The Colorado Sun rises

Your weekly roundup of Colorado local news & media

Sunrise photo by Susanne Nilsson for Creative Commons on Flickr

This week saw the much-anticipated launch of The Colorado Sun, the cryptocurrency/blockchain-backed online news startup formed by 10 journalists who voluntarily left The Denver Post. For background on how the site came together and why, read this July 18 piece in Columbia Journalism Review.

The site looks slick, and the coverage areas are broad, from beer to politics to the seasonal ski pass wars, to Amazon, high-country homelessness, the public pension system, the environmenthealthcare, and more. Westword weighed in on the Sun’s first day thusly: “This material would seem to appeal mainly to a high-minded audience that loved the Post’s most ambitious undertakings and is upset that so few of them show up in print these days.”

Since Monday, the outlet has continued publishing daily journalism on the governor’s race, on issues like how cities are handling broadband, and Colorado’s opioid crisis.

From a welcome post on its launch day by editor Larry Ryckman:

We’ve all seen what’s been happening in Colorado and around the country as newspapers have slashed costs, laid off journalists, cut back their coverage and, in some cities, reduced the number of days they deliver print papers to readers. The loss is far more than bad news for journalists. It’s a loss for communities and for the state. We’ll never know the many stories that haven’t been told, the bad guys who haven’t been exposed, the good people who haven’t been celebrated, the issues that haven’t been explored, the public officials who weren’t held accountable. The Colorado Sun is not about saving journalists. It’s about serving our great state and preserving the extensive institutional memory, journalistic muscle and passion for storytelling and accountability that we bring to every assignment. And, by the way, I am not suggesting that other Colorado journalists aren’t doing great work — they are, under often trying circumstances — but they’re spread thin and not able to cover all of the stories worth covering.

The new outlet is also an associate member of The Associated Press and is counting the Denver CBS affiliate Channel 4 as “The Colorado Sun’s television partner.” KUNC’s Kyra Buckley caught up with editor Ryckman who said money has been rolling in from readers, but the business aspect of the job has been keeping him up at night.

In the interview, he downplayed the cryptocurrency/blockchain side of the enterprise, but this new kind of technology actually played out in Democratic politics this week. Jared Polis, the Democratic nominee for governor, is running social media ads about his enthusiasm for blockchain technology. This weekend, however, when Democratic attorney general nominee Phil Weiser was asked by his GOP rival where he differs with Polis, he said, “My big one is blockchain … Jared is pushing super hard on blockchain and if we got too far out front, this could really hurt consumers.”

A followup on a shortage of black TV journalists in Denver

Two weeks ago, this newsletter pointed to a Westword report about weekend anchor TaRhonda Thomas leaving KUSA 9News and a shortage of black TV personalities in Denver. Now, the alt-weekly’s Michael Roberts is back with a followup.

From his piece:

This situation comes as no surprise to veteran TV and radio personality Gloria Neal, who’s returned to Denver following a stint at a major station in Atlanta that ended prematurely and is likely to spawn a lawsuit. In her view, a de facto quota system is in place that only allows African-American journalists to maintain a token presence. “We as African-Americans should have more than a weekend shift or one in, one out,” she says. … Neal believes opportunities for black TV and radio specialists in general are shrinking. She recently attended the National Association of Black Journalists in Detroit, “and the individuals who crunched the numbers found that black journalists have lost tremendous ground in the media whether you’re talking about on-air, producing or management.”
Read the whole piece here to learn what Neal thinks TV execs and TV news consumers can do about this.

What you missed on the Sunday front pages across Colorado

The Greeley Tribune looked at how warming climates and increased urbanization affect major flood eventsThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel had a piece about a local judge ruling a man’s posts on social media are protected speech. (Posts like: “I guess after I purchase these guns next week … I’ll be eliminating some professionals and I’m sure the cops will love fighting a battle to the death with me.”) The Longmont Times-Call profiled a local “livestock cop” brand inspectorThe Pueblo Chieftain examined what kids can do on Fridays because of a cost-cutting four-day public school weekThe Steamboat Pilotprofiled a local pet nonprofitThe Glenwood Springs Post-Independent is profiling “Super Seniors” on Sundays, highlighting interesting locals over 80The Loveland Reporter-Herald fronted a story about how local infrastructure projects are wrapping up five years after a major floodVail Daily reported why Eagle County supports a statewide ballot measure to increase sales taxes by 0.62 percent to pay for infrastructure needsSummit Daily profiled a local Super Bowl starThe Denver Post looked at recovery efforts of a 2013 flood that was Colorado’s costliest natural disaster. The Gazette in Colorado Springs highlighted the local What If… FestivalThe Durango Herald asked if a new conference center is worth the expenseThe Coloradoan in Fort Collins reported on an urban waterpark restoration project.

The background to that ‘phony news organizations’ story

By now you might have heard the news about some recent media bashing in the governor’s race, or what one campaign says was just a joke about The Colorado Independent and Westword being “phony news organizations.”

Here’s the backstory: Over Labor Day weekend I stopped by a closed-to-media fundraiser and community event in Parker that featured Walker Stapleton, who is the Republican nominee for governor, along with controversial former Congressman Tom Tancredo. I wrote about what the candidate for governor said and it got picked up by Denver’s KUSA 9News including a segment from national NBC political reporter ChuckTodd of Meet The Press. What drew attention, beyond that Stapleton was campaigning in the general election with Tancredo, was the candidate’s remarks about the press following Tancredo’s own swipe at local media.

From my dispatch in The Colorado Independent:

From an outdoor patio overlooking the rolling fields and hillsides of conservative Douglas County, Tancredo, speaking through a PA system, introduced Stapleton, the two-term state treasurer, as a candidate who would do for Colorado what Trump is doing for the nation. Before that, however, he first had some words about the press. A recent headline in The Denver Post, he complained, downplayed Trump’s effect on the state’s booming economy.

“I hate to say it, but I happened to see a headline. I don’t read it, I do look for The New York Times crossword puzzle, that’s all,” Tancredo began. “But front-page sidebar headline … ‘Things Good in Colorado No Thanks to Trump.’ That was essentially something very close to that.” Things are “better,” Tancredo said, because Trump is in office. “And they hate this idea because they hate him,” he said, referring to media. A story on that day’s front page, did read, “State: All good despite Trump efforts” (the online headline is different).

But that story was about the Trump administration rolling back some federal regulations on methane pollution even as state officials said Colorado’s own rules are working, noting that the energy industry supports those rules, and that leaks are on the decline. Tancredo, however, used the headline to portray the press as unwilling to praise the president. “Yeah, yeah, everything’s great, our economy’s great, our economy is humming along and of course Trump has nothing to do with this, right?” Tancredo told the group of voters gathered Saturday. “And of course they can’t stand the idea that he, in fact, does have something to do with this — not just in Colorado but over this grand country called the United States.”

Picking up the theme, Stapleton took the mic and began with his own jab at the press as what appeared to be two remote-controlled planes buzzed around over a nearby field. “If you all see a drone up there, it’s probably owned by the Westword or Colorado Independent or one of those phony news organizations,” Stapleton said to laughs from the crowd. “I’m told if you shoot it down it’s illegal so we’ll all have to get some lacrosse balls or something or a bow and arrow to redirect it.”

Following a tweet from the event that night about the WestwordColorado-Independentdroney-news-org-complex, the Stapleton campaign told Kyle Clark of 9News that he was just joking. And he might have been—  he knew I was there, so it’s entirely conceivable he made the remarks for an audience of one. But there’s another reason Denver’s alt-weekly Westword and The Colorado Independent might have been on Stapleton’s mind. He recently took issue with a guest post The Independent published about his great-grandfather, and Westword recently published a column by its editor, Patty Calhoun, that began like this:

Walker Stapleton looked at me the way a bull calf must regard a castration knife. “I can’t talk to you,” he said, turning on his heel as I extended my hand and introduced myself. “I don’t do extemporaneous interviews. It doesn’t work out for me. Talk to my people.” And with that, the Republican candidate for governor of Colorado took off at a near gallop into the crowd, a cowboy-hatted herd of movers and shakers gathered at the Tavern Tech Center on Tuesday, August 28, for the 34th annual gathering of the Denver Rustlers.

Clark of 9News reported that he “asked Stapleton’s campaign if he was reconsidering his relationship with Tancredo considering his involvement with anti-Muslim bigotry and white nationalism, but couldn’t get a straight answer.” And that set the conservative talk radio airwaves buzzing. On Wednesday, KNUS talk show hosts Chuck Boniwell and Julie Hayden, who were at the Stapleton-Tancredo fundraiser, devoted a sizable segment of their show to media coverage of it. The term “fake news” came up. And they had some things to say about my approach to covering the event, too. From the show:

Julie: Nothing sneaky, the reporter for The Colorado Independent— and everybody knew he was there, right?— just kind of stood off on the property line.

Chuck: No he didn’t, that’s not what happened, he came in, everybody could smell him…

Julie: Well, I believe he identified himself as a reporter…

Chuck: No, no he did not identify himself as a reporter. The women went up to him— the couple women— and said ‘Who are you, we haven’t met you before,’ and then he said, ‘Well, I’m a reporter for The Independent,’ and then these 70-year-old women kicked him out— kicked his butt onto the curb.”

Here’s how it actually went down: I walked onto the property, said hello to a Stapleton campaign worker who knows me, stood around on the patio for a bit, grabbed a nametag from a table and filled it out including my name and The Colorado Independent, and stuck it on my shirt. A woman asked if I wanted to help put Stapleton yard signs up and I told her I was a reporter covering the race so I couldn’t do that. She quickly retrieved the homeowner who told me she didn’t mind if I stayed. The woman took the homeowner aside to speak privately and when they came back the homeowner told me, politely, that she didn’t know the event was closed to media, but, “If it’s closed to the press then it’s closed to the press, so I’m sorry.” I asked if she minded if I stayed to cover it, and she said, “I’m doing what I need to do, so I’m sorry.” Fair enough. I stood on the road. When Stapleton showed up we spoke briefly and he reiterated that it was a private residence. When he spoke to the crowd he could see me— there were three trees between us— and he said this at the end when taking questions: “Hopefully the reporter hanging out under that bush — behind that bush — will be leaving.”

The radio hosts did agree, however, that The Colorado Independent report on the event they attended “gave a fairly accurate depiction of what went on” and “was in all kind of a fair piece.” Later in the segment, the duo weigh in on some other reporters and their work, too, with Boniwell using the word “dirtball” to describe two prominent Denver TV reporters.

Meanwhile, members of the press were barred from an event featuring Democratic nominee for governor Jared Polis this week at The Palm steakhouse in Denver.

Elsewhere on the media-bashing beat…

The Sangre de Cristo Sentinal, a rural publication out of Westcliffe that describes itself as “the voice of conservative Colorado,” took issue with the Colorado Press Association flagging newspapers in the state about an effort led by The Boston Globe to publish editorials against Trump’s “enemy of the people” rhetoric.

To the Sentinel, that meant the Colorado Press Association is … wait for it… “part of the left wing, corrupt, deep state press.” So, the publications, asks, “is the CPA ‘the enemy of the people’? Without a doubt.”

Jill Farschman, CEO of the Colorado Press Association, had this to say: “‘Deep State’ is political propaganda and … therefore not a term worthy of amplification. This term is not applicable in any way to our community newspapers or online member publications and therefore beneath public discourse.”

The Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition responded in a more witty fashion:

RIP Ed Marston, the longtime ex-publisher of High Country News

The 78-year-old former publisher of the beloved environmental magazine died from complications of the West Nile Virus, multiple media outlets reported this week. High Country News “profoundly defined the New West during his 19-year long tenure starting in 1983,” read an obit in The Mountain Journal. “Along with his wife, Betsy, who was the editor, Ed built High Country News into a publication that every major policy official involved with the management of public lands read carefully and reflectively over two decades of publication.”

Here’s how The Denver Post compressed a life into a lede:

In more than 40 years of life in Colorado, Ed Marston ran three news publications, wrote multiple books about water and agriculture, advocated for clean power sources, endlessly questioned the U.S. Forest Service, went to battle with a Koch brother over public land access and helped the West redefine itself beyond its mythologized cowboy past.

As the publisher of High Country News, Marston “received the prestigious George Polk award for journalism in 1986 for the series ‘Western Water Made Simple,’ which was later published as a book,” the magazine reported. “In 1990, the University of Colorado, Boulder, awarded him its first Wallace Stegner Award ‘for faithfully and evocatively depicting the spirit of the American West.'”

Here’s from a remembrance by The Colorado Independent’s editor, Susan Greene, who knew Marston well:

The paper avoided pat paradigms pitting city dwellers against rural westerners, farmers and ranchers against conservationists, and old-timers against newcomers. Ed, a native New Yorker, learned upon arriving in Paonia in 1974 (for what was supposed to be a one-year sabbatical) that the interior West couldn’t be reduced to Roadrunner v. Wile E. Coyote dynamics, especially as its population was growing, resources were dwindling and politics changing.
“It was classic Ed,” Greene wrote, “that a comment about the sweetness of an apple would inspire him to wax about the bitterness of the local farmer who grew it.”

Filing an open records request? Papers, please

All Longmont Times-Call reporter Karen Antonacci wanted was an incident report from the Lafayette Police Department— a simple request for public records. Instead of getting those records upon request, a records clerk wanted some records, too. Specifically, the clerk asked the reporter for a copy of her ID before processing the request.

Jeffrey Roberts of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition explains on the CFOIC blog what happened next. “I am not comfortable sending a copy of my ID to a police department when I’m simply requesting records,” the reporter wrote to the clerk. “My ID lists my personal home address, which I keep private for safety reasons … Can you please explain why you need a copy of my ID for simply requesting records, which is part of my job? In four years of reporting in Colorado, no other entity has asked me for that information.”

More from Roberts:

Though it’s apparently not a common practice, some police agencies in Colorado want you to show a driver’s license or some other form of photo identification to obtain public records. And at least one government entity – Elbert County – now wants ID from people asking for any kind of public records. In March, the Elbert County Commission approved a new Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) policy that requires requesters to present “a valid form of identification to authenticate the identification of the individual making the request, and receiving the information.” Should you have to show identification to inspect or get copies of public records? Unlike a few states such as Virginia and Tennessee, Colorado has no requirement that freedom-of-information requests be made by people who actually live in the state. So what’s the point? Is it legal?

Roberts checked in with Ashley Kissinger, an attorney with Ballard Spahr who represents Colorado news media organizations, who told him, “It’s burdensome and invasive and reasonable only if they can establish there is a problem to be solved by imposing that requirement.” She also told him that Colorado’s two-pronged open records laws, the Colorado Open Records Act and the Colorado Criminal Justice Records Act, allow “any person” to inspect public records. “So,” she said, “even if I’m lying about who I am, it doesn’t matter, I’m still entitled to the records.”

Plenty of Colorado journalists get this newsletter. Have you ever dealt with an issue like this?

*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.

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