Last Tuesday— and again on Thursday— people packed into The Denver Press Club to engage with a town-hall-slash-panel discussion largely focused on what readers can or should do about a crisis at The Denver Post. The event was hosted by The Colorado Independent, The Colorado Media Alliance, and The Press Club. You can watch Tuesday’s raw video here and Thursday’s here. Some highlights if you don’t have the time:
“I don’t support a subscription boycott at all,” said Chuck Plunkett, the former editorial page editor who resigned citing censorship and led the Denver rebellion by publishing a 10-piece editorial package in April taking aim at his newspaper’s hedge-fund owners. He called an advertising boycott scary because it imperils journalists. He did, however, float the idea of a national advertising ban across many Digital First Media properties, “so they really get the message nice and clear that ‘Let’s stop messing with these journalists and just let somebody else take a crack at ’em.'”
Former Boulder Daily Camera editorial page editor Dave Krieger, who was fired after he self-published an editorial critical of his paper’s owner that his publisher blocked from running, said some kind of statement must be made. Newspaper people, he said, are good at doing the moral indignation thing. But they’re used to trying to shame institutions that generally react to public shaming. So, he said, you have to deny Alden Global Capital its capital. “There is no public constituency for private equity,” he said. “How do you shame a business that has no shame?” If “we’re going down anyway” Krieger said, “why not fight back?”
Saving local journalism, he went on to say, is more important than saving The Denver Post, an institution he likened to be taken over by an alien in a sci-fi film.
Tony Mulligan, the administrative officer for the Denver Newspaper Guild, the labor union that represents Denver Post employees, said his organization’s opinion is this: “If you have a subscription, keep the subscription. If you don’t have one, buy one— for now.” He said the paper needs someone to publicly say they would buy it in order to have leverage over any subscription or ad boycott.
Former Denver Post reporter Tim Hoover asked whether it would be better and cheaper to immediately devalue the paper and launch another platform “even if it’s all online” instead of trying to buy the newspaper. Current Denver Post reporter Danika Worthington said doing so would mean losing a segment of print readership that doesn’t consume news online. And, she said, journalists would lose jobs. She said she was at one point chomping at the bit to strike, but said she was told by union higher-ups that it wasn’t possible. She acknowledged the paper isn’t doing as much as it used to but argued the quality of its work is still tremendous.
“We’ve got to be prepared to just say the daily might not be The Denver Post,” said Westword editor Patty Calhoun at one point. “It might be something that has to rise up quickly if Alden won’t behave.”
KUSA 9News anchor Kyle Clark said, “What are we asking them to save … local journalism or … an institution of local journalism that a lot of people care about? … Because I’m not sure that there will be a groundswell in the community to save The Post. I don’t know that there would be a groundswell in the community to save anything other than the Broncos.” Nothing to him, he said, indicates that The Denver Post is saveable. So, he said, let’s talk about what parts of it are.
Lynn Schofield Clark, chair of the media, film, and journalism studies program at the University of Denver, raised a point that, later, multiple people brought up to me as memorable. “I’m wondering if anybody would consider how we might want to bring a lawsuit against Alden … on labor law,” she said. “I think that we could embrace our role as becoming a symbol nationally for the importance of local news.”
Mayor Michael Hancock, who swung through to offer some remarks, said he supports “good, strong, independent journalism” and added he has done “everything I could in the last couple of weeks to help grow your circulation, not always with the headlines I want.” The remark was in light of recent negative coverage about him in the paper since he acknowledged inappropriate text messages he sent to a female subordinate. Not everyone was amused. (Hancock said he studied journalism and his daughter does now.) Asked what Hancock could do as mayor, he said he would “continue to elevate” the conversation with his bully pulpit. He said he was going to try to meet with Alden when he was in New York recently, but then “backed off” after he heard about Plunkett’s resignation— a comment that probably requires some more clarity. Because, um, wouldn’t that be the best time to do it? Hancock also said the city administration talked internally about its response to the Denver Post crisis and agreed they would have to tread carefully lest there be a sense of government intrusion in an independent press. But, he said, talking about the importance of an independent press is something the city can do.
One audience member, Colorado media broker Ken Amundson, said his firm was recently asked to represent a potential buyer from an Alden Global Capital-owned newspaper. “Alden has said ‘Bring us deals that are four times EBIDTA,” which stands for Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation and Amortization. “Well, when he brought his deal forward,” Amundson said, “Alden wanted six times EBIDTA. So that’s kind of what we’re up against here in Colorado.”
Denver Post reporter John Wenzel, who recently wrote a first-person piece for The Atlantic about what it’s like to work at the paper right now, got into it with moderator and Indy columnist Mike Littwin on Thursday’s panel.
“With all due respect, I find it personally insulting the ideas that Dave Krieger puts forward,” Wenzel said.”I’m here to tell you: killing us, killing the people who work at The Denver Post … that’s not going to solve this problem.”
Littwin, who has advocated for an advertiser/subscriber boycott to try to force Alden to sell the Post, responded by saying the accusation that those who support boycott somehow want the paper to be harmed is insulting. “The idea that you think that the people now in The Denver Post newsroom are somehow more important than the community who depends on The Denver Post is absurd,” Littwin said. Wenzel replied by saying that they are as important as the paper’s readers. (Watch here at 1:03 mark.)
Former Denver Post managing editor Linda Shapley said one of the major logistical hurdles of starting a print rival to The Denver Post is the press capacity in the city. “The Denver Post presses right now print The Colorado Springs Gazette … they print Westword … they print The New York Times, they print The Wall-Street Journal and USA Today,” she said. The Greeley Tribune, she added, is printed in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
Also learned during the panels: Colorado Independent columnist Mike Littwin has not cut his hair since he was laid off from The Denver Post in 2012.
This week in required reading…
Writing in Politico, Jack Shafer tells how newspapers will die— “with a spasm of profits”— and delivers this choice line: “Think of the Denver Post and most other newspapers as your grandfather who is on dialysis, has a pacemaker and totes an oxygen tank behind him. He looks alive, but he’s overdue. Your grandfather is a pretty good stand-in for the average newspaper subscriber, too.” Yeeeouch. In Salon, Andrew O’Hehir held Chuck Plunket up as a local hero and then argued that the Denver rebellion has failed, saying, “Plunkett and two other senior editors at the Denver Post are out, a new round of layoffs is coming, and a blanket of silence regarding corporate ownership is likely to descend not just on that paper but dozens of others owned by Alden across the country.”
Wondering about the Post’s interns? Libby Rainey, who interned at The Denver Post last July and is now living in New York City offered her take in Citylab.
Meanwhile, Columbia Journalism Review dedicated its Kicker podcast to the Denver Post’s situation. The Digital First Media papers in Philly are in trouble, too. Writing in Westword, retired Olympic cyclist and freelance writer Mara Abbott wrote about her time in her position on the Editorial Advisory Board under editor Dave Krieger at The Boulder Daily Camera. “When you walk into the Camera’s offices now, a giant stuffed Kermit the Frog doll sits in the receptionist’s chair,” she observed. “A thread is unraveling from the top of his head where he is missing an eye. He used to be sort of darkly funny, but when I stopped by last Friday, Krieger’s office was bare and empty and Kermit didn’t make me smile anymore.”
Important context: Why no one could likely buy The Denver Post in a standalone deal
…knowledgeable sources contacted by Westword believe strongly that Alden will never sell the Post in a standalone deal because the paper’s operations are so intertwined with those of more than a dozen other publications in Colorado that a split could well kill. And that’s not to mention the profits from all of these publications, which continue to pile up. The Post earned $28 million in fiscal year 2017, our sources confirm, while the other Colorado papers collectively generated $8 million.
Those other papers owned by DFM/Alden in Colorado are: The Boulder Daily Camera, The Cañon City Daily Record, The Fort Morgan Times, The Longmont Times-Call, The Loveland Reporter-Herald, The Sterling Journal-Advocate, The Akron News Reporter, The Broomfield Enterprise, The Brush News Tribune, The Estes Park Trail-Gazette, The Lamar Ledger, The Burlington Record and The Colorado Hometown Weekly.
But still, an ex-diplomat wants to help buy it
John Weiss, the owner of The Colorado Springs Independent alt-weekly and a half-dozen other papers, has gotten the most attention for leading a public effort to raise money to try and buy the paper. At The Denver Press Club on Tuesday, he told the audience that he’s part of a six-person team, some of whom are flying around the country to check out other papers that have been bought from under Alden. “We are spending money, time and resources to develop a plan,” he said. “We will approach Alden when we have a plan.”
But he’s not the only one. Former U.S. diplomat Dan Bae, a visiting fellow at the University of Denver, told Colorado Public Radio he’s also working with a group of investors to make a run at the Post. Bae told Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner there are two routes: If Alden is interested in selling, the community might marshall resources to buy it. The other route is to think about an alternative, like a digital platform. There are people, he said, “working on that as well,” but added the jury is still out on what sort of model it might look like. “One of the things that certainly the group that I’ve been talking to that we think would be interesting,” he said, “is to kind of have a foundation-led effort initially to think about ‘what does the future of news look like?'” (Part of this group is DU engineering school dean J.B. Holston and a former business editor of The Denver Post.) Bae said there has been some synergy with other groups having these conversations, but it’s all pretty new.
The Denver Post lost two more this week
Pour a couple out for two more at the paper.
Eric Lubbers, The Denver Post’s mobile editor who wrangled the daily newsletters, peaced out after 13 years. “I never thought I’d go voluntarily,” he said. “I assumed my Post career would end with a gold watch or a casket, because the newsroom was like family — equal parts conflict & love. … But part of loving something is realizing when it’s time to go. And it’s time to go. Is it about the hedge fund? Well, yeah. How can it not be, at least in part? But the threats to local news aren’t only financial. And I’d like my next step to be about working toward solutions.” Read his tweetstorm about it here.
No more stalling, I guess. Today is my last day at The Denver Post, after a roller coaster 13 years.
I never thought I'd go voluntarily. I assumed my Post career would end with a gold watch or a casket, because the newsroom was like family — equal parts conflict & love.
— Eric Lubbers ☀️ (@brofax) May 18, 2018
Lubbers’ departure was followed by that of Kevin Simpson, who focused on long-form pieces. “Simpson, surely one of the most elegant writers to ever work for The Denver Post, will leave us in two weeks,” wrote top editor Lee Ann Colacioppo in a memo to staff this week, saying he will be sorely missed.
An elegant writer and a truly decent, kind human being, the kind of person who can anchor a newsroom. https://t.co/o6zGZyCsui
— Tina Griego (@tinagriego) May 22, 2018
Bad news at The Salt Lake Tribune
In the debate over The Denver Post’s troubles, you’re likely to hear about The Salt Lake Tribune in neighboring Utah. That’s because it was a newspaper that was purchased from DFM/Alden by a wealthy person and flourished under local ownership. Until. Well, here’s the latest headline this week: “Reacting to plunging revenues, Salt Lake Tribune lays off a third of its newsroom, cuts back print offering.”
More from the Trib:
Along with cutting one in every three newsroom employees, The Tribune will eliminate its high-profile Utah news section Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, having already gone dark with its Monday version of the local news page. Remaining pages devoted to news, features, entertainment, business, sports and puzzles will all contract slightly.
More fodder for the market forces crowd.
What you missed on the Sunday front pages across Colorado
The Longmont Times-Call reported on an anti-fracking effort in Boulder County to tax drillers. The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel had a story about electric co-ops fleeing their contracts with energy providers. The Loveland Reporter-Herald had a 10-years-later piece about a devastating local tornado. The Steamboat Pilot profiled local young entrepreneurs. The Glenwood Springs Post-Independent put on its front page a story about how some are incorporating hot springs in “new mind therapy.” The Pueblo Chieftain fronted news about a police officer killing someone. The Boulder Daily Camera detailed a gruesome landfill search for the remains of a disembodied local woman. The Denver Post fronted the latest in its series about foster kids who aged out of the system. The Gazette ran a story about a double-header GOP/Democratic gubernatorial debate. The Coloradoan in Fort Collins revealed more than half the county’s largest public employers conceal sexual harassment claims. The Durango Herald reported how the county wants to map underground waterways.
KUNC wants a reporter to focus on guns
A northern Colorado public radio station is among a groundbreaking new national reporting collaborative “in which 10 public media newsrooms will train their attention on a singular issue: the role of guns in American life.”
Over the course of two years, the 10 stations, representing a diverse range of communities all over the country, will report on how guns impact us as Americans, from the cultural significance of hunting and sport shooting, to the role guns play in suicide, homicide, mass shootings and beyond.
It would be malpractice not to have one of these 10 stations located in Colorado, and KUNC in Greeley got the gig. “The Guns & America Partner Stations value differing voices in our reporting and recognize that they are essential to the successful outcome of this initiative,” reads the job listing. “We welcome applications from underrepresented groups that can lend us diverse perspectives and experiences.”
Boulder’s KGNU is over the hill
The community radio station in Boulder has turned The Big Four-Oh. 40. Over the hill.
From The Boulder Daily Camera:
Community is the heart of KGNU. The nonprofit station that runs a variety radio format is commercial-free. Most of the DJs are volunteers, and there’s a small skeleton staff of nine. The station also airs some syndicated public programs, but the volunteers are the crux that’s held up the station’s operations for four decades.
“In the seeming demise of various forms of journalism, KGNU has not only sustained in delivering independent news and music 24 hours a day, seven days a week for 40 years (May 22 is its birthday) — but it since thrived and has plans for expansion,” the paper reports. Read the rest here.
Cory Gardner’s anti-media speech in the Springs
Colorado Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner has a joke about President Donald Trump and the media. I heard him tell it last Saturday night to a crowd of Republicans at a big fundraiser in El Paso County. It goes like this:
“I’m sure you’ve heard this. … It was a meeting that President Trump had at Mar a Lago not too long ago. He was meeting with the Pope. I don’t know if you saw this on television. They were sitting down together when the Pope’s— his hat— flew off into the water. And President Trump walked across the water to go pick up the hat. And he walked back across the water to give it back to the Pope. And you know what CNN’s story ran? ‘Trump can’t swim’— that’s what they said.”
Gardner, who said he had dinner with Trump at the White House last Wednesday night, praised the president for cutting regulations, reforming the tax code, and stacking the circuit courts with Republican judges in his first term. He noted how a year ago Trump was trading insults with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-Un. “But what’s amazing now,” he said, “is the press are complaining that President Trump is now saying OK things about Kim Jong-un. A year ago he was being too mean, now he’s being too nice.” The media narrative, Gardner went on, is that “every year they want us to lose. They want to show that Republicans can’t get it together. And every year they’ve been saying that, we have been gaining seats and growing majorities and picking up governors and adding U.S. Senators and … members of the House.”
Join Indy editor Susan Greene for lunch at the Athletic Club Wednesday
“Journalism in Colorado is under siege. And headlines keep coming about censorship, layoffs and protests in local newsrooms.” So writes The Colorado Independent whose editor Susan Greene is holding a luncheon this Wednesday, May 30 at the Denver Athletic Club. There, she’ll host a conversation about “Colorado’s current local media landscape and what it will take to defy its downward spiral. She’ll discuss why newspapers are failing, what news is being ignored, what ‘fake news’ really looks like in Colorado, and what will become of public interest news and watchdog journalism here.” Tickets are $25 an include lunch. You can Please RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 720-931-6785.
*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.