Within the span of about a week, The Denver Post’s state and federal politics team collapsed as three reporters and an editor quit.
That’s after Statehouse reporter Brian Eason (a specialist on tax issues and the state pension system) left in April, bringing the body count to five. Mark K. Matthews, the paper’s Washington, D.C. correspondent, is leaving for E&E News, and editor Chris Rickett is leaving for The Indianapolis Star. Reporter John Frank, who joined The Denver Post in 2014, dropped the mic to join The Colorado Sun. And Jesse Paul, the paper’s wunderkind utility reporter who recently moved to the politics desk, is also joining the Sun. Eason, too, will write for the Sun.
These changes cannot be overstated. A black hole just sucked out megatons of institutional memory from the pages of Colorado’s largest newspaper in the middle of a major midterm election season. The chief beneficiary? The new cryptocurrency/blockchain-backed startup I wrote about in the last newsletter. This week for Columbia Journalism Review I looked at the Sun’s hiring streak — all 10 of its staffers come from The Denver Post — in the context of other states where startups launched amid legacy media retrenchment, including a new one just this week in Memphis, Tennessee.
From the piece:
A decade ago, the prospect of leaving a legacy newspaper on the dream of a sustainable career with a digital startup might have struck some print journalists as risky. These days? “There are big-name newspaper reporters who understand right now that the opportunity created by these new organizations is pretty significant,” says [The Texas] Tribune’s [Evan] Smith.
Lately, the Sun has faced scrutiny of its own: on social media and in person, at a Denver Press Club event, over the diversity of its hires. Colorado newspapers are overwhelmingly white and largely male; the team at the Sun, so far, looks no different. One staffer wrote on Twitter, “To put things in perspective, we had a job posting up for weeks and got a very small number of applications from POC and women,” which he attributed to a “whole ecosystem problem.” Ryckman acknowledges the criticism. “We live in a diverse state and it is something that is a priority for us,” he says. Through freelance arrangements, and by making strategic hires as the site grows, he hopes to increase diversity on his staff. “Yeah, well, that’s how it always goes, right?” Rebekah Henderson, a Denver librarian and filmmaker who hosts a podcast about race called Off Color, says. “They hire freelancers and so people don’t get any kind of benefits and job security.”
Larry Ryckman, an editor of the Sun who recently left the Post as a senior editor, told me he gets calls “practically every other day from people at the Post who want to come work for me.” I — and likely some folks at the Post — wonder who they are. Despite its thinned staff, the paper continues to do investigative journalism and accountability work. It just won eight Heartland Emmys, though some responsible for its success have left. “Lee Ann Colacioppo, the paper’s top editor since 2016, says she’s had no trouble filling vacancies and anticipates finding a more committed staff of journalists who believe in the paper,” I wrote. She added: “Our readers are going to get better news, more news, better-written stories than we ever had with the people who left.” Bet someone at the Sun posts that one on a bulletin board.
— Ben Botkin (@BenBotkin1) July 13, 2018
Thrilled to announce I’m headed to Colorado as senior editor/politics at @denverpost. Will miss @Enquirer friends but looking forward to joining another Pulitzer Prize-winning paper in an eventful political season, living near 🏔 and getting my Twitter verification back. pic.twitter.com/rXnJ3aJ13T
— Cindi Andrews (@CindiinCO) July 17, 2018
Anna Staver, a former producer at KUSA-9News, has also joined the Post and is covering politics.
It is impossible not to note the wave of talent that is leaving the Post, but it is also worth pointing out the talent that remains. Sun staffers I spoke with stressed deeply that they are not trying to damage their former paper and placed the blame squarely on the actions of the newspaper’s hedgefund owners. They see themselves as complementors more than competitors. There’s a scene in the CJR story about how that ended up playing out in Texas. (Spoiler: It was positive.)
The Big Shift 2018: New faces on the op-ed pages
The Denver Post and The Boulder Daily Camera, papers owned by Digital First/Alden Global Capital that lost their opinion editors in a high-profile termination and resignation, respectively, finally have new people at the helm.
Megan Schrader is taking over the editorial-page at the Post after being on its board, writing columns, and moving over from The Gazette in 2016 as a Statehouse reporter. Schrader said under her leadership she would “like very much for the public to feel that these are their pages — a place for constructive dialogue and debate and active learning.” Former DP editorial page editor Chuck Plunkett, who launched the famous Denver Rebellion, said, in his former paper no less, “This is absolutely fantastic news for Colorado … Her mind is razor-sharp. Her heart is in the right place. Her head’s on straight. She will be a great thought leader for our state.”
Over at the Camera, the paper elevated journalist Quentin Young to run the op-ed page. He moves over from being the paper’s features editor. “It will be a privilege to oversee the opinion page and help give expression to new ideas about the community and the issues it faces,” he said in the announcement in his paper. (#ProTip: Just don’t try to write about the owner.)
At The Durango Herald, a family-owned newspaper, my friend Robert Meyerowitz just took on the job as editorial page editor. He comes over from the Palmetto State, with his collie Charlie, where he worked for The Nerve, an investigative newsroom of the libertarian-leaning South Carolina Policy Council. Before that, he was news editor of the Colorado Springs Independent alt-weekly from 2013 to 2015 and a journalist in Montana and Alaska among other far-flung locales. In 1989, he was arrested by the government in Cuba while on assignment. Meyerowitz says he views editorials as another form of accountability. “Reporting gets to a certain point and stops, as it should,” he says. “Editorials can be a coda to that — and a judgment that a news story shouldn’t make so that one complements the other.” (Disclosure: He taught me to play better tennis.)
New publishers, too…
Meanwhile, The Steamboat Pilot & Today recently got a new publisher, Logan Molen, from Oregon. The Glenwood Springs Post-Independent and Rifle Citizen Telegram are also getting one, too, when Jerry Raehal steps down as CEO of the Colorado Press Association to take the reins. The Colorado Independent, where I work, just got its first publisher when Laurie Hirschfeld Zeller, “a news junkie from way back,” came on board. Read her column about it here.
That time Denver cops handcuffed a journalist who filmed them
On July 5, The Colorado Independent’s editor, Susan Greene, was driving along Colfax Avenue in Denver when she saw police officers milling around a naked black man who was handcuffed and sitting on the sidewalk with nothing but a small towel covering his genitals. A journalist who has covered criminal justice in Colorado for years— including the cases of Marvin Booker, a homeless black street preacher, who was killed in 2010 by officers in a Denver jail, and Michael Marshall, a mentally ill, homeless black man, who died in 2015 after officers restrained him— Greene stopped to see what was happening to the man on Colfax and began taking photos. Colorado law allows citizens to film peace officers, but she says two officers got angry.
From her first-person column about the incident:
Tina Griego – my colleague who’d normally edit this column – suggested that I calm down and sleep on it before writing.
I parked and was using my iPhone to shoot pictures of the scene when Denver Police Officer James Brooks, badge No. 07030, blocked me, then got in my face and told me to stop. I said it was a public sidewalk and that I had the right to take photos. He said I didn’t. I said I did, citing the First Amendment. Officer Brooks tried to one-up me, all legal-like, by saying I was violating the man’s HIPAA rights by shooting his picture. … I decided to stop talking and to start shooting photos of this particular officer using his height and weight, his Denver Police uniform and his Cracker-Jack-brand legal poppycock to try to intimidate me.
As it turns out, Officer Brooks didn’t like having his picture taken. After accusing me of blocking the door of an ambulance that had been called to the scene – toward which he had prodded me during our encounter – and saying something about me obstructing officers, he grabbed me and twisted my arm in ways that arms aren’t supposed to move. At some point in the blur, either he or Officer Adam Paulsen, badge No. 08049, locked one or maybe two pair of handcuffs on my wrists, tightly, and pushed me toward a nearby police car by grabbing my arms hard enough – and with a painful upward thrust – that I told them to stop hurting me. Their response: That I was hurting myself by resisting. But I wasn’t resisting. Not even close.
I had heard from my work reporting on several excessive force cases troublesome accounts of police injuring arrestees, yet claiming they injured themselves. But to hear it first-hand, uttered obviously for the benefit of whoever might some day review the body-camera footage, was infuriating. So infuriating, in fact, that now would be the point in this column where I might want to add a flourish like “fucking pig” and hope that Tina would let me get away with it (she probably wouldn’t).
After about 10 minutes, Greene, who last year received an ACLU award for her criminal justice reporting, says officers let her go, apparently after one of them had a conversation with someone on his cell phone. The following day she published her column about the incident at The Colorado Independent and it blew up nationally. In our current zeitgeist of my-side tribalism, the story had something for everyone: Those looking to share evidence of a Trumpist war on the press playing out on the streets of a slow-cooking autocracy had their link. Those who believe members of the press are just social justice warriors in disguise out to undermine law enforcement could point to something, too. The piece was linked on the widely trafficked Drudge Report and beyond.
A police statement issued Friday said officers had summoned an ambulance while tending to “a person in crisis” near the state capitol building when “a bystander began taking pictures of the incident.” “Officers confronted the bystander and detained her until after the person was transported to the hospital,” according to the statement released by Jay Casillas, a department spokesman. … Amber Miller, a spokeswoman for Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, said the city takes seriously “the importance of the First Amendment, and Denver is not about arresting journalists who are doing their job. That said, it will be important not to prejudge the situation until the internal investigation that is underway is completed.”
In a follow-up story, The Colorado Independent’s Alex Burness reported the city “has refused, for now, to provide The Independent with records of the incident, including audio and body-cam footage.”
Following the viral news, The Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, the Colorado Press Association, and the Colorado Broadcasters Association sent a letter to the Denver Department of Public Safety urging it “to institute intensive First Amendment training for its employees … so that an incident such as that experienced by Ms. Greene … is not repeated.”
The rights of a reporter or a non-reporter to film people, including police officers, in public is protected under the First Amendment, according to the U.S. Supreme Court. In 2015, Democratic State Rep. Joe Salazar introduced a bill that would “allow for $15,000 in civil damages to be imposed upon a police agency when an officer interferes with the lawful filming of a police encounter.” The bill passed and is now current law.
DU engineering school dean JB Holston talks about his Colorado Media Project
Speaking of The Colorado Independent’s Susan Greene, she recently had a conversation with JB Holston, the frontman for the Colorado Media Project, to get a sense of what this new initiative is all about.
An excerpt from the Q-and-A:
Greene: All toward what end, specifically?
Holston: Toward scaling scrutiny.
Greene: Scaling scrutiny?
Holston: By that I mean this: If you think of the way that newspapers were a collective conscience and voice of the community, the way they allowed the community to engage with and scrutinize power and institutions, that has all been atomized by (the emergence of) smaller digital news outlets. The impact is less when outlets are siloed and small. We need to bring that kind of scrutiny to a sustainable scale. And by that I don’t mean the model of a billionaire owning the big media outlet in the state, because that has its own risks and isn’t proven to ‘work’ for regional news. But my point is that scale is what we’re talking about here.
Greene: You’re holding meetings about these questions this summer, including a meeting this Saturday. What happens after these meetings?
Holston: We’ve had in-depth interviews with about 40 deeply experienced Colorado media professionals who have over 500 years of collective experience. We’ve been completing ’empathy interviews’ around the state this last week. And the Boston Consulting Group has provided great pro-bono help rounding up secondary research and is about to oversee the launch of a 2,000-person piece of primary Colorado research for the project. We’re having our third ‘open innovation’ session this Saturday. We have design-thinking experts from Stanford overseeing a human-centered, community-involved design process.
Find out more from her conversation here.
The Colorado Sun is crowdsourcing its ethics policy
As Denver’s newest digital news outlet starts to crank up, the new crypto-currency-backed crew is developing an ethics policy — and asking for reader input.
From The Sun’s John Ingold in a recently published item:
We’re thinking of this ethics policy as a guiding light for all our journalism and business practices. When it’s finished, we’ll post it online as a promise to our readers. If we ever stray from it, you should call us on it. A lot of it will probably seem pretty obvious. Our news reporters won’t take sides in partisan battles. We’ll always report based on verifiable facts. But there are also more complicated questions, and that’s where your input comes in. For instance, should we ever take anonymous donations? How much should we disclose about our supporters? And how should we address things that give the appearance of a conflict of interest? In short, how do you want a modern news organization to behave, while also ensuring that it can be sustainable?
Ingold asked for anyone with ideas to send them to him at email@example.com.
The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel is cutting its print run to five days a week
Chalk up another newspaper cutting the days it prints and blaming President Donald Trump’s tariffs — this time in Grand Junction, Colorado. On Sunday, the family-owned Grand Junction Daily Sentinel’s publisher, Jay Seaton, published a front-page column about how the paper will end its printing on Mondays and Tuesdays, something Sentinel managing editor Mike Wiggins said is the “biggest change” since the paper switched from delivering in the evenings to mornings a generation ago.
From the paper:
Newsprint rates have been rising for years, but recently the U.S. imposed tariffs on Canadian paper in an effort to support an American paper mill. That mill (North Pacific Paper Co.) has decided to significantly increase its rates along with just about every other mill in North America to keep pace with the now-higher prices of their competitors from Canada. Newsprint prices have gone up 33 percent since January of 2016 — and most of that increase has occurred in the last eight months. That’s the primary reason we’ve made the difficult but necessary decision to convert Monday’s and Tuesday’s print editions of The Daily Sentinel to electronic delivery starting next month. … Despite our best efforts to reduce expenses over the past few years, the economic tide of increased minimum wage, double-digit increases in government-mandated health insurance and the rising cost of just about everything else has been rough. But the explosion of the price for paper — our second-biggest expense — has been devastating.
Seaton went on to say the Sentinel doesn’t want to pass its costs along to subscribers, “Nor do we want to gut our news staff … other newspapers have opted to decimate their newsrooms. We have not. We believe that move would undermine our First Amendment mission.” He said in the column The Durango Herald and The Greeley Tribune (both under different owners) have also cut their daily print runs. (I’m told The Greeley Tribune has not cut editions, and will update this when I hear back from the publisher.) In Grand Junction, instead of getting a printed paper, subscribers will get a digital copy in their inbox. “After the transition, Wednesday’s edition will be more substantial than it has been, and it will include an ‘In Case You Missed It’ feature to catch readers up on Monday’s and Tuesday’s local news if they elect not to access the digital edition,” Seaton wrote.
He later went on Colorado Public Radio with Ryan Warner to talk more about the move where he called gutting his newsroom a “zero-sum game.” He also said he received many calls from older readers who don’t have computers who now feel they’ll be shut off from two days of news. One reader even sent the newsroom a poem about it. He also indicated the paper might go more days with fewer print runs in an uncertain future of news consumption habits.
I’m told prior to the Sunday news announcing the change, Seaton held a tense meeting in the newsroom where he was asked about the paper’s strategy, if cutting print days could deter older readers who might make up a large part of its subscriber base, and if the paper would fill about four newsroom positions of those who have left in recent years through attrition and layoffs. In a “newsroom full of good, hardboiled, jaded journalists, it went over roughly with some of them,” Seaton told me. He said the move would allow the paper to fill one of the positions in the next couple weeks. But for a smaller newsroom, four lost bodies can have an impact. The paper also recently bought four local radio stations and runs an in-house marketing agency called Sentinel Digital. Seaton declined to discuss its profitability.
What you missed on the Sunday front pages across Colorado
The Pueblo Chieftain had a big Sunday takeout on the homeless population in the county’s jails — who they are and why they’re there. (“Nearly 65 percent of homeless inmates said they, at some point, had been diagnosed with a mental health problem and needed treatment for it … Most homeless prisoners are in jail for trespassing and drug charges.”) Meanwhile, The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel reported Mesa County’s jail is running out of room. The Greeley Tribune reported on ways locals are saving senior pets. The Longmont Times-Call covered the new way the town of Frederick is able to recoup costs of fixing code violations. The Loveland Reporter-Herald explained how the city is taking on its housing crisis (“Partnerships, grants and a hopeful market flood of small, lower-priced homes.”) The Durango Herald looked at a potential tax on November’s city ballot. The Coloradoan in Fort Collins reported how one in five teachers need a second job to make ends meet. The Gazette in Colorado Springs reported how people in that city becoming transgender has become more accepted. The Boulder Daily Camera profiled a Peruvian woman in the country illegally who is taking sanctuary in a local Unitarian Church. The Denver Post fronted an investigation into court cases kept secret in Colorado.
The story behind exposing government secrecy…
David Migoya, the Denver Post reporter who wrote Sunday’s “Shrouded Justice” investigation that found more than 6,700 court cases in Colorado have been hidden from the public view in the past five years, penned a first-person follow-up explaining how he got the story. He was working on a piece last year about a high-profile murder case but couldn’t find mention of it on Colorado’s public-record computers that track cases. He found out the case was suppressed — kept secret from the public, the whole case file—in part because a child victim was involved.
More from his piece:
I began to take note of other reporters in the newsroom mentioning criminal prosecutions that were difficult to cover because the cases were suppressed. I wondered just how many of these cases existed. No one had cobbled it together. I quickly learned why: You can’t know what you don’t know if there’s no easy way to know it. Suppressed cases did not appear on any public-records database. Yet it seemed incomprehensible that someone charged with a crime would not appear on any public record not their name nor the charges they faced.
So Migoya set out to find if there was a way to track how the government suppressed cases in Colorado and found it could be identified by a keyword: “suppr.” He asked for a tally of how many cases carried the abbreviation over the past five years and got his number. The records search took two weeks. “Through dozens of requests for additional data – we are not allowed to access the state’s raw data for the court system, so we’re guessing about our problem-solving solutions – we were able to land the hardest and most damning detail of all,” he wrote. “More than five dozen criminal felony cases remain suppressed even though the defendants have been tried, convicted and sentenced, some to lengthy prison terms.”
Solid. Migoya also talked to KUNC about the story. Listen to it here.
The Colorado Open Records Act turns 50
Journalists across the state know it as CORA. We love it or hate it, often depending on the outcome when we use it to try and obtain information those in positions of authority would rather remain, well, “suppr.”
The state law’s birthday is July 1, and it was born in 1968. What a year otherwise, amirite? Jeffrey Roberts at The Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition rounded up thoughts about the law from public officials, journalists, lobbyists, and even a former governor. One deputy editor even said his new daughter’s middle name is Cora.
Here’s ex-Gov. Dick Lamm funnin’ with it:
Former Gov. Richard Lamm, who co-sponsored the bill as a Democratic state representative from Denver, emailed a response with the heading, “That damn Open Records Act.” Coming from a former chief executive of the state, his words may be all that needs to be said about why public access to government records is so important. “”Worst mistake I ever made,” Lamm wrote. “When I tried to manipulate government to the benefit of my campaign contributors – there was that damn open records! When I organized a coup at the end of my 12 years, that damn Open Records Act again stood in my way. I could have been a dictator for life – but for that damn Open Records Act. Terrible, terrible piece of legislation!” “This resulted in a great loss to the public as I would have made a brilliant dictator!” he added in a subsequent email.
Find the rest here.
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