Recent downsizing is re-shaping another northern Colorado newspaper, this time the Swift Communications-owned broadsheet in Greeley.
The newsroom is down a handful of people, from around 13 to around 9, through a mix of attrition and cuts in recent months, say those familiar with the situation. Gone is former content manager Nate Miller who says he left on his own; the paper won’t immediately fill the positions of two reporters who also left. More recently, reporter-columnist Terry Frei, 64, was let go.
In an email this week, Frei said he enjoyed his year at the paper and is thankful for the opportunity. “I loved what I was doing, covering such eclectic subject matter after spending most of my career in sports, and doing everything from embedding with a high school musical, profiling hospital CEOs and heart transplant recipients, telling the tales of area World War II veterans receiving the French Legion of Honor Medal … and so much more,” he said. “Tribune management assured me — including after the fact — that it believed my work was top-notch. This is an economic reality. I believe those who check out the selected archive of my Tribune work at www.terryfrei.com/greeleytribune.html will conclude that my enthusiasm shows. I’ll be rooting for the Greeley Tribune. There were and are terrific people there, from ownership on down, and I am proud to have been associated with them.”
The paper’s newish director of content, Louis Amestoy, acknowledged the newspaper isn’t immune to economic afflictions facing the entire local print journalism industry. “I’m hoping that things turn around, and we’re in the right position to do some good things,” he said. “We’ve been doing some good things in the last two months for sure.” The Tribune recently won the Colorado Press Association’s award for general excellence, among others. Three months ago, the newspaper cut its print run down to four days a week. (The family-owned Grand Junction Daily Sentinel cut its print run last summer.)
Greeley Tribune publisher Bryce Jacobson is optimistic about the future.
“The Tribune re-organized late last year in various ways around the concept of Digital First, Print Better – we organized our teams to focus on 4 targeted audiences in addition to our mission driven content,” he said in an email. “We now have a team focused on creating content around those targeted audiences. We have sales teams selling around that same targeted audience, ads being designed etc etc. We are in a great place to achieve our goals. We did have three people leave our company a couple weeks ago, we now have our organization in a great place to achieve results.”
Why the AP’s regional director testified on a bill at the Colorado capitol
As this newsletter has documented over the past few years, Colorado journalists have become comfortable testifying before lawmakers about proposed laws. In 2017, the then-editor of The Coloradoan newspaper defended her role in helping pass legislation to update the state’s open records laws. Last year, multiple TV news reporters testified to lawmakers in committee hearings about legislation dealing with topics on which they were reporting. The latest is Jim Clarke, regional director of The Associated Press.
From Boulder Weekly:
Earlier this year, regional director of the Associated Press Jim Clarke, speaking in favor of a bill to mandate media literacy education in Colorado, told a group of state legislators that his news organization’s “hair is on fire.” Lisa Cutter (D-Littleton), who sponsored the bill, was surprised Clarke agreed to testify — the AP doesn’t typically do that — but what she heard him say made it clear why he had chosen to do so. “They don’t know what’s real and what’s not when they’re accessing news and information. Around the world, fake information and manufactured videos and doctored videos are proliferating,” Cutter says, [recounting] Clarke’s testimony.
And so if the AP, that bastion of objective news-gathering, is struggling to tell fact from fiction in today’s media landscape, how are Colorado students, with far less training, expected to separate truth from disinformation? That’s the impetus behind Cutter’s bill, which, if passed, would engage a consultant and form a committee of educators and media members to provide the blueprint to implement mandatory media literacy education in Colorado classrooms from kindergarten to 12th grade. It would make Colorado one of only a handful of states to require such education, even though the need, Cutter says, is widespread and urgent.
Clarke told me the lawmaker offered a close enough paraphrase of his testimony for the alt-weekly story, though he says he was not speaking in support of the legislation. Before he testified, Clarke says he asked the AP’s corporate communications department what they thought about it and made clear he wouldn’t be endorsing the bill. “That’d be a bridge too far for the AP,” he says. “Rather,” he adds, “it was an endorsement of the concept that readers of all ages need to understand and be able to discern the difference between credible, professional news sources and other, less credible outfits.”
About that media literacy bill…
The Colorado House passed it.
“As a country, our decisions are only as good as the information we take in to form our opinions,” Evergreen Democratic Rep. Lisa Cutter, who runs a public relations firm and wrote the bill, said in a statement. “The media landscape has changed dramatically in the last few decades. Colorado’s students are facing the largest and most complex information landscape in human history.”
I would agree. The last time I wrote about the media literacy bill, an editor at one Colorado newspaper sent me a message. “Fine idea (media literacy),” the editor said, “but don’t studies show it’s the olds who do the most fake news sharing? I find the kids I’ve talked with when I’ve visited classes get it rather quickly.”
There’s some evidence for that. A study in Science Advances found that “on average, users over 65 shared nearly seven times as many articles from fake news domains as the youngest age group.” Still, and this is just a personal anecdote, in a recent college journalism class I noticed some students did not realize what sponsored content is or how to properly identify it, which led to a discussion about how much responsibility should be on a publication and how much on the reader. So, if passed, what would this bill do? Basically, it’s just a start, creating a study committee by setting up an advisory panel at the state education department to research media literacy with the help of a consultant. Once studied, the panel would send recommendations to the House and Senate education committees. Cutter “hopes to sponsor legislation in the future using these recommendations to implement media literacy studies in elementary and secondary education,” according to a news release from a House Democratic Caucus spokesperson.
Annnnd one more thing about it…
Longtime capitol reporter Marianne Goodland of ColoradoPolitics says she was glad to see one provision stripped from the media literacy legislation. “I became a little concerned about the bill when it was amended to allow the governor to appoint the members of the media to this advisory committee,” she says, adding she’s speaking only for herself and not for her news outlet or the capitol press corps. “My thought was that an appointee of the governor is in fact a representative of the governor and that felt like a potential conflict of interest. I’m pleased that the bill no longer includes that provision.”
20 years later, Colorado journalists grapple with their own coverage of Columbine
The two-decade anniversary of the slaughter at a suburban high school in Colorado on April 20, 1999 brought a wave of national coverage dedicated to the role of how journalists handled (or mishandled) the tragedy. “‘We Really Botched Columbine’: How the Media Has Erred on School Shootings,” read a reflective headline in Esquire. An investigation by Mother Jones found “unending focus on the pair who struck in 1999 keeps fueling copycat attackers.” The Atlantic wrote about “the Humane Way to Cover School-Shooting Anniversaries.”
Locally, The Denver Post created a three-part podcast examining “the news coverage behind the Columbine High School shooting.” In an opinion piece in The Colorado Sun, reporter John Ingold, who at the time was a 21 was an intern for The Rocky Mountain News, wrote a headline: “How the media — including me — unwittingly helped create a Columbine narrative that has inspired murderers ever since.” From the piece:
“Columbine,” said Peter Langman, a psychologist who studies school shooters and tracks their influences, “more than any other attack, is cited most often.” But this is an inspiration based on a myth, the myth that motive matters, that killers must be understood. And that myth was partly created by the media, seeking answers in the aftermath to such unimaginable violence that everyone was desperate to prevent it from ever happening again. I would know. Twenty years ago, in my own small way, I helped fuel that myth. Now, I don’t know if we can stop it.
Writing in The Colorado Independent, Tina Griego recalled how she covered Columbine. “‘Covered’ is a reporter word and one, in this case, that falls short, but it fulfills the purpose of professional detachment, offering a sense of efficiency,” she wrote.”There was nothing of either in the blur of April 20, 1999. It was all chaos and disbelief and agony. I made mistakes. I called Dave Sanders’s home – the coach and teacher who was killed as he saved students – and I asked for Dave Sanders. I will never forget the anguish on the other end of the line.”
What you missed on the Sunday front pages across Colorado
The Boulder Daily Camera reported how town leaders in Superior are pushing for affordable housing “in a county gripped by a housing crisis where a combination of population influx and vanishing land only portends a deepening issue.” The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel profiled a local community hospital. The Longmont Times-Call explained how local zoning regulations are leading to a boom in development. The Greeley Tribune told readers why above-average snowpack will likely mean a great outdoor recreational experience this season. In honor of National Donate Month, The Loveland Reporter-Herald profiled an area man who survived three liver transplants. The Summit Daily News covered the start of wildfire season. The Steamboat Pilot reported how a grease fire caused minor damage to a local restaurant and closed roads. The Gazette in Colorado Springs reported that Douglas Bruce, “a felon, former state representative, author of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights and owner of dozens of blighted properties around the country,” is facing municipal citations for property he owns in Pennsylvania. The Coloradoan in Fort Collins wrote how “tiny songstress” Emma Marie, who lives in Northern Colorado, is growing up. Vail Daily reported the local airport there has lost seats but gained fliers. The Durango Herald alerted readers that trail construction on the Animas River could put a 200-year-old tree at risk. The Denver Post reported how Colorado could join Super Tuesday in a protracted presidential primary season, which is why candidates have been flying here to campaign.
Speaking of Easter Sunday front pages…
It was five years ago when The Denver Post bumped Easter coverage from its Sunday front page and instead focused its A1 real estate on a green leafy substance known as marijuana. At the time, Jim Romenesko flagged the move as the paper perhaps being better in tune with its audience.
All weed, no Easter on Denver Post's page one. pic.twitter.com/SeFa1fbvip
— Romenesko (@romenesko) April 20, 2014
Five years later, it was the anniversary of the Columbine massacre and Colorado’s role in this year’s presidential primary that pushed coverage of the bunny-themed religious holiday off the front page. And quite fine by me if I do say so.
‘Major transparency’ comes to Colorado police
Colorado cops can keep a lot secret. A provision in state open records laws allows law enforcement to deny records, for instance, when they believe doing so would be contrary to the public interest. As a result, those decisions too often have “nothing to do with the public interest” and everything to do “with police interests,” investigative reporter John Ferrugia told me when I first moved to Colorado in 2014 and became acquainted with the state’s poor record for transparency. That provision has stymied reporters here when law enforcement denies requests for internal affairs records. That looks like it will change now that Gov. Jared Polis signed a bill into law.
From The Colorado Independent:
The bill — HB-1119, sponsored by Democratic Denver Rep. James Coleman — would require Colorado law enforcement agencies to open the files on completed internal investigations into a wide range of police interactions with citizens, including alleged incidents of excessive force. This would mean the public, media, lawyers and any other interested parties would, through open records requests, get a glimpse at how Colorado cops police themselves. As it stands, the Denver Police Department is the only Colorado law enforcement agency that consistently releases comprehensive information following internal investigations.
NO. WAY. This law was the bane of my existence as a police reporter in Colorado. https://t.co/OPtl6ddir3
— Tommy Simmons (@tsimmonsipt) April 11, 2019
That former Colorado reporter is not alone. The Colorado Springs Independent alt-weekly reported how police refused to release internal affairs reports to the news outlet as it reported a series on police brutality in the state’s second-largest city.
Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition director Jeff Roberts called the new law “major transparency” legislation. The new law, he said, “upends a long-standing practice among most law enforcement agencies in Colorado to routinely reject requests for internal affairs files either with a blanket policy or a finding that disclosure would be ‘contrary to the public interest.'” More from the CFOIC:
The bill signing followed a two-year effort that was bolstered by the publication of a University of Denver Sturm College of Law study called “Access Denied.” Law professor Margaret Kwoka and her students documented how hard it is to obtain access to internal affairs files by requesting records from 43 agencies around the state. Only two showed any willingness to release IA files.
Find out more about what the new law does and how it could help reporters here.
And, to see how local law enforcement transparency is still an issue elsewhere, behold this lede from a newspaper just this week: “An Aspen Times investigation into why a longtime Aspen police officer was abruptly fired last month is raising more questions than it answered. Officials with the Aspen Police Department and the City Attorney’s Office have steadfastly refused to answer questions that have arisen in the wake of Officer Walter Chi’s forced resignation March 19.”
How a Colorado College history professor led Nike to cancel an ad campaign
And all in about six hours, to boot. The Washington Post has the story of how Colorado College assistant professor Amy Kohout’s use of social media brought scrutiny to a new advertising campaign by the major brand.
It was still early on March 30 when historian Amy Kohout began scrolling through her Instagram feed. An image caught her eye: an ad by Nike promoting its new line of Trail Running gear, which launched this month. It had a throwback feel: a vivid image of a lone runner on a dirt path, bolting along a green bluff above an ocean with inspirational text beneath, urging potential buyers to abandon all of their wayfinding technologies and become reacquainted with “the feeling of being lost.” These were nice sentiments. But what gave Kohout pause was the slogan in large font underneath the photograph: “The Lost Cause.” And then there was the final sentence: “Because the lost cause will always be a cause worth supporting.”
“For historians of the American South and the Civil War, these words are alarming,” the story goes on. “The Lost Cause was a story that white southerners told themselves after the Civil War to justify their embrace of slavery (it was a benign institution!), secession (a legitimate course of action!) and their defeat in the Civil War (a noble cause in defense of a “way of life”!). After Kohout tweeted about the ad in the context of the Civil War, historians and others weighed in and Nike “deleted the ad from its Instagram and Twitter accounts,” WaPo reported.
Too many reporters at the Colorado statehouse?
That’s not a question you see raised elsewhere in the nation as newspaper retrenchment and industry decline have had statehouse press corps from coast to coast looking more like a statehouse “press corpse.” But Colorado is an outlier. Progressive blogger Jason Salzman counted the number of reporters at the Colorado capitol this session for his site The Colorado Times Recorder and found the place “teeming with about the same number of reporters who were assigned there from the 1960s through the 1990s.” Charles Ashby, statehouse reporter for The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel and a long-serving capitol reporter (his Twitter handle: OldNewsman) told Salzman his “perception is correct.” Outlets with two full-time statehouse reporters include The Denver Post, The Colorado Sun, The Colorado Independent, Colorado Public Radio, and ColoradoPolitics. Seven other outlets have one, for a total of “at least 17 reporters.”
From the CTR piece:
Could we have arrived at the surreal situation where Colorado has too many reporters at the Capitol, given that other critical beats, like municipal government, education, courts, etc., aren’t getting the attention they deserve–or not attention at all? … Former Rocky reporter Lynn Bartels, who started covering the legislators in the year 2000, says the legislative coverage now is “overwhelming.” “There’s almost too much to read in the morning,” Bartels told me, explaining that she will open just one of many morning emails from the outlets, look up, and find that she “hasn’t gotten any of her work done.” “There is an amazing concentration on the Capitol, and I sometimes think that’s to the detriment of other beats,” she said, explaining that the Rocky had a Denver Public Schools reporter, a suburban reporter, police, higher education, religion, city hall, and more.
Perhaps that’s what we might call a good problem to have.
Colorado Cold case season 2 is live
Remember Colorado Cold Case, The Gazette’s unsolved crime podcast featuring reporter Kaitlin Durbin and Steven Hayward, director of the Colorado College journalism institute? It’s back for a second season.
From The Gazette:
Thomas “Tommy” Kinslow, 20, was shot and killed in the early morning hours of Nov. 22, 2005. He had just finished his late shift at Hollywood Video and driven the half mile home to his parents’ house on Constitution Avenue. He parked in his usual spot, locked the car doors and was presumably walking toward the back gate when he encountered another man and the two fought. Tommy was shot five times. Despite as many as eight people witnessing the encounter, Tommy’s killer disappeared into darkness – faceless and anonymous. Months later, a suspect was named in the killing and then released for a lack of evidence. The case has sat cold since.
The podcasters hope if anyone with information doesn’t want to call the police they’ll call the journalists instead.
Update on The Nothing: Watch for May 16
That’s the date of the Gannett shareholder meeting and a potential showdown between the nation’s largest newspaper chain and the hedge fund that controls The Denver Post and is trying to take over Gannett. “The two companies have been trading jabs back and forth in the lead up,” reports Institutional Investor. In the meantime, The Washington Post reports the hedge fund faces “a federal probe after investing newspaper workers’ pensions in its own funds.”
At the Denver Post, $47 million, or 91 percent of the pension’s total in 2015, was invested in the same two Alden funds, according to Labor Department filings. That year, $248.5 million of pension savings for current and former employees of MediaNews Group papers was placed into the two Alden funds, according to court filings in an unrelated case. … Regardless of whether Alden’s practices ran afoul of federal rules, they have irked some pension beneficiaries. Thousands of former newspaper reporters, editors, photographers and printing press workers — some of whom lost their jobs because of staff cuts at Alden papers — became again beholden to the hedge fund because it controlled their retirement savings.
Despite its cost-cutting owner, Denver Post journalists continue to produce solid local journalism given the circumstances, something that should become boilerplate in public criticism of the entity that owns it.
Sign up for this ‘unconference’ on machine learning, migration and mountains journalism
Colorado journalists interested in a full day of “connection and conversation to share tools, stories, and strategies related to innovative work happening in journalism and technology” should sign up for this free upcoming “unconference” on May 6 in Denver. From the event listing, hosted by The Colorado Media Project, OpenNews and others:
Through collaborative, hands-on sessions you will come away with skills and ideas to put into action in their organizations and strengthened connections between community members in Denver and beyond. The event will have half the sessions scheduled beforehand and half scheduled that day, based on the interests and needs of participants.
The event will feature Jeremy B. Merrill of the Quartz AI Studio who will talk about journalism and machine learning. Alexandra Kanik of Louisville Public Media will discuss “repeatable workflows for data stories”; Ariana Giorgi of The Dallas Morning News will share “strategies for finding stories hidden in datasets”; Mike Stucka of The Palm Beach Post and Rachel Ward of CBC Calgary will explore “balancing short-term work with long-term goals”; and Dana Amihere of Southern California Public Radio will explain “how newsrooms can start thinking right now about community coverage around Census 2020.”
Interested journalists from all parts of Colorado can register here.
*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 Alan Levine for Creative Commons in Flickr.