Media: The Rocky Mountain News remembered

Your weekly roundup of Colorado local news & media

The former Rocky Mountain News offices on West Colfax Avenue in Denver

This Wednesday marked the 10-year anniversary of the death of The Rocky Mountain News, the beloved newspaper that folded its flag on Feb. 27, 2009, putting a stake the Great Denver Newspaper War and hitting a kind of high water mark for the bottoming out of the local news business model.

“We hope Coloradans will remember this newspaper fondly from generation to generation, a reminder of Denver’s history — the ambitions, foibles and virtues of its settlers and those who followed. We are confident that you will build on their dreams and find new ways to tell your story,” the Rocky reported on its last day. Here’s a roundup of Remember When coverage:

  • Poynter did a “10 years Gone” piece. (“The Rocky Mountain News was a newspaper before Colorado was a state.”)
  • In the CU Independent, Lucy Haggard wrote how in the ensuing decade “the Colorado journalism landscape has changed dramatically.” (Smart line from Westword editor Patty Calhoun who “says that if she knows another outlet or journalist is covering a story, she’ll redirect the staff’s attention elsewhere.”)(The story includes a look at the nonprofit Longmont Observer.)
  • Rocky editor and publisher John Temple published “My Newspaper Died 10 Years Ago. I’m Worried the Worst Is Yet to Come,” in The Atlantic. (“What if local governments created local taxing districts to support local news, the way the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District in the Denver metropolitan area levies sales taxes to support cultural organizations?” he asks. “Or what if states included capped opt-in donations on income taxes that could be directed by taxpayers to fund local news organizations in lieu of giving the money to the state?”)
  • Temple also told his “fascinating life story” to talk-radio host Craig Silverman. (“I became an American when I was at the Rocky Mountain News.” Literally.) (Silverman asks if Temple believes Democrats would have as much power as they do right now if the center-right Rocky’s editorial page was still around. “I think it might have.”) (Temple: “Jared Polis, the current governor— one sad thing was I don’t think Jared at the time when he was a congressman, I don’t think he really understood what the Rocky meant to the community, and he was not very sympathetic when the Rocky closed.”) (Ed note: Media at the time reported Polis, a young congressman at the time, had told a Netroots Nation crowd, “So, The Rocky Mountain News published its last edition yesterday. And I have to say that when we say kinda ‘Who killed The Rocky Mountain News?’ we are all part of that … … we truly are. For better or for worse, and I would argue that it’s mostly for better.”) (Asked if newspapers are dead and dying in cities like Denver, and if new media will be where “we get our news,” Temple said, “I think they are. … Look, there’s no way that we’re going to be printing daily newspapers in just a few years, I just don’t see how it’s economical.”) (He says he’s working with the Colorado Media Project.)
  • Colorado Sun editor Larry Ryckman wrote how the Rocky “might be gone long gone, but The Colorado Sun and others are rising to fill the gaps.”
  • Former Rocky reporter Kevin Vaughan, now at KUSA 9News, reflected on TV. (“There are fewer people sitting in city council meetings and in courthouses pulling documents and figuring our how public officials are spending money and making decisions.”)
  • FLASHBACK from December 2014 in CJR: “As a billionaire floats reviving the Rocky Mountain NewsThe Denver Post might buckle its chin strap.” (“Anschutz had quietly bought the right to use the Rocky’s name, URL, and intellectual property back in 2009 when the paper folded.”)

That was the same season The Sopris Sun launched in the Roaring Fork Valley

“Winter 2009 was probably the worst time to start a newspaper, much less take on the role of editor,” writes Trina Ortega in The Sopris Sun, the nonprofit weekly newspaper serving Carbondale. (Read the first issue here.) These days, The Sopris Sun prints more than 4,000 papers a week and delivers to roughly 80 locations “from Glenwood Springs to Aspen and Carbondale to Redstone.”

Ortega goes on to tell the story of the start of the Sun, which you should read to get caught up on this non-Front Range nonprofit. “Ten years later, I am proud to look back on the growth of The Sopris Sun,” she writes. “Over the years, it has been managed by a range of dedicated and knowledgeable volunteers, a board of directors that have worked to ensure there is funding for an editor, a part-time reporter, a graphic designer, a salesperson and a staffer to distribute each week’s paper. The list of stories about our sweet little community is far longer and more involved than two pages these days. I’m just grateful we have a newspaper to tell those stories.”

Chuck Schumer wants answers from The Nothing

Last month we learned the New York hedge fund that controls The Denver Post is looking to gobble up Gannett, the nation’s largest newspaper chain, which owns The Coloradoan in Fort Collins. (Gannett has its own problems, and nationwide layoffs recently lashed the paper an hour north of Denver.) Gannett has pushed back against a potential purchase, but its own large newspaper USA Today reported the Alden Global Capital hedge fund, née, The Nothing,”is launching a hostile bid to take control of Gannett’s board of directors.”

And now a top Democrat in the U.S. Senate wants answers. Charles Schumer, the Senate’s minority leader who represents New York, sent a letter to Alden Global’s president. From the letter :

Since Alden Global and MNG took control of Digital First Media, executives have also eliminated numerous staff positions at its media properties, resulting in more than 1,000 lost jobs. These cuts include layoffs at critical publications serving communities across the country, such as The Denver Post in Colorado, The Delaware County Daily Times in Pennsylvania and The San Jose Mercury News in California. … Because our democracy depends on continued support for the First· Amendment, fuller disclosure regarding how the acquisition of Gannett would impact the viability of a free press is in the public interest.

Schumer quizzed the hedge fund on a handful issues. Among them? What are its plans for newspaper real estate and how would the company invest outside of media? “Does Alden Global or MNG plan to lay off journalists at Gannett newspapers?” Would it commit to maintaining staffing? “Schumer’s shot across the bow was aimed at a company known for acquiring newspaper properties, laying off journalists, press operators and others, and selling the often-valuable real estate upon which the newspapers are located,” reported The Albany Times Union, a paper I delivered as a kid. In a statement to The Washington Post, an MNG spokeswoman said: “MNG has a long track record of operating newspapers profitably and sustainably to serve their communities. We look forward to providing Senator Schumer with additional information.” Earlier this month, Schumer spoke on the Senate floor for more than five minutes (it begins 3:20 minutes in here) in part about his concerns of a hedge fund “known as the destroyer of newspapers” trying to buy Gannett.

As if ever there’s ever a good time to learn about more Colorado newsroom cuts

“Just a few hours after going to the memorial service of our editor, we found out today we’re going through more position cuts,” Boulder Daily Camera reporter Mitchell Byers posted on Twitter Tuesday. “I really wish the folks at Alden could have been in the newsroom today to see the devastating effect their greed has on the people who work for them.” That would be a reference to the hedge fund that owns the Camera and a dozen other newspapers in Colorado.

“The symbolism was about as subtle as a punch to the gut — and plenty of Kaufman’s former colleagues no doubt felt like they’d taken two blows in quick succession,” wrote Michael Roberts in Westword. The departed editor would be Kevin Kaufman, whom Boulder city government and the state legislature recently honored with proclamations.

The Denver Post hired a new politics reporter; ColoradoPolitics hired a new Denver reporter

In December, I reported how Colorado Public Radio was hiring a Washington, D.C. correspondent as part of its expansion and wondered whether it would remain the only news outlet in Colorado with a full-time journalist dedicated to the state’s federal delegation from the Beltway. So far, it still is.

But meet Justin Wingerter, who this week joined The Denver Post’s politics team who will be “tracking Colorado’s congressional delegation, among other political coverage.” He moves over from The Oklahoman, which Denver billionaire Phil Anschutz’s Clarity Media recently sold to GateHouse. (Meanwhile the Post was just named a finalist for the Scripps Howard Distinguished Service to the First Amendment award for “Shrouded Justice” by David Migoya.)

Also in new-hire news: ColoradoPolitics imported an old Colorado hand from a stint on the East Coast to cover Denver. John C. Ensslin, a 25-year veteran of the former Rocky Mountain News and a Gazette alum, will “cover Denver politics, government and civic affairs.” Ensslin is also a former national president of the Society of Professional Journalists and The Denver Press Club. He starts in March and comes from The Record in Woodland Park, New Jersey.

What you missed on the Sunday front pages across Colorado

The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel fronted a story showing 2018 was one of the worst for area traffic deathsThe Longmont Times Call let readers know about a local business advisory meetingThe Greeley Tribune profiled a local school district Family CenterThe Loveland Reporter-Herald explained why local government is wrestling with policies as 5G small-cell-service Internet towers try and come to the areaThe Summit Daily News covered the future of land use in FriscoThe Steamboat Pilot reported on a man found dead after snowmobiling outside YampaThe Gazette in Colorado Springs reported how Democrats, who now run the legislature, might consider re-writing oil-and-gas rulesThe Boulder Daily Camera covered a local government mobile housing planVail Daily took readers inside the construction of a new hospitalThe Durango Herald reported how the city is cracking down on locals who falsely claim an agricultural tax exemptionThe Denver Post fronted a story about how a Colorado Springs wrestler “made history when he knocked himself out of the state tournament rather than wrestle a girl.” The Coloradoan in Fort Collins published a major takeout titled “The Making of a Predator” about a man who preyed on children and “carved a trail from family to family.

About the photo illustration on that ‘Making of a Predator’ story, though…

For The Coloradoan’s major in-depth Sunday cover story about a “religious, mild-mannered veteran” who pleaded guilty to child sex assault, the paper fronted a photo-illustration of the man’s face morphing into that of a wolf’s. But one environmental advocate who won the Colorado Book Award in 2006 for a book titled “Comeback Wolves,” had a bone to pick with the Fort Collins newspaper— for being offensive toward wolves. “This is a heinous crime and a well-written story, BUT, the @coloradoan should NOT have made the image of the child predator morphing into a wolf,” Wockner tweeted with a screen grab of the image.

The writer on the piece, Jacy Marmaduke, thanked him for his feedback. “I think the artist chose the wolf imagery simply because wolves are apex predators, but I understand the concerns about how wolves are portrayed in media,” she wrote. Wockner’s response: “Humans are THE apex predator.”

Bob Woodward comes to town

The two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and Watergate legend Bob Woodward, whose latest book Fear takes readers into the chaotic first term of President Donald Trump, will be honored at The Denver Press Club Friday March 1. “We’ll simulcast the evening and attendees will be able to attend our event in a less formal atmosphere with a buffet-style dinner and cash bar,” the Press Club posted on social media. “Vice President Linda Shapley will be in the room to lead the evening, and Woodward will make an appearance.”

WaPo cited a Colorado editor in his ‘five myths about journalism’ piece

For The Washington Post’s “Five Myths” column this week, Lehigh University journalism professor Jeremy Littau takes on journalism, giving a Colorado editor a name-check high up. From the piece:
Newspapers collapsed after they offered stories for free. 
Subscriber and advertiser revenue for traditional print journalism has been in free fall, and many think it started when newspapers offered content online for free. As Dave Perry wrote in a 2015 online column for the Aurora Sentinel in Colorado, “Newspapers primarily hung themselves by giving away their content online 20 years ago, giving people a reason to go out and buy a 14K baud modem.” Former media executive Alan Mutter put it more directly on his blog: “The Original Sin among most (but not all) publishers was permitting their content [to] be consumed for free on the web. The real problem is more complicated.
Find out what Littau means here.

Reporter Joey Bunch: ‘I died’— and came back to life!’

Joey Bunch didn’t bury the lede and a heart attack didn’t bury Joey Bunch.

“I died recently,” Bunch wrote in his latest “Insights” column for ColoradoPolitics since he checked into a hospital in December with pneumonia and sepsis and suffered a heart attack while there a couple days later. “I haven’t reported this, but I’ve had a lot going on since then. … In a hospital bed, doctors and nurses pounded on my chest for 15 minutes until my heart beat again.”

Read here how his brush with the reaper changed his perspective on life. He’s lucky, he wrote, that his “heart chugged on as long as it did.”

*This column 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 zaigee for creative Commons on Flickr. 

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