A ‘modern-day book-burning crusade’ alleged in Colorado

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Image by Phuket@photographer.net for Creative Commons on Flickr

“In Colorado, it’s very real. A modern-day book-burning crusade is underway.”

That’s according to Jim Duncan, director of the nonprofit Colorado Library Consortium, who has been ringing alarm bells about what he sees as, well, what he said quoted above. Specifically, Duncan is talking about a parent-led abolition effort to rid Colorado schools and libraries from content in online research databases purchased through a national contractor called EBSCO. The reason, the parents say, is because users of the databases can access pornographic material. EBSCO is a company that schools and libraries in Colorado use so their patrons can access thousands of e-books, magazines, journals, and other printed material.

In 2016, two parents in Arapahoe County said they found out their daughter could access material that was “just appalling” through her online account at her middle school because of the EBSCO database. Their concerns, as reported by CBS Channel 4 in Denver, led some schools to remove material from those databases. More recently, the parents sued EBSCO and the Colorado Library Consortium, or CLiC, which works with the company to broker deals with other entities to use its services.”The lawsuit was brought on behalf of the parents by the Thomas More Society, a national nonprofit law firm that describes itself as ‘dedicated to restoring respect in law for life, family and religious liberty,'” The Denver Post reported. “It is asking that a judge issue an injunction stopping EBSCO and the consortium from providing databases that contain pornography to underage kids.” In reporting on the lawsuit, The Aurora Sentinel described the Thomas More Society as an “Omaha-based law firm that provides free counsel to mostly pro-life clients” and noted the in-state firm working on the case “specializes in representing churches and ministries.”

In a document earlier this year, CLiC’s Duncan characterized the anti-EBSCO effort as a fear-mongering crusade that, if successful, would be akin to a Fahrenheit 451-style book bonfire.

After the parents and their group filed their lawsuit, the Colorado Association of Libraries weighed in, saying that as an organization that’s “committed to intellectual freedom and the community’s right to free and unfettered access to information,” it is deeply concerned with the legal action, which the CAL also sees as part of a broader movement. “Their true aim is to censor all electronic materials from school and public libraries, despite the fact that both federal and Colorado state statutes adequately and appropriately address the need to ensure age-appropriate access to information in our public schools and libraries,” CAL said in a statement. “Their goal is no less than to undermine the fundamental tenets of a free society.”

The parents see otherwise. “That’s not censorship,” one of them told CBS 4 in Denver. “That’s just recognizing as adults and parents we have a duty to protect children from information that can be harmful.”

Another Denver TV outlet covered the saga as a victory for the parents after multiple Colorado school districts dropped EBSCO. Newspapers, too, reported on schools ditching the database and on the lawsuit and response. As far away as Massachusetts, The Salem News ran a piece on the legal action since EBSCO, which calls itself “one of the largest privately held and family-owned companies in the United States,” is based in Ipswitch. “To be clear, EBSCO does not include pornographic titles in its databases, embed pornographic content in its databases, or receive revenue for advertising from any organization,” an EBSCO spokesperson told the local paper.

Three top biz-side newsroom managers leave in the Springs

In the three’s-a-trend file, the publisher of The Colorado Springs Independent alternative weekly is stepping down, while the general manager of KRCC public radio takes a job in a different city and the publisher of The Gazette heads back to the East Coast.

Carrie Simison, who started as a designer at The Indy 20 years ago and became publisher in 2015, didn’t dish on her new plans in a letter to readers. From that note:

“I’ve been lucky enough to work for an institution that’s helped shape the changing culture of Colorado Springs. I’ve been able to be on the front lines with the most amazing staff as our city’s politics shifted toward the center. I’ve seen the transformation of our downtown as it filled its storefronts with new shops, bars and restaurants. I’ve cheered as our Council and mayor decided that supporting non-motorized transportation and bike-friendly infrastructure adds to a thriving city.”

The paper’s founder and owner, John Weiss, wrote he will be “stepping back into a more hands-on, supporting role for at least 2019.” In the meantime, Amy Gillentine Sweet will be The Indy’s publisher and executive editor, with help from Ralph Routon.

Meanwhile, Tammy Terwelp, who came from Pittsburgh to become the general manager of KRCC in the fall of 2015, is leaving to take a job as director of Aspen Public Radio. Terwelp said when she came on board at KRCC she cut back on music to beef up local news coverage. Under her management, the station launched Peak Curiosity, joined a collaborative of Mountain West stations, and embarked on an unfinished campaign to move its headquarters into a new building. “Since Terwelp arrived in October 2015, local programming has grown, and membership support and face-to-face special community engagement events have increased,” reads a 2017 post on the station’s site bylined “KRCC staff.” Her legacy also includes killing an excellent long-form local news podcast, Wish We Were Here, which won a posthumous Edward R. Murrow award.

Rounding out the hat trick is Dan Steever, president and publisher of The Gazette, who “has decided to return to the East Coast in May to be closer to his children and extended family,” the paper reports. Steever, who has a background in marketing and greeting cards, became publisher of The Gazette in 2012. In 2015, he defended a controversial anti-marijuana series that ran in the paper penned by its editorial board members and an anti-legalization activist. In 2016, he hired Vince Bzdek, an online politics editor of The Washington Post, as editor. Bzdek has led an expansion of The Gazette into a statewide political player with ColoradoPolitics.com and its purchase of The Colorado Statesman. Replacing Steever is Chris Reen, former publisher of The Oklahoman in Oklahoma City. Denver billionaire Phil Anschutz owns The Gazette, and recently sold The Oklahoman.

Speaking of Anschutz…

One of the conservative Colorado media mogul’s magazines, The Weekly Standard, might be dying. And if it is, Vox reports, it’s “not a natural death.” The magazine, based out of Washington, D.C, has remained a bastion of #NeverTrump conservative thought, acting as an intellectual oasis for Republicans who aren’t tied to the current GOP president because of careerism or tribalism. This week, CNN’s Oliver Darcy reported that while the Anschutz-owned Weekly Standard’s future is uncertain, the Anschutz-owned Weekly Examiner is expanding. Darcy quoted one unnamed source saying, “They’re expanding the pro-Trump magazine that does what the owners want, while threatening closing of an independent magazine that has its own history and identity.”

Here’s Jack Shafer’s take over at Politico:

Political magazines depend on the largesse of motivated patrons for their survival. When the patrons lose interest—or run short on cash—the magazines expire unless other moneybags can be located to cover the losses. Following that eternal script, the Weekly Standard appears close to folding because its current patron—and most important reader—billionaire conservative Philip Anschutz, has grown tired of it. He better favors his other conservative political publication, the Washington Examiner, which his company announced plans on Monday to “expand into a national distributed magazine with a broadened editorial focus.” In other words, the Standard is dying so the Examiner can live larger.

In 1995, Bill Kristol and Fred Barnes founded The Weekly Standard with backing from Rupert Murdoch, and it became aligned with neoconservative attitudes, championing the Iraq War. (Murdoch sold his stake to Anschutz in 2009.) “But more recently, the Standard— and, in particular, Kristol himself — have proven consistent, strident critics of President Donald Trump, and many blame the magazine’s problems on its ‘Never Trump’ stance — it wouldn’t be the first time a conservative media company made cuts to align its brand closer to the president,” Vox reports. “… The Weekly Standard was perhaps the publication most associated with conservatives who rejected Trumpism. Now, two years into the Trump administration, the publication will likely cease to exist.”

Shafer has a quick run-down of The Weekly Standard’s history, and The Week explains how the magazine “played a key role in the rise of Sarah Palin and her know-nothing brand of culture warrior conservatism,” therefore helping “build the movement and ideas that appear poised to kill it.” The Washington Post’s media writer Paul Fahri reports that the magazine might actually get a reprieve. On CNN Sunday, WaPo columnist Max Boot, a Weekly Standard contributor, said his friends at the magazine think it will survive, perhaps under new ownership and a different name. “Unfortunately,” Boot said on the show, “Clarity Media Group, owned by the billionaire Philip Anschutz, is unwilling to sell The Weekly Standard because they basically want to cannibalize their subscriber list for this new publication that’s going to go national, The Washington Examiner, which is going to be … less anti-Trump than The Weekly Standard.” Politico reports staffers have “been told to gather for an all-hands meeting Friday.”

A gas patch newspaper’s new content director is a longtime journalist— with a stint in oil-and-gas PR

Louis Amestoy, the new director of content at The Greeley Tribune in northern Colorado, comes from California where he served for many years as a journalist. For about a year before his upcoming move to Colorado, he also served as something else — a public affairs specialist for a company called Aera Energy, one of California’s largest oil-and-gas producers. The Greeley Tribune, owned by Swift Communications, is the largest newspaper serving what is essentially the heart of Colorado’s fracking country.

I’m used to writing more about journalists leaving the newspaper industry for jobs in PR than I am about PR pros bolting a lucrative gig for an industry that offers talking points for when customers complain about reduced pages and delivery days. And yet. “I think a lot of people would probably say that I’m crazy for making the jump from PR to journalism,” Amestoy told me. In 2017 he was looking for more stable employment and a way to provide for his family and the PR job fit the bill.

For years, Amestoy was editor of a newspaper in the California oilfields, he says, and he came to understand the industry — so much so that he ended up working in it. I asked how he’s prepared to handle potential questions from readers in Colorado about his new paper’s coverage of energy issues given his recent background. He said while some of what he did in his brief time in the sector was regulatory work, a lot of it had to do with the company’s philanthropic efforts. He said he doesn’t have any stock or economic interest in the industry and is looking forward to covering fracking from multiple angles. “I always wanted to be in a place like The Greeley Tribune,” he said. “I was looking for the right opportunity.”

When journalists move back and forth from media jobs to corporate, political or government PR gigs, it’s a good practice to make sure relevant disclosures exist. Greeley Tribune Publisher Bryce Jacobson says he’s had to make those disclosures before, as when a journalist left to work for an onion-growers group and then returned to the paper. He’d tell his readers about the prior work, he said, but wouldn’t worry about a pro-onion bias creeping into coverage. “There’s not a person in the newsroom in Colorado or any other part of the country that doesn’t come into [a] newsroom with a bias,” Jacobson told me. “Does it appear in our news pages? If it does, we quickly remedy it and we have a lot of things to protect that from happening.”

Jacobson emphasized he felt his new hire’s longtime roots in the journalism world are more important that his relatively short time spent in the oil-and-gas industry. “He’s coming back to journalism because he loves journalism,” he said. “I’m really excited to have him on my team.”

Open question: The future of Denver Open Media

“The city’s contract with Denver’s Open Media Foundation, which runs public access, expires Dec. 19 and is not being renewed,” Alex Burness writes in The Colorado Independent. The service, known as DOM around Denver’s Art District on Santa Fe, near where DOM is headquartered, broadcasts more than 2,000 “citizen- and nonprofit-produced shows and podcasts” each year on local channels. But a contract DOM has with the City of Denver is about to go poof. Read more here about what that could mean.

Civil had some bad headlines

The blockchain technology company Civil, which is a major reason The Colorado Sun exists, ran into a whirlwind of negative headlines in the past week as a key component of its how-to-save-the-local-news-business-model appeared in question. From CoinDesk, a leading site for the cryptocurrency community:
According to several current and former employees of news organizations sponsored by the blockchain startup, Civil told journalists in 14 newsrooms around the U.S. that the CVL cryptocurrency – which, when issued, was supposed to comprise part of their pay – would probably end up being worth several times more than the estimated valuations mentioned in meetings and reported in tax forms. Yet lackluster demand caused Civil to cancel a public sale of the tokens last month. Now, the reporters have no idea if or when they’ll be paid the tokens that were supposed to be part of their compensation.

Jay Cassano, a journalist who bolted a Civil-backed newsroom called Sludge earlier this month, told the site that tokens he never received made up 70 percent of his salary for five months. “I had to borrow money to pay my rent and student loans,” he told CoinDesk. That quote ended up making the headline at NiemanLab, which followed up with a skeptical take from NiemanLab’s Joshua Benton. He said he “heard grumblings for some time that a lot of Civil’s journalists were … unhappy with how this arrangement had turned.” Benton also said he “can confirm, from quite a few conversations with Civil journalists, that others share his concerns, feel deeply frustrated by the communication they’ve received from Civil execs, and, broadly speaking, feel screwed over.”

The Colorado Sun, a 10-staff-member digital newsroom made up entirely by journalists who voluntarily left The Denver Post on the hope a new kind of business model involving blockchain technology and cryptocurrency could help sustain the newsroom, has often downplayed the cryptocurrency aspect of its operations. Sale of CVL tokens “doesn’t threaten our future,” Sun Editor Larry Ryckman told Westword in October. “It’s really not a huge event for us one way or the other.” The Sun, he said at the time, “wasn’t necessarily going to get any money from the token sale, because we’ve already gotten our seed money.”

“My position has not changed,” Ryckman told me this week. “We’re about doing good journalism, not about tokens.” He said he thinks Civil is doing admirable work and he’s “cheering them on.” As for the token thing, he said the thinks Civil was overconfident and learned some things from it.

“We pay our people in dollars,” Ryckman added. He said Civil has promised the Sun tokens if they ever materialize, but Ryckman isn’t counting on them having any monetary value. “I don’t feel like we’re hurt in any way by what’s going on with the tokens,” he said.

Since its launch, the Sun has been asking for reader support, with a $240-per-year politics newsletter subscription and membership tiers that range from $5 on up.

What you missed on the Sunday front pages across Colorado

The Greeley Tribune profiled local victims’ advocatesThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel reported how students are taking paths to higher education in non-traditional ways. The above-the-fold print headline of The Longmont Times Call read simply: “Residents conclude life is good.” The Loveland Reporter-Herald covered local dual immersion elementary schoolsThe Steamboat Pilot reported how water organizers use cloud-seeding generators to pump silver iodide into the air to create snowSummit Daily News fronted half-pipe seasonThe Gazette in Colorado Springs reported how the Army, having trouble with recruiting, isn’t softening its stance on pot useThe Coloradoan in Fort Collins covered how a 40-year search for a Nazi fugitive ended in Northern ColoradoThe Boulder Daily Camera reported how the city council wants to require buildings have retail uses on the first floor in commercial districtsVail Daily reported how Eagle County nonprofits raised $1 million on Colorado Gives DayThe Durango Herald fronted a story about how a housing boom is doing little for lower-income workersThe Denver Post previewed a year of potential changes for the state’s marijuana industry.

SLAPP! A Colorado judge called an oil company’s libel lawsuit ‘a form of retaliation’ 

Two years ago, an environmental activist named Peter Kolbenschlag posted a comment on an online story at The Glenwood Springs Post-Independent newspaper that criticized a Texas oil company. The company sued Kolbenschlag for libel. According to the Post-Independent, “The company alleged that the Obama administration had colluded with environmental interests to reach a ‘predetermined political decision’ on [a] bulk cancellation of leases.” More from the paper:
Commenting to the Post Independent’s coverage of that announcement, Kolbenschlag wrote, “While SGI alleges ‘collusion’ let us recall that it, SGI, was actually fined for colluding (with Gunnison Energy Corporation) to rig bid prices and rip off American taxpayers. Yes, these two companies owned by billionaires thought it appropriate to pad their portfolios at the expense of you and I and every other hard-working American.”

So the company sued in February. In June, Delta County District Court Judge Steven Schultz dismissed the suit “on the grounds that the statement attributed to the defendant was substantially true,” the Post-Independent reported. The paper called the lawsuit a SLAPP suit, meaning a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation. Now, Jeffrey Roberts at the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition reports the same judge said the oil company must pay Kolbenschlag’s attorney fees. Why? “Commencing and maintaining a lawsuit as a form of retaliation or to silence a critic is a clear example of vexatious litigation,” Schultz wrote.

Roberts at CFOIC points out how some people use SLAPP suits to attack free speech rights, and they have become “an all-too-common tool for intimidating and silencing critics of business, often for environmental and local land development issues,” according to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

“Several states, but not Colorado, have enacted anti-SLAPP statutes designed to let a defendant seek dismissal at an early stage of the proceeding and possibly recover legal fees,” Roberts writes. Unless or until that happens, it will remain something defendants like Kolbenschlag will have to pursue much later — or at the end — of a legal dispute if they find themselves SLAPPed.

An outlet seeks a news editor to cover Colorado “from the taxpayers’ perspective”

“The media industry in Colorado – like most state news operations – is shrinking, leaving fewer options for readers to digest the decisions made by their state and local government officials.” So reads the lead-in for a recent Colorado journalism job listing for Watchdog.org, a state-based reporting arm of the nonprofit Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity. The local Watchdog outfit — there are bureaus in 11 other states — employed Art Kane here for a time where he mixed it up with a press corps credentialing committee at the state Capitol before he left for Las Vegas.

The Watchdog position seeks to fill what it calls a “journalistic void in Colorado” with “reporting of state news from the taxpayers’ perspective,” according to the job posting.

RMPBS just won the ‘broadcast equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize’

Rocky Mountain PBS has some new hardware, winning this year’s Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award for excellence in journalism for the outlet’s program, “Insight with John Ferrugia.” From RMPBS:

The broadcast equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize, the duPont-Columbia Awards honor the best in broadcast and digital journalism while recognizing the contributions of news organizations to local communities and the nation. “Insight” will be one of 16 recipients receiving a duPont Baton on Jan. 22 at the 77th annual awards ceremony in New York City.

“At a time when journalistic enterprises are under attack, John Ferrugia and our ‘Insight’ team are examining significant issues in Colorado and nationally, elevating the public conversation on important topics, and sharing their in-depth investigations with other news outlets,” Amanda Mountain, the outlet’s president and CEO, said in a statement.

Rocky Mountain PBS, which has been collaborating with 9News and PBS NewsHour and shares investigative reports for free with newspapers and other public media throughout the state, won the award for its special report called “Imminent Danger,” about red-flag laws and the intersection of mental health and guns. Colorado doesn’t have such a law, but it’s a top priority for some Democrats in the legislature, where their party now controls both chambers.

Go virtually, young westerner

“All West News Desk colleagues have been offered jobs at the McClatchy Publishing Center and will have the opportunity to work virtually.” That’s a line from publisher and president of The Sacramento Bee and McClatchy’s West regional publisher in a story about the large newspaper chain consolidating “the design and copy editing functions of its 30 newspapers across the country into a central hub in Charlotte, North Carolina.”

Followup File: The latest in the Durango dustup

In my last newsletter, I wrote about a brewing war between a public school superintendent and the local newspaper in Durango over a 911 call and an alleged incident at an elementary school. Since then, The Durango Herald has editorialized on the fallout — again — and Superintendent Dan Snowberger published a public letter to the community. In it, he wrote, “While I have great respect for The Durango Herald as an institution and the many talented staff who put the needs of this community first in covering important stories, this exchange clearly frustrated me based on the confidential nature of the incident and my concern for the parties involved. Yes, we may not always like the coverage or their interpretation of events, we do appreciate their coverage of the many school events and student successes achieved in our community.”

How many anonymous sources does it take to win a trial balloon race in Colorado? 

Unnamed allies of Colorado’s Democratic U.S. senator, Michael Bennet, floated the idea of a potential 2020 presidential bid this week — but wouldn’t go on record. A recent Colorado Public Radio story on the possibility cited “three people who confirmed to CPR News that they talked with him about it” but “declined to use their names because they were not authorized to speak about the matter.” (Of note on the media front: Bennet’s brother is the editorial page editor of The New York Times. Not a bad connection to have.)

Meanwhile, The Associated Press afforded anonymity to “a person close to the Democrat” to hang a story on Colorado Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper’s latest alleged 2020 moves. “The person close to the governor requested anonymity,” The AP wrote — and the AP afforded it — “because Hickenlooper hasn’t yet formally launched his campaign.”

*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. Image by Phuket@photographer.net for Creative Commons on Flickr. 

1 COMMENT

  1. “Modern Day book burning”…? That’s just propaganda; but here are the facts: The legal action is brought by a rapidly growing organization called Pornography is Not Education consisting of almost 100 parents, grandparents and taxpayers across the state (pornographyisnoteducation.org). The Library Association/s would like you to believe that it was brought by only 2 parents but that is simply not true. The K-12 EBSCO databases sold by the Library Consortium are electronic collections of books, magazines, articles, and other media which are sold to schools as “homework” resources. They are not the internet, but are curated digital collections which have been found to be stuffed with sexually explicit, often violent, content, links, advertisements for sex toys, “erotica”, porn sites etc. and cannot be filtered. If you think about it objectively, our schools are being exploited as a marketplace for the 95 billion dollar sex industry. Most parents, teachers and taxpayers are not okay with child exploitation. It would seem that only the Library Association/s feel good about exposing children to porn behind a digital wall, and will come out screaming hysterically about “book burning” in response to a reasonable request for removing obscene material from products for children. What is their agenda and why is it so far removed from normal community standards? Remember: it is against the law to distribute obscenity to minors. The ALA and its various chapters and cult followers don’t get a pass when it comes to obeying the law. This is not a partisan issue or a religious issue, but a legal issue. Coloradans would do well to remember that the ALA is the same group that sued in federal court to overturn our Children’s Internet Protection Act (and thankfully lost), and also was involved in legal action to end the Child Pornography Protection Act. They are no friend to our nation’s children.

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