‘Journalism Matters’: Pueblo Chieftain employees protest cuts and their new owner outside the newsroom

Your weekly roundup of Colorado local news & media

Employees of the Gatehouse-owned Pueblo Chieftain newspaper protest layoffs outside the newsroom on June 13, 2019. (Photo courtesy Denver News Guild)

A year ago, Denver Post journalists streamed out of their newsroom at the Adams County printing plant waving picket signs and loudly protesting their hedge-fund owner: “Hey-hey, Ho-ho, Alden Global’s got to go.”

This week, journalists two hours south at The Pueblo Chieftain, a paper owned by a different company known for layoffs, rallied outside their newsroom with signs that read “News reporters just want to have jobs” and referred to the paper’s new overlord as “#GutHouse” instead of Gatehouse. “Fired up, won’t take it no more!” employee members of the paper’s Denver News Guild union chanted as they demonstrated on their lunch break at a busy intersection outside the newspaper’s building. Recent layoffs, one protestor’s sign read, “are destroying Colorado’s oldest newspaper.”

The picket counted a few dozen demonstrators, including other local union members — some wore T-shirts reading “Union Town” (Pueblo, is indeed, one of those) — former employees, and at least one state lawmaker, Pueblo Democratic Rep. Daneya Esgar, who spoke. The message was that the newspaper’s owner should invest in journalism, pay their workers more, and knock off the layoffs.

“We’re really the first Gatehouse paper with a union that has sort of demonstrated publicly like this,” says Chieftain reporter Luke Lyons, who serves as the union chair. He adds that some properties have stipulations in old contracts that deterred mobilizing or public actions. “We’re hoping once those end that this can sort of serve as the beginning of what Alden employees did last year,” he says, “and start putting that pressure on Gatehouse on a national level and not be a single entity sort of trying to hold the company accountable.”

Gatehouse, a company managed by a private equity firm that had in turn been purchased by a Tokyo-based conglomerate, bought the family-owned Chieftain last year following the death of its 92-year-old publisher. As the paper stood for sale, journalists there researched the companies who were making bids and and made their concerns known within the newsroom, if not out in the streets. “We didn’t just sit here quietly and just think it was going to be OK,” Lyons says, adding, however, that “at the end of the day the say we had was moot.” For a while, after the paper eased off the auction block, those who worked there were left in the dark about who might have won the bid.

A year later, a wave of national layoffs at Gatehouse papers crashed over the Chieftain, sweeping away a longtime business editor and a longtime reporter. The staff is now down to 18 from 30 since the out-of-town takeover, Lyons says. (Chieftain Publisher Lee Bachlet didn’t respond to a phone message or email; editor Steve Henson didn’t reply to an email.) Colorado Springs TV station KRDO has a minute-long clip on the demonstration here.

A disrupted local news business model, the role of private equity in newspaper ownership, media consolidation, and the rise of news deserts and ghost papers have played a kind of eerie background music to a chapter of late-capitalist America the history books might one day call “Crisis in Democracy.” In Denver, readers at least know what’s going on given the outside publicity and the paper’s own focus on its problems. In Pueblo, that’s likely less so. The local newspaper hasn’t reported this news. Lyons hopes Thursday’s demonstration will help the local public to better understand why its paper is shrinking. “These corporations, they tend to cut from the bottom; they tend to not live up to their word when they say they respect local journalism,” he says. “They continue to cut reporters and the people who are providing content.”

Tony Mulligan, administrative officer of the Denver Newspaper Guild, says the law protects unionized employees from retaliation for speaking out against their owner.

After two years, the FCC makes a ruling: Colorado’s ‘orphan county’ can get Denver TV news

Since 2017, when broadcasters in Albuquerque fought back against satellite customers in La Plata County being able to get Denver news beamed into their TVs, residents in southwest Colorado have been waiting for the FCC to make a final call. La Plata is an “orphan county,” one of many that pock the U.S. where satellite TV viewers get their news, weather, and sports from a neighboring state instead of their own— and whose plight I wrote about in Columbia Journalism Review two weeks ago. Here was the kicker to that story, quoting Colorado’s new Democratic attorney general, Phil Weiser:
“In theory, they can just sit and do nothing,” Weiser says of the commission. “The FCC unfortunately isn’t always a model of alacrity in their decision making. Part of why it’s important that we be applying pressure, voicing our concerns, is we need the FCC to act.”
On Thursday, the FCC did act. The full commission granted La Plata’s petition for what’s called a media market modification to allow Denver residents to see Denver TV over satellite. From The Durango Herald:
“This has been an issue for 30 years, so of course we’re ecstatic that we’re able to bring statewide Denver TV to our community and to connect this corner of the state to the rest of the state,” said La Plata County Commissioner Gwen Lachelt. Lachelt said receiving Denver stations is important to inform residents about ballot issues, statewide candidates and other political issues that affect their lives. “I can’t tell you how many young people think the governor of New Mexico is their governor because that’s the television we receive,” she said.

That was from a KDVR TV reporter in Denver Thursday evening upon reading the news.

But La Plata County spokeswoman Megan Graham cautioned her local newspaper in Durango that the decision doesn’t mean residents in La Plata who subscribe to DISH or DirecTV will be able to see news, weather and sports from Denver immediately. “Instead, the order directs satellite providers and Denver stations to work out technical details of bringing Denver TV to areas as their main local stations,” the Herald paraphrased her saying.

Watch this space for what this means and the ins and outs going forward. In the meantime, here’s the background from CJR on orphan counties and this nationwide battle over what local news really means.

ColoradoPolitics is hiring another Denver reporter

Fresh off its March hire of John Ensslin to focus more on the city of Denver, ColoradoPolitics is expanding again, looking to hire someone to “produce a high volume of engaging, quick-turnaround content on Denver politics and Denver issues,” according to a June 7 job posting.

The paywalled online site with a weekly subscription print component is owned by Denver conservative billionaire Phil Anschutz’s Clarity Media. Since its launch in 2016, ColoradoPolitics has sought to build a statewide audience by increasing newsroom resources against the backdrop of a Denver Post that is not. Anschutz had reportedly once wanted to buy The Denver Post, but it didn’t work out. My theory has long been that Clarity Media wants to position its properties as the flagship news source for Colorado. Now it’s throwing another spear directly into the Post’s core subscription base by zeroing in on Denver coverage.

By the way, the way newsrooms craft journalism job listings these days can lead to mockery, and this one didn’t disappoint. “Note how they use the word content instead of journalism,” wrote California journalist Ryan Simonovich upon seeing the posting. After reading the listing, former Westword staff writer Chris Walker wrote of the language: “in other words, ‘we’re looking for a blog monkey to write three to four single-sourced stories per day.'” Ouch. Let’s hope that’s not what the position turns into.

Why a guest columnist jumped from the pages of the Post to the Sun

Mario Nicolais, a Denver area lawyer and member of the Colorado politerati, appeared on Craig Silverman’s talk-radio show at KNUS to receive the host’s “Best Guest” award. He got on the talk-radio radar because of some guest columns he’d published in The Denver Post as far back as 2017, and, since September 2018, for The Colorado Sun. Prior to that he wrote columns for The Colorado Statesmanwhich is now known as ColoradoPolitics. This week he told Silverman on air why readers will no longer see him in the Post where he had a column once every other week. It started when Sun Editor Larry Ryckman approached him and asked if he would like to also write for the Sun, Nicolais said. He took him up on it, saying he’d want to make sure he was publishing on his off-weeks from the pages of the Post.

“I wrote exactly one column for The Colorado Sun and I immediately got a call from The Denver Post that said, ‘Oh, you can’t do that, you’re not allowed to do that,'” he said. “And I said, ‘Oh, wait, I have a contract with you, let’s look at the contract, and let’s — being the lawyer that I am — let’s see what the contract says.'” His contract with the Post, he told Silverman, stated he could write for anyone else he wished, adding, “They kind of backed off and hemmed and hawed, and said, ‘Well, that might be true, but if you’re writing for the Sun we don’t have to choose to publish you,’ and I said, ‘Right, you don’t’ … so I called Larry and said, ‘Can I write for you every week?’ and he said, ‘Sure.'”

Nicolais said he also had “moral qualms” being a columnist for The Denver Post because of its ownership and the way that ownership led to treatment of employees. It should be noted he was one of the columnists involved in the Denver Rebellion editorial package published against the paper’s hedge-fund owner last year.

Denver Post Opinion Page Editor Megan Schrader says with so few slots for regular columnists at the paper it’s important to her that the ones they publish be voices readers can come exclusively to The Post to read. “Mario was really finding his stride as a columnist when he left and I was sad to lose him, but my position was reasonable and I would have to think expected,” she says.

The Christian Science Monitor wrote about wolves in Colorado

The latest battlefield in Colorado’s urban-rural divide is wolves. Local media have been writing for months about a potential ballot measure that would make the state wildlife department reintroduce wolves inside our borders where they haven’t prowled in three-quarters of a century. Controversy surrounding it gained some national ink.

From The Christian Science Monitor:

…opponents say that they see the ballot initiative as a poorly conceived mechanism that allows wolf-lovers in Denver and Boulder to make a decision that would affect ranchers and hunters in the western part of the state.
Beyond the content of the story, I noticed two innovative things The Christian Science Monitor is doing with its digital product. One is how right at the top of the story below the headline, the publication writes this:

WHY WE WROTE THIS

How much of a role should people play in the reintroduction of wild species? Colorado is shaping up to be the next battleground over wolf reintroduction.

Beyond having a really great example of a nut graf four lines into the piece, the CSM is acknowledging its readers’ time is valuable and laying out up front why its journalist chose to cover the topic. That’s a conversation — why are we covering this? — that editors and reporters have inside their own newsrooms everyday that readers rarely get to see. One might go even further and tell readers how they came across the idea to report a certain story. As how media makes the sausage gets closer scrutiny, audiences increasingly are going to want to know how we as journalists are doing our work. This is one easy way to let them into the process.

Another aspect of the online version of this story that got my attention was the two ways readers can choose to read it. By clicking a toggle on top of the story you can read the “quick read” or the “deep read” version. The quick read boils the 1,500-word story down to four grafs. (The “deep read,” I might add, only takes six minutes to get through, according to an estimate letting readers know how long it might take to get to the end.)

What you missed on the Sunday front pages of newspapers across Colorado

The Longmont Times-Call localized a report that found “more than 16,000 barrels of extraction material spilled across state.” The Greeley Tribune fronted a piece by a northern Colorado illustrator who embedded with local firefighters for a few monthsThe Steamboat Pilot reported Part III of its series “exploring the hidden gems when you head down the road in Routt County.” The Loveland Reporter-Herald wrote about the city getting a new website focused on transparencyThe Boulder Daily Camera wrote about why some pre-college students take a gap yearThe Gazette ran a front-page column by its editor about how one of the paper’s reporters helped connect a local panhandler with his estranged familyThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel profiled a local business’s water woes from a broken irrigation systemThe Coloradoan in Fort Collins reported how seven years after a fire in High Park, the area still remains at riskThe Durango Herald wondered if cannabis clubs might come to the historic mountain townThe Denver Post considered whether a trade war could trigger the next recession, and how it might affect Colorado.

While in Vail for a thingy-thing, the U.S. Interior Secretary agreed to an ‘accidental interview’

Mistaking reporter Alex Burness of The Colorado Independent for a reporter at The Glenwood Springs Post-Independent, his hometown newspaper, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt agreed to an interview following a public event in Vail.

From The Independent:

Bernhardt held no general press availability, but agreed to a one-on-one conversation with The Colorado Independent following his Q&A with the governors. It quickly became clear he had mistaken The Independent for the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent, his hometown paper, because Bernhardt’s first question to the Indy reporter was how long he had lived in Glenwood Springs. Bernhardt, upon realizing he was talking to the wrong news organization, agreed to an abbreviated interview.

What did he say in his “brief, if unintentional” interview with The Colorado Independent? Burness reported Bernhardt, who holds a post once occupied by Colorado’s Ken Salazar, said “that he’s not worried about climate change posing an imminent threat to national parks, nor to the outdoor recreation industry.”

Earlier this year, industry leaders in Colorado’s outdoor recreation industry united in what The Colorado Sun called “a historic push against climate change.” Industry workers here have been speaking out about it for a while. “Climate change continues to be an important issue for our industry, and something CSCUSA takes very seriously,” Chris Linsmayer, public affairs manager of Ski Country USA, told The Gazette’s Out There Colorado just this week.

“Climate change poses a direct threat to the outdoor recreation industry, both in our home state of Colorado and across the country,” Matthew Hamilton, Sustainability Director at Aspen Skiing Company, told Marketwatch. “That is why Aspen Skiing Company is committed to delivering on our goal of reducing our carbon emissions 25 percent by 2020.”

“Without a doubt, climate change is something that needs attention from all of us,” said Nick Sargent, the head of SIA, whose nonprofit group represents thousands of snow sports suppliers and retailers, according to The Colorado Sun. “It is truly the most pressing environmental issue of our time.”

Asked how climate change will affect Colorado’s outdoor industry, Luis Benitez, director of the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office, told Westword last year: “I tell people all the time: Without the correct promotion, protection and utilization of our natural resources, the outdoor industry’s economic engine will start to turn off. If we don’t pay attention to these things, we will harm not only our natural resources and public health, but also this gigantic, robust economy for the U.S.”

KDNK in (beautiful) Carbondale is looking for a news director

Have solid radio journalism chops, love public radio, and want to live and work in Colorado’s backyard? KDNK is hiring a news director, seeking an “experienced journalist, open to risk-taking and innovation, who will lead editorial decision making and digital content strategy.” The listing notes KDNK “values diversity. We collaborate with Rocky Mountain Community Radio coalition, the Andy Zanca Youth Empowerment program, The Sopris Sun, High Country News, Aspen Journalism, Colorado Public Radio, and regularly pursue grant funding for reporting projects.”

Colorado journalists: Apply for this free ‘Media Law School’ at the University of South Carolina

Plenty who subscribe to this weekly newsletter are journalists in Colorado (if you aren’t one, feel free to scroll past this!), so I wanted to let you know about a four-day, no-cost program I attended as an inaugural fellow in 2015 at my alma matter that’s currently accepting new fellows.

Called the Media Law School, it’s a journalist boot camp at the University of South Carolina where lawyers and law professors help reporters who cover the legal profession better understand how to do it — without having to actually go to law school. They’ll take about 25 applicants this year, pay a $400 travel stipend, and cover food and lodging. In 2015, I wrote for CJR’s United States Project about how programs like these can be ways to develop newsroom expertise at a time of shrinking staff and maxed-out newsroom budgets, but can also come with some conflicts depending on how they’re structured. (The American Board of Trial Advocates sponsors this program.) Here’s a tentative agenda for this year’s Media Law School, and a link for where to apply. It takes place Sept. 18-21. Applications are due by Aug. 15. Good luck if you apply, and if you make it in, promise me you’ll get drinks at least one night at The Whig, which is within walking distance from where you’ll stay.

*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

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