lawmaker’s ‘fake news’ claim

Well this escalated quickly.

When a Republican lawmaker in Grand Junction recently called his hometown newspaper “fake news,” the family-owned Grand Junction Daily Sentinel didn’t let it go unchallenged. On Saturday, the paper’s publisher, Jay Seaton, wrote a pointed column taking the state senator, Ray Scott, to task over the allegation. And in an interview with me for Columbia Journalism Review’s United States Project, he said he intends to file a lawsuit. That’s right. As more politicians and sources weaponize the term “fake news,” here’s one newspaper fighting back.

From CJR:

“What I consider actionable is the attack on the Sentinel as fake news,” Seaton says. “I can take the criticism that we’re too far right, or we’re too far left, or our reporter was sloppy, or our editorial misunderstands the issue, that I can handle. What I can’t abide is an attack on the essence of what we do.”

The publisher used to be a practicing attorney who resolved business damages in court. “This industry has taken it and taken it and taken it over the last several years,” he told me. “And now we get diminished as fake news, going to the core of what we do. And we don’t push back. Well, I’ve had it. I’m not going to take it anymore.”

Read more about how this all came about here.

Consolidation reportThe Longmont Times-Call will close its office and move staff to Boulder

For the first time in nearly 150 years, the local newspaper in Longmont, Colorado, “will not have an office in the community,” the Times-Call reported about itself this week. On Feb. 27, 22 staffers will move into the offices of The Boulder Daily Camera, which is owned by the same company, Prairie Mountain Media, a division of Digital First Media, which is controlled by a New York City hedge fund. Digital First also owns The Denver Post and several other Colorado newspapers. “There are no job losses associated with the move,” The Times-Call reported. “I think you’ll be seeing this kind of thing happening all the time,” Publisher Al Manzi told newspaper staff Friday.

From the paper’s write up:

“The market forces in this hyper-competitive digital world force us to look for every option as a company to be more efficient,” Manzi said in the statement. … “the changes in our business and in the media landscape will continue to force us to change our structure, based upon those competitive pressures.”

According to my nifty corporate-speak decoder ring that means: The paper’s owners want to cut costs and maximize profit.

On The Loveland Reporter-Herald’s hotline, aka, ‘the bitch line’

Tweets by reporters attending city council meetings have been fodder for this newsletter since I started it. Who could forget the hilarious October 2015 tweet storm from the AP’s Kristen Wyatt who was reporting on whether the Fort Collins City Council would allow women to go topless in public? Anyway, this week a tweet jumped out at me from Saja Hindi of The Loveland Reporter-Herald as she covered a local city council meeting. “Councilman Rich Ball just referred to the RH Line as the ‘Reporter-Herald hotline or bitch line, whatever it is.'”

Is there really a hotline you can call at this newspaper and just bitch? Turns out yes! “Readers can call in to give their opinions on local and national topics, complain about issues locally or nationally, and thank people,” Hindi told me when I asked her about it. “Mostly, they complain. They remain anonymous and we transcribe their calls in the paper and post them online.” That’s what Councilman Ball was talking about. It seems the city council was getting hit pretty hard about traffic issues in calls to the Reporter-Herald’s hotline. A true barometer of a community as telegraphed to local government through the local newspaper. Call that impact.

When I started as a reporter at the alt-weekly Free Times in Columbia, South Carolina, one of my duties was to transcribe the calls that came into the Rant & Rave line, a similar feature in the paper we thought was unique. It was a real pleasure. My favorite kinds of calls were when something had just happened— someone cut someone off in traffic or something— and they would immediately call and just go off. We published the rants (and some raves) in the back of the paper, and a running joke in the newsroom was more people in town read the Free Times from back to front because of it. I recall Congressman Joe Wilson once telling me he read the Rant & Rave at a time when he was getting hammered on the page. He seemed genuinely affected by it. Another time, a police officer stopped by the newsroom to say they were looking into something someone pointed out in the Rant & Rave. Could we help them identify the caller? No way, but thanks for reading, officer!

Such a feature is something that seems pretty easy for any paper to pull off in order to build a certain kind of community engagement. And for those who call in, I bet they love hearing their councilman, cop or congressman is paying attention to what they say.

That crazy public records case in Colorado Springs came to some kind of resolution

Remember the story of the single mom from Monument who wants to know if the downtown Colorado Springs coal plant is polluting the air where her kid goes to school? The short version: Leslie Weise filed a public records request to find out, but was denied, took it to court, lost, and appealed. When the case was in the Colorado Court of Appeals, the court accidentally e-mailed her the record she wanted. Weise realized it was a mistake and sent it back. When Weise told The Gazette what she says she saw in the report— that the coal plant was consistently exceeding federal limits on SO2 emissions— Colorado Springs Utilities, whose board is the local city council, went on the warpath, seeking attorneys fees from her and punitive sanctions against her. So she had to go to court. Again.

Last week, the state Court of Appeals dismissed the case.

From The Gazette:

Weise suggested the fight to unseal air-quality reports isn’t over. “This case has only strengthened the resolve of local residents who demand access to air quality reports that contain information about the air we breathe,” she said.

Not long after, the environmental group WildEarth Guardians sued Colorado Springs Utilities “alleging more than 3,000 Clean Air Act violations and “seeking more than $112 million in fines.”

What you missed on the Sunday front pages across Colorado this week

The Greeley Tribune published an explainer about what a complex statewide property tax change will mean for Weld County. Football personality Tim Tebow made the front page of The Loveland Reporter-Herald when he dropped by town. Longmont is looking for a new museum director, reported The Times-Call. Pueblo Democrats re-elected Marybeth Corsentino as their county party chairwomanThe Chieftain reported. The fracking industry is optimistic in the Piceance Basin, reported The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. The Steamboat Pilot & Today reported the story behind a ski patrol shack. The Boulder Daily Camera reports on locals grumbling about the health of the Pearl Street Mall. Vail Daily reported on a “balanced” local real estate market. The Coloradoan in Fort Collins reported on a 30-year-old local cold case murder on its anniversary. The Army is changing its philosophy toward war, The Gazette in Colorado Springs reported. The Denver Post reported on how judge Neil Gorsuch’s faith might shape the U.S. Supreme Court. The Durango Herald reported on potential changes to marijuana licensing codes. The Aspen Times reported its county sheriff is going on the conference circuit to talk about legal weed.

Where is Trump’s Colorado nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court on issues facing the press?

The Denver Post this week dug into how Colorado judge Neil Gorsuch’s faith and writings could shape the nation’s highest court. SPOILER: People think he is likely to give a wide berth to religion. Meanwhile, The Associated Press analyzed his record and found the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals judge who lives in Boulder “has been a defender of free speech and a skeptic of libel claims.” His record, write Jeff Donn and Geoff Mulvihill, “puts him at odds with President Donald Trump’s disdain for journalists and tendency to lash out at critics.”

From the AP:

In a 2007 opinion involving free speech, Gorsuch ruled for a Kansas citizen who said he was bullied by Douglas County officials into dropping his tax complaints. “When public officials feel free to wield the powers of their office as weapons against those who question their decisions, they do damage not merely to the citizen in their sights but also to the First Amendment liberties,” Gorsuch wrote.

Meanwhile, Gorsuch “repeatedly has interpreted libel law in light of the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech, rejecting claims based on small mistakes in the offending material,” Jeff and Geoff found. “He sided with a broadcaster who may have overstated a prisoner’s gang ties and a University of Northern Colorado student who mocked a professor in an online parody that showed him in a Hitler-style mustache.”

Gregg Leslie, legal defense director at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, told the AP that while Gorsuch didn’t break new legal ground on laws about libel, the judge had upheld existing news media protections “without any hesitation.”

That said, Gorsuch once “challenged speech that offended him at the time, threatening to sue over a poster he claimed misstated the financing of a newspaper he helped found.” The AP runs down other Gorsuch opinions that might be of interest to journalists here.

The Coloradoan newspaper gets another mention in a national thinky media piece

Last week I noted how the Gannet-owned Coloradoan in Fort Collins was mentioned in a major study about local newspapers. This week the paper got name-checked in a Reynolds Journalism Institute item at the Missouri School of Journalism about strategies to help journalists earn the trust of news consumers.

 The Colorado Independent’s statehouse reporter on covering the session so far

In this week’s e-mailed newsletter from the small but mighty digital-only nonprofit Colorado Independent, managing editor Tina Griego talks with my colleague Marianne Goodland who has covered the Capitol for 19 years, “the second-longest tenure among the statehouse press corps.” This part stuck out to me when Greigo asked whether the hyperpolarization that’s been on display nationally has made its way to the statehouse.

From the newsletter:

Yes, in that when you look at the leadership among the Republicans, the people who were picked to be the House Minority leader and Senate Majority leader are more conservative than their predecessors. You also have that same situation with the House Democrats. Some of the folks in leadership there are more liberal or progressive than folks in the past. That said, we’ve had far more constructive conversations than in the last two years. In the past, leadership drew lines in the sand quickly and that was pretty much the end of it. It’s early, but we are still hearing about bipartisan conversations on the big issues and some interesting bipartisan legislation you wouldn’t expect. So while leadership might be more to left and right, you can’t necessarily say that of the rank and file.

For more inside info like this, sign up for The Colorado Independent’s weekly newsletter here.

And speaking of The Colorado Independent

My colleague Kelsey Ray has a must-read piece out this week (with an awesome interactive map) about how without a statewide policy, sheriff’s departments in Colorado decide whether— and when— to inform ICE about immigrants in their custody. The piece is exactly how news organizations should illuminate for readers how new policies out of Washington are affecting communities they cover.

From the piece:

Trump’s executive order on immigration has some sheriffs worrying. The order, signed on Jan. 26, threatens to withhold federal grant money from so-called “sanctuary jurisdictions.” The term has no legal definition, but the order appeared to define it as localities that do not communicate with ICE. The order also says that the Secretary of Homeland Security “has the authority to designate, in his discretion and to the extent consistent with law, a jurisdiction as a sanctuary jurisdiction.”

Read the rest of the story here. Oh, and if you need another testimonial: David Simon, the creator of HBO’s “The Wire,” tweeted about it. For real. Sheeeeeeit.

*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 Bogdan Suditu for Creative Commons on Flickr.