When Clarity Media bought The Colorado Statesman a couple months ago, the plan was to eventually strip the print-and-online politics trade journal of its name and replace it with Colorado Politics. This week it happened. Above is the Aug. 11 issue; below the Aug. 18th.
But this is just the latest iteration of a newspaper that has changed in name, ownership, and tone over a span of nearly 120 years.
The paper’s story begins in the late 1800s where it eventually became a trade organ of the state Democratic Party called the Denver Democrat. In the mid 1950s it changed, becoming The Colorado Democrat, and over the ensuing decades pivoted to a more journalistically independent pub. In 1977 it got a new name, publishing its first issue as The Colorado Statesman, according to archives and those who worked there. Ownership over the years changed, too. Cheryl Meyer and Walt Kinderman became owners in the late ’70s under The Statesman banner when Meyer hired Jody Hope Strogoff as a reporter who would, years later, herself buy the paper from a different owner and run it for 35 years. In the summer of 1980, Bob Sweeney, who calls himself a conservative Republican, bought The Statesman and held onto it for four years. “We had a good time running that paper,” he said with a chuckle this week. “The only problem was we could never make any money with it.”
But Sweeney, who today publishes The Villager in south metro Denver, called The Statesman a unique and potent paper that covered the people who made the news more than the news they were making. “It was kind of a cult newspaper,” he says. “People really loved it.” Under his ownership, Sweeney says the paper had about 2,000 loyal subscribers who paid about $35 a year. But for a political insider journal, the gap between elections meant financial dry spells. “The best year I had I lost $35,000,” he said. “It was always losing money.”
So in 1984, Sweeney sold The Statesman to Strogoff, whom he calls probably the most talented journalist he ever worked with. Strogoff became editor and publisher, where she says she strove to keep the paper nonpartisan. The finances were OK, she says, and there were even some years when it ran in the black. But it took plenty of her own cash to stay afloat and eventually she needed help, she says. So in the 1990s, she says she approached Larry Mizel, a wealthy, politically connected GOP donor and homebuilder whom she says she met at a social function, and Strogoff says he started investing in the publication.
Over the years the paper won plenty of Colorado Press Association awards, including the top editorial sweepstakes award the last three years Strogoff was there, she says, and the Public Service award almost every year since 1978. The Statesman, she says, also sent someone to cover each national political convention for more than three decades.
Strogoff says the arrangement with Mizel worked well until about 2014, when the paper underwent another change. That year, Jared Wright, a former police officer and Republican lawmaker who drew political cartoons for The Statesman, became publisher, Strogoff says, and she wasn’t sure what her role was anymore. She did not last. “I was with that paper so long and we had come so far and I loved the paper,” she says. “I loved The Statesman, it was my life basically. It just got to the point where it wasn’t working.” The Statesman made a big digital play and instituted a paywall. It held a big party at the start of the legislative session, hired some new reporters, and released a slick promotional video featuring political luminaries singing its praises— including Gov. John Hickenlooper saying, “Long live The Statesman.” It raised the eyebrows of close media watchers. The new reporters didn’t last, either.
A Mizel spokeswoman says Miizel doesn’t talk to the press. Wright didn’t comment.
Now the latest ownership change. In June, Clarity, which owns The Gazette newspaper among other publications and is run by Phil Anschutz, a conservative Denver billionaire and Republican donor, bought The Statesman “from its principal investor, MDC Holdings Inc. CEO Larry Mizel,” The Denver Business Journal reported at the time. Clarity last year launched ColoradoPolitics.com as a product of The Gazette in Colorado Springs and went on a hiring spree, poaching statehouse reporters from rival print outlets to carve out a niche as a go-to source for insider state politics news. Colorado Politics acquired longtime Statesman reporter Ernest Luning, brought on Wright for the business side, and merged their websites over the summer. And on Aug. 18, the words Colorado Politics replaced The Colorado Statesman on the print edition’s cover. Poof, history once again.
“I am very proud of my tenure at the newspaper and feel that we played a valuable role in covering politics here in the state,” Strogoff said this week on the occasion of the paper’s changing namesake. “I have received dozens of letters from prominent politicians and elected officials from both political parties who have let me know how much the little Statesman played in their own political paths over the years. I take great pride in all of that.”
Speaking of history… The Colorado Press Association made it by adding an online-only board member
Susan Greene, editor of The Colorado Independent, became the first online-only board member of any state press association in the country when she joined Colorado’s, says Colorado Press Association director Jerry Raehal. Greene, who for the past few years has run the statewide nonprofit politics news site your are currently reading, was a longtime reporter and news columnist at The Denver Post, where she was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. The CPA recently published a Q-and-A with her about her mission as a digital news editor and her board position.
I found this a salient part of the interview:
This is hands-down the most hostile time any of us, including the dinosaurs among us, have witnessed in American journalism. Reporters are getting banged up – in some cases quite literally. Access to public information is at risk. In too many cities, nobody’s watching city hall. It’s in all of our interests, regardless of business model, to stick together. I mean that mainly in terms of keeping a watchful eye on and a robust lobby at the Statehouse. But I also mean that in terms of partnerships and collaborations. These arrangements are saving news outlets throughout the country. They’re the future, for all of us. If you want to offer readers serious journalism, there’s simply not enough money — be it in print or online, for-profit or non-profit — to go it alone any more.
Greene also talked about what it means to become the first online-only board member of a state press association—”I find that factoid pretty stunning given how indispensable online and nonprofit journalism have become in the national media landscape,” she said— and about the current anti-press atmosphere for journalists. Read the whole thing here.
Denver lawyer Vanessa Otero updated her viral news chart
In the spring, Denver patent attorney Vanessa Otero got some attention when she created a news quality chart that places news organizations on a map relative to whether they skew left or right and gives them a value based on quality. For example, The Atlantic, Slate and Vox skewed liberal but were “still reputable,” “complex” and “analytical,” while AddictingInfo was “liberal,” “utter garbage,” sensational or clickbait and exists to “confirm existing biases,” according to the chart. On the other side of the chart were conservative news sites according to their own rank, and in the middle was a cluster of news outlets that meet “high standards” with “minimal partisan bias” like The Associated Press, Reuters, The New York Times and The Washington Post, among others.
Otero asked for feedback and updated the chart some. And now she’s revised it again as she works on ways to further analyze media sources and present them in a way readers can understand.
From her updated analysis:
In the past, national evening news programs, local evening news programs, and the front pages of print newspapers were dominated by fact-reporting stories. Now, however, many sources people consider to be “news sources” are actually dominated by analysis and opinion pieces. This chart ranks media outlets that people consider to be, at some level “news sources,” even though many of them are comprised entirely of analysis and opinion pieces.
“I assert that one of the biggest problems with our current news media landscape is that there is too much analysis and opinion available in relation to factual reporting,” she writes. Check out the new chart here, and let her know what you think.
A libertarian wants libertarians hired at CO Public Radio
Colorado libertarian newsmaker Jon Caldara, who runs The Independence Institute and hosts the “Devil’s Advocate” public affairs show on PBS, has been making some noise about Colorado Public Radio. He penned a guest column in The Denver Post and produced a short video criticizing CPR for what he sees as a lack of ideological diversity in its newsroom. Bottom line: he wishes they would “hire a couple of reporters who favor limited government.”
Kelley Griffin, Colorado Public Radio’s vice president of news, fired back, writing her own column in the paper and defending the station. “Our hiring process prohibits us from asking about ideological preference,” she wrote. Plus, she added, it’s “simply immaterial to being a journalist at CPR.” Griffin explained the CPR ethics code, and she offered a take that might appeal to a libertarian perspective about the marketplace of ideas. “As a community resource held accountable to our mission by those we serve — the Colorado community itself — we invite the public to evaluate our content at cpr.org and judge for themselves,” she wrote.
The back and forth led Michael Roberts of Denver’s alt-weekly Westword to reach out to Caldara and CPR for more. But CPR declined to comment, Roberts wrote, “in the apparent hope that Caldara will shut up, go away, or move on to pester someone else.” Here’s Roberts on his attempt to engage CPR for his piece:
Instead of responding directly to an interview request from Westword, Griffin dispatched Lauren Cameron, CPR’s senior vice president for communications. Following exchanges with yours truly over a couple of days, Cameron sent an e-mail in which she wrote that “after chatting, we collectively feel that her original written response is all there is to say about the subject. We simply don’t feel there’s much more to add at this time.”
Find the full Westword piece here.
Ex-Colorado reporter: Pot industry is more stable than journalism
Put this in your press pass and smoke it: In an interview with Westword, outgoing veteran statehouse reporter Peter Marcus — a.k.a. MediaMarcus — dropped this dank little nugget: “The cannabis industry is more lucrative and has more stability than journalism these days.” Marcus, as you might recall, recently left the biz after 13 years for a job as a spokesman for a cannabis company. “I don’t think that’s a secret — like, ‘Whoa! Journalism is a struggling industry?'” he told Westword. “But that’s not what motivated me to do this. I don’t think you do journalism for as many years as I have and be motivated by money.” He says he wasn’t looking to bolt the news business, and that the job just fell into his lap.
Meanwhile, he gave an exit interview to Jason Salzman of the BigMedia blog, saying a career highlight was being first to report that a congressman was going to run for governor, and then being first to report the candidate wasn’t going to run for re-election as he planned to drop out.* That kind of made me wince, given the journalist’s previous reporting on the Gold King Mine Spill and the EPA, and his money-in-politics reporting on a big school board race. But this might show the state of some political journalism these days: Being first to report something the whole world is about to know anyway because your sources wanted you to know it is seen by some as a high water mark of success.
Behind the scenes in a fight for a new digital open records law
Last week, reporter Nick Coltrain of The Fort Collins Coloradoan, Nicole Vap of 9News, Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition director Jeff Roberts and Democratic Sen. John Kefalas gathered at The Denver Press Club for a retrospective of the recently instituted law requiring governments to produce digital open records in useful file formats. Business reporter and Press Club president David Milstead moderated the panel as they discussed the practical implications for journalists, how the sausage was made, and what the next fight might be in a state that scored an ‘F’ grade for access to information in the latest State Integrity Investigation. The new law, which went into effect this month, updates the Colorado Open Records Act, or CORA, which is a state version of the Freedom of Information Act.
Some takeaways from last week’s Press Club event:
- The governor’s office pushed back against the bill, Kefalas said. “Certainly politically it would not behoove the governor to say they were against open records,” he said. “But I know that they were pretty sort of stepping back at least while the bill was going through the Senate. It was concluded that one reason for that is because they were quite convinced that the bill would die.” But, Kefalas said, when it became clear the bill would pass, the governor and his office got on board.
- The new law gets rid of criminal penalties for willfully violating the Open Records Act, something Roberts said he’s “sad to see go” even though a case has never actually been prosecuted in 49 years. Some records custodians wanted it scrapped as they negotiated the new law and #opengov advocates let it go without much of a fight.
- Vap urged local journalists to #CORAaurora because of the city’s stance on open records.
- “A lot of bureaucrats are just terrified,” when they get a CORA request, especially one that cites state law, Coltrain said. So he implored journalists to call those they send them to and politely explain why they want the information. “You can almost talk them down from the ledge,” he said.
- An open data law could be the next open records fight. Roberts has an update on his CFOIC blog about that here.
Denver Post pops #COgov candidates for their Medicaid rhetoric
In case you missed the Aug. 11 story in The Denver Post by John Ingold titled “Is Medicaid gobbling up Colorado’s budget?: An argument from the Colorado gubernatorial campaign,” you should read it. The piece is a good example of digging into political rhetoric and providing context for readers. In this case, it’s a claim made by some GOP candidates for governor that able-bodied adults allowed into the Medicaid program under an expansion of Obamacare is a state budget buster.
Ingold, who previously introduced readers to the faces of the one-in-five Coloradans on Medicaid, reported in his explainer-style piece that Medicaid spending in Colorado is on the rise, but it also brings in revenue from the federal government. And he looked at something candidates have mentioned: Not covering able-bodied adults. “[T]he use of federal funds and the hospital provider fee in Medicaid spending means that for every dollar cut, there isn’t a full dollar saved that can be used in other areas of the state budget,” he reported, adding how savings from Medicaid spending cuts for able-bodied adults “would be in the hundreds of millions of dollars, not in the billions of dollars.” Tackling “bigger areas of general-fund Medicaid spending means focusing on other groups,” he reported. “People with disabilities and people in nursing homes, for instance, make up 10 percent of the state’s Medicaid enrollment — but account for 42 percent of state Medicaid spending.”
Later, the Post’s editorial board followed up, urging candidates for governor to stick to the facts and discontinue what the paper called “the Colorado Obamacare lie.” The items didn’t sit well with Colorado’s GOP Senate spokesman, though, who opined that such fact-checking stories (he called them “yes, but” stories) are really just “another way for opinionated journalists to have the last word.” To which Denver Post editorial page editor Chuck Plunkett replied on Twitter: “The argument that fact-check journalism is a liberal plot comes from moonbeams and pixie dust and is not grounded in reality.”
Speaking of candidates for governor…
Four top-tier Democratic candidates angling to become the next CEO of Colorado met for the first time at a forum in Breckenridge over the weekend. Among the 100 or so Democrats there to see the contenders, Jared Polis drew institutional support as a five-term congressman with high name recognition. Others like Cary Kennedy (”Mary?” one woman called her in an interview), Mike Johnston (“Mike Connelly” a different woman called him), and Noel Ginsburg (“forgive me if I don’t know all the last names,” said a man), had to introduce themselves to voters for the first time. The four hashed out their ideas on healthcare, housing, transportation, water, and more. You can read my dispatch on it for The Colorado Independent here.
*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.
*CLARIFICATION: A previous version of this story misstated the part of a story a reporter broke. Marcus reported a congressman wouldn’t run for re-election while The Denver Post broke the story he was dropping out of the governor’s race.