Nearly four months passed since a rebellion on The Denver Post’s editorial pages against the paper’s cost-cutting hedgefund owner made the Mile High City ground zero in a new kind of newspaper war. For a few weeks in the spring and early summer, national attention focused on Denver, Boulder, the Digital First Media chain, and then more broadly on the effects of late capitalism on local American newspapers writ large.
Here on the front lines, a Denver Post editorial page editor resigned citing censorship. Another in Boulder was fired. Alarmed Front Range businesspeople said they wanted to try and buy The Denver Post in a desperate plea to protect the public trust. Earnest panels about how to save the paper assembled at The Denver Press Club. Documentary filmmakers came to town. Post employees protested outside their building— and at their owner’s headquarters in New York City. Colorado freelancers pitched dispatches to national outlets like foreign correspondents in a fallout zone. Throughout, chroniclers, including your humble newsletter printer here, yakked on TV and radio about it. Bombs continued to fall. The aftershocks wouldn’t quit. A group of high-profile journalists voluntarily bolted The Denver Post to form a digital startup called The Colorado Sun. America’s birthday came and went and The Denver Post’s politics team crumbled to the ground. The editorial page was a smoldering crater in a broadsheet on the brink.
August came with a calm. Things got quiet. A revolution was not realized. No one bought The Denver Post. The leader of the editorial rebellion joined the academy. A group of local media thinkers formed something called The Colorado Media Project and were holding meetings and conducting research to come up with some kind of a plan for the future of our local news. The May-June panic rolled away like a late-summer afternoon storm. And one by one, The Denver Post rebuilt its politics team with new journalists, some from out of state and others pulled away from TV jobs or local digital news sites. No, the paper did not recover from the March mass layoffs, but it kicked some sand back into the sinkhole. Earlier this month, because of the rebuilding, and since two former Posties went to The Sun to cover politics, your humble newsletter printer here even wrote the words“Alden Global Capital indirectly created more political journalism in Colorado” and no one (yet) made him swallow his teeth.
More rebuilding. Former editorial board member Megan Schrader, who was on maternity leave during the Post-acalypse, is now editorial page editor at The Denver Post. This week, she wrote of her editorial board, “It’s with great excitement and relief that I tell you — we have rebuilt.” From her column:
Readers will typically find Denver Post editorials on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays unless we adjust the schedule to respond to news. The board behind these words is entirely new with the exception of me, but it still represents the voice of The Rocky Mountain Empire. Dedicated Post employees have stepped up to speak for the paper in the grand tradition of editorial boards across this nation. We will be making recommendations heading into November as a service to our readers given the incredible access we have to politicians and the time we can dedicate to sifting through ballot language
So, who else is on the new board with filling-the-crater-Schrader? Denver Post top editor Lee Ann Colacioppo, VP of technology Bob Kinney, systems editor/lead designer TJ Hutchinson, Post CFO Justin Mock, and senior VP of circulation Bill Reynolds.
Some thoughts: Half the board is from the business side, and having the paper’s news editor on the editorial board in the opinion section is a new development for The Denver Post.
Billie Stanton Anleu, an editor at The Gazette in Colorado Springs who was on the Post’s editorial board from 1996 to 2004, says a newsroom editor or reporter was never on the board, which back then had “about a dozen” people on it. “That reality dates back to ’88, when I joined The Post city desk,” she says.
Dan Haley, now an oil-and-gas group president who was the paper’s editorial page editor from 2007 to 2011, said no one from the news side sat on the board after that, either, since 2002 when then-top editor Greg Moore, who wanted nothing to do with editorial page content, took the helm. Having a divide between the news and editorial page “helps protect the newsroom, if anything,” Haley said. “The editor or any reporter can easily (and accurately) say they have no control over opinion, only news stories. Those crazies back on the ed page might opine about it, but we just do facts, etc., etc.”
While perhaps uncommon in recent memory at The Denver Post, having a newsroom editor on the editorial page isn’t new for Digital First Media— nor is it an outlier in Colorado at non-DFM papers. At the DFM-owned Mercury News in California, executive editor Neil Chase is “Responsible for all news coverage and editorial pages,” per his bio. At The Southern California News Group, a cluster of 11 DFM papers, a bio page there shows the group’s executive editor also as a member of the editorial board. “The editorial board and opinion section staff are independent from the news-gathering side of our organization,” reads a disclaimer there.
In Colorado, at The Gazette in the Springs, owned by Phil Anschutz, the top editor of news is not on the editorial board. Similarly, no one from the news side is on the editorial board of The Durango Herald. But in Grand Junction, the Daily Sentinel’s managing editor, Mike Wiggins, does sit on the editorial board. “I realize the gymnastics that are required to simultaneously sit on that board and contribute to our editorial position on matters while also strategizing and prioritizing news coverage,” he told me. “But I don’t write the editorials, and I think we’ve done a good job of keeping the wall up between our editorial page and our news pages.” The Pueblo Chieftain’s editor, Steve Henson, also sits on his paper’s editorial board. At The Greeley Tribune, “editor and opinion page editor” Nate Miller sits on the editorial board as does the paper’s copy desk chief and a features editor.
At The Denver Post, Schrader says because the paper doesn’t have a publisher the vice presidents fill that role collectively. “So that’s the business side being represented on the board,” she says. The paper will be doing endorsements this year, she says, and in the event readers have questions of a news editor’s role in the process they will address it transparently. In an ideal world, she says, the paper would have a board of journalists who did nothing but sit on the board, but in a diminished newsroom, “we just can’t.”
The paper will also be hiring two new opinion columnists and the editorial page will publish a conservative cartoonist to “help balance” the illustrated commentary. “In Sunday Perspective you will still find: a Denver Post editorial on page 2 with a huge package of reader’s voices in The Open Forum, a full page of local columns on page 3, and Drawn to the News cartoons on page 4 with The Washington Post’s indispensable George F. Will,” she wrote.
Elsewhere in her column, Schrader addressed “a lingering accusation that this paper is subject to censorship from our corporate owners” — and assured readers the paper is not.
And that’s important because…
New revelations came my way this week about a somewhat testy meeting held in June among Denver Post journalists and two of their corporate overseers, Digital First Media’s COO Guy Gilmore and company president Joe Fuchs. According to a transcript of the meeting provided by Julie Reynolds who has been “like a dog with a bone” on how DFM/Alden operates, Denver Post reporters questioned the two DFM suits about censorship accusations — and were urged not to “demonize” the people who are providing them the ink.
From the transcript:
Reporter: You called the editorial situation a “rogue” situation. Does that suggest that DFM is dictating news coverage or just what we can or cannot cover in any way —
Gilmore: No, that just suggests that if someone gins up a slam job on the ownership in the dead of night and sneaks it on to the digital site, that that’s… I, I think it’d be fair to say that that’s a rogue act.
Reporter: So there’s been no censorship from DFM, and no dictate on what we cover or we don’t cover at all?
Gilmore: I urge that we not use the owner’s newspaper, the owner’s ink, the owner’s websites to demonize the owners. I think that’s fair.
Reporter: You don’t think that’s censorship?
Gilmore: No. To ask people that are using the owners’ ink and newsprint and distribution system and website not to demonize the people that are giving them that? No. I don’t think that’s censorship.
Reporter #2: But if we print truth and facts, it’s not demonizing.
Gilmore: What was printed was demonizing…
Reporter#2: Even in some of our news articles, we’ve been told we can’t mention Alden at all —
Gilmore: That’s not been —
Reporter#2: So that directive hasn’t come from you?
Gilmore: No, no.
Reporter #3: So can we write about this meeting?
Gilmore: I asked Joe if he wanted off the record and he said he’s not going to say anything here that he’d be ashamed of.
Joe: I’ve been misquoted before, too.
Reporter#2: Please don’t accuse your own journalists of misquoting you. Before we get started —
Joe: Trust me. I know there’s anxiety in this room. But there’s anxiety around the board table too. Of sustaining the business, and doing the right thing. And we don’t always do the right thing.
Someone who was at the meeting confirmed parts of the transcript. Schrader seems confident in the integrity of the paper where she just took on a leadership role. “Never have I worked in a newsroom with less interference from the corporate side of the divide with perhaps the exception of the University of Missouri’s professor-run newspaper The Missourian,” she wrote, promising, “The journalistic integrity of this board and The Denver Post reporters in the newsroom remains uncompromised.” (If you’re feeling lost on some of this, here’s the backstory. A former senior editor on the news side also alleged censorship.)
Meanwhile, elsewhere in Colorado…
“The former newspaper adviser at a Catholic high school in Broomfield says administrators removed her from that role and temporarily halted publication of the paper over a student’s article questioning why girls at the school were no longer allowed to be altar servers,” The Denver Post’s Elizabeth Hernandez reported this week. “The edition was printed weeks later without the offending article.”
At the heart of the story is former English teacher Traci Mumm who left the private Holy Family High School and told Hernandez she doesn’t fear retribution for speaking out. From the story:
The Denver Post obtained a mock-up of the Holy Family Lamp Post page that never saw its intended Christmas-edition print publication. The un-bylined article, bearing the headline “Where are the girls? Holy Family prohibits girls from serving at the altar,” features an interview with Father Joseph McLagan, a priest new to the school who decided girls would no longer be allowed to serve at the altar during Mass. “I’ve chosen not to allow girls, not to their exclusion, but to allow men to continue in the tradition of the liturgy,” the article quotes McLagan as saying. “I would like to see the men be active in their faith in a way it’s very hard for them to be.” The final, edited version of the article seen by The Post never mentions Title IX, the federal gender-equity law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex. But the article was placed on the page just above the text of the school’s non-discrimination policy and a Title IX policy that school officials mandate be published in every edition. Mumm said that when [Holy Family High Principal Matt] Hauptly learned of the “Where are the girls?” article, he threatened her job and blocked publication of the Christmas edition.
Because timing is everything
So, basically, quite the week for former Denver Post editorial page editor Chuck Plunkett, who led the Denver Rebellion and resigned in protest — citing censorship issues — to find himself honored as this year’s recipient of the John Aubuchon Press Freedom Award by The National Press Club.
“Chuck Plunkett’s decision to publish a newspaper that called out its owners for mismanaging that paper was a remarkable act of courage,” said NPC president Andrea Edney. “That special section of the Denver Post gave voice to papers all around the country that have seen their ranks thinned. It was a clarion call to save local journalism.”
Plunkett will be honored Nov. 29 at the National Press Club’s Fourth Estate Dinner in Washington, D.C.
What you missed on the Sunday front pages across Colorado
The Loveland Reporter-Herald reported on efforts this year to assist inmates in Colorado on their ability to vote. The Gazette in Colorado Springs fronted an exclusive from court documents to reveal new details about an alleged “fight club” competition at a local jail that “rewarded participating deputies for using force on inmates.” The Greeley Tribune wrote about a UNC professor’s search to see if snake venom can cure cancer. The Longmont Times-Call reported how the city council could change the city’s campaign finance code after a mayoral candidate got hit with $16,000 in fines. The Steamboat Pilot covered new ownership at a local restaurant. The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel fronted a piece about local controversy over using canal banks as trails. The Pueblo Chieftain had coverage of a local parade on the front page. The Coloradoan in Fort Collins reported on chronic wasting disease in the local deer population. Vail Daily localized a national trend of declining visits from foreigners to U.S. resorts. The Boulder Daily Camera previewed a full week of City Council business. The Denver Post fronted a story about ACLU lawsuits against Colorado sheriffs over federal immigration detainers. The Durango Herald reported how officials were caught off guard by the abrupt closure of a local youth detention facility.
‘Stand up straight … Act like a lady’: Body-cam footage released of cops handcuffing a journalist
The Colorado Independent got ahold of police body-cam footage from when officers last month handcuffed and detained Indy editor Susan Greene on a Colfax Avenue sidewalk after she took photos of them. From reporter Alex Burness’s report about the video, which is posted on the site:
[Officer James Brooks] continues to block her as she tries to keep shooting, at one point raising the camera high above Brooks’s head. Brooks is quickly joined by Officer Adam Paulsen, and the two advise her that she can not take photographs because doing so violates the HIPAA rights of the nearly naked man they have cuffed. HIPAA or the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act outlines an individual’s rights to medical privacy. “There’s also a First Amendment,” Greene responds. “Have you heard of it?” “That doesn’t supersede HIPAA,” Paulsen says. Brooks repeats Paulsen’s line, and adds, “Step away, or you’ll be arrested for interference.” The footage shows Greene then directed her iPhone camera at Brooks’s badge, at which point Brook’s swats the phone away and repeats himself: “Step away, or you’ll be arrested for interference.” Not a second after his warning, the footage shows, the officers handcuff Greene, who shouts, “Ow!” “Stand up straight,” Paulsen tells Greene. “Act like a lady.” “Stand up and act like a lady,” Brooks says. “Are you fucking kidding me?” Greene responds. “Act like a lady?” “There you go,” Brooks says. “Now you can go to jail.”
The Colorado Independent also reported this week that Denver’s district attorney, Beth McCann, won’t be charging the officers involved. Greene wrote about a courtesy call she got from McCann explaining why. From her column:
I asked McCann about her take on the incident beyond the question of criminality. “I don’t know that he knew you were a journalist, for one thing,” she said. “But people are entitled to take pictures as long as people are not” getting in the way of police. She added that Brooks’ “act like a lady” comment “was a little unnecessary.” And she said we’ll likely be hearing something from Hancock’s administration now that she has made her decision not to prosecute.
According to Burness’s story, “Though McCann raised doubts that Greene identified herself as a journalist during the incident, Greene maintains that she did when first approached by Brooks. The body-cam footage provided by police does not include the first moments of Brooks and Greene’s interaction. In addition, the first 30 seconds of each of the body-cam videos provided by the city lack audio.” A police spokesman told Burness when cops turn on their body cams, the preceding 30 seconds of video are captured but without sound. (Non-journalists also have the right to film police in public.)
On social media, The Denver Post’s cops reporter Noelle Phillips said “If a police officer (heck, any man at all), told me to ‘act like a lady,’ I’d have the same response as Susan.”
On Wednesday, Greene and lawyers Mari Newman and Andy McNulty held a news conference at The Colorado Independent’s office in Denver where Newman said Greene was arrested for doing her job as a journalist. “We all know the reason we’re here today is because I’m a journalist,” Greene said, adding how in the current media and political landscape “journalists are making news far more than we are comfortable doing.” She said underrepresented groups in Denver know what happened to her likely goes on way more than we realize and if it happened to someone who isn’t a journalist or a white woman it might have been worse — and there likely would never have been a news conference about it. McNulty spoke about how the current climate is one of “disdain” for the press. Newman said she is trying to force Denver to produce more records of the incident. If necessary, she said, they are considering a lawsuit.
Longmont’s public safety chief says media ‘markets fear and fault’
Mike Butler, the head of public safety in Longmont, Colorado, wrote a note on the department’s Facebook page this week saying he’s heard from the community that the community is suffering from crime, a significant gang problem, speeding, the city not doing enough about homelessness, women dying because of domestic violence, and crime as a result of “illegal aliens.”
Before addressing each concern, Butler led off with this:
Because the media chooses to dramatize the human condition, markets fear and fault, and looks for someone or something to assign blame, we may understandably conclude that headlines and reality are synonymous. And because the social networks are unfiltered, what we read can often be head-scratching as well as unnecessarily frightening. Since the search light by the media and social networks shines so brightly on what does not go well, what is good in our community often resides in the shadows.
KUSA 9News anchor Kyle Clark used the message to remind viewers of his “Next” program about a story involving police drug dogs in Longmont being used in a low-income housing complex for training purposes as part of searches. Clark says the same chief bemoaned reporting on that story, and later apologized “for the constitutional violations, and Longmont paid out a settlement to tenants.” Clark said casting doubt on journalists across the board might be a good strategy for a public figure should something go wrong in the future, “but it’s a corrosive idea for our communities where law enforcement and journalists serve separate and important functions.”
In an online letter(https://t.co/DDFBvrAzmW), Longmont's head of public safety suggested people make overbroad assumptions about law enforcement based on dramatized information from “media.” Now he has made some overbroad assumptions about journalists. Some thoughts from Kyle: pic.twitter.com/oCLrgBxO55
— Next with Kyle Clark (@nexton9news) August 29, 2018
In Southwest Colorado, this year’s election is brought to you by … New Mexico
Another year, another election cycle in Southwest Colorado where local TV viewers get their news beamed in from (drumroll, please) Albuquerque. “Such is life as an ‘orphan county,’ a term used to describe counties that receive television programing from a neighboring state,” Alex Semadeni reports in The Durango Herald. “Montezuma and La Plata counties are in Colorado but receive broadcasting from New Mexico.”
From the story:
La Plata County commissioners hoped to change its “orphan” status by filing a petition to the Federal Communications Commission in October 2016 that would allow satellite providers – including DirecTV and DISH Network – to partner with local television companies in Denver to broadcast in La Plata County. The FCC approved the petition in March 2017. But several Albuquerque television stations petitioned in opposition of the decision in an effort to block Denver stations from reaching La Plata County. They said four statutory requirements disqualify La Plata County from a market change, including that the county has not historically carried Denver stations, Denver lacks geographic proximity, Denver stations lack “any meaningful audience” in the county, and the county receives “ample technical coverage and local programming” from Albuquerque stations. “We’re still waiting for some determination by the FCC on the objection that had been filed by the Albuquerque television stations,” said La Plata County Manager Joanne Spina. “It’s been held in a bay since that time.”
This newsletter has been tracking this story for two years, but it’s been going on for two decades. When Colorado’s La Plata County asked the FCC for permission to get news from Denver stations beamed in last year, it became the first county in the nation to do so. The FCC said yes, but according to the latest news, the agency still hasn’t moved on anything — and “did not return a phone call from The Durango Herald.” Some TV stations in Albuquerque are fighting the petition, saying, among other things, that Denver stations lack “any meaningful audience” in La Plata County and the county receives “ample technical coverage and local programming” from Albuquerque station, the Herald reported.
Letters to the editor of the local paper in Durango have apparently been peppered with comments about this issue for years, and I’ve been told constituent letters about it to Colorado Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet have been voluminous. I think there are something like 80 orphan counties like La Plata across the U.S., but La Plata has been on the forefront of a movement to reform how they operate through the FCC. “If you’re missing the news out of your state capitol you’re missing local news,” La Plata County Manager Joanne Spina told me when I spoke with her about it last year. “Local news is within your own state.”
As I wrote here in 2016, “Watch this space, folks, because this is a serious story about state residents and their ability to access critical information necessary to make informed decisions. Or — if you want to be real cynical about it — to watch Broncos games.”
Will political TV ads featuring on-air journalists be the new normal?
“Use of news coverage in campaign ads is now commonplace,” said Tim Wieland, the news director for the Denver CBS affiliate Channel 4, on Twitter this week, reacting to a viewer’s concern about it. The concern came because a campaign for a ballot issue is using a fact-check segment by a Channel 4 reporter in an ad it’s airing on Channel 4. Wieland said campaigns are allowed to do it under the law. “My concern … is that viewers will see our content presented in a commercial context — and we may be misrepresented as supporting or opposing a particular issue or candidate,” he went on.
No kidding. As Dana Coffield, an editor at The Colorado Sun, noted, “A campaign … is running a ‘fact check’ news segment as a political ad on the station it originally ran. It’s disorienting.”
In this particular case on Channel 4 in Denver, the political ad “includes clips from one of our Reality Check segments,” Wieland said. “The full segment takes issue with some statements in the ad that are opinion as well as unsupported claims about the economic impact. … The segments used in the campaign commercial are factual, but only represent their position on the issue.”
The ad in question is one that opposes a ballot measure that could limit fracking in Colorado by increasing the required distance from drill rigs to houses from 500 to 2,500 feet. The commercial this week led Channel 4 reporter Shaun Boyd to run her own news segment explaining to viewers that she has not and would not take a position on a ballot measure in her role as a reporter. “If it were up to me my work would never appear in any political ad,” she said. But it’s not up to her or her station because political advertising is free speech and free speech trumps copyright, she said, adding the ad in question “isn’t inaccurate, but it is misleading” and intended to leave viewers believing she, as a reporter, is “on the side of oil and gas.”
Colorado media lawyer talks about Colorado Independent petition to the U.S. Supreme Court
The Centennial State’s preeminent media attorney Steve Zansberg opened up to Law Week Colorado this week about a petition he’s filing with the nation’s highest court on behalf of the statewide digital nonprofit Colorado Independent. From LWC:
At issue is the question of whether the First Amendment provides the public qualified access to judicial records. Thirty-eight years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Richmond Newspapers, Inc. v. Virginia that the First Amendment afforded the public and the press qualified access to certain judicial proceedings. The court wrote in its ruling that “the right to attend criminal trials is implicit in the guarantees of the First Amendment; without the freedom to attend such trials, which people have exercised for centuries, important aspects of freedom of speech and of the press could be eviscerated.” The right to access judicial records, however, is another question. The country’s highest court has not explicitly ruled that the First Amendment provides such a right to access records, but several lower federal courts have recognized a qualified right for the public to view court documents. In ruling earlier this summer in the case People v. Sir Mario Owens, the Colorado Supreme Court came to an altogether different conclusion concerning judicial documents.
The background here is that a judge in the case against Sir Mario Owens found instances where “prosecutors withheld some evidence that could have been favorable to Owens’ side.” But documents in the case are under seal. The Colorado Independent thinks the public should know what led a judge to rule prosecutors improperly withheld evidence in the case. The prosecutors, led by 18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler, who is running for attorney general as a Republican, don’t think the public should know. And, apparently, neither did retired Senior District Court Judge Christopher Munch who “gave no legal reasoning for his decision to keep sealing those documents.” So The Colorado Independent filed an emergency petition to the state Supreme Court to lift the seal or compel a judge to do so, but the state’s highest court declined and denied a petition for a rehearing. So Zansberg is taking it all the way to top.
“We will be arguing to the court,” Zansberg told Law Week Colorado, “that the ruling of the Colorado Supreme Court resolved an important question of constitutional law contrary to courts of appeal and the U.S. Supreme Court.” Big ups to Law Week Colorado for getting at the heart of the broader story about access to judicial records in the United States.
Pumpkin Spice latte season is front page news
Seasons can be a big deal to news consumers. Ask anyone whoever relied on the Farmer’s Almanac when trying to time a harvest. Some people think campaign season is a big deal. The holiday season generally registers with folks. But Pumpkin Spice latte season? Front-page news if you live in Greeley, Colorado. “Pumpkin Spice lattes are back at Starbucks” rang an (admittedly below-the-fold) front-page headline in Wednesday’s Tribune. I flagged it on Twitter without judgment, just-the-facts-ma’am:
Pumpkin Spice latte season is literally front-page news in Colorado pic.twitter.com/3T4rQXNuEP
— Corey Hutchins (@CoreyHutchins) August 29, 2018
The mob howled. It’s just a front-page tease, I was told by a deputy editor there. “Yes, along with cancer research and UNC’s retention rates,” another Tribune journalist said, pointing to the other stories competing for front-page real estate that morning. “It’s ok to have a little cream with your coffee.” The placement, however, gave some other journalists indigestion. “No. Fellow journos, let’s not be complicit in this abomination,” wrote a newspaper editor in Durango. “Explain how local journalism isn’t complicit in its demise,” said a journalist in South Carolina. At least one online reader, though, found it the best news heard all week.
Yeah, yeah, I know. I’m writing about Pumpkin Spice Starbucks headlines. So I’d be remiss if I didn’t highlight the other important stories on that day’s front page, too. Here’s to coverage of UC Health joining a nationwide cancer research network, Xcel’s renewable energy plan and UNC’s attempt to keep students enrolled longer. OK, see you all, latte. Or at least 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.