If someone were to produce a near-future dystopian film about hedge-fund journalism — let’s call it Layoff Season — a scene about The Denver Post might look like this: A swarm of buzzsaws bearing the DFM logo and the mechanical wings of vampire bats fly from an elevator like Stephen King’s Langoliers, chasing employees around the newsroom. Papers flutter everywhere to a soundtrack of metal cutting through carpet and copiers and electrical cords and sneakers, then pantlegs, then… People scream, middle-fingers raised as the saw-toothed machines tear through the place, their autonomous robotic sensors locking on pre-selected targets and chewing their way toward the next victim of corporate cutbacks.
This week, The Post laid off nearly a dozen employees, including four from the newsroom, says Tony Mulligan of the Denver Newspaper Guild. Unlike last time, no buyouts were offered. Just straight-up layoffs. “So that’s different,” he says. “My opinion is these layoffs are nothing but maintaining bottom-line profit,” Mulligan adds. The Denver Post is owned by Digital First Media, which is controlled by the secretive New York City hedge fund Alden Global Capital. Cuts to the Post and their effect on the paper have been well-documented for years. “It was a tough day for everyone in the newsroom,” said Kieran Nicholson, a reporter and union leader who has been at the paper since 1986. “It was not a good day.”
Denver Post editor Lee Ann Colacioppo declined to comment, as did Linda Shapley, the Post’s managing editor who “announced her resignation,” according to union organizers. Denver’s alt-weekly Westword has more about some of the twists and turns— and brings us the story of 23-year-old layoff survivor Alex Scoville who was able to keep her job when older employees voluntarily jumped on a grenade for her. And she offered this assessment of an industry in turmoil: “Just because people leave journalism doesn’t mean they don’t love it. I just think it’s a sign of how unstable it is for people who are trying to grow their lives or have children or buy a house. Staying in journalism definitely requires a certain kind of self-sacrifice and a commitment to the idea that it’s still needed.”
Mulligan of the Guild says an untold story, though, is the hundreds of non-newsroom jobs that have been slashed over the years. “Those aren’t reported,” he says. “The newsroom layoffs are newsworthy.”
What The Denver Post has gone through “makes me admire the good work they do even more,” one former Post reporter who now works elsewhere in journalism said as we corresponded about the news — and I agree. “People do this job for the love and commitment to the public good” he went on, ”and all we get is bricks thrown at us from every direction.”
In the Springs, a sheriff’s showdown with an alt-weekly
Cue the High Noon western music as you picture a tumbleweed roll by.
Earlier this month, Bill Elder, the sheriff in El Paso County, called a news conference where he tore into local reporter Pam Zubeck. What drew his ire was a story she wrote that came out that day on the cover of The Colorado Springs Independent alt-weekly. Citing by name as her source a former employee in the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office responsible for notarizing documents, Zubeck reported “top officials” were “ordered” to falsify “hundreds of oath affidavits.” The story leads with an anecdote about an alleged delay in notarizing a document that deputized an officer killed during the 2015 Planned Parenthood shooting in Colorado Springs.
From the story:
Regardless, the delay in notarizing a document is the tip of the proverbial iceberg in a massive oversight and subsequent cover-up that could lead to legal trouble, or possibly even criminal charges, for members of the Sheriff’s Office, multiple legal experts told the Independent. (No attorney wanted his or her name used, because speculating on possible criminal cases is frowned on in the profession.) [The officer’s] affidavit was among those for about 1,000 deputies and other law officers in the region that hung in limbo for up to 15 months until, as one former employee described it, a frantic search ensued in the Sheriff’s Office to find them, notarize them and file them with the Clerk and Recorder’s Office as soon as possible.
The cover story noted the paper asked for interviews with the sheriff and others mentioned in the story but was rebuffed. But on the day of the story’s publication, Zubeck wrote a blog post saying: “In a bizarre rant during a hastily called news conference on Wednesday, Nov. 8, El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder lashed out at the Independent and its senior reporter, yours truly.” She said the sheriff made “personal attacks” on her and called her story “crap.”
More from the Zubeck post:
He also spent quite a bit of time complaining about a blog post I wrote in August about his use of a Sheriff’s Office phone number as the contact number on his candidate affidavit for the 2019 election. I included a copy of the affidavit in the post, as proof that Elder was using a government phone number for his campaign business. The affidavit contained his home address, a field that many candidates instead choose to list a P.O. Box in for privacy reasons. The affidavit was and is available on a public website as a matter of public record. The Indy, however, removed the document from our blog within a day at Elder’s request after he expressed concern for his and his wife’s safety.
The sheriff indicated plenty of inmates, drug dealers and “bandits” would like to know his address and that his wife now fears for her safety. “You’re a journalist. I’m the Sheriff,” he said, according to Zubeck. “I get my opinion, just like you do … and my opinion is you’re irresponsible.” According to the Google, it doesn’t seem like other media in town have weighed in on the matter or reported the news conference. I’m catching up on this story late after a holiday vacation, but it looks like one to keep an eye on.
Speaking of local print media in the Springs…
The Gazette got a profile from the Colorado Press Association on the heels of its 10 Questions item with the paper’s editor, Vince Bzdek. The CPA’s membership and projects specialist, Russell Bassett, headed to Colorado Springs to check out a changing newspaper (which is a CPA member) in the state’s second-largest city. Bassett says he found “positive buzz” at the paper owned by Denver conservative billionaire Phil Anschutz.
Some nuggets in the item:
“Clarity Media — the owner of The Gazette — recently purchased the weeklies The Pikes Peak Courier, The Tri-Lakes Tribune, The Cheyenne Edition, and The Woodmen Edition, all of which provide hyper-local news for their communities.” …
“Another new brand for The Gazette’s parent company is OutThere Colorado, which is an online resource for outdoor adventure in Colorado. The OutThere Colorado staff works in the same Colorado Springs office as The Gazette, but it’s a different kind of media experience, focused solely on Colorado’s outstanding outdoor adventure opportunities and offering that in formats as diverse as 360 video and virtual reality.” …[Gazette publisher Dan Steever] noted that he does rely on the expertise of Ryan McKibben, a career newspaper professional and former Denver Post publisher, who is now the president and CEO of Clarity Media Group. The owner’s son, Christian Anshutz [sic], is on the editorial board of The Gazette, and does have a voice in editorial decisions, but as Steever puts it, he is one voice among several on the editorial board.
It’s a friendly piece, and I’d chalk it up as another indication of Clarity Media’s growing influence in Colorado’s media landscape.
A Colorado whistleblower’s lawsuit uses the term ‘fake news’ to argue its point
“Alternative facts. Fake news. We live in an age of both.”
So reads the opening sentence of a defamation lawsuit against the city of Colorado Springs and city officials brought by Leslie Weise, a clean-air advocate from Monument whose saga to find out whether a downtown coal plant is polluting the air where her son goes to school has been chronicled plenty in this newsletter.
More from her suit:
“Colorado Springs has sought, over the last year, to take advantage of our age of disinformation and actively lie to its constituents. Leslie Weise sought to expose one of these lies. Her reward? A nearly year-long campaign of retaliation and defamation that sought to discredit her and ruin her reputation in her community for exposing the fact that the Martin Drake Power Plant was spewing noxious pollution in violation of Environmental Protection Agency regulations in the backyard of Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs residents.”
And here’s a choice portion from The Gazette: “The 25-page complaint says some of the defendants publicly called Weise a liar and suggested that she committed a crime by going public with her account of the contents of a Utilities air-quality report that had been mistakenly released to her and other parties to the case by the Colorado Court of Appeals. The retaliation began after Weise told a Gazette reporter that the leaked data proved Utilities was aware of toxic levels of sulfur dioxide emissions from Drake. That report remains unavailable to the public.”
What you missed on the Sunday front pages across Colorado
The Longmont Times-Call reported CU students of color calling for more institutional support. The Greeley Tribune profiled a local jobs program for ex-gang members. The Loveland Reporter-Herald reported the area is a leader in bail bonds reform. The Pueblo Chieftain covered a local holiday parade. The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel fronted a piece about a big pot-grow bust. The Boulder Daily Camera reported how the city might cut ties with JP Morgan Chase because of its funding of pipelines. Summit Daily covered a potential ban on short-term rentals in the backcountry. The Denver Post continued its Colorado Divide series with a piece about how a growing Front Range shorts rural Colorado. The Gazette in Colorado Springs launched a series about the southeast part of town. The Durango Herald reported on local homeless people creating a council to govern themselves. The Coloradoan in Fort Collins covered life flights under scrutiny.
Sandra Fish hooks one, and more fish puns to come
Data journalist extraordinaire Sandra Fish had some impact this week while reporting a story for KUNC about how some lobbyists in Colorado aren’t required to disclose who pays them. “Because several of the lobbyists work for law firms, the lobbyists are paid by the firm, not from specific clients,” she reported. “According to the Secretary of State’s office, that means they don’t necessarily have to report income from specific clients.”
After Fish started — pardon me, can’t help it — fishing around and asking questions, one public
affairs firm “began reporting its client income,” she says. In 2015, Colorado earned a ‘D’ grade for lobbying disclosure in the State Integrity Investigation at the Center for Public Integrity, a project on which, full disclosure, I worked. Fish’s latest report seems like another example of the enforcement gap in Colorado where, because of the state’s unique system of outsourcing enforcement to the private sector, some laws might go unenforced unless a citizen files a complaint. But, as Fish reports, even as one lobbyist told her the issue is one the legislature could tackle, they would have to determine what “enforcement” in this realm even means.
Denver newscast ratings: Down on the boob tube
A national decline in TV watching as viewers continue to cut cords and stream online is evident in Denver where the market suffered “double-digit declines in late newscast viewership in the November 2017 ratings sweeps.” That’s per Denver TV news savant Joanne Ostrow. “All of Denver’s late newscasts lost viewers,” she reported. “KUSA-Channel 9, while still the market leader, was down 28 percent at 10 p.m. KDVR-Channel 31, was down 12 percent at 9 p.m., down 16 percent at 9:30 p.m. and down 16 percent at 10 p.m. KCNC-Channel 4 saw a 20 percent drop at 10 p.m. KMGH-Channel 7 dropped 22 percent at 10 p.m.”
A silver lining at KUSA, she notes, is the show “Next with Kyle Clark,” which “had a resurgence in the ratings, beating the competition with a 2.26 rating.” I found some solace in the last part of this sentence: “The three most popular prime time shows in the market during November were all on CBS: ‘The Big Bang Theory’ followed by ‘Young Sheldon’ (the spinoff of “Big Bang”), followed by ‘60 Minutes.’”
The Taxman cometh
If you haven’t yet listened to Colorado Public Radio’s long-form podcast “The Taxman: How Douglas Bruce And The Taxpayer’s Bill Of Rights Conquered Colorado,” please do yourself a favor and take the time. Here’s Chapter One, Chapter Two, and Chapter Three. You’ll need to block off about an hour and a half if you want to listen to all at once.
And then, once you do, read about how the podcast came together from Chris Walker over at Westword who interviewed the three CPR journalists behind the podcast— Rachel Estabrook, Ben Markus, and Nathaniel Minor. The three discuss how they handled such a complex issue, the personality of the character at the center of it, how long it took produce (Estabrook: “I think some of our spouses are joking that they sacrificed as much as we did”) and what it takes for a state-based public radio station to pull off something like this. Also, the three will appear at The Denver Press Club on Dec. 13 at 6:30 p.m. to talk about The Taxman.
Our pitch from The Colorado Independent for Colorado Gives Day
This week, in the lead-up to Colorado Gives Day on Dec. 5, your inbox and mailbox will bulge with pitches from nonprofits hoping for your support. I’ll be no different. The Colorado Independent’s nonprofit newsroom would be honored for your investment in our journalism as you consider end-of-year tax-deductible giving options. Here’s managing editor Tina Griego on why she’s grateful The Colorado Independent exists, columnist Mike Littwin about what “never stops,” and me on why we can’t do it alone.
Our mission is to amplify the voices of Coloradans whose stories are unheard, shine a light on the relationships between people, power, and policy, and hold public officials to account. We strive to report the news with context, social conscience, and soul, and to give Coloradans the insight they need to promote conversation, understanding, and progress in this square, swing state we call home. If you like what we do, help us keep doing it by clicking here. If you support us right now, your investment will be doubled — dollar for dollar – with a generous matching grant.
*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.