Denver Post’s hedge-fund owner lost a ‘hostile takeover bid’ of the largest US newspaper chain. For now.

Your weekly roundup of Colorado local news & media

The former Denver Post newsroom before journalists were moved to a printing plant in Adams County to save money (Photo by Allen Tian)

The hedge fund that controls Media News Group, née Digital First Media — also known as The Nothing, and for gutting newsrooms like The Denver Post — has lost a battle in its company’s attempted “hostile takeover bid” of Gannett, the nation’s largest newspaper chain. This clash of the media titans is important for Colorado because MNG owns a dozen newspapers here and Gannett owns The Coloradoan in Fort Collins.

On May 16, the day of a high-finance proxy battle board seat vote, the hedge fund uncharacteristically bent the knee, sending out an email to employees, which included journalists. “The proxy contest has ended today and we want to directly communicate to the MNG organization that although we did not prevail we will continue to pursue the addition of other newspaper publishing properties as circumstances present themselves,” wrote Alden Global Capital Chairman Joseph Fuchs and Vice Chairman Heath Freeman.

Here’s how the the Alden-company-controlled Bay Area News Group reported on this media-world Game of Thrones:

MNG made an unsolicited, $1.4 billion bid to take over Gannett Co. in January, announcing it had acquired approximately 7.5 percent of Gannett Co.’s outstanding shares. Gannett Co. rejected the initial bid, and the process evolved into a proxy fight, with MNG putting forward six candidates to replace Gannett directors — a slate that MNG eventually cut in half. But Gannett Co., the owner of USA Today and more than 100 daily newspapers, announced Thursday that it had retained control of its board of directors with shareholders re-electing all eight Gannett-backed nominees and rejecting all three nominees put forward by MNG.

And here’s how the Gannett-owned USA Today played the news:

Gannett shareholders voted to reject MNG Enterprises’ board nominees, siding with the USA TODAY owner as it attempts to fend off a hostile takeover bid by the hedge fund-controlled newspaper company. Gannett chairman J. Jeffry Louis announced Thursday that the company’s shareholders backed the eight board members who stood for reelection, according to preliminary results of the vote. The three nominees proposed by Alden Global Capital’s MNG Enterprises failed to gain seats on the board.

So what now? It’s “just a hiccup” says industry analyst Ken Doctor, who believes murders and executions — (excuse me) — mergers and acquisitions are still ahead for the big newspaper companies. He put this skirmish in the context of a larger newspaper industry war, one where GateHouse, House McClatchy, and House Tribune all still fly banners outside their walls.

Print advertising remains down double digits across the industry, and digital advertising — even if you include “marketing services” — is newly weakened in the face of Google and Facebook’s 77 percent share of local digital ad revenue. “It’s been growing for six years,” one top revenue exec told me this week. “This year, it’s struggling.” Local digital subscription revenue is the one operational area the industry looks to for growth.

As Tribune continues to assess who it wants to sell to, or buy, or merge with — McClatchy continues its search for a partner. And, as I noted a month ago, even GateHouse — the past few years’ go-go acquirer, amassing 145 titles — is now reassessing its own strategies. Those plans haven’t turned the company around. Will it remain a standalone company (known formally as New Media Investments, Inc.)? Or will it participate in a grand industry rollup that some have prophesied for years? … If we do see big mergers, who will run the companies that result, with what strategies? And — big question — will they have enough capital to execute on their vision of a digital transformation?

By “grand industry rollup,” he means consolidation— one house taking over another house to be ruled under one king. So, when winter comes, who will it be, and who — or how many — will go the route of Sansa Stark?

A father-son TV news rivalry comes to Denver

Famed TV journalist Tim Russert didn’t live long enough to see his son Luke join NBC as a congressional reporter. But even if he had they would have worked for the same network. Here in Denver, a well-known TV news dad is getting to see his son follow him as a reporter on the screen — but for a rival station.

After two years at WBIR in Knoxville, Marc Sallinger is moving back to Colorado, where he used to live, and is taking a job at KUSA 9News, the city’s NBC affiliate. There, he’ll compete against his father Rick Sallinger, who works for Denver’s CBS4 News.

Onward to the scoops. And family dinners.

More on police scanner encryption in Colorado

Earlier this year, my colleague Jonathan Peters, the press freedom correspondent for Columbia Journalism Review, reported how encryption efforts were challenging journalists who cover crime in Colorado. “More than two-dozen law enforcement agencies statewide have encrypted all of their radio communications, not just those related to surveillance or a special or sensitive operation,” he wrote. “That means journalists and others can’t listen in using a scanner or smartphone app to learn about routine police calls.”

A month later, he was not encouraged by plans in Denver to encrypt all of the police department’s radio traffic and give access to it to select media that sign some kind of agreement with the city.

The issue bubbled up again in a city council meeting in Longmont last week when police told local government officials why they think the encryption practice works and would like to continue it. “They said police officers have been concerned for years that those who commit crimes listen to the department’s radio traffic to determine officers’ locations,” reported The Longmont Times-Call. The Times-Call and other local media, however, “were provided a scanner to listen to encrypted radio traffic,” the paper reported. Longmont Observer has a write-up and video from the city council hearing here.

Has your newsroom been affected by this practice in Colorado? If so, let me know.

You cool with this? 

The University of Colorado at Colorado Springs secretly photographed students to create a dataset “funded by U.S. intelligence and military agencies” to “advance facial recognition technology” and turned over the images to “government agencies and corporations.”

From The Colorado Springs Independent:

Back in 2012, [UCCS professor] Terrance Boult attached a camera to a building on the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs campus and began filming oblivious students that passed by it. The images, collected on 20 days between February 2012 and September 2013, were of over 1,700 people completely unaware they were being watched.  …

Once the images were collected, Boult and his students began the arduous process of sorting them, often relying on the regularity of class schedules to identify the same subject in multiple shots. Each little collection showed a single person, but wearing a variety of clothes and with their face at various angles. Together, the photos created a dataset known as Unconstrained College Students — the latest, and perhaps most advanced, dataset for training facial recognition algorithms, surveillance tools that are under development by corporations and governments across the world. …

…Boult points out that there’s nothing illegal about taking photos of people in public. And First Amendment Attorney Steve Zansberg, of Denver’s Ballard Spahr LLP, agrees — though he says that some of the applications of the photos could possibly give rise to legal challenges, especially when government is collecting that data. Still, this is largely uncharted territory. …

Boult says that he tries to balance ethical privacy concerns in his work. For instance, he waited until all the students in his dataset would have graduated before making it available to government agencies and corporations, and none of the people in the dataset are named. Those using the dataset, released in 2017, had to sign a legal agreement and could not release individual photos.

Read the full story here.

Speaking of surveillance…

“Pueblo police are using drones extensively.” That was a recent headline from The Pueblo Chieftain about the southern Colorado city’s “seven officers who have been trained to operate the drones that have become beneficial in police investigations.”

From the story:

In a separate situation, an officer spotted a man wanted on multiple warrants escape from a home, but a drone was able to help that officer locate the suspect hiding several blocks away. Once the drone spotted the suspect, police were able to move to the area in which he was hiding and apprehend him, [an officer] said.

“They have enough technology in them that you can take off and let it hover and maneuver it wherever you want,” the officer told the newspaper. “It’s almost like a PlayStation controller. We hook our phones up to it and it’s run off an app you can use to look at the cameras from the drones. It provides all your air speed information, altitude information. And the larger drone has a traffic alert, so if you have a helicopter coming in the area, it will alert you to that.”

What you missed on the Sunday front pages across Colorado

The Greeley Tribune found out an officer wasn’t wearing a body camera the night she shot and killed another off-duty officer after a car chaseThe Longmont Times-Call reported on a new research paper at CU Boulder “that found methane emissions from drilling haven’t made large increases despite big boosts in energy production across the country over a decade.” The Steamboat Pilot wrote about the kinds of items that ended up recycled on a local recycling drop-off dayThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel had a big takeout on why business in the small town of Fruita is boomingThe Loveland Reporter-Herald explored how local charter schools are looking to add officers in the wake of the STEM school shootingThe Gazette in Colorado Springs reported how mentally ill inmates are “starved for care.” The Coloradoan in Fort Collins wrote about a MAX bus transit expansionThe Boulder Daily Camera reported the death of a man who fell 100 feet in Eldorado CanyonThe Denver Post painted a picture of Gov. Jared Polis’s first months in office. The Durango Herald reported how people are still digging out avalanches in some places.

The machine learning ‘unconference’ recap

I wasn’t able to attend The Colorado Media Project’s recent “unconference” on machine learning at the University of Denver, but CMP’s Alan Gottlieb has a recap about what folks learned. Journalists from Vermont to Florida showed up, along with journalists from The Colorado Independent, Longmont Observer, Chalkbeat, 5280Vail DailyThe Colorado Sun, and Colorado Public Radio.

From the write-up:

One scheduled session focused on planning for a fall Migrahack, which will take place September 27 & 28. Migrahack will bring together journalists, academics, developers, data scientists and immigration experts to work together to bring to the public contextualized, compelling information on one of the most divisive issues of our time. Visit the organizing website here: https://portfolio.du.edu/migrahackco.

Read the rest here.

John Ferrugia of RMPBS updated the nation on the STEM school shooting

Rocky Mountain PBS news anchor and managing editor John Ferrugia appeared on PBS Newshour with Judy Woodruff, giving the nation the lay of the land following the latest school shooting in Colorado.

RMPBS, based in Denver, recently produced “Beyond Columbine,” an in-depth look at “the national impact Columbine has had – not only on our school children, but for victims of other gun violence, in the realm of mental health, and on our art and culture.”

Colorado post-session political narrative

With the legislative session over, public affairs coverage is likely to shift more toward politics than policy. So what’s going on? A narrative is building of a Colorado Republican Party fracture over a grassroots effort to recall a newly elected Democratic House member, Tom Sullivan, whose son Alex was killed in the Aurora theater shooting because Tom Sullivan voted for the red-flag gun law on which he campaigned. Storylines pit the hardcore gun rights group Rocky Mountain Gun Owners against more established Republicans. No better time to revisit this incredible 2013 profile of RMGO leader Dudley Brown in 5280 magazine. Do read it; you’ll be glad you did. Meanwhile, a new group of moderate Republicans has formed to try and rebrand their party after November’s blue wave swept them out of office up and down ballots and deep into the counties. ColoradoPolitics reporter Marianne Goodland offered somewhat of an update to that faction’s influence on the party (for good or ill) in a cover story for the weekly print edition.

On the Democratic side, journalists are giving our new governor, Jared Polis, a report card after his first legislative session. Writing in The Denver Post, in its news section (not opinion), Nic Garcia reported Polis is “a libertarian after all.” The story looks at six things we learned about Polis since voters elected him in November. Writing in Westword, Chase Woodruff, who said he planned to vote for Polis before the election, penned a recent story outlining how some activists wonder what happened to the “bold progressive” on the campaign trail once he took office. Woodruff also found Polis is “a regular on link-sharing site Reddit, where he frequently posts articles and comments on forums like r/Neoliberal and r/Libertarian.” With “a few exceptions,” Woodruff notes, “Polis’s makeover as a ‘bold progressive’ and GOP hysteria about his ‘radical and extreme’ agenda informed the bulk of the media’s coverage of the 2018 governor’s race.” He also smartly points out, “With the legislature adjourned until next January, the locus of state policymaking now shifts to the sprawling executive branch that Polis oversees, giving the freshman governor more direct control than he often enjoyed during the first four months of his term.”

As always, keep an eye on The Colorado Sun’s ever-updated Jared Polis promise tracker, which, frankly, could be a useful model for other news outlets across the nation following an election of a new chief executive. Speaking of The Colorado Sun, the outlet, which is experimenting with a more data-driven approach to political reporting, did something different for its Polis report card.

The scorecard is also informed by “interviews with dozens of state officials, lawmakers and advocacy organizations.”

“Isn’t this America, after all? Well, not exactly; it’s Colorado.”

Brutal quote. Who said it? Steve Zansberg, the First Amendment attorney who represents news outlets in Colorado. What’s the context? A judge in the school-shooting case keeping secret a whole bunch of information surrounding the case because, well, because it’s Colorado so she can do that. Zansberg told Eugene Volokh for Reason magazine that he expected his phone might be ringing off the hook when reporters learned “the entire court file in [this] murder case is ‘suppressed’ from public inspection.”

From the piece:

And yet … I’ve received not a single call, or email, from anyone (other than Professor Volokh) asking how this could be the case.

Isn’t this America, after all? Well, not exactly; it’s Colorado.

You may recall that last year, our State Supreme Court issued a ruling saying that in this state—unlike all others—the public enjoys no presumptive right, under the federal or state constitution, to inspect records on file in courts of law. Trial judges, like Theresa Slade in Douglas County District Court, who is presiding over the Erickson murder case, have been given essentially unfettered “discretion” to seal their court files. And, (with our State Supreme Court’s blessing), they don’t need to articulate any reason beyond “there are countervailing considerations” to justify their denying the public’s ability to monitor the conduct of judges, prosecutors and other officers of the court.

Perhaps, Zansberg went on, “in these cash-strapped times, members of the news media cannot afford to fight battles of principle that are ‘almost certainly a losing cause.’ And, who knows, there is a chance the court file, or some portions of it, may be unsealed when [one of the suspects] next appears in court on June 7. Perhaps.”

Last semester, Zansberg visited one of my journalism classes where he told students that in 1996, “We couldn’t lose an open records case,” but, more recently, it’s been hard to win one. Judges, man.

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