The theme of this week’s column on the Colorado media scene is coverage collaboration, which seems entirely coincidental. But, hey, three’s a trend they say.
Leading off— and the biggest media news of the week— is what The Colorado Sun is calling an “unprecedented” collaboration of local news outlets from across the state to partner on a single reporting project: mobile-home parks.
Called “PARKED: Half the American Dream,” the journalism initiative includes news organizations around the state from the Four Corners region through Delta County, up the Western Slope, across the ski towns to Fort Collins and Greeley, and down to Denver with points in between.
Here’s a roll call of all the outlets involved: The Colorado Sun, The Aspen Times, The Aurora Sentinel, The Colorado Independent, The Cortez Journal, The Delta County Independent, The Durango Herald, The Fort Collins Coloradoan, Fox31-KDVR, The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, The Greeley Tribune, KUNC, The Montrose Daily Press, The Ouray County Plaindealer, and The Steamboat Pilot. The Associated Press also pitched in with a photo editor and spread the coverage far and wide. Journalists at these news organizations “fanned out across the state to look at what for many is the last form of affordable housing: mobile homes,” the Sun reported. (Earlier this summer, I highlighted some good work by David O. Williams in Vail Daily about water quality issues in a resort town trailer park, but it wasn’t part of this coordinated effort. The topic seems a target-rich environment for impactful journalism.)
For this big news project’s Sunday curtain raiser, the Sun’s Jennifer Brown and Kevin Simpson reported the statewide lay of the land and the problems facing Colorado’s mobile home parks, a kind of living that provides “the largest inventory of unsubsidized, affordable housing in the nation.” Here’s the nut graf:
The project found that the number of parks is declining and ownership is consolidating as mom-and-pop parks sell out to large investors, which sometimes leads to displacement and redevelopment — and, in the eyes of many residents, an imbalance of power that threatens their low-cost lifestyle. More than 100,000 people live in more than 900 parks across Colorado. Those residents include many of Colorado’s working poor and immigrants who are undocumented. They have been mostly ignored for decades.
“We’ve relegated mobile-home parks to a corner of the American imaginary,” said Esther Sullivan, a sociology professor at the University of Colorado Denver and author of a book on mobile homes called “Manufactured Insecurity.” “We have media representation of who is living there and stereotypes of who is living there that are absolutely false. In reality, this is a major swath of our workforce. This is the primary way that our working households attain the American dream of home ownership.”
Brown spoke with Gavin Dahl of KDNK public radio in Carbondale about the project. She said the tagline “Half the American Dream” comes from a quote a city council member gave one of the project’s reporters in describing such housing scenarios. “These are people who want a piece of the American dream but what they get is a mobile home that they own parked on land that they do not own, so essentially they have half the American dream,” Brown told him.
Writing for The Colorado Independent, Tina Griego reported about residents in one large mobile home park in Eagle County:
Most are immigrants. As in many immigrant communities, some arrived legally and some didn’t. To the residents’ own surprise, a few years here suddenly became 12, 15, 20 years. The Aspens is home, the mothers here will tell you, even if some part of their hearts insists that it is not, not really, because home is the place of their childhoods, the place where their parents still live or are buried. Home is what they have built or are building in Aguascalientes or Chihuahua or Guerrero with the money they’ve sent back, the houses waiting there, paid for by all the beds changed and carpets vacuumed and drywall installed here. But during their many years in Avon, residents have married and their children were born or grew up here. Families have remodeled their trailers, adding more windows, new porches, floors of wood and tile, countertops of granite and Corian. When one of the mothers suggests to her family that maybe they should just look at buying a house — it’d been almost 20 years since they moved from Mexico — her two daughters protested and cried, she says. This is the only home they have known.
Among the local stories offering slices of life in Colorado’s mobile home parks are how a Durango corporate-owned park’s rising lot rent is squeezing out residents and how fires can be a risky “deadly drawback” for mobile-home residents in Greeley. KUNC found mobile-home dwellers “left behind” after the raging 2013 floods, and The Plaindealer found an Ouray woman had lost her investment in a single-wide unit after her mother died. Under the headline “MOBILE HOMESICK,” The Aurora Sentinel found “Aurora lawmakers, like so many across the state, are struggling again with whether and how to preserve the dwindling stock of affordable housing.”
So how did this statewide news project come together? The Sun reached out to newspapers and other outlets with which it has existing relationships and asked if they would be on board for a statewide single-focus project, editor Larry Ryckman says. They didn’t have the bandwidth to handle a blanket invite to anyone and everyone. That’s why you’ll find some coverage gaps around the state in cities like Pueblo or Colorado Springs. Since the project went online Sunday, he says he’s already heard from other newspapers saying they’d love to be involved in the next one.
What that future project might be is TBD.
“My hope is that others will want to join us next year because I think we are stronger together,” Ryckman says. “I would extend a hand to The Denver Post, to CPR, or anyone else who wants to join us for the next one. It’s about serving the state, it’s about doing good journalism, and it’s not about egos or competition or anything like that.”
Some Colorado outlets also joined a global climate crisis coverage project
If you haven’t already seen this, Columbia Journalism Review and The Nation magazine are leading a project called Covering Climate Now that seeks to shed light on the global climate crisis with help from news organizations and institutions across the world. The project, which also counts The Guardian as a partner, boasts the inclusion of “more than 300 outlets worldwide … with a combined audience of more than 1 billion people.” From Sept. 13 to Sept. 25, outlets involved in the coverage will publish their work. (Disclosure: I’m a frequent contributor to CJR and have written for The Nation.)
Some of the local news outlets involved in this project are here in Colorado.
According to the partners page of the project’s site, The Gazette in Colorado Springs is on board, as is StreetsBlog Denver, and Mike Nelson, the chief meteorologist for Denver’s Channel 7. High Country News, based in Paonia, Colorado, is also joining the effort. (At least one letter writer to a Colorado newspaper was “happy to see that the Colorado Springs Gazette will be participating in the Columbia Journalism Review’s ‘Covering Climate Now’ initiative.”)
You can follow the work of this initiative here at CJR. You can also listen here to CJR editor Kyle Pope talk to CNN’s Brian Stelter about the project. Jill Geisler wrote for CJR about “why newsrooms are resistant to collaboration when covering climate,” and I found this passage from Pope particularly poignant:
…the line between journalism and activism. Is it moving? Should it be? I was surprised by the number of editors we talked to who thought that aggressive climate coverage translated to activism. I don’t see it that way. I see it as journalism.
“It is journalism,” responded Geisler. “But it’s tricky business. Climate change is well supported by science, but it has also been made radioactive by some political partisans. The very concept of climate change has become tribal.”
Springs Independent is part of a larger fight for alt-weeklies to stay in Kroger/King Soopers
Not long ago, John Weiss, the founder of The Colorado Springs Independent, learned his free alternative weekly newspaper would no longer be welcome at racks inside King Soopers grocery stores because of a decision made by higher-ups at the grocery giant’s corporate brand Kroger. That means he would lose a key distribution point where readers pick up some 17,000 copies each month from 14 stores in two counties. That accounts for quite a chunk— 12 percent— of the paper’s total circulation.
Weiss isn’t alone. His paper reports the stores are booting free weeklies and other publications from their floor racks across the country at the end of this month, and the nation’s largest grocery chain didn’t respond to talk about it. To fight back, The Springs Independent launched a campaign called #DontLoseLocalNews. The paper devoted this week’s cover package to the effort.
From reporter Faith Miller who wrote the lead story:
On Sept. 12, the free racks at the Uintah Street King Soopers contained copies of (besides the Indy) Life After 50, a monthly publication catering to older adults; Colorado Springs KIDS Magazine, a monthly calendar of local, family-friendly events; Thrifty Nickel, a collection of classified listings; Christian Guide, a directory of local Christian businesses; and two real estate guides. A space for La Voz Bilingue, a Spanish-English news publication, was empty.
Bruce Schlabaugh, the publisher and advertising director for Life After 50, says his company distributes several thousand papers a month — or about 15 percent of its copies — at King Soopers stores in El Paso and Teller counties. “One of the lucky things for Life After 50 is that seniors still love to read newspapers, so they’re going through this paper right and left,” he says. Like the Indy, Life After 50 plans to make up the difference by finding new locations. “It’s just irritating to have [Kroger] say, ‘Well, print’s dead; however, we’ll keep the Gazette there, we’ll keep The Wall Street Journal,” Schlabaugh says. “They’re kind of beating up on the free papers, kind of unfairly, I would think.”
The Springs Independent’s publisher, Amy Gillentine Sweet, penned a note to readers about the situation:
Cincinnati-based Kroger Co., the parent company of the region’s largest grocer, King Soopers, issued an edict that free publications distributed at its 2,800 grocery stores in 35 states will be banned beginning Oct. 1. That’s without considering the individual communities that might be affected. They apparently believe that their customers no longer want free papers. They are wrong. … When news is freely available, people make better choices; they’ll know more about government, taxes, businesses and the work done by local nonprofits. They’ll connect and participate with their community’s arts and entertainment scene. Without newspapers, studies show that there’s less government accountability and the cost of doing business rises due to a lack of oversight.
The feisty alt-weekly is calling on its readers to register their concerns about this to King Soopers managers. There’s also a petition readers can sign. This week, Raw Story came out with an in-depth piece about this newspaper rebellion from Colorado to Utah to Michigan headlined “Your grocery store chain is trying to kill your favorite local newsweekly — but you still have time to stop them.”
On Thursday, Weiss, who founded the The Colorado Springs Independent more than 25 years ago, told me more than 500 people had signed the petition since it launched a day earlier. “Local King Soopers employees have reached out to us and they are contacting corporate and asking for us to remain, but it’s a corporate decision,” he said. Weiss framed the saga as an easy decision for someone who doesn’t understand the value of “real newspapers.” One irony, he pointed out, is the grocery store is an advertiser in his paper, which he says has a circulation of about 34,000 each week. “So on one hand they advertise with us, and on the other hand they say print is dead,” he said. “But they’re two totally separate divisions.”
— Corey Hutchins (@CoreyHutchins) September 19, 2019
On Thursday, while shopping in a Colorado Springs King Soopers, I spotted a man standing by the newspaper rack and reading the Indy’s piece about the paper being kicked out. “That’s outrageous,” he said. “Outrageous.” A cashier mentioned she’d been hearing from customers about it. On my way out, a store manager said plenty of customers had mentioned the issue to him, too, and that he’d kicked their message up to corporate.
Meanwhile … A Colorado TV station is part of a ‘save my local station’ campaign
Speaking of Colorado participants in national campaigns, KRDO in Colorado Springs is part of a national effort to try and stay within the DISH Network system.
The TV station’s owner, the News-Press & Gazette company based in Missouri, reports it is “advising its television stations’ viewers about the possibility that Dish Network will stop carrying its channels this week.”
These kinds of carriage agreements (or disagreements) come up from time to time, disrupting the ways in which some satellite TV viewers can view their local TV news. In July, the Colorado Springs TV station KXRM got bumped from DirecTV “because of a contract dispute between the satellite television and internet provider and Fox21’s parent company, Nexstar,” The Gazette reported at the time. The same story noted “a similar situation happened in January 2017 when DirecTV pulled the plug on local ABC affiliate KRDO-TV and 24 other stations owned by News Press & Gazette Television during contract negotiations.”
As for the latest KRDO carriage issue, the “Save My Local Station” campaign states a “current agreement has been extended through 5pm CDT September 24, 2019.”
What you missed on the Sunday front pages across Colorado
The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel reported on local residents in an apartment complex who are dealing with asbestos. The Steamboat Pilot covered the “somewhat bitter saga” of its area’s mobile home parks. The Loveland Reporter-Herald localized a national story about vaping regulations. The Longmont Times-Call covered a local city council race debate. The Greeley Tribune’s entire front page carried the paper’s coverage of area mobile home parks. The Gazette in Colorado Springs kicked off the next phase of its series about mental health (the dateline is Chicago because the paper has “dispatched Gazette reporters around the country and state to seek out innovations in mental health care and bring back lessons we can learn.”) The Durango Herald covered logistical questions about the federal BLM headquarter’s relocation to Colorado. The Denver Post reported how Denver is a “city where gun violence is claiming the lives of an increasing number of young people.” The Boulder Daily Camera reported on the proposed city budget.
Longmont’s publicly supported local news experiment got more national love
This week, NPR gave some national attention— on All Things Considered, no less— to a burgeoning experiment in Longmont that readers of this column heard about back in May.
As I wrote for CJR at the time:
Voters in Longmont—who previously approved a publicly owned fiber-optic broadband network, and now have some of the fastest internet speeds in the nation—could be asked to consider new taxes to fund a “library district,” a special governmental subdivision that would operate a community library. Roughly a dozen residents are pushing to explore the library district to include some form of community news component.
Later that month, I wrote how this won’t be the year Longmont voters decide. The Longmont Times-Call reported, however, that this city was still working on a feasibility study about it. Listen to the NPR clip, which comes from KUNC’s Mountain West reporter Rae Ellen Bichell, here.
I checked with the City of Longmont this week to see where they are with the study. A city spokesperson passed along this statement from the city’s library director Nancy Kerr:
The NPR article has been around locally for a while, but just got larger distribution last week. The Library is looking into a district as one possible solution to long-term sustainable funding. We have engaged a consultant team, and they will begin working on a Feasibility Study as soon as the contract is completed. This study should begin very soon, with a predicted completion time January 2020. There will be a very strong community engagement effort as a part of the upcoming Study, and the public will have multiple opportunities to weigh in on what they’d like to see in a true 21st Century Library. There is not an intent at this time to look into an “Information District” rather than a traditional library district or other municipal/hybrid options, but whether or not any elements of news gathering or news dissemination could be included in a 21st Century Library could certainly be questions posed to the public.
For background on what she means by an information district, click here.
Our state Press Association leader defended a Colorado reporter from a Facebook attack
Here’s a new one. The progressive Colorado Times Recorder reported this week that a former candidate for the state legislature suggested on Facebook that ColoradoPolitics reporter Marianne Goodland, along with “her socialist pervert democrat cronies,” is … “evil.” Not only that, the woman apparently urged her followers to tell The Gazette, which runs the ColoradoPolitics news site and often publishes Goodland’s work, to send its reporter “packing to a country like Cuba or Venezuela where they will be more amicable to her Commie leanings.” (Editor’s note: Goodland isn’t evil.)
Par for the course these days, I guess, when some politically connected readers in certain quarters don’t like a story, right? The Colorado Times Recorder reached out to the Colorado Press Association’s director, Jill Farschman, to weigh in.
“While sharing opinions is certainly a First Amendment right, attacks on journalism as a profession undermine our free press which is the only profession enshrined in our nation’s Constitution due to its criticality to a functioning democracy,” she said. “In this instance, the accuracy of the journalist’s work isn’t being questioned and suggesting she should be sent to other countries openly hostile to free press is extremely offensive. Such personal threats debase our political discourse and put the safety of journalists at risk.”
Goodland, who also plays the harp professionally, took the whole thing in stride, agreeing with another social media user that “Marianne Goodland and her socialist pervert democrat cronies” would make for a humorous band name.
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