Denverite reporter on layoffs: ‘Please don’t forget journalism is in jeopardy at every level’

In a startling turn for a hyperlocal news site seen as a potential model for other cities, Denverite laid off three staffers totaling about a third of its newsroom last week.

The news was like mixing Nyquil and Vicodin for anyone hoping its parent company Spirited Media and its team of investors might have cracked the code for a profitable and sustainable new business model for local news. Indeed it was only March when Denverite editor Dave Burdick told me, “This is the most job security I’ve ever felt in a journalism job in my entire career.” He was reflecting on his site’s high-profile merger with Spirited Media, which runs Billy Penn in Philadelphia and The Incline in Pittsburgh. At the time, Denverite was a 10-month-old site (readers of this newsletter might recall #BurdickWatch), which launched with a splash and the backing of a trio of investors of Business Insider who pitched it as a pilot project for a potential string of for-profit news sites that could pop up in similar-sized cities across the country. In announcing the layoffs this week, Spirited Media CEO Jim Brady said expense cuts also hit the other two sites in Pennsylvania.

For Columbia Journalism Review’s United States Project I wrote about the layoffs and what’s ahead at Denverite. An excerpt:

In an interview with CJR, Spirited CEO Jim Brady didn’t try to spin the news. “I could give you some corporate-speak about ‘We’re getting smaller but smarter, we’re going to do more with less,’” he says. “I could say some of that crap, but it’s just not true. … It was a shitty week.” The company raised money from investors, says Brady, but not enough as it hoped. “We don’t have the revenue to support having staffs that size right now,” he says, adding that the cutbacks should give the company a runway of a year or two as it tries to build revenue at its properties in new ways.

Those let go were Denverite’s transportation and real estate reporter Meg Arellano, the site’s engagement specialist Stephanie Snyder, and sports reporter Christian Clark. Denverite reporter Adrian D. Garcia wrote on Twitter:

“It’s unfortunate that we’re in this position because we were supposed to be different,” he told me for the CJR piece.

Snyder posted a poignant thread (please do read the whole thing) on Twitter the day she got cut:

“Trying to stay in this industry and caring about the future of local journalism just keeps getting more and more difficult,” she wrote. “Online startups, nonprofit news organizations and legacy media *all* need people who care about being informed to sustain journalism.” Truth.

KRCC and KUNC collaborate as public radio rethinks the way it does journalism

This week, in 1967, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Public Broadcasting Act, which spurred the creation of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Now, 50 years later, public radio is rethinking how it does journalism—with an eye toward more robust, coordinated local coverage.

An example of this could be seen on a recent Monday in a converted house on the Colorado College campus in downtown Colorado Springs. There, KRCC station manager Tammy Terwelp was talking about how her newsroom is about to double in size. “I’ll probably never be able to say that again in my career,” she said as she climbed the stairs to the small two-person newsroom. The bolstering of KRCC’s news staff is part of a larger regional project called the Mountain West Journalism Collaborative, which is funded with $475,000 by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and spread across six local stations in Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Utah, and Wyoming. The project also counts KUNC in Greeley as a partner. The goal is for these small- to medium-sized public-radio newsrooms to weave local news from the different stations into regional broadcasts each station can share. They should start cranking out coverage by the beginning of the year and the project will focus on coverage of land use, water, growth, and the rural-urban divide, says Tom Michael, general manager of Idaho’s Boise State Public Radio, which will function as the hub for the collaborative.

What kinds of coverage should listeners expect? “We’ll be looking for those big regional stories in a region that has been passed over many times by the national media,” says KUNC news director Michael de Yoanna.

As CJR’s Meg Dalton and I reported this week, this collaboration in the Rockies is “an example of how the CPB continues to build connections among local stations while filling gaps in community news coverage in an age of newspaper retrenchment. And it tracks a larger trend of increased public radio collaboration around regional ‘hubs’ outside the nation’s coastal media bubbles.” NPR, for instance, is considering its own network of regional hubs around the country—a sort of NATO for public radio, as Bruce Auster, NPR’s collaborative coverage senior editor, describes it, which is a big cultural shift for NPR.

Read the rest of the piece, titled “Public radio rethinks its approach to journalism,” published on the 50th anniversary of The Public Broadcasting Act.

Denver’s 5280 magazine handicapped the governor’s race, and…

They left out one of the highest-profile candidates, Republican State Treasurer Walker Stapleton.

For its crystal ball prognostications, the magazine “calculated a few figures ourselves and considered the likelihoods” to determine which candidate running to replace term-limited Gov. John Hickenlooper has the best chance. Nearly 30 people have filed paperwork to run, and the magazine whittled them down to eight. It’s unclear what methodology the magazine used. I’ll spare you the ranking but wanted to point out some criticism the piece got from Joey Bunch of ColoradoPolitics, who called it a “misfire.”

From Bunch:

The biggest news is who’s not in it, Walker Stapleton. Say what? Not even in the top eight? 5280 must be high, in more than feet. Most of us in the state’s political press agree that Stapleton is near if not leading the race for good reasons. He has statewide name recognition. He is the establishment pick of the party, and he’s got an Obama-quality fundraising team for both his campaign and independent expenditure committee. To boot, Stapleton is the sitting state treasurer, one of only three candidates out of 25 who has ever won statewide. …

I texted Stapleton’s campaign consultant Michael Fortney to size up such a snub from the Queen City’s premiere magazine. “I always buy 5280’s ranking of the 25 best restaurants in Denver,” he replied. “This has me questioning my last decade of dining decisions.”

Ouch. 5280 editorial director Geoff Van Dyke later responded, saying the magazine only included candidates who had officially declared they were running by press time. “As luck would have it, the piece was batch uploaded to this past Friday and we had not yet updated the story. Ah, the vagaries of posting monthly magazine content to our website. You got us,” he told Bunch. “We’re in the process of updating the story.”

5280 is an award-winning general interest magazine, which likely has a broad readership in Colorado made up of plenty of folks who don’t obsessively follow political news. I wondered whether Van Dyke thought it might be a disservice to some of those readers who might be getting their first glimpse of an important governor’s race in its pages. He told me he stands by the reporting and that the writer spent a lot of time on it. He said it was not meant to be a scientific assessment but rather just a fun item. Look how wrong the professional presidential polls were in 2016, he said. “We did that piece with tongue firmly planted in our cheek because no one fucking knows what’s going to happen,” he said. “It was to sort of poke fun at the fact that no one knows. I don’t think that it’s a disservice.”

Since the magazine came out, Republican Attorney General Cynthia Coffman also launched a bid for governor. (I wrote about what that means here.)

What you missed on the Sunday front pages across Colorado

The Greeley Tribune dug into lawsuits against local policeThe Longmont Times-Call wrote about a local veterans service organization seeking younger members. The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel reported on a new threat to Colorado pikeminnows: WalleyeThe Steamboat Pilot asked if the American dream was still alive in Steamboat SpringsThe Loveland Reporter-Herald covered an unsuccessful SWAT raid that left two homelessThe Coloradoan in Fort Collins profiled a local business owner taking refuge from the Lybian civil warThe Boulder Daily Camera reported on a historic $3 billion surge in property valuesThe Denver Post fronted a story about a potential supervised heroin injection siteThe Durango Herald covered Fort Lews College struggling with enrollment.

Why young people in Colorado want to become journalists

Colorado Public Radio hit up the Colorado Student Media Association’s annual J-Day, a conference at Colorado State University and checked in with some of the 1,300 student journalists there about “why they do journalism in an era when the profession’s credibility is under fire.”

One of them wanted to cover racism. “I think just because I see so much of it every day, and so much in school,” said Sam Norris, a freshman at Eaglecrest High School in Centennial. “It’s something I’m really passionate about and I feel like journalism is a good way for me to help put an end to it in some aspect.”

CPR’s Ryan Warner also spoke with a student journalist about the Grand Junction High School’s student newspaper coverage of a classmate’s suicide. The newspaper is The Orange & Black, which publishes six issues a year. Co-editor Shannon Clark talked about how they navigated covering a suicide of someone they were close to. The paper chose not to name the student.

Vince Bzdek gets 10 questions about ColoradoPolitics 

About a year ago, Vince Bzdek, the then-new editor of The Gazette in Colorado Springs who came from The Washington Postembarked on a project to create a statewide site called ColoradoPolitics. He poached Joey Bunch from The Denver Post, Peter Marcus from The Durango Heraldand Jim Trotter from Rocky Mountain PBS, and built a team to do POLITICO-style reporting at the state level with a bankroll from Phil Anschutz’s Clarity Media. Then Clarity bought The Colorado Statesman, rebranded it as ColoradoPolitics and ran some questionable sponsored content. My theory has always been that Anschutz wanted to buy The Denver Post and couldn’t make it work so he’s playing a game of if-you-can’t-buy-’em-beat-’em by dominating statewide politics news.

Nearly a year into the ColoradoPolitics project, Bzdek got tapped for this month’s 10 Questions from Cheryl Ghrist at The Colorado Press Association. Some things that jumped out: “We plan to add news boxes around Denver so that you can get the print more readily,” he said. “And we’re aggressively targeting several mailing lists of highly engaged political players.” He said the site is “adding correspondents throughout the state so that we can be the statewide voice for politics,” and “We’ve had several other media come to us and tell us we own this space now.”

How Coloradans around the state voted on Tuesday…

Voters across Colorado chose public broadband access despite a flood of big money against it and opened their wallets for sales, pot or property tax hikes to pay for schools, public safety, workforce housing, fire, and fairgrounds. Denver voters said yes to the largest-ever bond program for infrastructure while voters in Colorado Springs for the first time in nearly 20 years voted to hike taxes for the city’s largest school district. In Cañon City, voters approved a 10-year TABOR timeout, but voters in Pueblo seemed to sink a tax for a new jail. Cities and municipalities will get new mayors, including in Manitou Springs where The Centrist Project plowed thousands into the race to unsuccessfully keep an incumbent. In Broomfield, voters overwhelmingly voted to beef up their town’s stance against oil-and-gas drilling. Alamosa and Monte Vista voters rejected a green light for retail and medical marijuana stores in the city but gave a thumbs up for taxes on potential future pot sales. Marijuana taxes were also approved in Berthoud, Commerce City, De Beque, Dinosaur, Eagle, Federal Heights, Log Lane Village, Longmont, Sheridan, and Walsenburg. Only in Foxfield did a marijuana tax fail, according to the Colorado Municipal League. In Trinidad, voters approved collective bargaining for non-administrative full-time workers. If you want to read more, I  rounded up coverage from around the state for a special post-election edition of The Home Front at The Colorado Independent.

*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 Corey Hutchins