‘Objective’ but ‘also human’ West Slope journalists reflect on sex assault coverage

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Image by David Merz for Creative Commons on Flickr

This summer, the Swift Communications-owned Steamboat Pilot newspaper wrapped up an eight-week series called “In Our Shoes” about sexual assault in Routt County. “The name for the series originated from the idea that you can’t really understand someone else’s circumstances until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes,” reads a note about the in-depth project. “We have taken that concept and applied it to our reporting.”

More from the paper:

By reporting on the issue over the next eight weeks and then bringing people together to openly discuss sexual assault using art as a vehicle for more open conversation, we hope to shine light on a local problem that has remained in the shadows for far too long.

Part One of the eight-week enterprise, an installment written by Derek Maiolo, digs into local sexual assault cases, “America’s most under-reported crime,” and explains why so many never wind up in court. Part Two, reported by Eleanor C. Hasenbeck, looks at “a survivor’s next steps” and how authorities collect evidence. Part Three of the series, by Pilot editor Lisa Schlichtman, is about law enforcement agencies working together and their “trauma-informed approach when investigating [and] prosecuting sexual assault cases,” while reporter Leah Vann writes about the effect of sexual assault on the nervous system. Part Four deals with combating a culture of sexual assault in sports and protecting youth athletes. Part Five, headlined “A rift in rainbows,” examines how a rise in reporting of sexual assaults among the LGBT community reveals fears and distrust. Part Six, by John F. Russell, covers how to make nightlife in Steamboat safer with a new program among bartenders. Part Seven, by Kari Dequine Harden, looks at how schools are seeking to educate prevention and “create safe reporting environments.” The final installment reports on how advocates are helping victims become survivors.

The series wrapped with a public engagement component that included a community event and an art exhibit. Programming around the series continued through last month.

Beyond that, the journalists who reported the series didn’t just drop the facts on the page and leave them there. Editor Schlichtman asked her writers to reflect on their reporting experience in print, which they did. Journalists “are trained to be objective,” the editor wrote, and “strive to be fair and accurate in our reporting.” But journalists “are also human, and our work can sometimes be tough and challenging, especially when tackling a serious topic like sexual assault.”

For a sense of what it was like behind the scenes on the project, read here what kept one reporter up at night during the coverage, and how another journalist couldn’t shake the thought of sexual pressure. Read how a sports editor “learned how to educate people about a sexual abuse culture, instead of using reactionary outrage as an echo chamber,” and how conducting tearful interviews with survivors changed a seasoned editor. You can also read how the paper’s work made its digital engagement editor feel “such despair as my mind quickly snapped back to that night so long ago”— a recollection of the journalist’s own experience with sexual assault told publicly in the newspaper for the first time.

To read The Steamboat Pilot’s entire series, click here.

Nic Garcia is moving to Dallas, and The Indy’s Alex Burness is taking over his job at The Denver Post

There’s a shakeup on the state politics beat this week as Denver Post reporter Nic Garcia bolts for The Dallas Morning News, and The Colorado Independent’s Alex Burness moves in to take his place.

While Burness is leaving, “the work goes on,” managing editor Tina Griego wrote on Twitter. The outlet is accepting pitches from journalists around the state. I worked with Burness through last year’s election at The Indy where we won the state press association’s award for public service journalism together and I know he’ll continue to do solid work for his new audience. I’ve also written for Griego for nearly three years now, and believe me when I say you want to as well.

As for the moves, Garcia says he wasn’t looking for a new job; his then boyfriend was living in Dallas and Garcia met the Morning News editor at a conference where he said he might want to talk if he planned to relocate to Texas. In a “twist of irony,” Garcia says, a week after he and his boyfriend broke up, the Morning News called and offered him a job. “Well, shit,” he recalled thinking at the time. “I believe in the universe, I believe there is something bigger up there than me, and when it comes to my career especially it’s always taken me to the right place at the right time.”

A 2011 graduate of Metro State University in Denver, Garcia worked for the LGBT magazine Out Front, then Chalkbeat Colorado before joining The Denver Post’s politics desk last August. That was a time of drama for the paper, but Garcia says “there was never a dark day at The Denver Post when I was there,” instead describing the past year as a renaissance. “I know I’m very lucky that I went in at The Denver Post during an upswing,” he says. He got to leave the state multiple times, traveling to Iowa and New Hampshire to cover Colorado’s two candidates in the presidential race. He also covered an eighth grade student body election in Aurora. Garcia talked up the paper’s editor, Lee Ann Colacioppo, who recently celebrated 20 years at the Post. “She is so plugged in,” he says. “She works sources every day just like all of her other reporters. … She lives and breathes and eats Denver Post. It is her baby and she wants it to be as good as humanly possible every single day.” Garcia leaves for Dallas saying he can’t imagine anything but good things coming from the Post in the near future. “Obviously no one can tell what’s going to happen in the long term, but from what I understand we’re good in the short term and that means we can really focus on the journalism and not being the story ourselves.”

Burness, a Northwestern grad who worked at The Loveland Reporter-Herald and The Boulder Daily Camera before joining The Indy last year, is now heading back to the Digital First Media/Media News Group fold. He said he’s joining “a dream beat at a paper I’ve admired for many years,” and is grateful to The Indy’s leadership for being “wonderful mentors.” He urged his Twitter followers to “consider donating in support of this brilliant newsroom.”

Speaking of The Colorado Independent…

The City of Denver settled for $50,000 with the newsroom’s editor, Susan Greene, a year after police handcuffed her as she tried to film them in a public space. Police body-cam footage showed officers telling her to “act like a lady” in the process. The Colorado Independent reported this week the city still has to vote on the settlement, which also includes First Amendment sensitivity training for officers.

From The Indy:

“This incident never should have happened, and it’s disturbing that police, who we trust to know the law, can be so clueless about our first law, the First Amendment,” Greene said Tuesday. Regarding the settlement terms, she added: “Hopefully this extra training will make it clear to officers that the public and the press have the right to photograph them doing their jobs in public places. And on the occasions when how officers do their jobs seems questionable, I hope Denverites point their smartphone cameras at them and record it.” …

Denver will be required to hire Mickey Osterreicher, general counsel for the National Press Photographers Association, to train officers on the First Amendment right to photograph and record police activity in public. His training will be recorded and officers and command staff will be required to review the recording annually through 2024.

The Independent reported Greene saying she plans to share the settlement money with the news organization and donate some of it.

An ex-newspaper reporter now covers her city for a newsletter called Boulder Beat 

Shay Castle spent a half-dozen years at The Boulder Daily Camera before quitting last winter after calling a local critic an asshole on Twitter and disagreeing with her paper about how to publicly apologize for it.

In January, she launched her own thing. Called Boulder Beat, it’s a one-woman news operation with a weekly newsletter and website covering the Boulder City Council. She also reports via Twitter. Seven months in— and $7,000 in donations later, so far— the project is another example of the ways in which journalists around the country who leave their local newspapers search for ways to cover their local government amid newspaper retrenchment.

From Castle’s opening post last December:

Keeping up with elected officials shouldn’t be a full-time job. Well, it shouldn’t be your full-time job. Let it be mine instead. Welcome to the Boulder Beat. I’ll sit through the council meetings. I’ll research the issues and present them in plain English, with context. And then I’ll send the news straight to your inbox, once a week.

Here’s why I’m qualified: I’ve spent a decade in journalism; the last six at the Daily Camera. I’ve been following this City Council already. I know who they are, how they act, what they care about. I know the issues that matter to you. There’s a better way to do news. Or at least a different way. One that works for working people. Let’s try it together.

Her coverage of issues, from vaping to scooters and affordable housing, to contextual synthesisprofilescombating misinformationmeeting reports and opinion pieces, are published for free, but readers can also support her work financially through Patreon. In her new role, the journalism is “different for sure,” she told me, adding that she’s more free to experiment with style and tone, take risks, and be more explicit in her coverage.

Currently, nearly 200 supporters bring her around $1,100 per month without any marketing, business plan, or investment-seeking thus far. (Castle also freelances and does consulting work for a local nonprofit.) Boulder is a place where there’s some big money and a digital-minded tech spirit. She believes some who might be willing to help her with funding might also be waiting her out to see what kind of viability she can show. An upcoming city election, she expects, should be big for her project. She’s working on a full-on voter guide, in-depth candidate profiles, and deep issues coverage.

“I’ll give myself a year, and if I can’t make it work, I can’t make it work,” she told me over the phone this week, adding at another point in our conversation, “I would love to do this full time.”

What you missed on the Sunday front pages across Colorado

The Denver Post reported more than half of Denver’s public schools are segregatedThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel profiled a local climber scaling all of Colorado’s 13,000-foot peaksThe Steamboat Pilot profiled a local 115-year-old brick-and-mortar family businessThe Loveland Reporter-Herald reported on construction of a local reservoirThe Longmont Times-Call reported on an “open house” for the city’s Main Street corridor planThe Greeley Tribune had pumpkin spice on the front page (again). The Glenwood Springs Post-Independent profiled a local vaudeville enterpriseThe Coloradoan in Fort Collins profiled the oldest major college football player in the U.S., who is still on active duty and attending CSUThe Durango Herald reported how a local school district will hold town halls about security, “including arming security guards.” The Gazette in Colorado Springs reported on “the crux of religion and mental health.” The Boulder Daily Camera reported how the area’s fight against a tree-killing beetle is fueling the local woodworking economy.

A Denver TV station reported on a new open meetings lawsuit

“A nonprofit has filed a civil complaint alleging that the Strasburg Fire Protection District board of directors violated the state’s open meetings law by discussing topics in a closed-door meeting that should have been open to the public,” reported Stephanie Butzer for Denver7 this week.

More from the story:

According to the lawsuit , Friends of Strasburg Fire claimed that on Aug. 15, the fire district board held a closed-door executive session that was in violation of the state’s sunshine law, which requires all meetings to be open to the public if public business is being discussed between two or more members of any state public body. COML is part of the state’s sunshine law. Friends of Strasburg Fire has asked for a recording of that meeting to be released to the public.

Denver’s ABC affiliate earlier reported on allegations against this east-of-Denver public body that’s responsible for servicing parts of Adams and Arapahoe counties. The station has a copy of the lawsuit on its website.

I recall how during an update to the Colorado Open Records Act two years ago, lawmakers got rid of a provision in the law that made “willfully and knowingly” violating it a misdemeanor. So I wondered what a group like this could get if a judge decides a government body did run afoul of our state’s open meetings law.

“A judge could order that all or portions of the executive session recording be made public, essentially declaring that the executive session — or parts of it — should have been open to the public,” says Jeff Roberts, director of The Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, which promulgates a state Sunshine Laws guide. “The court could also issue an injunction ordering the fire district not to violate the Sunshine Law in the future. And any action taken during an illegal executive session could be declared invalid. The nonprofit that filed the lawsuit, if it prevails in court, is entitled to court costs and ‘reasonable’ attorney fees.”

So, that’s something.

Follow-up file: What’s going on with the Loveland newsroom shotgun guy?

In May, this newsletter published a chilling lede:

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.

Three months later, attorneys are working on a plea deal now that the Longmont man is “on new medications,” The Reporter-Herald reported late last month, citing his attorney’s statements in court. The paper also reported his lawyer talking about “mental health concerns.” Another hearing is scheduled for the end of this month.

Podcast: How reporters are reporting their stories at Colorado Community Media

Want to know the story behind the story in the Denver suburbs? Each week or so, Colorado Community Media’s metro north editor, Scott Taylor, interviews journalists from one of the newspaper group’s 20 publications about “what it was like to bring their stories to life.”

For the latest edition, which aired last month, Taylor spoke with reporter Alex DeWind, who covered the Douglas County School District, about what it was like reporting on the first day of the new school year at the STEM charter school in Highlands Ranch. That’s the site of the May school shooting that left eight wounded and senior Kendrick Castillo dead when he attacked a gunman, a story where details are still unfolding.

DeWind wanted to speak to parents, school staff, and leadership— but it was hard.

“The story is a lot different than I had hoped,” she said of what she ended up publishing. “Because parents are not very willing to speak to the media— or not all of them, but some of them— and it almost seems like they’re resentful at us … which is tough because it’s our job and it was a school shooting and you’re going to have media coverage of it.” One woman, the reporter said, called her a “vulture” as she was taking photos, and also threatened to call the cops on other media there. (DeWind gave her podcast interview on her last day at CCM; she now has a writing job at the University of Colorado-Denver.)

The newish podcast, which Colorado Community Media calls “Reporter Stories” and launched in June, is three episodes deep. You can find it on iTunes, GooglePlay, Spotify and Stitcher, if you want to hear, as Taylor tells it, “how and why our reporters approach their stories the way they do.”

*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 David Merz for Creative Commons on Flickr.