A question about whether to support hedge-fund-controlled newspapers through subscriptions goes national

Your weekly roundup of Colorado local news & media

"They look hungry." A scene near the Collegiate Peaks in Colorado in the summer of 2019 (photo by Corey Hutchins)

Media writer Jack Shafer at Politico doesn’t shy away from stances likely to prompt hate-mail.

He once wrote how the Newseum, which is closing next month, “deserves to die,” and then boasted that he’d killed it. His pieces are always worth a read, and this week he offers an argument not unfamiliar to those in Colorado who have been splashing around in several years of bad blood from the New York hedge fund Alden Global Capital that controls The Denver Post and about a dozen other newspapers here.

“Care About Journalism?” Shafer asks in his latest headline, “Maybe You Should Cancel Your Newspaper.” From the piece:

Every media guru has an idea to roll back the apocalypse. Nonprofit newspapers. Philanthropists to the rescue. Government subsidies. Ad tech subsidies. But everybody insists that readers—the end users, after all—must subscribe, subscribe, subscribe. This advice applies most of all to America’s undersized, overpriced, and struggling local and regional newspapers, which desperately need the support of devoted subscribers. (The New York Times and Washington Post, which frame themselves as national newspapers, have bloomed with online subscription revenue as their smaller cousins have withered.) But should we automatically renew all of our newspaper subscriptions? I mean, really?

By now, if you’ve lived through The Denver Rebellion, you’re likely primed for the take: Yes, local newspapers are invaluable to communities and society and democracy and it’s your civic duty to subscribe to one, “But when you pay for a newspaper, you’re also making a decision to send money to whoever owns it.”

And the nut

And if you really care about local news, you might want to think twice about continuing your subscription to one of the 50-plus dailies operated by Alden Global Capital under the Digital First Media nameplate in Denver, Detroit, Long Beach, San Jose, Boston, St. Paul, and other smaller cities. … Don’t ask what my breaking point would be if I lived in an Alden town, because I’m a newspaper dead-ender.

Shafer then goes on to consider whether an organized subscriber strike “might weaken the company’s bottom line enough to persuade it to unload its papers to owners who covet both good journalism and profits.” The soft spot in his argument, in Denver anyway, is this caveat: “If you pay for a local paper and it provides you little value — and shows no sign of doing so in the future — you have every right to cancel.” The Denver Post still clearly offers value, so that’s not the issue here. The larger question about burning down the village in order to save it is still open, however. (For my part, I have a digital subscription to The Denver Post that sends me the print paper on Sundays.)

Shafer’s argument came up among some Coloradans last year, first when The Denver Post erected a paywall and its journalists rallied around it, urging readers to subscribe. Even then, there was tension about where the money would go. “I’ve had multiple people tell me, ‘Well, I don’t want to buy The Denver Post because I don’t want that hedgefund to get any of my money,’” one reporter at the time told me for a story in Columbia Journalism Review. “I understand wanting to punish them,” she said about the paper’s owner, “but you’re hurting me. They’re not going to hurt. I am.”

Two months later, The Denver Post suffered a 30-layoff bloodbath at the hands of its owners, and you know the rest. For a while, this kind of talk about a subscriber boycott or an advertiser boycott or a byline strike or something— anything — played out in public panels at The Denver Press Club and elsewhere. But it never took root. The rebellion had its season. A documentary will come out. A year after the sound and fury in Denver a new project launched to keep up the pressure on Alden, but I don’t know if it did much more than get a few local noses out of joint. So far, the dominant neoliberal ideology has held in Denver and we’re all just kind of waiting to see what’s around the next corner— or over the next cliff. I am interested to see what kind of discussions this national take might spark elsewhere, though.

Introducing ‘The Upload’ podcast at The Aspen Daily News

Following the success of the widely popular podcast “The Daily” at The New York Times, local outlets have been seeing if something like it can work at the local news level to foster engagement. Some of my favorites are ones where hosts and reporters talk about how stories came together and bring listeners behind the scenes into the journalistic process. In September, I reported on Colorado Community Media’s “Reporter Stories” podcast that checks in with the network’s journalists “to discover what it was like to bring their stories to life.”

Another new local news podcast on the scene is “The Upload” at The Aspen Daily News, which seeks to “bring you a summary of news from the Roaring Fork Valley straight from our team of reporters.” (In 2017, Paperbag Media, a local investment group that also owns a local TV station, bought the newspaper from its founder Dave Danforth.)

Launched in October, the ADN’s nicely produced public affairs podcast, with episodes that run about 30 minutes apiece, features in-depth interviews, conversations with local newsmakers, and “straight shots” from the newspaper’s columnists. So far they’ve included interviews with reporters discussing housingmental health and jailssolar development and homelessness, and plenty more on arts, culture, and local government.

In the latest edition, host Alycin Bektesh discussed “The Upload’s” role in the area’s media landscape with Daily News publisher David Cook, and why the paper decided to get in on the podcast game. “No spoiler alerts here,” Cook said, “but people are reading the paper less and less as generations come to news now, and so it’s always been important to me to deliver the news so people can get to it however they see fit.” He doesn’t care how people consume content he produces, he said, he cares that people consume it. “What podcasting does for me is it allows people to see behind the creation of a story, and it has a little bit more of a granular look as to how a story came together,” Cook said. “It’s very rare to be able to hear a journalist talk about their process.”

Find all the episodes Aspen Daily News has run so far here. “And remember,” as Bektesh says in her broadcast, “if you don’t want us to talk about it, don’t let it happen.”

The Associated Press is hiring 14 more reporters around the U.S. including in Colorado

Colorado is not a state where the Capitol Press Corps is more like the Capitol Press corpse.

Reporter desks under the gold dome don’t go unfilled — journalists jockey for them. Chroniclers have found more reporters will be crawling all over the state capitol during this upcoming legislative session in Colorado than since the 1990s.

Now, the ranks are set to grow even more, thanks to Report for America, which is helping place 14 statehouse reporters in capitals across the country. States benefiting from them include: Colorado, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, South Carolina and Utah. “A data journalist will support their efforts and work to bring policy journalism to all 50 states,” the AP stated in a news release. “Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project, will help fund the 18-month positions and recruit the journalists.” They will begin reporting this summer.

“This is a big deal,” Jim Clarke, the AP’s director for the West, who is based in Denver, said on social media. “More reporting horsepower in statehouses means we have a slightly better chance at honest government.”

With so much competition at the Capitol, it will be interesting to see the approach to coverage taken by the AP scribe who gets the gig in Denver.

What you missed on the Sunday front pages across Colorado

The Summit Daily News reported how the high cost of living in a Colorado ski town means a worker shortfall and cuts to transit service, leading to “the potential for more late night partiers to attempt to drive after drinking rather than waiting an extra hour for a bus ride.” The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel reported more local families joined a lawsuit against an area fertility doctorThe Steamboat Pilot covered the opening of the fastest gondola in North AmericaThe Loveland Reporter-Herald fronted the surprise reunion of a local soldier and her familyThe Gazette in Colorado Springs reported on a “secret report” that “blasted” investigators for “glaring errors” in their probe into the murder of former Corrections Chief Tom ClementsThe Longmont Times-Call covered how local businesses are handling “shop small Saturday.” The Coloradoan in Fort Collins reported how Big Data is changing athletics at Colorado State UniversityThe Durango Herald questioned how much density and development should occur between Durango and BayfieldThe Denver Post published an investigation from The Oregonian newspaper about radioactive gas in Denver homesThe Boulder Daily Camera covered how the city’s planning board “teed up another round of regulation relaxation on accessory dwelling units.”

The Colorado Independent hopes for more investigations with local newspapers in 2020

Following its exemplary ProPublica-style investigative collaboration with the small Rio Blanco Herald Times into a police killing and rural mental health in northwest Colorado, the nonprofit Denver-based Colorado Independent wants to do more of that kind of partnership reporting beginning next year.

So said editor Susan Greene on KDNK radio in Carbondale during a half-hour interview with station manager Gavin Dahl for his “Booked” program. On the show, Greene and Herald Times editor and publisher Niki Turner talked about their collaboration on the two-part blockbuster “Through the Cracks” published in both outlets earlier this month.

This came toward the end:

Gavin Dahl: “Susan, could this be a prototype for more projects where The Colorado Independent offers support to smaller newsrooms?”

Susan Greene: “I really hope so. I think this is the future of journalism. The economics of our industry make it such that we cannot afford not to collaborate.”

Greene said she spends much of her time raising money for the nonprofit newsroom and not necessarily doing journalism. “For my soul and my heart this is the work I want to do,” Greene said. “This is the work our managing editor Tina Griego really wants to do. We are hoping in 2020 and the years to come to make this transformation to be able to speak with folks like Niki and ask them ‘What’s the big story you’ve got in your backyard, in your coverage area, that you need help with, and how can we help?'”

Greene pointed out how the months-long nonprofit-news-and-local-newspaper accountability project came together, and how, with her background in investigative journalism, she coached Turner through the process of reporting a piece not typical to what the local paper traditionally covers. “This is the way to do it,” Greene said. “I think it’s a lot better way to train journalists than to have them sit for a couple hours in a workshop at a convention once a year. … I’ve got a lot of people in Denver who have my back and who I can consult when I have difficulties reporting, but if you’re a journalist in a rural area like Niki is, they really need that support, too.”

This is a smart approach for The Indy where, full disclosure, I’ve been an independent contractor since 2015. It’s a lean (“small but mighty” is the slogan) operation that, as a new report from PEN America points out, has to compete in a “fragmented media marketplace” of niche digital sites in Colorado where it’s not clear if readers have “the inclination or the patience to seek out their news in an à la carte fashion, now that there’s no single media source to rely on for comprehensive coverage.”

I look forward to reading more of this kind of collaborative journalism across the state. If you or anyone you know has a story idea in small-town Colorado, you know where to send it.

Summit Daily thanked its readers on the front page

There’s a delicate balance to immoderate navel-gazing and local news outlets writing about themselves. I think more and more, though, readers do want to know how the sausage is made. This week was a time of thanks, and on Monday, I happened to notice a front-page item in Summit Daily in which the paper’s new editor, Nicole Miller, thanked her readers— “even the ones who disapprove of our news choices”— for engaging with the newspaper. In the piece, Miller, who took the helm of Summit Daily about six months ago, used the opportunity to highlight some of her paper’s recent reporting and to explain how the free community paper comes together each day.

From the item:

After the ads are sold and the stories are written, our page designers and copy editors work late into the night to lay out the paper, edit the stories and write the headlines before they send the completed files to our press team in Gypsum. That’s where the newspaper is printed on huge rolls of recycled newsprint that are fed through a massive web press that fills half a warehouse. The papers are then folded, trimmed and sometimes stuffed with coupons before our delivery drivers take over, filling news boxes across the county. I think it’s a pretty impressive thing to deliver a free community newspaper 365 days a year, even if the power goes out, even if there’s no internet, even if Interstate 70 closes.

“So thanks to our readers for picking up the paper or scrolling through our website and making the Summit Daily News part of your routine,” she wrote. “We do it all for you.”

Colorado media HR report: The personnel file

Movin’ on up … I-25, anyway. The Denver Post filled out its City Hall reporter position this week with Conrad Swanson, who jumps up from covering City Hall in Colorado Springs for The Gazette. “Beware: further scrutiny to be applied on the mayor’s office,” writes Swanson’s new colleague Alex Burness, who recently moved over to the Post from The Colorado Independent. Swanson had some impact on the open-government front in the state’s second-largest city, so we should be eager to see what he sniffs out in Denver. One entity likely happy to see him switching papers is Gold Hill Mesa, the neighborhood development he’s been investigating for the past few months. It’ll be interesting to see how The Gazette keeps on that one.

The Colorado Sun recently made a new hire with Moe Clark who is covering politics and the environment for the year-old startup. She has “a degree in biology and ecology and a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Colorado Boulder, where [she] specialized in topics related to science and the environment.” Her current reporting interests “include urban growth, climate change adaptation, social and environmental justice, land-use change and sustainable agriculture.” Check out her Sun work so far here.

Colorado Public Radio hired Jodi Gersh away from an audience engagement position at Gannett as its senior vice president of marketing and engagement. “CPR’s impact throughout the state of Colorado is impressive, and I admire the meaningful work it produces across its services,” Gersh said in a statement. “It’s an honor to be joining such an amazing team of dedicated professionals, and I look forward to contributing my expertise to support the organization’s advancement.”

*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

5 COMMENTS

  1. I grappled with the decision to end my subscription to the Denver Post since their sale to a hedgefund (completely against my journalistic beliefs). However, it wasn’t until they wanted to charge me over $700/year to subscribe that I finally let my life-long newspaper subscription go.
    I’m a journalism teacher. It hurt me to the core. But I also have the salary of a teacher and a kid who’s gone back to college (a kid who decided to not major in journalism or education this time). I give to the Independent and CPR in a way that works with a public teacher budget. However, not having a hard-copy paper has been a big adustment. I scrounge examples of layout design for my students and do my best to keep up with local news, clicking among the sprouted online options. It’s a new field in the ending years of my very wonderful career.
    Thank you and the Independent for all you do for our state and community.

  2. Nearly every surviving newspaper in Colorado receives a direct governmental subsidy through a monopolistic publishing arrangement with local governments. Distribution of those legal notices could be accomplished cheaper, more efficiently and to a wider audience (count the number of wi-fi signals on your block vs the number newspapers delivered, 30 to one on my block) through audited on-line publishing by the governmental agency now propping the likes of Alden. et al.

  3. umm…our “news” has been monetized by these very same Vulture Capitalists…the very same folks who support, and defend trump…part of our real dilemma is the take over of our Media by a few of these “oligarchs”….the republican/russian party is using Putin’s playbook on how to destroy democracy, and replace it with a criminal oligarchy…and we are well on the way towards a Putin fueled, trump lead, oligarchy….Moscow Mitch is very much involved as he continually takes russian money, and refuses to honor his oath of office…the defeat of trump, and these oligarchs is a must…so, lets just take a breath, step back, and take a look at the big picture…and it looks like a dictatorship in the making…thanks to a corrupted media, and their owners….

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