In an eye-opening move, the Denver Post on Thursday reversed its 2014 endorsement of U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner after the Republican senator from Yuma stuck with President Trump instead of a dozen other Republicans who joined Democrats in rejecting Trump’s “use of a national emergency declaration to allocate funds to a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.”
“Editorial: Our endorsement of Cory Gardner was a mistake,” read the 7 p.m. headline over a subhead reading, “The senator’s vote on border wall is a failure of leadership.”
From the editorial:
We endorsed Sen. Cory Gardner in 2014 because we believed he’d be a statesman. We knew he’d be a conservative voice in Congress, to be certain, but we thought his voice would bring “fresh leadership, energy and ideas.” We see now that was a mistake – consider this our resolution of disapproval. Gardner has been too busy walking a political tight rope to be a leader. He has become precisely what we said in our endorsement he would not be: “a political time-server interested only in professional security.”
Read the whole thing, which is likely to make national news, here.
It is important to note that The Denver Post has an entirely different editorial board than it did in 2014 when the then-board endorsed Gardner over incumbent Democrat Mark Udall in a tight election. Former Gazette reporter Megan Schrader now leads the editorial page, and the board is made up of the paper’s top editor of the news side, 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. Dean Singleton, the paper’s longtime chairman and former owner, is gone; he stepped down from the paper last year.
Gardner is up for re-election in 2020. Democrats have drafted a playbook to defeat him.
No doubt this will be grist for an upcoming panel at The Denver Press Club about the future of Colorado’s editorial pages. Schrader will join The Boulder Daily Camera’s editorial page editor Quentin Young, Colorado Springs Gazette editorial page editor Wayne Laugesen, and The Coloradoan’s executive editor Eric Larsen who just announced the Gannett-owned paper is scrapping its Opinion section to cut costs. Former Denver Post editorial page editor Chuck Plunkett will moderate the panel on Tuesday, March 19, at 5:30 p.m.
Sunshine Week, Colorado style
Apocrypha aside, around this time each year, news outlets across the nation celebrate Sunshine Week to extoll the virtues of open government, transparency, and the practical uses of state and federal laws that allow media to flip on the floodlights into the darker corners of government. “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants,” said former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis (see!) in a metaphor that lives on in current state statutes known as Sunshine Laws and the names of transparency organizations such as The Sunlight Foundation.
Enjoy this roundup of how Colorado media used this latest Sunshine Week to explain to readers, listeners, and viewers how they’re holding the powerful accountable, popping politicians for secrecy, and letting the light shine in:
In The Denver Post, the state’s preeminent First Amendment attorney Steve Zansberg penned a guest column headlined “Colorado takes steps toward government transparency as the nation backtracks” in which he outlined legislation lawmakers are debating in Denver. The Coloradoan in Fort Collins published a list of “just a few examples of stories that we wouldn’t have been able to write in recent months without access to public records and information.” The list ran 14 stories long. The Aurora Sentinel explained how local government officials there “should be squinting” during Sunshine Week after “allegations that they met illegally” in Washington, D.C., last month. The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel wrote how the local city council there recently “provided a disturbing example of how easily the public’s right to know can be compromised” when the paper got ahold of a city councilwoman’s controversial email even when the city failed to provide it. (The city maintains it was just a whoopsie.)
KOAA-TV in Colorado Springs let viewers know that “while journalists often file open records requests, the average citizen has the same rights to request records as we do.” The Englewood Herald community newspaper noted how public access to police scanner channels are fading in our state. KRCC’s Mountain West Bureau reported on one journalist’s work trying to pry information out of the federal Department of the Interior, among other issues. KUSA 9News pointed out some shortcomings in Colorado’s open records laws — especially the journalist-abhorred “contrary to the public interest” provision in the Criminal Justice Records Act.
— Corey Hutchins (@CoreyHutchins) March 15, 2019
The Colorado Springs Independent alt-weekly’s new editorial board wrote about how its reporter Pam Zubeck, “in a somewhat ironic use of the open records act, recently obtained Colorado Springs statistics related to the frequency and cost of CORA requests.” (She learned that in 2017, “the city fielded 678 requests, of which 25 incurred fees that totaled $2,010. In 2018, the city responded to 951 CORAs, for which 29 requesters paid $2,470.”) The editorial board of The Gazette in Colorado Springs led cheers for a proposed law by a local Republican House member that would, it wrote, “subject to open records laws all internal investigation files of peace officers, if the investigation involves ‘in-uniform’ or ‘on-duty’ conduct involving a member of the public.”
The Center Post Dispatch in Monte Vista told its readers how to know their rights when it comes to obtaining public information. Following Denver Post reporter David Migoya’s investigative reporting on secret court cases, the State Supreme Court “will consider rules on suppressed Colorado court cases — and how to handle them in the future,” he wrote. (Here’s how the paper is using its impact to attract subscriptions.) Colorado Public Radio did a series on Sunshine Week; in one episode, Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner spoke with 9News investigative reporter Chris Vanderveen about how open records laws helped his reporting on stories about red-flag gun laws in Colorado. “Every reporter’s going to have some frustration” when trying to obtain public information, he said, adding he encounters roadblocks “all the time.” The Boulder Daily Camera reported why the town of Superior won’t post official town emails online, “eschewing a standard taken by a handful of Front Range communities and even some Boulder County neighbors.”
Jeff Roberts World Tour
OK, maybe not the world, but Jeff Roberts, the director of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, had a busy week making the media rounds promoting his group’s revised guide to Colorado’s open records and open meetings laws.
I caught up with him Tuesday night at the Wynkoop Brewery in Denver, where his group was hosting a celebration along with The Colorado SPJ, the Colorado Press Association, and The Colorado Media Project, to talk about what’s new on the sunshine front here.
“We completely re-wrote it, updated it, really made it a lot more accessible for people,” he says about the new Sunshine Laws guide. After being in the job now for six years he’s pretty attuned to the main questions citizens have about navigating Colorado’s public access to information, which earned an F grade in the 2015 State Integrity Investigation (disclosure: I researched and wrote the report). Roberts reiterated how Colorado’s open records laws aren’t just for journalists but any member of the public. “About 40 percent of the questions I get are from people in the public, occasionally even people in government,” he said.
Roberts assessed the current state of access to public records in Colorado as a mixed bag. “Often journalists who are getting records, there’s no problem, but there are problems,” he said. “The issues that I hear most often about are the costs of public records … we also get some denials … they’ll say it’s a personnel record … we fight that one all the time,” he said. “The most frustrating aspect of public records in Colorado is probably related to criminal justice records.” While there’s a presumption of openness to a small subset of records, “almost everything else like a body cam video or something like that,” he said, “can be withheld from the public upon a finding that disclosure would be contrary to the public interest.”
Keep an eye on this legislative session to see if anything shakes out to shape up these laws. Email Jeff at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how you can get one of these new T-shirts or a copy of the latest Sunshine Laws guide.
Last month, we explored here what was happening with Writers on the Range, a nearly two-decade-old syndicated column housed at High Country News that appeared in some 50 newspapers in the West with a rotating stable of writers staking out opinions on local issues important to them. The column hasn’t published since last September, and “went away quietly,” says HNC managing editor Betsy Marston, who has edited Writers on the Range since 2002.
The last time I wrote about it in this newsletter, I indicated I’d have more to say after talking to the magazine’s publisher, Paul Larmer, but we haven’t been able to connect. He told me last week he was planning on talking to Marston about it. Following that convo, “Writers on the Range isn’t starting up again,” Marston told me — at least at HNC. Each week, she says she gets a few submissions and she tells the writers, “I think it’s a loss. I think the diversity of voices was a healthy thing,” but she’s not the boss.
Our ‘orphan county lawyer:’ Mr. Weiser goes to Washington
As Colorado gears up for another election season, will residents who live in some parts of southwest Colorado, like La Plata and Montezuma counties, still get their state-level political news beamed in from … Albuquerque, New Mexico?
Not if Democratic Attorney General Phil Weiser has his way. On March 5, Weiser traveled to Washington, D.C., where he met with current Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai to talk about what could be done about certain Colorado residents not being able to easily watch TV news beamed in from Denver because of where they live. (More on that meeting later.)
First, here’s the background: This newsletter has been following a story about La Plata County’s efforts to get Denver TV into households there for three years — since the county in 2016 asked the FCC for permission to get news from Denver stations beamed in, becoming the first county in the nation to do so. The FCC said yes. But 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 stations, The Durango Herald reported. The City of Durango has “found a way to broadcast Denver’s KUSA 9News on its public television station in response to residents clamoring for Colorado news,” according to the Herald, but it’s an awkward workaround that requires residents pick up a card from City Hall or the local library.
The latest news on this front, though, is the direct outreach to the FCC by Colorado’s new attorney general, who has said he stands with La Plata County in its efforts. According to a letter to the FCC from an attorney at the AG’s office about Weiser’s meeting with Chairman Pai last week, Weiser argued Colorado’s orphan county residents should be able to get Denver TV beamed into their homes immediately, and he offered a legal reasoning as to why. “Attorney General Weiser also underscored the harm that La Plata County residents are continuing to suffer by not receiving Colorado-based broadcasts,” the letter reads. The AG also asked for a status update on when the FCC’s Media Bureau might make a ruling, “emphasizing, once again, the importance of this issue to La Plata County and the State of Colorado.”
Weiser told The Durango Herald he left the meeting feeling “very” encouraged. “I know the substance of this issue and we’re on the right side of it,” he told the paper. “I worked hard to bring a sense of urgency to it.”
Meanwhile, according to The Cortez Journal, Republican Colorado Congressman Scott Tipton, who represents the Western Slope and Four Corners part of the state, is also putting pressure on the FCC to get local programming into Colorado counties. He put into practical terms what it means to be an orphan county. From The Journal:
Tipton said it has been “an ongoing issue in terms of being able to get the weather, the news, our sports channels” for La Plata and Montezuma counties. He detailed the lack of relevant information the two counties receive from their New Mexico programing. When we had the 416 Fire, Albuquerque wasn’t really covering that, and if you had a relative that was maybe in Denver, they weren’t getting the news on it.” Tipton acknowledged the “resistance out of the FCC to be able to actually address it” and said the purpose of his letter was “to be able to get them to move forward on making a decision.” Tipton underscored the flexibility the current plan would provide residents of both counties. “It’s not that you would never receive New Mexico TV again, but you would have the option of watching it or Denver TV,” he said.
Watch this space for more developments in this long saga for Colorado counties fighting to find news about their own state on TV.
What you missed on the Sunday front pages across Colorado
Speaking of Sunday front pages …
Poor John Hickenlooper! Colorado’s former governor announced his run for president last week, racking up coverage all over the state. He framed his play for the Democratic nomination amid a large and diverse field around his pragmatism. “I call myself an extreme moderate,” he has said. But on Sunday, when The New York Times ran a front-page story about the race, headlined in print, “Centrist Democrats Squirm as ’20 Rivals Tilt Left,” Hickenlooper didn’t get mentioned once. Even some politicians who aren’t in the race got name drops.
Here’s the paragraph in the NYT story that could have included Hick, who, again, had just announced:
This moderate wing of the party lacks an obvious standard-bearer. Former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York, who would have run a centrist campaign, begged off this week; Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, a Midwestern progressive who favors a within-the-system style of pragmatic politics, also decided not to run. Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who is running, has presented herself as a centrist but has not yet gained traction.
Ouch. The move left some Hickenlooper supporters here scratching their heads. I’m told by the one of the reporters of the piece, though, that Hickenlooper’s absence in it wasn’t an intended slight, and also that the reporters didn’t just forget about him, either. So, I’m not sure why he missed out on the Times treatment, but he did — whatever that means.
The kids are all right, KDNK edition
Last time it was student journalists embedded inside schools where outside media couldn’t get in letting the world know about an important Denver teacher strike. This time it’s kids on KDNK public radio in Carbondale.
“For 18 years, the radio station has partnered with the nonprofit Andy Zanca Youth Empowerment Program (AZYEP) to teach students from third grade through high school the basics of broadcasting,” reports Aspen Sojourner, a magazine in the Roaring Fork Valley. “Founded by Annemarie Zanca in honor of her late brother, Andy, who began volunteering as a DJ at KDNK when he was 9, the program has mushroomed from a weekly half hour to six hours of live music programming per week. That allows around 60 regular youth DJs each year to host hour-long shows, while a peer mentoring program helps train younger DJs.”
More from the magazine:
In addition, AZYEP collaborates with 22 area schools to create short segments and public service announcements, also aired regularly on KDNK, that cover topics from poetry to science to health. The most recent component is a youth news program that meets weekly after school to plan a monthly broadcast. All told, AZYEP airs the voices of more than 1,250 students annually from Aspen to Parachute.
“To our knowledge, there’s no one in the country that’s giving this amount of airtime to kids,” AZYEP director Beth Wysong, the program’s only full-time staff member, told Sojourner. “Other organizations put kids on, but KDNK is unique in giving six hours a week to youth DJs, plus ample airtime for classroom projects.”
Go KDNK. Power to the young people.
The Gazette won some national and international awards.
Visual journalists at the Colorado Springs daily newspaper have some new hardware for the wall now that awards from the National Press Photographers Association and the Pictures of the Year program are in. From the paper:
Videographer Katie Klann placed first and Video Editor Hannah Tran placed third in the NPPA’s Best Of Photojournalism competition in the Online Video, Storytelling and Innovation Division category for individual portfolios. Each entrant was judged on four videos, and Klann won for Learning from the Land: Women in Ranching, Painting the Sky (Labor Day Lift Off), Road to Tokyo and Keeping the Lights On. Tran won for Discarded Beauty, Invisible Injury, Dreamers of Colorado Springs and Playing with the Boys.
“The competition, in its 76th year, is a program of the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute at the Missouri School of Journalism,” the paper reported.
What you should know about Colorado’s movement to opt out of the Electoral College
It might be this week when Gov. Jared Polis signs the National Popular Vote bill into law, making Colorado the 11th state (plus the District of Columbia) to sign onto this interstate compact that would change the way the U.S. picks its presidents by essentially opting us out of the Electoral College.
Well, that was a mouthful. I took a deep dive into the issue and broke it down for readers with an in-depth explainer this week for The Colorado Independent. Give it a read and feel free to re-publish whole or in part with credit.
*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.