‘Batshit crazy’: How Colorado newspapers covered the Trump-Russia story


Today was the day.

This morning at 8 a.m. Mountain Time, FBI director James Comey, who President Donald Trump fired in May, testified before a U.S. senate panel. The ex-G-man discussed investigations into links between Russia and TrumpWorld. In anticipation of this, Columbia Journalism Review’s United States Project set out to gauge what the local reporting and audience response looked like around the country, including in Colorado, to this slow-burning Trump-Russia story. “While the political and media world has been riveted by the Comey affair and his scheduled public testimony on Thursday, press interest at the local level, by comparison, has been scattershot,” we wrote. In the sprawling piece, which we published yesterday, multiple Colorado newsrooms earned a mention.

One place where such coverage got plenty of play was on the editorial page of The Denver Post. Why and how news managers chose to go with or without covering it at papers like The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, The Coloradoan in Fort Collins, The Pueblo Chieftain and The Aurora Sentinel also made it in this national story. And kudos to Boulder Weekly for even breaking some international news.

Here’s an excerpt from the piece:

The Denver Post, Colorado’s largest newspaper, has frequently editorialized on the investigation and Comey’s firing. Those pieces join a steadily growing archive of editorial responses to decisions and events that have contoured the Trump Administration so far. “We called Trump a liar in a headline five days after the inauguration,” says Chuck Plunkett, the Post’s editorial page editor. “That one went completely batshit crazy.”

Colorado’s Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, which serves the largest city between Denver and Salt Lake City, Utah, editorialized about Comey just once. The paper’s op-ed page typically sticks to local issues. “If we write about inside-the-beltway stuff, it’s usually about policies that hit home—health care or public lands management, for example,” says editorial page editor Andy Smith.

Find out how other papers in Colorado handled their coverage up to this point by reading the full piece here. Oh, and while bars around the country are opening early for day drinkers who want to watch the testimony this morning, Geoffrey Skelley at The Center for Politics suggests ordering a— (drum roll, please)— Moscow Mule.

ColoradoPolitics.com is taking over The Colorado Statesman

In a battle of The Billionaire Newspaper Owner vs. The Billionaire Newspaper Owner, only one billionaire can win. This week, Clarity Media’s ColoradoPolitics.com and The Colorado Statesman announced they are “joining forces.” Really, it’s a takeover.

Consider, from ColoradoPolitics.com (emphasis mine):

The Statesman’s print newspaper, which has published nonstop since 1898, will continue to publish weekly under the Statesman banner until a complete redesign and relaunch planned for later in 2017. At that time, theStatesman will be rebranded Colorado Politics.

ColoradoPolitics.com is produced by The Gazette in Colorado Springs, which is owned by Clarity Media, which is owned by the conservative Denver billionaire Phil Anschutz. His media company bought The Colorado Statesman from Republican billionaire Larry Mizel. Here’s my backgrounder at CJR about what ColoradoPolitics.com is up to from when it launched. I’ll have a lot more for you about this deal and what it means in and outside Colorado next week.

How an alt-weekly’s report triggered a nearly $2 million property re-assessment

Not long ago, reporter Pam Zubeck of The Colorado Springs Independent, the alt-weekly in the state’s second-largest city, produced a followup to a local development story nearly two years in the making. First the background: In February 2015, Zubeck reported how a downtown development authority wanted to bring an old hospital building inside its boundaries as a big time developer hoped to turn it into apartments. That led a colorful local, Douglas Bruce, to question the hospital’s assessed value of around $50,000. But the county assessor stuck to his figure. A year later, though, Zubeck followed up and cited sources, including an unnamed one, who told her there was more to the deal than the public knew. In a cover story Zubeck exposed how part of the deal involved the developer giving a $1 million donation to a foundation. And that, she wrote, provided “a tax benefit, while the lower purchase price kept property taxes low.” Based on that new information in Zubeck’s story (which won an award from the regional Society of Professional Journalists) the county assessor told the reporter he would reappraise the property for tax purposes.

Fast forward to just this month when the latest records came in for property appraisals. Zubeck asked about the hospital. What did she learn? The county assessor indeed had reappraised the property— and raised its value to a whopping $1,969,177. So Zubeck had another story on her hands, relating the impact of her previous reporting to readers. What does the new appraisal mean for the average person? Well, for one, it “caused the building’s tax bill to soar from $913 last year to $35,961 this year, although the property owner could appeal the new value,” she reported.

The Denver Post is trying something new: A civil comments section

Picture yourself strolling through a pristine meadow. Oh no, a dead deer lays across the path. You get closer and take a look. The little spotted fawn is stiff and on its back, its bowels are cracked open, and a writhing ball of maggots hungrily feeds on its intestines. The stench hits you immediately. You quickly turn away in disgust. Time to find a new trail. That is often what it looks like stumbling across the modern newspaper comment section. A place that nurtures maggots. Revolting-looking creatures who detract from an otherwise sensible environment. But in the comments section, they perform no vital task. To deal with them, some news sites have just poured in the bleach and wiped ’em out completely. Others have tried new things. Like The Denver Post, which recently launched something called “Civil Comments.”

From a story about why, going with the poop angle:

Most sites, including The Denver Post’s, use one of a handful of free commenting systems that — like rich manure — are fertile battlegrounds for all manner of trolls, racists and spam artists.

So the state’s largest newspaper is doing something about it. The Post hired a service called “Civil Comments.” With Civil Comments, “you’ll be asked to rate the civility of several other comments from the site — and then your own comment — before you’re allowed to submit it,” the paper reports. “This kind of crowdsourced moderation is a unique way to try to ensure higher quality comments without the heavy hands of moderators deleting offending posts.” The new comments section will still allow readers to log in via Twitter and Facebook. You can read more on how it works here.

But first, The Denver Post had to denounce a reporter’s tweet

This was ugly. Terry Frei, a sports reporter for Colorado’s largest newspaper, is out of a job after he wrote on Twitter how a Japanese driver winning the Indy 500 on Memorial Day weekend made him “very uncomfortable.” The paper’s editor Lee Ann Colacioppo responded, saying the tweet “does not reflect the standards and values” of the Post. She and publisher/CEO Mac Tully also called it “disrespectful and unacceptable.” Frei, a 20-year veteran of the Post and author of multiple books, apologized. Colacioppo and Tully told media Frei is “no longer an employee” of the Post. When asked by iMediaEthics if Frei was fired, Colacioppo said, “I note other media have said he was fired and attributed that to The Post. That is incorrect. Our only statement has been to say that he is no longer an employee.” She said the paper had received “both complaints and comments in support of Terry Frei.”

Over at the city alt-weekly, Westword’s Michael Roberts reported how Frei’s departure “helps” The Denver Post. How? By being “beneficial to the Post’s bottom line during a time of financial stress.” Ouch. Roberts points out how Frei (I keep thinking about Futurama each time I write this) is the second Post sportswriter to hit the streets after an “impolitic tweet.” A hockey writer said some weird stuff, used the P-word and dropped an F-bomb. Roberts also used the opportunity to list a run-down of the “ugliest exits” and “bizarre departures” from The Denver Post, which is no fun to read, but is illuminating nonetheless for those unfamiliar with them.

What you missed on the Sunday front pages

The Greeley Tribune profiled a local hospital president confident of success. A downtown house fire took up real estate on The Loveland Reporter-Herald front page. The Pueblo Chieftain profiled the first woman president of a local university on her way out. The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel profiled a local cop’s personal touch “beyond the beat.” The Steamboat Pilot took readers on a trip down the Delores River. The Gazette in Colorado Springs wondered if a new Olympic museum will revitalize a part of downtown. The Coloradoan in Fort Collins explored a culture shift at New Belgium brewing as it grows. The Boulder Daily Camera reported on a spike in homicides in the county. The Durango Herald covered local reactions to Trump pulling the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord. The Denver Post explored a renaissance of the LoDo neighborhood.

The Cañon City Daily Record faces hurdles to information in covering that crazy crime story

In my last newsletter, I rounded up the local news about a truly bizarre tale out of southern Colorado involving a decade-old cold-case murder of a 17-year-old, evidence recently found in a storage locker sold at auction, a former sheriff’s detective charged with misconduct, and a reporter discovering evidence in a landfill. Now, The Cañon City Daily Record is facing hurdles to reporting the story. For one, it looks like Fremont County sheriff Jim Beicker is stonewalling the local paper.

From a recent Daily Record piece:

…numerous emails and calls have been made to Beicker by the Daily Record – most attempts to reach Beicker have been ignored with the exception of emails that contained CORA requests.

Also, “Susan Medina, public information officer for CBI, has failed to return any phone calls and emails,” the paper reported.

For the personnel file…

Lauren Gustus is leaving as editor of The Coloradoan in Fort Collins for The Forth Worth Star-Telegram. Eric Larsen will take her place. to Reporter Saja Hindi has left the Digital First Media-owned Reporter-Herald in Loveland to join the Gannett-owned Coloradoan in Fort Collins. Colorado Public Radio’s Stephanie Wolf is one of 14 journalists across the nation to embark on an international fellowship during the German election campaign. John Tomasic, who covered politics for The Colorado Independent and most recently The Colorado Statesman, is moving to Seattle. Sallee Ann Ruibal is the new engagement editor at The Glenwood Springs Post-IndependentJesse Paul, the prolific Denver Post reporter (and Colorado College grad) will, per a staff memo, join the paper’s politics team as online news editor.

A CO newspaperman calls a body-slammed reporter a ‘little jerk’

You likely heard about The Guardian’s Ben Jacobs getting body slammed by Republican Greg Gianforte the night before Gianforte won an election to Congress in Montana. You probably didn’t laugh when you heard about it. But if you listen to some in talk radio it’s justa buncha yuks. At least according to Colorado’s Chuck Bonniwell, publisher of The Glendale Cherry Creek Chronicle, who laughed at Jacobs on a radio show. Bonniwell called the reporter a “little jerk” because he filed a formal complaint, and he indicated he didn’t think Jacobs handled the situation the way he would have in “the real world of men.” Jason Salzman has the clip at his BigMedia blog. Charged with assault, Gianforte yesterday issued a letter apologizing to the reporter and saying, “My physical response to your legitimate question was unprofessional, unacceptable, and unlawful.” He also he donated $50,000 to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

*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 thierry ehrmann for Creative Commons on Flickr.