Five years ago, when I was a reporter in South Carolina, I wrote a cover story for the Charleston City Paper about cryptocurrency. The news peg was that federal agents said they’d seized Bitcoins— it was the first time they’d ever confiscated them, apparently— from a 31-year-old hospitality worker in Charleston. The story took me down some rabbit holes— and into the Deep Web.
Since then, a lot has changed. For one, the alleged 11.2 Bitcoins in question in that 2013 story were worth about $814 at the time. Now they’d be worth close to $100,000. And at the time I was in a lawyer’s office on Broad Street in Charleston trying to understand cryptocurrency, I couldn’t have imagined five years later I’d be writing about how this new, online, decentralized, non-government-backed economy might help save the journalism business in Colorado. And here we are.
On Aug. 13, a cryptocurrency token called CVL will go on sale. This is the cryptocurrency of Civil, the platform and backer of Denver’s newly launched digital startup The Colorado Sun. You can already register to buy these tokens and, according to the Civil-backed podcast ZigZag, Civil will call it a success if they sell a minimum of $8 million, though they could also sell a maximum of around $32 million. ZigZag co-host Jen Poyant said even if the currency hit its max, her newsroom would not reap beaucoup funding from the sale. It might not even get enough to hire a new staffer. If you’re interested in this aspect of the business, the podcast is worth a listen. In it, Manoush Zomorodi, who has been covering all this, talks about how she failed a test to register to get a token on her first try. It was distressing, she said, because, “I have been immersed in this stuff.” (Nieman Lab has a write-up about the “really hard quiz.”)
Also on the podcast is former NPR CEO Vivian Schiller, who is now the CEO of the Civil Foundation, and is in charge of upholding the values outlined in Civil’s Constitution. “It is still a draft,” Schiller says in the podcast, adding that Civil is trying to create a document its newsrooms will adhere to, subject to accountability by a community of CVL token holders and something called the Civil Council of which Schiller is a part. “How this is going to work in real life, we shall see,” she said, adding the purpose of the platform is so readers can consume content they can trust, and journalists can find a way to tell stories and make their payroll and “have a sustainable business.” Listen to the whole podcast here.
In a follow-up podcast on July 26, ZigZag reported Civil is extending its early registration period to give interested people more time to get their heads around how the process works. This one also includes comments from Eric Lubbers, who left The Denver Post as a digital guy and newsletter wrangler to join the Civil-backed Colorado Sun.
“Overall, I think the value of a display ad has plummeted in the last 10 years,” Lubbers said at one point on the podcast. The Sun seeks to remain free of advertising. CNBC also recently reported on what Civil and its 13 startup newsrooms are up to.
The Gazette’s fight for yet another autopsy report
How did readers in the Colorado Springs area learn an investigation into last year’s unsolved mystery shooting death of a cyclist in Palmer Lake appears to have stalled? Because of a court fight waged by The Gazette in Colorado Springs against the El Paso County Coroner’s Office. The newspaper wants to see the autopsy of Tim Watkins, who died by gunshot wounds and was buried in a shallow grave while he was out biking in an area “where private property disputes, recreational shooting and the sight of homeless drifter campsites have roiled relations with visiting trail-goers for years.” The coroner’s office wants a judge to seal his autopsy. Last week, the paper reported a judge “sided with the Coroner’s Office, ruling that the county had ‘clearly’ met its burden of establishing that ‘substantial injury to the public’ would result from the autopsy’s release, satisfying an exception written into public records laws.”
More from The Gazette:
Information about the number of Watkins’ wounds, the trajectory of the fatal bullet or bullets, and the distance from which the rounds were fired are among the details that could dash hopes of solving the case, Bentley said. The report could also help pinpoint when and where Watkins was attacked. Tipsters might be the last hope for solving the case, and such information could lead bad actors to step forward with fabricated allegations in hopes of earning special favor from authorities, the judge said, affirming an argument by Deputy El Paso County Attorney Diana May. Releasing the autopsy would result in “potentially killing the investigation, potentially shutting off the possibility the crime might be solved,” Bentley said.
According to The Gazette, the paper’s public safety reporter, Kaitlin Durbin, “argued that the Coroner’s Office has engaged in a ‘pattern and practice’ of seeking to withhold autopsies in prominent El Paso County homicide investigations, even though Colorado law and legal precedent have held they are public records except under ‘extraordinary circumstances,’ and only when ‘substantial injury to the public’ will result.”
More from the paper:
The Gazette and the Colorado Springs Independent have together hired legal counsel to fight a similar attempt by the Coroner’s Office to block the release of the autopsy report for sheriff’s deputy Micah Flick, who was fatally shot while trying to arrest a suspected car thief Feb. 5 in east Colorado Springs.
The Gazette has previously won in court when trying to get autopsies released. In the past two years, it has had to fight for such records five times. What authorities said during The Gazette’s latest court hearing in this latest autopsy dispute led reporter Lance Benzel to write, “the hunt for Watkins’ killer or killers has otherwise turned into a cold case” where “tipsters might be the last hope” in solving it.
The Denver Post is on a hiring streak
In last week’s newsletter, I reported how Denver Post top editor Lee Ann Colacioppo said she was filling vacancies following a string of voluntary departures. Anna Staver has moved over from a producer position at 9News and is covering politics. Ben Botkin joins The Denver Post’s politics team from the nonprofit Oklahoma Watch newsroom. Cindi Andrews announced she’s leaving The Cincinnati Enquirer to become a “senior editor/politics.” Jessica Seaman left the Triad Business Journal in North Carolina to cover healthcare here. Boulder Daily Camera city editor Matt Sebastian is joining The Denver Post as a senior editor. Editors Brady MacDonald and Donovan Henderson have also come on board.
Also, though, another departure:
Some news, friends. It's difficult for me to even say, but today is my last day at The Denver Post.
I always said I'd be here till the bitter end, but it didn't work out that way.
— Daniel J. Schneider (@schneidan) July 27, 2018
What you missed on the Sunday front pages across Colorado
The Greeley Tribune had a Sunday takeout on everything readers should know about rabies in Weld County. The Longmont Times-Call had a story about a man arrested on bias-motivated charges for screaming racist slurs at a Hispanic family and possibly threatening them with a gun. The Steamboat Pilot covered Smartwool’s bike ride to Denver’s Outdoor Retailer event. The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel reported on “more admin, more pay” in a local school district shakeup. The Pueblo Chieftain reported on a $460,000 settlement between the city and a woman sexually assaulted by an on-duty police officer. The Loveland Reporter-Herald covered a park five years in the making. The Durango Herald reported on homeless campers protesting new city rules (“We are being treated like fourth-rate citizens.”) The Coloradoan in Fort Collins looked at how more people in Colorado are killing themselves in the prime of their lives. Vail Daily covered a local outdoor sports event. The Boulder Daily Camera dug into how a neighborhood dispute over homeless services belies a deeper divide. The Gazette in Colorado Springs reported how the Army’s focus returns to high-tech. And The Denver Post reported how employers are stretched thin in a tight labor market.
Why this Colorado lawyer released police bodycam footage to the press
Earlier this week, The Coloradoan reported that a judge admonished high-profile Colorado lawyer David Lane for releasing police body camera footage to media that showed his 22-year-old female client being arrested by an officer and thrown face first onto brick pavers outside an establishment in the Old Town district of Fort Collins. Cellphone video of the incident had gone viral when it happened last year, and now a third trial is slated in the case.
From The Coloradoan:
The judge declined to impose sanctions on Lane, saying the order “serves as an admonishment.” He wrote that “neither party in this matter shall distribute any evidence in this case to any third party without prior approval of the Court,” other than to expert witnesses. … The judge’s order determined Lane had violated [a] rule because he released the video in its entirety, rather than the redacted version that was presented at the previous trial.
Lane asked the judge to take back the admonishment, saying he has a First Amendment right to release the video and talk about it. He says the messaging from the police was that the officer was defending himself against his client and the viral video taken by a bystander doesn’t show the whole story. “They say that doesn’t show her assaulting the cop,” Lane says, “but if only you all could see the actual body cam video then you’d know she assaulted the cop.”
Lane says the officer testified Lane’s client grabbed him by the throat and dug her nails into his neck, something he says the body-cam footage disproves. “So I released the bodycam video, and I have an absolute right under the First Amendment to the Constitution to do exactly that,” he says. When he released the video to media, he says, the judge got a motion to sanction him from the prosecutor, which led to what he calls the equivalent of a finger-wagging.
As I wrote in Columbia Journalism Review in 2014, more cops are wearing body cameras in Colorado, but the decision to release footage from them is up to local police departments. Colorado’s open records laws have a provision allowing police not to release something if they determine it is “contrary to the public interest.” As a result, those decisions too often have “nothing to do with the public interest” and everything to do “with police interests,” I quoted a Colorado journalist saying at the time.
The Coloradoan filed an open records request for the footage, but reporter Saja Hindi wrote in May that Fort Collins police “consider the footage sealed from public view until after the criminal proceedings have concluded. A court order barred the media from recording the evidence during the trial.”
Because of that, Lane says, journalists “probably needed me to get it.”
“The Gazette’s news staff is now bigger than The Denver Post’s”
On Monday, the spinning blades of corporate saw teeth bit into the newsroom of The New York Daily News and gashed half the paper’s staff. In CJR, editor Kyle Pope wrote about who suffers when local news disappears. “What had been a crisis has become an emergency, akin to a health epidemic, and time is not on our side,” he wrote.
More from Pope:
So here’s where we are: We need to move away from the arguments that the country should care about laid-off reporters or that the suits should be held to account. This can’t be about us. It has to be about why the country should care if local news goes away, which is the trajectory we now find ourselves on. What are the effects on a democracy if local news is no longer in the picture?
On July 21, two days before the dire news about The Daily News, Vince Bzdek, editor of The Gazette in Colorado Springs, laid out one answer to that question.
From his column:
A new study has, for the first time, documented the real, tangible cost to a community when a newspaper folds or is gutted, as has happened too much in Colorado, especially in Denver, in the past 20 years. According to the new, as-yet-unpublished study, cities that have lost their newspapers experienced sharp increases in government costs because no one was scrutinizing local government deals and holding politicians accountable for those sweetheart deals.“Following a newspaper closure, we find municipal borrowing costs increase by 5 to 11 basis points in the long run,” according to the paper by Pengjie Gao of the University of Notre Dame and Chang Lee and Dermot Murphy of the University of Illinois at Chicago. “The loss of monitoring that results from newspaper closures is associated with increased government inefficiencies, including higher likelihoods of costly advance refundings and negotiated issues, and higher government wages, employees, and tax revenues.”
Sheesh. Bzdek then goes on to localize the data, writing how when The Rocky Mountain News closed, researchers found the “average (median) yield spread for newly issued local municipal bonds increased by 37.1 (5.3) basis points, despite the continued positive growth in population and per capita income in the area.” Other Colorado papers covered by the study that have cut back or gone away, he writes, include The Aurora Sentinel, The Montrose County Morning Sun, The Gunnison County Times, and The Lamar Daily News.
Also, 13 grafs into the column, this buried lede erupts like a landmine: “The Gazette’s news staff is now bigger than the Denver Post’s.”
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