About those changes to a Cory Gardner story at The Denver Post

Denver Post

On a day last week when news was changing quickly about a potential new federal health care law that would affect millions of people and one sixth of our economy, so was a story about it on the website of The Denver Post.

The paper’s Washington correspondent, Mark K. Matthews, had been dogging U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner,  who is one of the 13 GOP senators crafting the bill. On June 23, the Post published a story quoting Gardner saying, “This is the first I’ve viewed the legislation,” and also saying, “It’s frustrating that instead of actually reviewing the legislative text some have decided to immediately oppose the bill before it was even introduced. This deserves serious debate, not knee-jerk reaction.” More from that particular Post story:

On one level, the response makes sense. The full proposal was presented to Gardner and the rest of the Republican caucus for the first time Thursday morning and reading the bill — let alone understanding it — is a process that could take hours, given its length of 142 pages. On the other hand, it’s a curious reaction, given the context of Gardner’s role in crafting the bill, the politics of health care reform and his comments about the legislation in recent days.

But then the story at the Post changed— a lot— while the URL remained the same.This is from an unbylined post at the left-leaning ColoradoPols blog, which flagged the changes Friday:

Sometime yesterday afternoon, the story we quoted from was completely removed from the Denver Post’s website, and replaced with a new story at the same URL that contains none of the previous story’s context. Gardner’s “knee-jerk reaction” quote is nowhere to be found in the new story, in which Gardner is now quoted as wanting to slow down the process–and implying without any real confirmation from Gardner that he might oppose the bill he allegedly helped create.

The blog then speculated how it’s “obvious” what happened: Gardner or his aides “took action to get it replaced.” Using the web tool DiffChecker, which tracks how online stories are updated, changed or edited after publication, writer Chase Woodruff showed on Twitter just how much the Post story actually morphed.

He tagged Post editors in his tweet and even called the move “unethical”— quite a charge. Savvy readers these days are known to flag “stealth editing,” particularly at The New York Times where its practice last fall was criticized by the paper’s then-public editor.

But hold on.

Was this instance at The Denver Post something like that? Or was it just a write-through? That’s the practice of updating stories with new information as it comes in. In the old days that might mean a different-looking story appearing in a newspaper’s print evening edition than what appeared on the morning doorstep. In the digital age we see this happen in real time— and as pointed out above there are ways to track such changes publicly. Some might recall the outcry over a 2012 NYT story about Mitt Romney and how it changed. (Then-public editor Margaret Sullivan argued “both versions” should have remained on the Web.)

A conversation with reporter Mark Matthews about his own story in The Denver Post brings a whole lot more context to what happened in this case. So here’s what went down, according to the man who wrote the story:

That day at the nation’s Capitol, reporters knew the health care bill was coming and Matthews was writing about the Colorado delegation’s reaction. He had a statement from Gardner and queued up a story about it, quoting from the statement and providing context about what it meant and how Gardner was involved with the bill. The story stayed online for much of the day while Matthews hunted for Gardner around D.C. hoping to get more from him.

“It’s a fun hide-and-seek game sometimes to get these guys,” he told me about trying to catch lawmakers in elevators or on the subway. Matthews missed Gardner after a roll call vote in the early afternoon, but he knew a group of Colorado leaders were in town for a conference and suspected Gardner would be there. The reporter found his way inside, though he didn’t have an invite. He found Gardner whose staffers realized he wasn’t going to let up without getting the senator on the record, and they had a chat. At the time, the news of the afternoon was a handful of GOP senators were balking at the bill as their leader Mitch McConnell was angling for swift passage. “I felt the newsier part of the story was Cory was talking about slowing this thing down while Mitch McConnell was talking about putting the gas on,” Matthews says. “That in my mind rose to the sort of newsier part of it.” So he wrote through the older version of that day’s Cory story with a new version.

Should the paper have left its older version online and just published a new story instead of changing the first so much?

Thinking about it later, Matthews said it might be a better idea to have two versions. More information is always better. “It’s a learning lesson,” he said.​ Instances like these are important to talk through, understand, and keep in mind as the web increasingly becomes a place where ideological sources will use the news— and how it is produced and executed— as a way to advance their own agendas.

NYT reporter about The Gazette: ‘Our editors were so afraid I was going to drop this bomb on them’

With former El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa on trial for a host of misconduct allegations, ABC’s local News Channel 13 checked in with a former local reporter about what it was like breaking the story in 2014 while he was working in Colorado Springs.This line in the piece jumped out at me:

“Our editors were so afraid I was going to drop this bomb on them,” said Dave Philipps, the former Gazette reporter who now is a national corespondent for New York Times.

The station didn’t add any context for that quote. Really? I reached out to Philipps for more but haven’t heard back. Speaking of the trial coverage, here was a sad line from it in The Gazette: “I try not to watch the news,” one potential juror said. “It’s too depressing.”

Introducing the KOA radio host porch primary prediction

A reader of this newsletter flagged this tweet for me by KOA News Radio Denver host Steffan Tubbs asking why the host of a morning news radio show was hosting a shindig for a candidate running for partisan public office.

That’s George Brauchler, one of the many GOP candidates for governor.  I asked Tubbs about it and this is what he said: “George has been a longtime friend and I was happy to host a few of my neighbors to come meet him. I’m also close friends with Cong. Ed Perlmutter and likely will do the same for him as well.”

That’s Congressman Ed Perlmutter, one of the many Democratic candidates for governor. There are around a dozen candidates in the gubernatorial primaries so far and it’s likely even more will launch bids. You know how you sometimes see stories about someone’s pet turtle or something that accurately predicts each year’s elections? Could this be the morning-news-host-friends-test-porch prediction for who shakes out in our big goob primaries? Guess we’ll see!

What you missed on the Sunday front pages

The Greeley Tribune fronted a story about high-tech upgrades to local playgrounds. The Loveland Reporter-Herald reported on iPads in the school budget. The Longmont Times-Call had a piece about the housing crunch as a bar to anti-homeless strategies. The Pueblo Chieftain profiled a local woman devastated— twice— by the Vietnam War. The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel covered a drilling proposal in dispute. With “Buffering in Paradise,” The Steamboat Pilot reported how local Internet is still slow. The Gazette in Colorado Springs reported on a teacher crisis in Colorado. The Coloradoan in Fort Collins reported how a firefighter’s strangulation calls practice policies into question. The Boulder Daily Camera checked in with local “Lost boys of Sudan” a decade later. Vail Daily reported how local property tax protests are down. The Durango Herald covered low county vaccines rates. The Denver Post covered the fate of the endangered tiger beetle at the Great Sand Dunes.

A note from the cutting room floor

Recently I wrote about a further expansion by Clarity Media in Colorado and how The Gazette bought The Colorado Statesman. I thought I’d offer something I learned while reporting that story that didn’t fit for the piece.

It’s something Gazette editor Vince Bzdek told me when I mentioned how The Pueblo Chieftain’s longtime owner had died and I wondered what might happen to the paper. Gazette owner Phil Anschutz has expressed interest in owning The Denver Post, I said, but what about owning The Chieftain? Bzdek said he didn’t know of any active talks, “but I think it’s something that we’d be interested in looking at because we share a lot of the same territory,” he said. “It’s the kind of purchase and investment that we would be pretty interested in.”

Speaking of, in the mail yesterday I got my first (comped) copy of the print edition of The Colorado Statesman produced by Clarity’s ColoradoPolitics. The brand lives! It still says Colorado Statesman at the top.

Serious pot coverage is so serious in Colorado

What, no joke? Seriously? This is a line from a recent editorial in The Pueblo Chieftain about money from local marijuana taxes going to kids:

The students received the two $1,000 scholarships — one for each school year semester — from Pueblo County’s marijuana excise tax. In all, $420,000 from pot taxes went to the students.

You see that figure, right? $420,000. But no remark about the oddity of it. Or even an offhand joke pointing it out. (I don’t think I have to explain this, right?). ColoradoPolitics riffed on the editorial, too, without any commentary on the 420 figure. I had just reached out to ex-Denver Post pot editor Ricardo Baca to get his take about it when I came across an item on the pot tax scholarships in his old stomping grounds The Cannabist. Of course this wouldn’t escape The Cannabist. And it didn’t.The last graf:

The fact that this year’s scholarships totaled $420,000 is pure coincidence, Pace said, noting that the fund hit that figure after the Colorado Opportunity Scholarship Initiative contributed a matching grant of nearly $50,000.

A coincidence. OK. Just like the $420 fee for an American to sponsor a “Green Card” holder is a coincidence. Coincidence is better than conspiracy. I’ll take it. As for Baca, who now runs Grasslands, he called it uncanny. “When things like that happen, it’s almost hard to believe they weren’t manufactured,” he laughed.

Three years to fulfill a public records request?

Three years after filing a Freedom of Information Act request, The Gazette’s senior military reporter, Tom Roeder, got an answer. He filed requests for documents as he was investigating a series of stories in 2014 about the Air Force Academy’s handling of problematic football players. Three years later he got more than 200 documents that showed the Academy spent $2.6 million to ramp up its PR strategy. “One Gazette story apparently sparked the overhaul of the academy’s public affairs operations,” Roeder writes. Three years to fulfill a FOIA request for emails, though? Ridic. There’s also a question about whether the request was even fulfilled properly. Some emails might have been deleted, Roeder was told. To which a top federal records expert told the reporter, “What part of the Federal Records Act don’t they understand?”

The case of the missing Taser in a Denver homicide case

Susan Greene, editor of The Colorado Independent, came out with an exclusive story this week about the case of a swapped-out Taser involved in the 2010 death of Marvin Booker, a street preacher in a Denver jail. No officers were convicted in his death, but the Bookers won a monster $6 million wrongful death civil lawsuit against the city. Now, seven years later, “questions linger about the Taser evidence,” Greene reported. One of them, she reports, is why an investigator switched out the Taser used in Booker’s death with another one that was fired that day— but 34 minutes after a sergeant shocked Booker “and for a much shorter time than video and eyewitness evidence suggest.” The family alleges a cover up and they want Denver County’s new district attorney to conduct a criminal probe. That new DA, Beth McCann, told Greene she’ll look into it, but her “inclination would be not to reopen” a case closed by her predecessor. Read the full story here.

This week’s personnel file…

Turns out when Lauren Gustus left as editor of The Coloradoan she opened up a vacancy on the board of the Colorado Press Association. Want to serve on it? You have until July 10 to run. Here’s the info. The press group notes several people typically express interest, “and the selection process can be challenging.”

Now for some news on the local media front from CJR’s United States Project

Lauren Sausser, a health care reporter at The Charleston Post & Courier, wrote about telling stories that show ‘real life-or-death consequences’ of the health care bill. Mary Meehan wrote about what it’s like covering America’s ‘testing ground’ for responses to drug use and HIV risk. Max Blau urged media to report on addiction treatment shortages now—not once a health bill passes. CJR’s press freedom correspondent Jonathan Peters wrote about how media opposes a right-of-publicity bill as ‘an attack on the First Amendment.’ Regina H. Boone explained why she is devoting a year of her life to help black newspapers survive. And I wrote about a blogger who is also a political consultant and faces potential jail time for not revealing confidential sources in a court case.

*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 Allen Tian