How Colorado newspapers heeded a call to decry Trump’s anti-press rhetoric

Image by Georgie Pauwels for Creative Commons on Flickr. 

On Thursday, more than 350 newspapers nationwide heeded a call from The Boston Globe to join a coordinated pushback on their editorial pages to President Donald Trump’s “enemy of the people” rhetoric. In Colorado, multiple papers penned editorials. Here’s how some of them handled it:

The Durango Herald published its version a day early since it no longer prints on Thursdays. Here’s a passage:

The time has come for us to stand up to the bullying. The role journalism plays in our free society is too crucial to allow this degradation to continue. We aren’t the enemy of the people. We are the people. We aren’t fake news. We are your news, and we struggle night and day to get the facts right. On bitter cold January nights, we’re the people’s eyes and ears at town, village and school board meetings. We tell the stories of our communities, from the fun of a county fair to the despair a family faces when a loved one is killed. We are always by your side. We shop the same stores, attend the same churches and hike the same trails. We struggle with day care and worry about paying for retirement.
The Loveland Reporter-Herald used the opportunity to round up some of its most important work, name-checked individual reporters, and ended with this:
If you want to know what government officials are doing on your behalf, if you want to know how your tax dollars are being spent, if you want a better feel for the social and political textures of your community, local journalists are working to provide unbiased, researched, factual answers. Any claim to the contrary is, in a word, fake.

The Denver Post wrote, “we are taking this opportunity to assure our readers that The Denver Post newsroom and opinion pages are dedicated to bringing you all the facts. We are also encouraging our readers to point it out when we are missing the mark of telling ‘the whole truth.’ We are listening and capable of self reflection.”

An excerpt from The Boulder Daily Camera:

If you could see local journalists during daily standup meetings in the newsroom, if you could hear the conversations between reporters and photographers and editors about stories they’re working on, you would be proud to be a reader.
The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel recalled a local Trump rally:
This president came to Grand Junction in October 2016 and made his feelings clear. Pointing to the corral of cameras pointed at him, he accused the journalists assembled there of covering “fictitious stories about me.” He called the media “almost as corrupt as crooked Hillary” and said “there’s voter fraud with the media because they so poison the mind of people by writing false stories.” Was he elected in spite of those statements or because of them? Either way, the media did its job of showing voters the president’s contempt for a free press. Nobody should be surprised that he’s continued his verbal assault on journalists. It has worked very effectively for him. That doesn’t make it right, of course. But responding to the absurd notion that we’re the enemy of the people is beneath the dignity of the Fourth Estate. Let the president say what he will and journalists will quote him. He can be, after all, his own worst enemy. Of course, none of this would be necessary or appropriate if our president cleaned up his dubious rhetoric and focused on the very real successes of his administration.
The Pueblo Chieftain offered a micro-history of print journalism, and wrote this:
No, not everything you’ll read in our pages will make you happy. We will publish news that you find unpleasant and opinions that you find disagreeable. But just because something is unpleasant or disagreeable doesn’t mean it’s fake. We do what we do not only because it is our vocation and because it’s what we have been trained to do, but because most of us feel the practice of journalism is a sacred trust. No, the American media is not the enemy of the people, nor is Donald Trump. The true enemy of any democracy is ignorance, and the only way to battle ignorance is through the acquisition of knowledge.
From The Journal-Advocate in Sterling:
Donald Trump is so frustrated over the constant drumbeat of “bad news” being reported about his presidency that he has labeled the entire journalism profession in America “the enemy of the people.” We’d point out that this particular president has been caught in lies, big and small, more than 3,250 times in the 19 months he’s been president. This is not our opinion, this is a verified fact presented by numerous news outlets, all of them recipients over the years of the highest accolades in journalism for their accuracy, courage and depth of reporting.
The Gazette in Colorado Springs authored this dire warning:
Trump has advanced his verbal and written attacks on the media to extremes, far beyond the boundaries of social norms. Don’t be surprised if his words inspire some deranged listener to bring physical harm to one or more members of the press.

Sheesh. Don’t be surprised?

An anonymous oil-and-gas group that singled out Colorado reporters isn’t anonymous anymore

The president of the United States isn’t the only one targeting news organizations and individual reporters. A once-anonymous website called the Energy Accountability Project, sponsored by energy interests, was “building dossiers on journalists whose reporting they don’t like,” KUSA-9News anchor Kyle Clark said in a broadcast this week, and implored the site, which says its goal is to fact-check the media, to say who is behind it.

Then something interesting happened. While his program was airing, Clark said he got an email from the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, run by former Colorado journalist Dan Haley, saying they were the group behind the effort. Since then, the site updated its “About Us” page to reflect that. And it also seems to have nixed the verticle that listed individual reporters by name. It still lists some Colorado news organizations, though. Clark has the blow-by-blow on his Twitter feed here.

The new website didn’t go over well with some Colorado journalists.

Where Colorado stands in the Sinclair deal

Last spring, anxiety might have filled some TV newsrooms in Denver when the broadcast giant Sinclair looked poised to gobble up two Colorado stations— KDVR and KWGN— in its bid to become a national local TV news behemoth. Then, last summer, HBO’s John Oliver put Sinclair on blast when he devoted a major segment of his “Last Week Tonight” show to the broadcaster’s right-leaning bias and how it can seep into local newscasts, potentially beaming into an average of 2.2 million households. Sinclair, Oliver said, was “injecting Fox-worthy content into the mouths of your local news anchors,” the people who you know and “who you trust.” (You might remember that viral mashup video Deadspin put together of local Sinclair news anchors forced to read from the same script like Trump-rhetoric robots.)

About a year later, KDVR FOX31 slipped out from under the potential deal. Now it looks like KWGN won’t become a Sinclair appendage, either, since the Tribune Media Company vaporized its merger deal with Sinclair. “The collapse of the deal means that Denver’s KWGN, a Tribune property popularly known as Channel 2, won’t fall under the Sinclair umbrella, where insiders feared it would become a right-wing screed machine,” wrote Micheal Roberts this week in Westword.

But that has some potential consequences, too. From the piece:

Note that Fox31 is involved in a sister-station agreement with KWGN. But with the former’s move to 21st Century Fox, the domain of Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch, Channel 2 was seen as fated to wind up in Sinclair’s portfolio — and insiders believed the split endangered the latter’s news operation. At present, Channel 2’s news productions are put together at Fox31, using shared equipment, resources and personnel. Some of the on-air talent, such as evening anchor Mike Landess and morning host Ernie Bjorkman, only appear on Channel 2, and the signal has its own producers, as well. But most of the reporters can be seen on both stations.

Had the sale been completed, Fox31 and Channel 2 could have made a new deal to keep this approach in place. But TV observers with whom Westword spoke saw that as unlikely. If Sinclair really desired to take down Fox News, they speculated, there was no incentive for a Fox-affiliated station to lend a helping hand. That was particularly true when it comes to programs such as Daybreak, Channel 2’s a.m. show, which would likely compete directly with Fox31’s own offerings. With Fox31 out of the picture, the theory went, Channel 2 could only continue to produce local news on its own if Sinclair paid to build a brand-new facility and hire a new crew — a possibility, but a hugely expensive one, especially in light of KWGN’s ratings, which remain small compared to other local-news purveyors in Denver.

There’s more intrigue here.

Meanwhile, Denver now has a shortage of black TV news personalities

On a roll on the Denver TV news beat this week, Michael Roberts of Westword also reported how the recent departure of 9News weekend reporter and morning anchor TaRhonda Thomas will “leave the Mile High City with just four black reporters at four stations, all of whom currently have significantly smaller on-air roles than she did.”

More from Roberts, who interviewed Thomas:

“I don’t want to be the only reporter covering diversity issues,” she says. “I want everyone to see why a certain event is important. So I hope I’ve gotten people in Denver more interested in someone who doesn’t look like them. And in that vein, representation matters.”​

Meanwhile, the number of African-Americans regularly on camera at Denver TV-news stations will be reduced by 20 percent; the remaining four are 9News’s Eddie Randle, a reporter hired in January 2017; CBS4’s Tori Mason, a reporter who came aboard last August; Fox31/KWGN’s Zora Stephenson, who came aboard in July 2017 and began anchoring the Saturday morning newscast on Channel 2 in recent weeks; and Fox31/KWGN’s Shaul Turner, a onetime anchor now working in the outlet’s Problem Solvers unit. And in Thomas’s view, that’s a shame.

“If I’m the only person like me a person of color sees, but it’s a positive representation, I feel like I’ve done well,” Thomas told the alt-weekly. “Having a platform is wonderful.”

Last year, Gabrielle Bryant, who currently leads the Colorado Association of Black Journalists, interviewed Thomas for a segment on the show The New Black Experience. Watch it here.

What you missed on the Sunday front pages across Colorado

The Greeley Tribune reported how readers’ tax dollars will show up in a local school districtThe Longmont Times-Call covered a community survey showing locals are concerned about housingThe Steamboat Pilot reported how teen vaping rates in Colorado are some of the highest in the countryThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel teased out how gubernatorial candidates Democrat Jared Polis and Republican Walker Stapleton differ on the Jordan Cove energy projectThe Pueblo Chieftain offered a special report on Pueblo’s challengesThe Loveland Reporter-Herald reported on police using new license plate scanners in the areaThe Durango Herald fronted a piece about the city not providing a camp for local homelessThe Coloradoan in Fort Collins reported on the cost to local families to put their kids in full-day kindergartenVail Daily covered Habitat for Humanity building seven new local homesThe Boulder Daily Camera reported how housing is hard for local grad studentsThe Gazette in Colorado Springs covered how local police are targeting traffic deathsThe Denver Post fronted a story about how hail storms aren’t more common, they’re just more expensive.

Colorado nonprofits are funding a housing and hunger reporter at Denverite

Editor Dave Burdick at the 2-year-old local digital news site Denverite announced he’ll be hiring a new reporter whose beat covers housing and hunger after 18 nonprofits joined together to help pay the salary.

From the announcement:

The nonprofits are part of a relatively new field of organizations that, though their specific missions vary widely, are united in their desire to improve health equity — that is, the ways that a person’s health and a community’s health are impacted by where people live, the education they get, the work they do, the wages they earn and the opportunities to make decisions that improve their health. “The cohort chose the priority issue areas of housing affordability and food access or food security for themselves as a group, and those issue areas are really aligned with Denverite’s interest in having a reporter position around housing and hunger,” said Noelle Dorward, who works with the cohort on behalf of The Colorado Trust.​

The staffer will report directly to Burdick, “and neither The Colorado Trust nor the nonprofits will be involved in editorial decisions,” he writes.

This kind of arrangement is something we might see more of at digital news outlets as they try to navigate a sustainable business model, though my sense is we tend to see it more on the non-profit news side. I did get an email from someone concerned about whether coverage for hunger and homelessness at Denverite might wind up coming through a lens of advocacy rather than an objective examination and community interest. The editor doesn’t think that will happen, and I’m willing to say let’s wait and see how the coverage turns out. “Judge us by our work” is what you often hear from news orgs when questions arise about who funds them. The job listing is here.

Denverite is also hiring a city reporter.

And that’s because…

Usually when a journalist at The Denver Post begins a tweet with “some professional news,” pretty much everyone can guess what comes next. But the paper’s City Hall reporter Jon Murray scrambled the narrative this week when he wrote those words followed by, “No, I’m not leaving.” Instead, Murray says he is taking a new position at the paper where he’ll focus on more in-depth political coverage that’s “less tethered” to the daily news cycle. In essence, he is joining the paper’s politics team as an enterprise reporter. “We’re still working out what that means, since it’s a new position,” he said. “No doubt, @DenverPost has gone through a difficult time, including deep layoffs & other ownership-related travails. We’ve rebuilt for a new chapter, one with continuing uncertainty. But newspapers still have an important role to play in local news, and I want to be part of it.”

With Murray off the City Hall beat where he worked for four years, who is taking his place? Not someone who already works at the paper, actually. Andy Kenney will leave the for-profit digital news site Denverite for The Denver Post job.

A pot company is sponsoring The Coloradoan’s newspaper series on education funding

Earlier this year, the Gannett-owned daily newspaper in Fort Collins launched a yearlong series called “Sacrificing Our Schools,” which is focused on efforts to improve public school funding in Colorado— and is supported financially by a local recreational and medical marijuana company called Choice Organics.

“Support from Choice Organics will allow the Coloradoan to report on issues from across the state, and host events related to the series in Fort Collins,” the paper wrote in February. “Coloradoan journalists will maintain their editorial independence while Choice Organics underwrites this important community conversation.”

When voters in Colorado passed a ballot measure legalizing the recreational use and sale of marijuana, the new law came with a provision that tax money from the industry would be used in part to fund school construction and a public school fund.

In a video Coloradoan news director Eric Larsen made with Choice Organic’s co-owner Erica Freeman about why the company wanted to underwrite a newspaper series on school funding, she said: “With our government system right now, it’s easy to find other places to put these funds. As a cannabis company, we’re always looking to put back into our community. And we would like to use this opportunity to be able to help push that funding and help push our legislators into appropriating the funds where we think they should be in the school system.”

The latest installment in the series is a look at how much full-day kindergarten costs families in a state that doesn’t fund it statewide, and efforts that are underway to fund it, like a statewide ballot measure this year.

Westword called a Gazette editorial ‘insane’

Writing in the Denver alt-weekly, staff writer Chris Walker pointed to what Westword called an “insane” editorial in the Colorado Springs newspaper that blasted recent coverage of GOP gubernatorial candidate Walker Stapleton’s great-grandfather’s KKK affiliation in the context of the governor’s race. The editorial accuses The Denver Post’s “news department” of “a quest to defeat Stapleton and elect Polis.” (The Post ran a recent piece labeled “analysis” by two of its reporters quoting political pundits Floyd Ciruli, Eric Sondermann and Dick Wadhams under a headline about how Stapleton “must be ready to deal with family skeletons as Colorado governor’s race heats up.”)

The Gazette editorial goes on to say media should also question Polis about why he’s a Democrat since it was the “Klan’s party of choice” and the former Democratic Senate Majority Leader was a Klan leader and Polis voted with him on Obamacare. “Readers have strongly criticized the editorial, some calling it hypocritical,” Chris Walker wrote in Westword.

More from his piece (emphasis his):

Since publication, the editorial has been edited at least once, with changes appearing both in the opening and closing paragraphs that soften the article’s attack on Polis. A cached version of the article from 11:58 a.m. MST begins this way: “State Treasurer Walker Stapleton did not choose a distant and questionable link to the Ku Klux Klan. One cannot say the same of U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, his opponent.” But at 12:04 p.m., the Gazette piece opened this way, with changes below in bold. “State Treasurer Walker Stapleton did not choose a weak, distant and questionable link to the Ku Klux Klan. One cannot say the same of his opponent, U.S. Rep. Jared Polis. Like Stapleton, Polis has a weak, distant and questionable link to the Klan. Unlike Stapleton, he chooses it.” The rewritten ending also takes some attention off Polis in favor of another snipe at competing news organizations. An earlier version of the piece had concluded: “Colorado voters are not that stupid, and this idiocy stands to backfire on Polis.”

“But the article,” he writes, “was edited to, “This idiocy stands to backfire on Polis — the candidate our established, left-wing media hope to elect.”

The Pueblo Chieftain turns 150

The no-longer-family-owned regional newspaper and “the oldest daily newspaper in Colorado” has turned a century and a half old after its first issue came out June 1, 1868, and was called The Colorado Chieftain at the time. The Pueblo Chieftain, now owned by the GateHouse chain, went heavy on some colorful history of the southern Colorado newspaper wars this week in celebration.

From The Chieftain:

When Frank Hoag Sr. started working for the Star-Journal newspaper in 1904, the afternoon paper was located across the street from the notorious Bucket of Blood saloon on Union Avenue. Reporters didn’t have to go far for news. By 1918, Hoag had formed the Star-Journal Publishing Corp. and was buying the paper. At the time, the Star Journal was in the middle of a long-running newspaper war with the morning Chieftain, which went through a succession of owners. It was a hard-knuckled fight for circulation. So it was no surprise that The Chieftain crowed with delight in 1931, when Hoag was sentenced to five months in the county jail for tax evasion. Hoag just moved his newspaper office to an unlocked cell in the jail where the sheriff let him use the phone at will. In 1935, Hoag settled the newspaper war by buying The Chieftain from the Alva Adams family.

That piece lays out a lot more history about the paper. Also in celebration of its birthday, the paper released Pueblo Through Our Eyes: 150 Years of The Pueblo Chieftain, a coffee table book that “features stunning historic images and memorable front pages from the archives of The Pueblo Chieftain.”

Speaking of The Chieftain

Four months after its new owner, GateHouse Media, bought The Austin American-Statesman, the newspaper is offering buyouts to all 200-plus workers. “Such buyouts are a common occurrence when papers try to cut down expenses,” The Dallas Business Journal reported. “They can mean a substantial payout for affected employees who want to leave on their own terms, but can also push some of the most experienced workers out of the newsroom.” The company is also offering buyouts to employees across New England, MassLive reported.

GateHouse bought The Pueblo Chieftain this spring. Reporter Luke Lyons, a member of the newsroom’s labor union, says it’s been quiet there, but the paper is losing two paginators to GateHouse’s design hub in Austin, including someone who’s been there two decades.

The Colorado Independent’s lawyers are petitioning the nation’s highest court

As part of her own editorial in solidarity with newspapers this week, Susan Greene, editor of the digital nonprofit Colorado Independent, raised the outlet’s court fight over sealed records about prosecutorial misconduct in a death penalty case.

More from Greene:

Our small but mighty newsroom also is fighting the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision to exempt state judicial records from the protection of the First Amendment.

The decision stemmed from our investigation into the case of Sir Mario Owens, a convicted double-murderer who’s one of three men on Colorado’s death row. A judge has ruled that prosecutors in the 18th Judicial District Attorney’s office withheld evidence that could have helped Owens fight his death sentence, but that the violation of prosecutors’ duties did not affect the outcome of the trial.

Under our state’s prior precedents recognizing that the public enjoys some First Amendment protection to inspect court records, The Independent sought four specific court documents detailing the prosecutorial misconduct. Those records included a transcript of a closed-door hearing, and the judge’s ruling on a substantive motion. At the urging of 18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler, the judge kept those records sealed without offering a legal explanation for why. The Colorado Supreme Court’s opinion, written by Justice Melissa Hart, incorrectly asserted that we had claimed an absolute right to inspect all documents in Owens’ case and it upheld the judge’s unexplained decision to keep those records under seal.

The ruling denies public review of missteps in how one of Colorado’s three death row inmates was prosecuted. And it will continue shrouding in secrecy details about misconduct in the office of DA Brauchler, who’s running for attorney general, the state’s chief law enforcer. More broadly, the state Supreme Court’s perfunctory order gives state judges a free pass to seal court records without legal justification, preventing public scrutiny of the judicial branch. It significantly undermines Colorado’s long tradition of openness with public documents. And it gives Colorado the dubious distinction of being the only state that doesn’t consider access to court documents a First Amendment right.

And then this: “Our lawyers will petition the United States Supreme Court to hear the case. A broad coalition of national news outlets, civic groups and politically diverse legal scholars is supporting our effort.”

#SunWatch: It has a launch date, created a newsletter, unveiled a membership program, and was profiled again

Colorado’s latest statewide news startup, The Colorado Sun, set a launch date of Sept. 10 for its website to go live. In the meantime, its two newest political reporter hires started a political newsletter called The Unaffiliated, full of reporting and analysis. One of the authors of it, John Frank, has some experience with the medium as the creator of 2016’s Purple State Memo when he was at The Denver Post. That previous effort was part of his grad-school research that included a newsletter and different approaches to traditional newspaper reporting on politics.

Will the Sun be free, though? A recent email from editor Larry Ryckman about the Sun’s launch plans included this: “We wish we could provide our work for free, but that clearly won’t pay the bills.” The Sun also previewed a tiered membership program, noting the terms are subject to change, and Ryckman wrote staffers there are wrestling with the idea of a metered paywall. The site is taking ideas from readers about its potential approach.

In the meantime, the Sun drew a visit and a radio segment from NPR’s national media reporter David Folkenflik last week. Included was this nugget from a current Denver Post journalist in the episode:

“In the seven-county area in the metro [region], I cover pretty much everything outside of Denver,” says John Aguilar, a reporter for the Post. “We’re kind of starting to find people’s breaking point now. Whereas the previous cuts, I think people kind of hung in there and just try to see what would happen next. Now you’re just seeing people leaving, in large numbers, beyond the cuts that were made in March. And I hadn’t seen that happen before.”

The public radio station KUNC in northern Colorado also checked in with The Sun for a segment. From that piece:

In preparation for their September launch, the staff at The Colorado Sun are addressing some predictable questions: How to respond to Twitter trolls criticizing their first story? How to budget for photography? What to tell the senior citizens calling to request a print copy of their digital-only publication? But they’re also grappling with some less typical questions like how to buy a brand-new type of cryptocurrency.

The KUNC piece goes more deeply into the crypto-blockchain side of the business model. Read or listen to the rest of it here.

*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.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Big surprise. 95+% of newspaper staff are Democrats and they conspired to write unflattering editorials about the Republican president. This isn’t news. Poll after polls shows that voters don’t trust the press by fairly wide margins.

    In fact, those editorials are how you get more Trump.

  2. It doesn’t take much literary genius to write an “unflattering” editorial about the Republican president, given his propensity for lying about anything and everything. He DOES NOT represent the type of person I would want to hold up to my kids or grandkids as the most powerful man in the US. It is a sad testimony to how far manners and respect have diminished from our political commentary.

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