Denver Post journalists report on their personal financial realities

Your weekly roundup of Colorado local news & media

A photo of The Denver Post building in downtown Denver taken before journalists were moved to the paper's printing plant in Adams County (Photo by Allen Tian)

One reporter can’t afford a 200-square-foot studio apartment in Denver. Another wants to fix the trunk of her car that’s been broken for a year. Yet another would like to buy a home in her city where the median price is $450,000.These are a sampling of what journalists at The Denver Post posted to social media as they negotiated last week with their hedge-fund-controlled owner Digital First Media (neé Media News Group, neé The Nothing) for higher wages.

The paper’s breaking news editor* wrote how since she can’t afford $2,522 worth of maintenance on a 9-year-old car, she plans to spend $878 on the brakes because she wants “to live another day to report on my community.”

Last summer, when Guy Gilmore, the COO of the company that owns The Denver Post, popped into the newsroom for a chat with journalists, he told reportedly them they were working in “a great market” in which to live. “It’s a great paper to be working for,” he added. “The wage scales are high here.”

But the reality feels different for some employees of Colorado’s largest newspaper who haven’t seen a wage increase in three years as the cost of living in desirable Denver rises around them with each new crane and real estate listing.

The same reporter added: “If my car were to break down, or if I were seriously injured, I don’t know how I would survive financially.”

On their bargaining day, employees wore black T-shirts reading “#SaveLocalNews” and “Democracy depends on journalism.”

Tony Mulligan, the administrative officer for the Denver Newspaper Guild, says there was no outcome to the negotiations. There have been “two sessions and really no progress,” he says. The last time Denver Post employees got a pay hike was a 3% increase in 2016, he adds, and before that the last real increase was in 2008. Right now the employees have proposed a 5% annual hike for the next three years. The next bargaining session is scheduled for mid-August.

Despite the personal financial pinch they might be feeling…

PARTY: Boulder Weekly is the host paper for this year’s big annual AAN conference

Next week, journalists, employees and allies of alternative weekly newspapers from around the country will flock to Colorado where Boulder Weekly is the host paper for this year’s annual conference of the Association of Alternative Newsmedia.

Event organizers this year for the July 11-13 conference in Boulder promise “shenanigans in the mountains,” which, given the traditionally unruly nature of the American alt-weekly crowd, is generally implied. There will be booze. There will be consumption of mind-altering substances. And, of course, there will be “quality sessions and networking.”

Recent years have been brutal for the newsrooms of alternative weeklies, the places I feel incredibly lucky to call the birthplace of my own career in journalism. The once venerable counterculture organs of the American underground have gone out of business or been taken over by tie-wearing stiffs of city dailies. In Montana, after the Missoula Independent sold to the corporate daily chain, the suits shut it down and locked its staff out of the office within 18 months. Albany’s Metroland, the alt-weekly of my suburban New York youth, is gone. Just last month, the New Times in Syracuse folded after a 50-year run. Three years ago, the publisher of the Free Times in Columbia, S.C., my first full-time newspaper job, killed himself as sales talks were in the works with The Charleston Post and Courier; a staff writer was laid off after the purchase. Other weeklies, including Columbus Alive, are going online-only, which to me is like hearing they’ve entered hospice care.

In Colorado, the state’s alt-weeklies are all still alive (how much does legal weed help?), and next week will be an opportunity to hear about the bright spots in the industry. As for Boulder Weekly, editor Joel Dyer tells me the publication has maintained its revenue “at or near our highest historic levels over the last five years,” and that its staffing levels in the editorial department have remained the same for the past quarter century.

“I really believe that it is BW’s commitment to the editorial side of the newspaper (yes, I said ‘newspaper,’ not some concocted title that tries to bury the fact that we are primarily a print product) that has been critical to our long-term success,” he says. “When news organizations start cutting their editorial staffs to maintain or increase profits, it usually is the beginning of the end. They wind up with a small handful of unenthused, overworked writers putting out top 10 lists and they can’t figure out why people stop reading them.”

Here is the schedule of events, which includes editorial and business roundtable discussions, trainings on sales and copyright law, sessions on podcasting, SEO, data storytelling, and more. Two Colorado alt-weekly vets, Alan Prendergast of Westword and J. Adrian Stanley of The Colorado Springs Independent, will present on Saturday, July 12, at 2 p.m. for a session called “How I Got That Scoop: How to Break the Big Stories.”

Dyer will also lead a panel on immigration coverage. “We chose that subject,” he says, “because we believe that immigration is no longer just another story, but rather represents a critical point in American history that will do much to decide the fate of the nation moving forward.”

Salt magazine vs. The Times-Call over a guest column

A Front Range arts, culture, and tech magazine urged readers to “Go after Times-Call advertisers” after the Longmont newspaper last month published what the magazine called a “hate-filled” opinion editorial by a guest writer about homosexuality and Gay Pride Month. (I won’t repeat what the writer said here; you’ll have to read the piece or Salt’s quotes from it.) “What on earth are the Editor and Publisher of this paper thinking?” Salt magazine wondered about the decision to publish the opinion column. “You want to make a case for local journalism? You have just made a case against it.”

On June 30, the Times-Call editorial board responded to the backlash. Responses “poured in” to the paper “via commentaries on this page and in social media messages,” while “a small number of readers responded in agreement” with the writer, the Times-Call wrote. “Understandably upset, some called for the editor to resign.” The paper defended publishing the piece on free-speech grounds and that a local newspaper’s op-ed page is a place to “encourage the vigorous exchange of ideas in their communities.”

More from the paper:

Newspapers carry the torch of free speech. Therefore, editors must be careful about shutting out any local reader who presents an opinion with which others strongly disagree. To reject them is to send them toward the ideological silos that far too many Americans inhabit, where they can share their opinions only with like-minded people who will approve, amplify and echo them back. It is better that they stand up within their own communities and share their thoughts so that they can be challenged by their neighbors. That includes taking a stand against the editorial position of the newspaper. One place to do that is here, in our Open Forum or via guest opinions. That’s what this page is about. But to silence a particular view or voice? In this, an editor will tread carefully.
The Times-Call acknowledged there are “gray areas” and that the “line drawn between what is permissible and what is rejected differs from newspaper to newspaper.” Editors, the paper wrote “are responsible for what appears” on the pages they publish.

A Denver event put ‘the media’ on trial, and…

An initiative called Warm Cookies of the Revolution has an interesting project going on. “Our ‘People Vs ____’ program has put many things we take for granted on trial,” the group stated recently. “Including God, retirement, having children, capitalism, masculinity, education.” And, on June 23, the group transformed Denver’s McNichols building “into a courtroom with prosecution and defense experts putting all aspects of ‘media’ on trial.”
What was on the docket? From the WCOTR website:

Journalists: … Do we even need them anymore? Are they objective? Should they be? Have they helped keep the government in check or have they been stenographers for power?

Social Media: Does it provide anything useful or just suck our time away? Does clicking “like” or “share” replace action for change? Is clickbait a business model with any merit? Why give a platform for your jerk Uncle Doug’s “hot take” on everything?

Dissent: Should hurtful and offensive opinions be allowed? Is the “marketplace of ideas” really the backbone of a free society? Should it be? Would a State-run media look any different than what we have today?

Then the audience split into groups and deliberated, someone who attended told me, adding, “I was pleasantly surprised that the group deliberating journalists unanimously decided in favor … Social media was a hung jury, and not surprisingly everyone was in favor of protecting dissent.” I’m also told the crowd was diverse and skewed younger than a lot of other local journalism shindigs.

RMPBS is moving its Springs operation to Colorado College

Rocky Mountain PBS “already collaborates with CC through a block class on engaged journalism and will support up to 20 internships each year for students to gain practical work experience in a media environment,” according to a Colorado College news release this week. More from the announcement:

The move from the property on Costilla Street to the Colorado College campus will create new opportunities for collaboration, while aligning with RMPBS’ other campus-based Regional Innovation Centers in Durango, Grand Junction, and Pueblo, says Amanda Mountain, president and CEO of Rocky Mountain Public Media, the parent company of RMPBS.

“Strong community partnerships help Colorado College connect meaningfully to our community, state and region, and help us provide an unparalleled education,” says Colorado College President Jill Tiefenthaler. “The addition of Rocky Mountain PBS to our campus will create synergies with our journalism classes and our NPR-member station 91.5 KRCC, more quality programming, greater community engagement, and exciting opportunities for our students to gain real-world skills,” she says.

Welcome to the campus!

What you missed on the Sunday front pages across Colorado

The Greeley Tribune ran a front-page profile of the local police chief following his first year in office — and the local police chief was the only source quoted in the entire storyThe Gazette in Colorado Springs ran a front-page story on “The tug of war over the San Luis Valley’s water” written by Fresh Water News, “an independent, non-partisan news initiative of Water Education Colorado.” The Steamboat Pilot reported how after five years of five years after legalization, “Colorado struggles to test marijuana impairment for drivers.” The Loveland Reporter-Herald wrote about a local development projectThe Longmont Times-Call reported on a volunteer effort to weed a local gardenThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel had a story about a conservative petition effort to recall Democratic Gov. Jared Polis, who won by more than 10 percentage points in November’s electionThe Coloradoan in Fort Collins profiled Tony Frank, the new president of CSUThe Durango Herald wrote about a local park in tatters. The Denver Post reported how Durango’s residents are divided as its “beloved coal-fired train faces lawsuits over its role in the 416 fire.” The Boulder Daily Camera reported on an affordable housing program.

Mountain West Journalists: Apply for this travel grant

If you’re a local journalist, and traveling to a far-flung community would help you tell a better solutions-oriented story, there’s an available grant you might want to consider.

“The Solutions Journalism Network is now offering travel grants to journalists and news organizations based in the Mountain West,” according to the group. “We recognize that solutions stories sometimes involve looking outside of your own community to report on a solution that’s happening elsewhere. These grants can help you send a reporter there, so you can then bring the knowledge of what’s working back to your area.”

From the announcement:

Requirements: To apply, you must be a journalist working as a staff member of a local newsroom in a Mountain West state (Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Colorado, New Mexico) or a freelancer with a written commitment from an editor. If you or your newsroom are new to solutions journalism, we will ask that you take our online core workshop or webinar. (Links will be provided should your proposal be accepted.)

Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis and evaluated based on: 1. “Solutions-y-ness” of the story 2. Strength of the pitch 3. The journalist’s ability to get the story placed somewhere 4. Diversity of applicant and medium … Amount: Up to $750. In exceptional circumstances, we may provide additional funding. If you think you have a great idea that requires more extensive travel, get in touch with Sarah Gustavus (Mountain West Regional Manager) before applying.

Here’s the application.

The Denver Post is going on a listening tour

Last week, “two Denver Post reporters, a photographer and an editor spent a day in and around Yuma … asking residents what journalists and the rest of the state should know about them,” per a June 28 story. “It was,” the paper reported, “the first stop on The Post’s listening tour, a two-month, seven-stop undertaking to connect with Coloradans during the break between elections and legislative sessions.”

VICE exposed a police and Amazon Colorado sting operation that ‘accomplished nothing’

Relying on emails obtained through open records requests, VICE’s Motherboard reported this week how “Amazon, Ring, a GPS tracking company, and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service collaborated on a package sting operation with the Aurora, Colorado Police Department in December.”

From the story:

The documents show the design and implementation of a highly elaborate public relations stunt, which was designed both to endear Amazon and Ring with local law enforcement, and to make local residents fear the place they live. The parties were disappointed when the operation didn’t result in any arrests.

The Aurora Police Department received 25 Amazon boxes, Amazon-branded tape, and Amazon lithium ion stickers as a part of the operation. It also received 15 Ring doorbell cameras and 15 GL300W GPS trackers from 7P Solutions. “Operation Grinch Grab,” as it was called internally, involved seven Aurora zip codes. These companies spent days with the Aurora Police Department preparing them for the operation, and discussing local news coverage and rewriting press releases.

“As of now, we have not yielded any arrests,” Aurora Police Department captain Matthew Wells-Longshore wrote in an email on December 19, VICE reported. “I’m not sure if I should be happy or sad about that! Ha. Maybe happy that no one in the areas we are in are victims of package theft but sad that we won’t be able to showcase an arrest.”

You can view the documents VICE and Motherboard relied on for the story here.

Colorado’s pot experiment on the front page of The New York Times

Colorado is lucky to have three New York Times reporters living within our borders. Dave Philipps can essentially live anywhere covering the military and chooses to live in Colorado Springs. The other two Times reporters based here are Julie Turkewitz and Jack Healy. That means Colorado gets plenty of attention in the nation’s newspaper of record.

Last week was no exception when on June 30 Healy had a front-page story about how “Colorado’s first-in-the-nation experiment with legalized marijuana has infused the drug into almost every corner of life.”

From the piece:

Colorado’s first-in-the-nation experiment has reshaped health, politics, rural culture and criminal justice in surprising ways that often defy both the worst warnings of critics and blue-sky rhetoric of the marijuana industry, giving a glimpse of what the future may hold as more and more states adopt and debate full legalization.

Since recreational sales began in 2014, more people here are visiting emergency rooms for marijuana-related problems, and hospitals report higher rates of mental-health cases tied to marijuana. At the same time, thousands of others make uneventful stops at dispensaries every day, like the hiking guide in the college town of Boulder who now keeps a few marijuana gummies in a locked bag to help her relax before bed.

Some families rattled by their children’s marijuana problems have moved, seeking refuge in less permissive states. But over all, state surveys do not show an increase in young people smoking pot.

And while low-level marijuana charges have plummeted, the racial divide in drug arrests has persisted. State numbers show that African-Americans in Colorado were still being arrested on marijuana charges at nearly twice the rate of white people.

Meanwhile, Turkewitz had a piece in A2 of the June 22 edition of the paper that detailed her reporting in the American West. The article was part of NYT’s “Insider,” that “explains who we are and what we do, and delivers behind-the-scenes insights into how our journalism comes together.”

From her piece:

In my five years covering the Intermountain West for The Times, I’ve spent a lot of time writing about the intersection of land and power. The West is a patchwork of public and private forests, deserts, mountains and canyons, and what happens to those acres can make or break entire communities.

When a mine pollutes a river, or the government shutters grazing land, or the president declares a new national monument, it begins to reshape the cultures and economies based around those places. In my time traveling the region — visiting communities like Paradise, Mont., and Battle Mountain, Nev. — I have come to appreciate the way a connection to the land molds people’s identities, and the way changes to the land can feel like personal assaults.

Then, last year, when I was on a visit to New York, my editor, Julie Bloom, approached me with a query: Who owns the West?

Read the rest here to learn what she found out.

The North Forty News went weekly this week

In May this newsletter reported how The North Forty News in northern Colorado was hoping to expand and turn into a weekly publication. On July 1, it did.

“We had great success with our ‘ramp up,’ releasing mid-month editions for the first time in the newspaper’s 27 year (monthly issues) history,” publisher Blaine Howerton says. “Pickup is tremendous and I’m confident our community will support quality journalism as an alternative to the other dailies in Northern Colorado. We are growing and there is something to be said for that! We are now Northern Colorado’s only weekly, covering and distributing to all of Northern Colorado (population of 800,000).”

An ‘hour without media’ when Pikes Peak officials told the press to ‘just stop reporting’

When a motorcyclist lost control and went flying off the side of America’s mountain, event officials instituted an immediate media blackout. From The Gazette in Colorado Springs:

“Lens caps,” a Pikes Peak official screamed, instructing photographers to quit taking pictures. In a moment when the only way for anyone to find out about the crash was via news reporters and photographers on the scene, race officials silenced them. For one hour and 20 minutes, there was no official information on social media or the live radio broadcast about the crash. Photographers were told not to photograph; reporters were told not to report. “As with all incidents on Pikes Peak, we need the scene to be clear from media and spectators so the safety team can attend to the victim in a quick and effective manner,” PPIHC Executive Director Megan Leatham said. However, the media at the time was more than 50 feet from the safety team and was never told to clear the area, just stop reporting.

In a story this week headlined “The hour without media: Pikes Peak Hill Climb shuts down press after Carlin Dunne’s crash,” Gazette intern Evan Petzold pieced together what happened with help from photographers Parker Seibold and Katie Klann, reporters Lindsey Smith, [and] George Stoia. Read the whole thing here.

*CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story identified a Denver Post journalist with her previous title as a public safety reporter. Noelle Phillips is now the paper’s breaking news editor.

*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

4 COMMENTS

  1. Should’ve chosen another major. But then again how many Anthropologists’ or art historians does the world really need? Law school perhaps ? chase ambulance’s or write spin for the Dem party.. both despicable way’s to earn a living.

  2. Well aren’t you a little Ray of sunshine, Buck Tooth?

    I think you’d be hard pressed to find a more noble calling, let alone one for the wages these folks have to contend with.

    Journalists, teachers, nurses…underpaid and underappreciated by far too many.

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