MEDIA: Shotgun blasts shut down Colorado newspaper presses

Your weekly roundup of Colorado local news & media

Photo by Tony Webster for Creative Commons on Flickr

Readers of The Loveland Reporter-Herald and The Longmont Times-Call didn’t get their papers delivered Saturday morning, but it wasn’t a storm or power outage that stopped the presses.

Instead, it was a 35-year-old former employee of the newspaper’s press facility who witnesses say showed up shortly before midnight, rattled doors, and then pumped rounds from a 12-gauge shotgun into the night air outside. “This isn’t over. I’m not done,” the Herald reported the man saying before police hauled him off to the slammer.

From The Loveland Reporter-Herald, citing production supervisor Randy Sannes:

Employees at the Reporter-Herald said someone first tried to enter through the locked front doors, shaking them so hard the inner doors rattled. Then, according to newspaper management, Rhett Williams entered the building, 801 N. Second St. in Berthoud, through a production door looking for specific employees. Those employees were not there, and Williams reportedly went back to his vehicle, retrieved a gun and shot it several times into the air after 11:30 p.m. “Rhett, the former employee, showed up and came in through the mail room door,” Sannes said. “That door was propped open because people were outside smoking … He didn’t have a gun at that time.”

During the incident, where about 15 people were working in the press plant that also serves as the newsroom, another employee was reportedly able to get the agitated man back outside to his truck in a field nearby. It was then that Williams “reportedly fired shots in the air from a gun that had been in his truck.” (A witness confirmed to me seeing a shadowy figure “shooting a gun up in the air” outside the newsroom.) The paper reported Williams hadn’t been fired from his job after about five years, but left on his own in 2018. “I have no idea why he would have been upset,” the Herald reported Sannes saying. Citing an arrest affidavit, the newspaper also reported a sheriff’s deputy saying the suspect “leveled” his shotgun at him and his vehicle when he arrived on the scene. The affidavit also “states that deputies and victims believed Williams was drunk during the incident.” (Oh, and yeah, we’re talking about allegations that a man pointed a gun at an officer and lived to tell about it.) Williams was jailed and faces charges ranging from first-degree assault to attempted second-degree assault on a peace officer, the Herald wrote.

I’m told last year, after a gunman slaughtered four journalists and an ad assistant at the Capital-Gazette newsroom in Annapolis, Md., the Times-Call/Reporter-Herald facility had lights in its parking lot fixed and blinds installed on the newsroom windows. Before the blinds, people outside could see what was going on inside the building. “I’m grateful they did that much last year,” says one employee who was working in the newsroom Friday night. “They are looking into some additional security measures now.”

Now for some good news in NoCo: The North Forty News is going weekly

A once-rural newspaper launched in 1993 in Northern Colorado called The North Forty News, purchased by a Fort Collins journalist and revamped in 2017, is on solid enough footing that it will now go weekly, according to publisher Blaine Howerton. In a statement this week, Howerton said the paper doubled its subscribers, tripled its circulation, grew its distribution, and bought other outlets since the takeover.
“The expansion of North Forty News through acquisition of SCENE helped us gain even more momentum. With combined operations, we created a concept where we could deliver hyper-local community news throughout Northern Colorado in North Forty News alongside a well-established monthly arts, entertainment and lifestyle publication,” said Howerton. By February of 2018, North Forty News began distributing to a much larger area expanding its reach to 1,000 distribution points in the highest population centers as well as the more rural areas throughout Northern Colorado. By January 2019, North Forty News announced yet another aspect of its expansion plan — the release of a quarterly series of magazines called the Northern Colorado Magazine. Demonstrated community support for North Forty News’ solution-driven journalistic content, combined with its new initiatives, has created enough momentum for the announcement of the newspaper’s expansion to weekly publication by July 2019.

“Solution-driven content?” That sounds familiar.

I caught up with Howerton over the phone this week to check in on the details. The advertising-supported 16-page broadsheet with a voluntary subscription program that prints about 12,000 copies a month throughout Northern Colorado doesn’t have a reporting staff, he says. It relies on about 27 freelancers for contract work. While daily newspapers serve specific cities and their surroundings in Loveland, Longmont, Fort Collins, Boulder and Greeley, The North Forty News seeks to set itself apart by focusing on Northern Colorado as a region. “What we’re trying to do is create that sense of community throughout the region as opposed to throughout targeted cities,” the publisher says.

Updates on Colorado’s First Amendment front 

In court actions and in news coverage, a simmering debate about state and local elected officials blocking people on social media is boiling over. “The legal answer is one that remains mostly unanswered in the state, despite several high-profile lawsuits that have ended settlements costing taxpayers thousands of dollars and required lawmakers to promise they will no longer block people,” reports The Colorado Sun. From the story:
But the ACLU of Colorado is seeking to provide clarity once and for all, using a lawsuit filed Monday against Republican state Sen. Ray Scott, of Grand Junction. Scott is accused of blocking a constituent on Twitter and Facebook, but the federal lawsuit doesn’t ask for monetary damages, just a resolution to an issue that’s been popping up in courts around the country. “We’ve had requests from people about local government officials, as well as more statewide officials, where they’ve been blocked,” said Sara Neel, a staff attorney with the ACLU who is bringing the case against Scott. “Even public school districts and sheriff’s offices have blocked and/or censored folks on their social media pages.” “It is happening,” Neel said, “and we need a court to say this can’t happen.”

Attorney Chris Jackson, who practices public and private law at the Denver Sherman & Howard firm, called this “an important First Amendment issue.” We’ll see how the federal courts handle it.

Meanwhile, the Colorado Supreme Court could decide whether online threats are protected speech under the First Amendment. From The Denver Post:

In the wake of the 2013 fatal Arapahoe High School shooting, a 17-year-old Denver-area student threatened on Twitter to kill a student at a different high school, posting an image of a handgun and writing “We don’t want another incident like Arapahoe. My 9 never on vacation.” He also made other explicit comments such as, “Let me catch you away from school you is a dead man” and “Trust me I’m not afraid to shoot.” The student, who has not been identified because he was a juvenile at the time, was convicted of harassment and ordered to write an essay. But his defense attorneys successfully argued to the Colorado Court of Appeals that those tweets were not threats and should be protected by the First Amendment. The conviction was thrown out.
The newspaper reports Democratic Attorney General Phil Weiser wants Colorado’s highest court to weigh in about whether the student’s threats were protected free speech under the First Amendment or whether the student committed a crime. Reporter Saja Hindi has the full story here. “The Supreme Court on Tuesday heard arguments in the case at a special hearing at Westminster High School,” she reports, “and its eventual decision could set a precedent for future Colorado criminal cases involving social media threats.”

Why The Montrose Daily Press is printing The Colorado Sun

The Montrose Daily Press, a community newspaper owned by the Arizona-based Wick Communications, is in transition. “You’ll see significant changes over the next 90 days and we’ll ask for your input,” publisher Dennis Anderson told readers this week. Part of that transformation is that the paper will be publishing news from The Colorado Sun, the Denver-based digital startup of Denver Post defectors that’s just about to become 1 year old. “If you’re not familiar with The Colorado Sun, they’ve been a journalistic Godsend to the Colorado media landscape,” Anderson told his Montrose readership. “Their team is made up of heavy hitters mostly from the top media outlets in the state.”

The paper will print the Sun’s news stories, opinion-editorials and cartoons. “This will be a difference-maker for you, our readers,” he went on. “The content is award-winning, deep and long-form journalism.”

More on this paper’s makeover:

Our print subscribers subscribe not because they lack technological savvy or because they like getting ink on their fingers. They subscribe to our print edition to have all their relevant news interests compiled into one place — the printed newspaper. Our mission is to provide that service. Taking various components of content out of our newspaper without using our readers, because we don’t believe they want it, smacks of arrogance. Our mission over the next few months is to fill your newspaper with local, regional and statewide content, build a robust arts and entertainment page and build a robust outdoors page. We are bringing back a pro sports page and searching for great content about Colorado professional sports teams.

We’re also going to work hard at our digital model. Newspapers have become more relevant with as wide an audience as ever because of the digital reach. We need to build a digital-happy path on our website and app for a better user experience. Social media is a component of that model, but for too long we’ve let the tech giants control who gets to see their local news. We have nearly 12,000 likes on our Facebook page, but only a small percentage of those who like us will see us in their feed. Our app helps us improve our reach while providing a one-stop shop to view our content. Go to your app store, search Montrose Daily Press and get it on your phone. You’ll receive notifications on Montrose breaking news and continuous daily coverage of our community. Don’t let social media control what you see for local news.

Newspapers used to add more content to their pages through deals with UPI or The Associated Press. In Colorado, these days they’re doing it increasingly via outlets such as The Colorado IndependentThe Colorado Sun, and ColoradoPolitics. Sun editor Larry Ryckman says the site has “similar agreements with Colorado newspapers from Grand Junction to Durango, Aspen, Greeley and others. The Sun is happy to work with anyone trying to deliver great journalism to our state.” He urged any curious publishers to contact him at larry@coloradosun.com.

Also, keep an eye on Wick Communications, the family-owned company that runs The Montrose Daily Press and recently bought up The Delta County Independent. That gives it two Colorado papers to add to its cluster of properties in the Mountain West.

What you missed on the Sunday front pages across Colorado

The Longmont Times-Call reported a county transit plan is relying on cellphone tracking data to inform a transportation updateThe Steamboat Pilot offered seven ways to celebrate Mothers Day ‘Steamboat-style.’ The Boulder Daily Camera tackled how Larimer County wants to boost vaccination ratesThe Gazette in Colorado Springs reported on concerns about healthcare in a local jailSummit Daily fronted a story about a drought contingency plan for the Colorado River BasinThe Denver Post revealed data showing the city’s metro area sees more school shootings by population than the nation’s largest metro areasThe Boulder Daily Camera ran a story about a city council member’s critique of a city-run electric utilityThe Coloradoan in Fort Collins profiled a local Dreamer on the college graduation stageThe Durango Herald reported on the city’s “steady, controversial growth from 1880 to now.” The Greeley Tribune profiled Weld County’s sheriff as he reflected on a 1992 school shooting.

School-shooting prosecutor dings the newspaper business

Following a court hearing for two suspects in the STEM charter school shooting on Wednesday, District Attorney George Brauchler, who one reporter called a “quote machine” in a preamble to a question, didn’t disappoint in that regard. But this time the tart-tongued politician let fly with a quip about the media business.

Ringed by reporters outside the courtroom and discussing why a judge might suppress information in a case like this — Brauchler had asked for limited suppression but said the judge decided to suppress more — the prosecutor had this to say:

“As you can imagine with a case this size we’re not going to get it wrapped up in a week … There are things that need to be done, witnesses that need to be talked to and the less specific facts … they can reference from things they’ve heard on the radio, seen on TV, read in the paper — if there are papers anymore — the better for us. That’s why I sought to keep those things suppressed. The court has its own reasons to keep things suppressed.”

“If there are papers anymore?” Ouch. Colorado newspapers are “still alive,” said David Milstead, the former president of the Denver Press Club, upon learning of the remark. “Brauchler’s statewide political career, not so much.” Zing. (Brauchler lost a run for attorney general last year after dropping out of the governor’s race.)

Vic Vela will speak with authority on drug-use recovery for his new podcast

In the fall, this newsletter wrote about the very public ways in which Colorado Public Radio host Vic Vela talks about his recovery from drug addiction. At the time, I highlighted a podcast interview he gave to Joe Hanel of the Colorado Health Institute in which he talked about a secret he had while he was a reporter for a string of newspapers at the Colorado Capitol in 2013. That secret: He was smoking crack daily while on the job. He later gave a speech at the 2018 Hot Issues in Health conference about his road to recovery. Drug addiction, he told the crowd, is no Disney movie. Now, Vela is set to launch a yet-to-be-named podcast of his own at CPR about recovery within the year. “After all,” he said when announcing it, “who doesn’t love a good comeback story?”

I caught up with him in his home in Denver not long ago to talk about his new show and what it might look like. “If you think about it, I’m sort of the ultimate authority on addiction,” said Vela, who is also open about being HIV positive. “A: I’m a journalist, and B: I’m a drug addict. So I know a lot about addiction. And so, I’m thinking What is the best way I can use my skills, use my know-how, and use my experiences to do something here? And then I came up with the idea of ‘Let’s do a podcast about recovery.'”

Recovery is a big umbrella — disease, mental illness, loss of a loved one — Vela says, and he hopes he’ll be able to tell stories of hope and inspiration. “It could really go a long way in terms of helping folks out there who are suffering.” Colorado Public Radio is also set to launch “On Something,” a marijuana-focused podcast. “The joke is that the pot podcast is being called On Something, my podcast will be off something — that’s not what it’s going to be called by the way, but it’s funny.”

On the topic of language about drug use, there’s a movement that suggests journalists use person-first language when writing about addiction and other issues to reduce stigma. “People experiencing homelessness,” for instance, instead of “homeless people.” Or “people experiencing drug addiction” rather than using the word “addicts” in coverage. Asked how Vela has decided to approach the topic of language for the podcast, he said people behind that movement have the best of intentions and he applauds it. But, “You’re talking to the least PC person in Denver,” he says. “I’m still an old-school journalist … and I’m a drug addict. I think often times we get too caught up in semantics, and the amount of time we debate semantics we could be using those minutes to talk about how people can get help.”

Colorado Public Radio hired a Washington, D.C., correspondent. She once worked in the White House. 

For another indication that former government policy work isn’t a deal breaker to a high-profile job in journalism, meet Caitlyn Kim, a journalist and federal Defense and State Department alum, who is now Colorado Public Radio’s new reporter in Washington, D.C. She will enjoy the title of the only full-time Beltway correspondent for a Colorado news outlet. The station announced this week that Kim will cover the state’s congressional delegation and federal policy related to Colorado. “News that affects Coloradans happens every day — sometimes every hour — in Washington D.C.,” CPR’s executive editor Kevin Dale said in a statement. “It’s critical to have a reporter on the ground in D.C. to focus on Colorado politicians, policy makers and federal agencies making decisions about topics that impact Coloradans — from public land and natural resource management to military issues.”

Here’s what CPR had to say about its new reporter:

Kim has deep experience as a journalist, having produced and edited stories for a number of public media outlets around the country, including WNYC, KQED and, most recently, for NPR’s “Weekend Edition.” She also covered the Connecticut State Capitol for WNPR in Hartford, CT, WFCR in Springfield, MA and WAMC in Albany, NY. Her award-winning work has been recognized by the Online News Association and The National Press Club, among others. In addition to her editorial expertise, Kim’s reporting is informed by more than a decade of policy work and fact-finding for the federal government. She was an analyst for the U.S. Department of Defense and worked as a duty officer in the White House Situation Room. She also spent five years as a foreign service officer for the U.S. State Department where she worked with senior government officials to advance U.S. policy.

Welcome to Colorado by way of D.C.

Register: Free rural healthcare journalism workshop in Denver 

Journalists looking to attend this year’s free Rural Health Journalism Workshop in Denver hosted by the Association of Healthcare Journalists have until June 5 to register. Cynthia Craft, the organization’s director of engagement, says journalists will leave the program with a “better understanding of what’s happening – or will be happening – in rural regions, and return to work with dozens of story ideas you can pursue. You don’t have to live in a rural area to write great stories about what’s happening just beyond the city limits. And think about how much policy is [set] based on the non-urban population of your state.”

Colorado, healthcare, and journalism. We already know that’s an important mix.

*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. Photo by Tony Webster for Creative Commons on Flickr. 

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