The Denver Post layoff aftermath— one week later

Denver Post

In the week since The March 14 Massacre at The Denver Post, we now know who some of the departing journalists are among the proposed 30 cuts, the paper’s editor has spoken publicly, a GoFundMe page to buy staffers a beer doubled its goal, and a corporate suit got an earful on a panel at The Denver Press Club.

Another interesting wrinkle: When the Denver Newspaper Guild, the labor union that covers Post employees, tried to buy a $6,450 ad in the paper demanding The Denver Post’s hedge-fund owner sell it to “local interests,” the Post apparently refused to run the ad.

OK, so onto the roundup of the week in #DenverPostWatch…

Denver Post editor Lee Ann Colacioppo, who last Wednesday told her staff that roughly a third of the newsroom would be laid off, spoke to Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner on Colorado Public Radio for about 10 minutes. The highlights: She said, “this problem is not a Denver Post alone problem,” and blamed broader market forces. She acknowledged some reporters could step forward to take a severance package (presumably to save other reporters who were hired more recently). Asked where the money went from those new digital subscriptions and paywall— the initiative launched in January right before the cuts came— she said, “it went into the operations of The Denver Post.” (The insinuation in the question is whether the money went into the pockets of Alden Global Capital, the New York City hedgefund that controls Post parent company Digital First Media, or that hedgefund’s shareholders.) Asked if she thought The Denver Post’s owners care about the newspaper’s mission, she said they have invested in newspapers and the Post couldn’t have instituted its new online subscription model without their investment. “This suggestion that they don’t care at all about the newspaper is, I think, untrue,” she said.

Following Colacioppo on the program was national newspaper industry analyst Ken Doctor who runs the Newsonomics blog and dished some insider info about the money side of The Denver Post’s corporate fortunes. The highlights: “Lots of money continues to flow, every quarter, into Alden Global Capital,” he said. Asked if cash saved from the 30 cuts at The Denver Post will be “lining the pockets of Alden Global Capital,” Doctor said, “of course.” Rather than having a long-term business strategy, he said The Denver Post’s owners have a “shorter-term milking strategy.” He said he has spoken to executives at the company that owns the paper who told him “there is no plan” for The Denver Post by, say, 2021. OK, so once they cut until they can’t turn a profit, what happens? “You turn out the lights, I was told, or you sell … for whatever you can get out of it,” he said about the Post. The likelihood of Alden selling is complicated, he added, and is tied up with pension liabilities and other unique corporate expenses.

In the #BadJoke department, when reporter Bente Birkland of the Rocky Mountain Community Radio coalition asked lawmakers their thoughts on The Denver Post layoffs, one unnamed legislator said, ”Hey, that means we can do whatever we want”— a reference to reduced watchdog and accountability reporting on public officials. The comment,saidDenver Post politics reporter John Frank, “should drive 10,000 subscriptions immediately.”

Yeah, buuut, about those subscriptions…

On Tuesday night at The Denver Press Club, Digital First Media’s director of audience development Dan Petty, who used to work at The Denver Post, had the unenviable job of being the paper’s corporate face on a panel about local news revenue models. He offered a quick public disclosure to the folks who came to listen: “A lot of people, I think, look at somebody like me representing Digital First Media and think, ‘Oh, you must be the spawn of Satan,'” he said. “I beg to differ.” He said he cares passionately about journalism and the news business.

Also on the panel was Susan Greene, editor of the nonprofit Colorado Independent, Kevin Dale of Colorado Public Radio, Jim Brady, CEO of Spirited Media, which owns Denverite, and Brandon Spano, founder of the BSN Denver sports site.

Petty put on a brave face for DFM, saying the layoffs have less to do with who owns The Denver Postthan they do about market forces. A big booster of the paper’s new digital paywall, he said business goals and journalism goals align when the paper is focused on readers and subscriptions because there will be less chasing of clickbait and traffic metrics. “My passion is doing news that matters … and we have owners that are very focused on, of course, delivering returns to their shareholders.” But, he added, he would expect the same if the paper was owned by the McClatchy or Gannett chains. And… “even if you had, say, a benevolent local businessman in Colorado Springs who decided that he wanted to make a run for a publication— even if you had that— that reality still doesn’t change market forces here,” Petty said.

Toward the end of the panel discussion, a woman in the audience raised her hand.

Here was the exchange:

Vicky Collins: “Dan, what was the logic, though? As soon as you put up the paywall and asked people to start to pay, which I did … what is the logic of laying off your journalists when you are asking people to pay for it? It was just like kind of incredulous. I feel like I’ve been slapped in the face, because I finally like drank the Kool-Aid and I’m paying for your product, but your product is going to be diminished because you’ve laid off your journalists. And I just don’t understand what the logic is here. … I’m just talking as a consumer, I felt slapped in the face by what you guys did.”

Petty: “First I want to make really clear that no one consulted me on my opinion about laying off 30 journalists”— [laughter from the crowd]

Collins: “Well, you’ve got a tough job because you’re having to justify it and I’m feeling like, ‘How the hell is this guy justifying this’ because I feel like no matter what you guys do you’ve diminished your product at the same time when you’re asking me to pay for it.”

Petty: … “Again, nobody walked in and asked me my opinion. We’ve actually been working for six months leading up to January on building this and even up until a couple weeks ago I was not aware that this was coming. As I said, it makes the job much harder. I understand the frustration that consumers have. … You can’t say it’s all the people who own the Post. Yeah, that’s a part of it, sure, but the market forces that are driving this are not different and we have not even gotten to the point where we have had time for this to have taken effect. I understand from a consumer perspective how frustrating that is— and it’s incredibly challenging, no question. I certainly hear your frustration and I think it’s justified. I’m not the person who is going to suddenly knock on Alden Global Capital’s door and tell them, like, ‘I might have a different opinion about how you might approach the way you do this’ … they don’t answer the door.”

Petty’s bottom line: “You’ve got to support the local media you want or it’s not going to be there.” (To read what others on the panel had to say, scroll down my Twitter feed from the event.)

Speaking of newspaper ownership, how’s #ChieftainWatch?

Journalists at The Pueblo Chieftain still don’t know who their new owner will be after 150 years as a family-owned newspaper in southern Colorado.

“The only news is that during contract negotiations we were informed by the current management that the sale will be an asset sale,” says reporter Luke Lyons who is a member of the newsroom labor union.

When a company characterizes a newspaper purchase as an asset sale it basically means a labor union might have to start contract negotiations from scratch.

“Currently, the Guild and management are working on a contract extension that will hold until the new owners take over,” Lyons says, adding that it could be late April or early May until that happens— and in the meantime, they still don’t know who the new owner might beSounds like some enterprising journalist needs to start going through the boss’s trash. 

OK, well, since this is the Newspaper Ownership Edition of this newsletter, apparently…

Do you want to learn more about who owns the media you consume in Colorado and why it matters?

I’ll be moderating an open-to-the-public panel discussion about this at the Colorado Press Association’s annual convention on April 12 at the Antlers Hilton in Colorado Springs.

At a time when consumers are paying closer attention to who controls the news they read, Colorado provides a pretty good microcosm of America. We have elusive billionaire newspaper owners, secretive hedgefund owners, reader-supported nonprofits and family owners. Panelists representing the spectrum of these outlets will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of such ownership and what readers should know and expect about who owns the publications they read. They’ll also discuss the difference between news and opinion in their product, and what readers should understand about how the endorsement process works.

The panelists include Vince Bzdek, editor of The Gazette in Colorado Springs, John Weiss, chairman of Colorado Publishing House, The Colorado Springs Independent alt-weekly and The Colorado Springs Business JournalSusan Greene, editor of The Colorado Independent; and Dave Krieger, editorial page editor of the Digital First/Alden Global-owned Boulder Daily Camera.

If you haven’t already heard, the 2018 schedule for the 140th Annual Colorado Press Association Convention “might blow your mind,” the association reports. “OK, so that is hyperbole, but the sessions are being led by some of the best national and local talent.”

Check out the schedule here. And register for the rest of the conference here.

What you missed on the Sunday front pages

The Longmont Times-Call reported the area’s high rate of evictionsThe Greeley Tribune reported how the city will embrace the ‘Silver Tsunami.’ The Steamboat Pilot covered tangled water rightsThe Pueblo Chieftain updated readers on a weekend fireThe Gazette in Colorado Springs reported anger at the Army because the fire started on a baseThe Boulder Daily Camera reported how a city office is facing a budget crunchThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel covered how a bid issue could block an Xcel gas plantThe Denver Post fronted a story about how cherished mountain views are disappearing because of developmentThe Durango Herald had a piece about protecting native American artifacts at an area lakeThe Coloradoan in Fort Collins ran a story about how school superintendents are stepping up as the legislature struggles to fund schools.

Meet the reporter who took on the Mountain West bureau job for KRCC

In November I reported for Columbia Journalism Review’s United States project about the new Mountain West Journalism collaborative that’s stitching together regional reporting from public radio stations in Colorado, Idaho, Utah, Montana and Wyoming, backed by a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

From the piece:

The goal for these small- to medium-sized public-radio newsrooms is to weave local news from the different stations into regional broadcasts the stations can share. 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. This collaboration in the Rockies, set to crank out coverage by the beginning of 2018, 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.

Taking on the job at KRCC in Colorado Springs is Ali Budner, who started producing work for the Mountain West Journalism Collaborative in February, airing broadcasts about regional traffic fatalities, repeal of the Dickey Amendment, a water pipelinerenewable energy, voices from the mass shooting generationhunting-fee hikes, and the region’s reliance on the gun industry.

Follow her on Twitter here.

A Colorado journalism professor competed on ‘Jeopardy!’

Lst night, University of Northern Colorado associate journalism professor Lynn Klyde-Allaman competed on the longtime much-watched televised trivia show hosted by Alex Trebec.

And get this: “Klyde-Allaman’s mom, June Klyde, appeared on ‘Jeopardy!’ in 1968, while pregnant with Lynn,” according to The Greeley Tribune, which profiled her this week. (No word yet on how she did.)

Last thing. Stories from our new governor’s race page at The Colorado Independent

In our second week after a soft-launch of our new page completely dedicated to the big, sprawling Colorado governor’s race, here are some stories we reported: How the GOP candidates are aligned on sanctuary cities, where all the candidates stand on renewable energy, how Democrat Mike Johnston is getting out front on gun violence, how many unaffiliated voters might participate in the primaries, why Democrat Noel Ginsburg dropped out (spoiler: pickle jokes), and why Republican Barry Farah got in wicked late (and about that Koch connection). Yesterday we reported where six of the Republicans stand on banning bump stocks (you might be surprised) and how one of them is making school shootings a centerpiece of his campaign.

Thanks for reading, and see you all next week!

*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