Congresswoman Diana DeGette slams the latest newspaper mega-merger to affect Colorado

Your weekly roundup of Colorado local news & media

Image by Jon S for Creative Commons on Flickr

Two months ago, the nation’s two largest newspaper chains, GateHouse and Gannett, merged to become a lumbering corporate giant on a deal financed with nearly $2 billion in private equity funds.

The move was all but cartoonish for its commentary on what neoliberal late capitalism has meant for the local print newspaper industry at the end of our latest decade. The conglomeration will almost certainly lead to layoffs, fewer reporters on local beats, and less local journalism in cities and towns across the nation.

On Jan. 2, Colorado Congresswoman Diana DeGette joined with California’s Mark DeSaulnier on a letter to the U.S. assistant attorney general, saying the Department of Justice didn’t do its job as an anti-trust regulator in green-lighting the deal. “While we are aware that your division has already approved the merger, we believe the negative impacts of this merger on the public’s access to a variety of high-quality news content were not given enough consideration,” the pair wrote. They added how the deal required $300 million in cost reductions within the first two years, which they said risks “the elimination of local news organizations, particularly in areas already suffering from a lack of high-quality local coverage.” (Gannett’s CEO has said “frontline” reporting jobs will be last to get the ax.)

More from the letter:
“As you know, the Department of Justice Antitrust Division’s stated mission is to promote free and fair competition in the marketplace. As the likely reduction in competition that would result from this merger could irreparably harm the availability of local news around the country, this merger is simply incompatible with the Department’s mission and should be reconsidered or reversed.”

The two members of Congress requested an answer from U.S. Assistant AG Makan Delrahim by Jan. 17 that includes how the DOJ plans to respond to the letter and also “the data you examined in your original justification for approving the merger.” (In April, Degette, DeSaulnier, and others, introduced a resolution to “save” local news.)

In Colorado, the mega-merger affects these local newspapers: The Coloradoan in Fort Collins; The Chieftain in Pueblo; The Fowler TribuneThe Bent County DemocratThe LaJunta Tribune-DemocratThe Ag JournalPueblo Events, and Pueblo West View. Prior to the deal, recent cuts at the Gannett-owned Coloradoan have already re-shaped the newsroom; after GateHouse bought The Pueblo Chieftain, journalists protested cuts by their new owner.

Inside the PEN America local news panel at the Denver Library

On Tuesday, PEN America organized a public panel to discuss some problems and solutions in Colorado’s local news crisis following its national report titled “Losing the News,” which included a case study from Denver.

The Denver Public Library and the Colorado Media Project partnered with PEN for the event. Panelists were Denverite’s housing and hunger reporter Donna Bryson (who was 2019’s Colorado journalist of the year), Nicolle Ingui Davies, Colorado’s state librarian, Melissa Milios Davis of the Colorado Media Project, Laura Frank of Rocky Mountain PBS, and Westword’s Alan Prendergast who wrote the case study. I moderated the discussion, and here are some nuggets that jumped out at me.

  • Does the Colorado Media Project expect anything out of the legislature this session related to the project’s bold call for more public-sector support for the local news industry? “We won’t be lobbying,” Davis said, because the CMP is a nonprofit. OK, so will anyone? “What we learned is people have very little opinion about these things,” she said. “We were surprised. … I think what we learned from that was that this is nowhere near ready to go to the legislature. There needs to be a pretty big public education and education campaign.”
  • Rocky Mountain Public Media is erecting a new building in Denver, “but the idea of it is we’ll take the third floor and make this something we’re calling the journalism CoLab,” Frank said. “The idea is to bring in media organizations … [and] help re-create the synergy of a large newsroom where we might have the education reporters at Chalkbeat and the government reporters at The Colorado Independent and the enterprise reporters at the Sun and the investigative reporters from Rocky Mountain PBS all together.” (Editor’s note: That sounds like something!)
  • Anyone has free access to the Colorado Library’s Colorado Historic Newspaper Collection that houses archived and digitized newspapers from around the state, Davies, the state librarian, said. “But there’s a lot that’s not on there,” she added. The Denver Public Library has all the Rocky Mountain News archives and photo morgue. But only about 20 of the paper’s 150 years in print are available online and they sit behind a paywall, she said. “We need to raise about two-million dollars to archive and digitize the files of the Rocky so that all of the citizens of Colorado could access those. They could go now if they’ve got time and opportunity to get to the Western History Collection at Denver Public Library, but there’s barriers there for people physically and location-wise.”
  • Local media is fragmented. Will it increase or will we get back to any kind of dominant news primacy? “Will we ever get back to one big paper, no I don’t think so,” Prendergast said. “If people want it, maybe … it can come back,” said Bryson.
  • How do we work to fill an awareness gap between consumers and our fragmented local media? Davis talked up the CMP’s Joint Membership and Marketing Pilot project that includes multiple local Colorado newsrooms. In three months, she said, the project will have more to share about what it learned, “but we haven’t cracked the nut.”
  • What’s being done to promote diversity in local media? “It’s very much on the mind of funders, not just here but nationally,” Davis of the CMP said.

  • PEN America has called for a massive influx of philanthropic support. How did such support help Donna Bryson in funding her beat at Denverite? “We need philanthropic money but it has to be disinterested as much as possible,” she said, adding she faced no editorial interference while the grant money flowed.
  • Rocky Mountain PBS gets financial support from “slightly more Republicans and Democrats than independents compared to voter registration in Colorado,” Frank said, perhaps an indication that those more involved in politics tend to be more involved in philanthropy and supporting journalism in some way.
  • There are 113 public library systems in Colorado and about 55 are funded through special library districts while the rest are municipal libraries funded by a city or county that compete for those funds with police and fire, Davies, the state librarian, said. “If the conversation comes back again about can libraries and the press partner, it’s very perscripted in library law how trustees are appointed, and that gets a little sticky when you’re talking about free press.”
  • A woman in the crowd came with a contrarian take when she said: “It seems to me that it’s not a great loss of The Denver Post. I never thought it was all the be-all or the end-all. It was very conservative and … as a person who came from the East Coast and the West and then to here, I subscribed to it, but a lot of it was ads. And I think it’s good what’s happening — all of the different newspapers online. For one thing they allow for a broader panoply of critical opinions and coverage, right? … So it’s kind of liberating. What is problematic is who can read it all? … I’m wondering if consolidation of some of these different online sites might be possible, also helpful in terms of fundraising. … It’s kind of like too much of a good thing, I think.” (Laura Frank replied: “I don’t think it’s a good thing what is happening to The Denver Post. … I am one of those people, however, that thinks the phoenix rising from the ashes has the potential to take the best of the way that things used to be and take the best of what is being developed now, and if we do it right— and there is no guarantee we are— … we will actually have a system that will work better than what we had before.” )
Thanks to PEN America for organizing this public event in Colorado and others across the nation.

Mountain West journalists: Sign up for an environmental reporting workshop

The Pulitzer Prize-winning nonprofit InsideClimate News is hoping journalists working in Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Nevada, Utah, and New Mexico “who have been producing climate- and energy-related news stories or have the ambition and potential to do so” will sign up for a March reporting workshop in Salt Lake City by Feb. 3.

From the outlet:

Journalists from all types of media—print, digital, television and radio—are encouraged to apply. Preference will be given to journalists who work full-time for news organizations, but freelancers with strong ties to Mountain West newsrooms can also apply. … Some sessions will be conducted by scientists and government officials and others by ICN’s journalists. The sessions will focus on climate science, extreme weather, public lands and adapting to climate change. We’ll also talk about journalistic skills and useful tools to cover this important and challenging subject.

If a journalist is chosen, their newsroom “will participate in collaborations based on themes participants identify during the conference,” and after the conference ends, InsideClimate News “will lead a content-sharing collaborative for partners that will enable them to publish each other’s environmental journalism throughout the year, if they choose to do so.”

Click here to learn more, and click here to go right to the application. (You can nominate yourself or someone else.)

A Denver Post delivery driver got shot in the hand

As an 11-year-old paperboy in the early 1990s suburban upstate, New York, I’m partial to news about the folks on the front lines of physical newspaper delivery. On the rare occasions my father would help out, he’d allow to me ride on the hood of his car, hurling papers from an orange Times Union bag as he slowly drove up and down the street. The job didn’t come without anxieties. I once rang the doorbell of a customer to say I thought I was being followed by some sketchy men. Turned out they hadn’t gotten their paper from another carrier and were looking for someone else. But, uh, apparently that’s nothing.

In 2017, a paper carrier in Greeley, Colorado made news by calling police to report “being chased by a naked man who was tall and thin.” In 2018, a paper carrier in Colorado Springs became homeless after a fire— and donations flooded in to help get him a replacement motor home.

This week, though, police said someone shot a Denver Post delivery driver in the hand while he worked his morning route. That’s not all. The perp was allegedly trying to steal the driver’s car, which 9News reported the driver left running to deliver papers.

More, from The Denver Post:

At 4:17 a.m., the delivery driver got out of his car to deliver a paper in the 4900 block of North Perry Street in Denver’s Regis neighborhood. As he was dropping off the paper, a man entered the driver’s car, police spokesman Kurt Barnes said. The driver confronted the car thief, knocking on the window. The man then allegedly shot the driver in the hand and sped off, Barnes said. The delivery driver was transported to a hospital with injuries that were not expected to be life-threatening. Police are searching for the stolen vehicle — a Chrysler 300 of an unknown color — and do not have any suspect information, Barnes said.
It’s rough out there.

What you missed on the Sunday front pages across Colorado

The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel published a preview of the upcoming legislative session, focusing on what might come out of it to benefit the Western Slope. Summit Daily News covered a local dispute “over the potential county condemnation of a conservation easement protecting 6.13 acres of open space.” The Steamboat Pilot published a year in review looking at the paper’s top storiesThe Loveland Reporter-Herald reported how local veterans gather to learn about natureThe Longmont Times-Call covered a report showing Colorado leads the nation in natural disasters compiled by one of those companies that likes to get its name published in newspapers. (FEMA questioned the methodology.) The Boulder Daily Camera looked at a “grow your own” teacher program aimed at mitigating shortfalls. The Durango Herald asked if La Plata County’s school cyber surveillance goes too farThe Gazette in Colorado Springs recalled how Fort Carson troops battled Iran’s proxies in Sadr City. A “vaccine bill” led The Denver Post’s front-page angle on its legislative preview. (Fun fact: one of America’s first real newspaper wars was over coverage about smallpox inoculation in the 1700s.)

The Coloradoan showed off its staff on its Sunday front page

It’s not about youDon’t become the newsWe don’t report on ourselves.

Maybe you’ve heard that from some crusty metro desk editor, in a line from “Lou Grant,” or from an old journalism professor. But tell that to any with-it, young, brand-conscious reporter in the digital age — or, this week, the staff of The Coloradoan in Fort Collins.

On Sunday, 16 staffers at the Gannett-owned Northern Colorado newsroom appeared in a portrait on the newspaper’s front page above the fold. The story was about the broadsheet’s own reporters and declared they are “here to cover the stories that will shape 2020.”

From the piece:

While the 16 journalists covering Fort Collins and Northern Colorado at the Coloradoan can’t predict what news stories will shape 2020, we’ve been busy preparing for everything from a milestone election year to long-awaited improvements to Interstate 25. As we enter a new year, here’s a look, to a person, at the major story lines our news staff plans on covering in 2020.

The story then checked up with each reporter, noting how long they had been at the paper, what they cover, and what they’re watching out for as the year unfolds. (In case you’re wondering, the longest-serving reporter is Miles Blumhardt with 28 years.)

I’m down with this approach, as navel-gazing as it is. Traditional newspapers are trying everything they can to connect with their audiences in different and meaningful ways as they seek sustaining subscribers whether that’s for print or digital. One of those ways is the simple task of putting a face to a byline, whether in articles like this, newsletters in the inbox, or at in-person community events. There were times when newspapers could do the whole voice-of-god-trust-the-Gatekeeper and you-need-us-more-than-we-need-you thing, but those days are gone. A downside to putting journalists on such x-ray display could be potential bias perceptions or showcasing just how little a newsroom’s demographics might reflect a community it covers.

BizWest is now partnering with the Denver Post’s media company

In what the Northern Colorado and Boulder-area business journal BizWest is calling an “unprecedented collaboration,” it as entered into a deal with Prairie Mountain Media, one of the companies involved with The Denver Post. From BizWest:
The agreement, effective Monday, covers all of Prairie Mountain’s publications and websites within the BizWest coverage area including Boulder Daily Camera, Longmont Times-Call, Loveland Reporter-Herald, Broomfield Enterprise and Colorado Hometown Weekly, with daily content created by BizWest appearing on those publications’ websites and in their print editions. BizWest content also may be featured, in limited form, in The Denver Post and on its website, with articles linking back to www.bizwest.com.
The PMM company oversees nearly two dozen newspapers in Colorado. “This collaboration will increase the business coverage available to our readers in print and online,” its Central News Editor Julie Vossler-Henderson said in a BizWest statement. “We look forward to working with BizWest to best serve all our readers.” The BizWest write-up noted: “BizWest and Prairie Mountain Media editors will consult on story ideas, with BizWest assigning and editing stories, and with Prairie Mountain handling photography.” How does the deal work financially? “BizWest will remain a locally owned and operated publication but will receive a monthly licensing and editing fee from Prairie Mountain,” BizWest writes.

A canceled KNUS host plans a podcast future

The conservative 710 KNUS radio host and Denver-area newspaper publisher who joked about a “nice school shooting” that could break up the monotony of impeachment coverage in the Trump era is back. Just… not on KNUS. He and his wife Julie Hayden will take their “Chuck and Julie Show” to a podcast format, Westword reported. Boniwell indicated to the alt-weekly that he thought getting canceled for his comment might have been a false flag. The Salem Media Group, he said, wanted to replace his conservative-couple show with one by syndicated Trump supporter Sebastian Gorka. “We knew that at the first sign of bad news, we were going to be gone,” he told reporter Michael Roberts.

In a recent newsletter, I wrote about how Jason Salzman and his Colorado Times Recorder played a key role in publicizing the school shooting remark. Salzman now tells Westword he’s not exactly thrilled by the fallout. “I didn’t think the show should have been canceled for that joke, and I would much rather have Chuck and Julie than Sebastian Gorka,” Salzman said. “They all have their faults, to put it mildly, but I’m not out to eliminate KNUS or Chuck and Julie or any other host. I just want them to be civil and factual and not be bigoted and to basically act like adults.”

R.I.P a reporter with a 60-year career at The Denver Post

Irv Moss, who had been a sports reporter for The Denver Post for (this is not a typo–>) 60 years, died this week at 85 following a battle with esophageal cancer. Imagine working at a place that long. Imagine what he had seen. “I think of Irv as the journalistic foundation of this city,” recalled a former Broncos source for his obit in the Post. Moss started at the paper when papers still had employees called “copy boys” and retired three years ago. “Newspaperman,” recalled another friend. “Old school. So old school I still think of him as a member of the cast from a black-and-white movie about newspapers.”

Moss’s obituary also indicates how maybe even an “old school newspaperman” might not mind a little advocacy. The sports writer loved the Olympics so much that, aw hell, he worked on its behalf. From the Post:
In 1972, with clearance from the Post, Moss accepted an invitation from the United States Olympic Committee to work as a public information officer at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. It was the first of 10 Olympics working in that capacity. “He would work as a press attache for the U.S. Olympic Committee,” [Mark] Kiszla said. “And he would march in opening ceremonies.”

Another source for Moss’s obituary notes how he was a real non-digital type. So just imagine what he might have thought about the robot-sounding re-write that this weird site produced about his death, using a thesaurus to mask its plagiarism of the Post’s obit. “These things are everywhere,” said Daniel Petty, The Denver Press Club’s president and audience development director for the Denver Post’s owner about the local news rip-off site. “I probably deal with at least one every other week that I have to forward to our lawyers to send cease-and-desists on. It’s impossible to keep up.”

Stay vigilant out there, folks.

*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 Jon S for Creative Commons on Flickr. 

1 COMMENT

  1. There will never be a level playing field for news alternatives as long as the print side is the beneficiary of a legally mandated, monopolistic, publicly subsidized legal notice requirement. Likewise, the subsidy provides a reliable base income for corporate raiders who have no interest in journalism or community good. Yet, they are propped up by a tax supported franchise monopoly.
    Public legal notices could be better handled through audited web-publishing by the entity posting them. Such a change would be quicker, cheaper and more readily accessible to the public.

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