‘A little bit of shock’: Colorado Public Radio’s latest expansion absorbs KRCC in the Springs 📡

Your weekly roundup of Colorado local news & media

The KRCC newsroom on the Colorado College campus in downtown Colorado Springs (Photo by Corey Hutchins)

In October, when writing about the singular expansion of a particular local news outlet in our state, I said one day we’ll all be working for Colorado Public Radio. Well, as a full-time employee of Colorado College, I couldn’t have imagined how quickly it would hit so close to home.

From The Gazette in Colorado Springs this week:

Colorado College has turned over management and operation of its public radio station, KRCC-FM, to Colorado Public Radio as part of a broader plan to create a new “public media center” in downtown Colorado Springs. The 2,100-watt station at 91.5 on the FM band will continue to be called KRCC and employ the station’s 15 full-time and part-time employees, headed by general manager Kyle Cunningham, said Colorado Public Radio President Stewart Vanderwilt. …

Under the long-term agreement between the college and Colorado Public Radio, the Centennial-based nonprofit radio network is buying a vacant building at 720 N. Tejon St. that the college acquired in 2016. CPR will spend up to $1.5 million during the next 1½ years to renovate the nearly 10,000-square-foot building to house KRCC, the college’s Journalism Institute and the Rocky Mountain PBS Innovation Center.

(Because of my position in the Journalism Institute at CC you won’t get too much analysis yet from me about this latest public radio move, but I’ll round up the relevant coverage and commentary that appeared elsewhere.)

From CPR:

“We’ve been looking at that building for a while for KRCC,” [Colorado College president Jill] Tiefenthaler said. “As we’ve seen nationally, more and more cities are going to these journalism hubs where different types of media are coming together to strengthen local news and reporting. And then to bring the student component in, given that it is Colorado College, there’s this opportunity to create internships and think about future leadership. This alliance with Colorado Public Radio strengthens that original vision.”
From Westword:
The partnership is the latest in a series of moves by CPR that have positioned it to challenge the Denver Post as Colorado’s top journalism organization, with its acquisition of Denverite last March the most prominent example.
Friday’s announcement came as a surprise to most staff at KRCC, according to general manager Kyle Cunningham. “I think we’re all dealing with a little bit of shock,” he said. … The agreement means KRCC staff will eventually become employees of Colorado Public Radio. But the station’s president, Stewart Vanderwilt, stresses that there are no immediate layoff plans. “This partnership isn’t about consolidation to reduce costs and create efficiencies,” he said. “It’s about adding scale and capacity to create and deliver more news that is important to the community.”
(That item came with this disclosure: “Note: KRCC is a member of the Mountain West News Bureau. In order to avoid a potential conflict of interest, this story was overseen by an outside editor.”) More from The Gazette:
CPR bought KXRE-AM at 1490 and a companion FM station at 102.1, which both transmit from Manitou Springs, for $550,000 in 2017 and has been broadcasting its news format on those stations. Vanderwilt said CPR hasn’t made any decisions about those stations, but said they “seem redundant” after the KRCC deal. CPR also broadcasts classical music and a rock format it calls OpenAir on some of the 37 radio frequencies it owns along the Front Range on the Western Slope.
From Pueblo’s PULP newsmagazine publisher John Rodriguez:
Denverfication of Colorado news is a serious problem. I get this will help the @KRCC but is the news media’s only job to put out local stories or do we exist for something bigger where local independent journalism is about sovereignty too?

More from CPR:

The partnership is a literal signal boost for both CPR and KRCC, said CPR president and CEO Stewart Vanderwilt. “KRCC and its stations serve the second-largest city and one of the fastest-growing counties in Colorado,” he said. “They also extend into rural areas where the loss of local news has been most dramatic in some cases, and so we see this as an extension of the mission to serve all Coloradans and to be a primary source of news for those Coloradans.”
In 2017, on the 50th anniversary of LBJ signing the Public Broadcasting Act, I led with a new development in the KRCC newsroom for a Columbia Journalism Review story about how public radio is re-thinking its approach to journalism. That was around the time the station joined the Mountain West News Bureau, which has been cranking out compelling local stories with a regional focus that you can find here.

Speaking of KRCC… 🎙️

Three years have passed since former station management got rid of the excellent long-form local journalism podcast “Wish We Were Here” that came with the tagline “Tales and investigations from the shadow of America’s mountain.” The program, produced by Noel Black and Jake Brownell, was incredibly useful for me as someone who had recently moved to the Springs in helping me understand my new community.

But Black is back to creating Colorado-based podcasts again— this time for History Colorado. Called “Lost Highways” with the tagline “Dispatches from the shadows of the Rocky Mountains,” the first season launched in the fall and wrapped up last month. In it, writer Black and producer Tyler Hill take on what they call “overlooked stories” in the state and American West that “we as Coloradans and journalists can’t believe we’ve never heard.”

The first season reports on “the Boulder County clerk who issued six same-sex marriage licenses in 1975” and the legacy of former Denver talk radio host Alan Berg who “helped shape the culture of outrage-for-profit that dominates the media landscape today.” The podcasters delve into the history of a Japanese incarceration camp in Southeastern Colorado, and the personality of “Red Elvis,” a Denver folk singer who “defected to East Germany during the Cold War.” And they take listeners to Deerfield, Colorado and Nicodemus, Kansas, “two all-African-American communities with two different faiths that show us a new side of the black experience in the West.”

Those are just a handful of the episodes of “Lost Highways.” Find the entire catalogue of the first season here.

Bird-dogging vultures: Newspapers preemptively strike at The Denver Post’s hedge-fund owner

There’s something to remember about the 2018 Denver Post Rebellion that’s still so fresh in many minds: It was reactive. Even one of the editorial writers fired in the battle questioned whether he should have raged at his paper’s hedge-fund owner earlier. And when that rebellion rippled through the chain of newspapers nationwide, some journalists took up editorial arms while others didn’t.

This time, a handful of newspapers with an Alden Global Capital problem isn’t waiting before taking aim at the metaphorical vultures circling overhead now that the hedge fund owns a controlling interest in its owner Tribune Publishing.

Writing in the Tribune-owned Orlando Sentinel, columnist Scott Maxwell told readers why he isn’t accepting an offered buyout under the new regime. From the piece:

And here’s the thing you should know: I am not alone. If there’s a Sentinel byline you’ve seen for years, it represents someone who has passed up one lucrative opportunity after another to walk away. They are names like theater writer Matt Palm, high school sports guru Buddy Collings and nonprofits reporter Kate Santich; all talented, passionate people who have spent decades learning about this community and telling its stories. I don’t yet know which of my friends will leave this time. But I do know why they’ve stayed this long.

The column then lists other Sentinel journalists, along with their photos, and why they’ve stayed.

Days later, two investigative reporters at The Chicago Tribune wrote a column in The New York Times calling out its new majority shareholder. From the column:

Alden’s strategy of acquiring struggling local newsrooms and stripping them of assets has built the personal wealth of the hedge fund’s investors. But Alden has imposed draconian staff cuts that decimated The Denver Post and other once-proud newspapers that have been vital to their communities and to American democracy. Those newsrooms, which put a spotlight on local political corruption, have served as forums for community voices and have driven the coverage of regional television, radio and online outlets.

“Unless Alden reverses course — perhaps in repentance for the avaricious destruction it has wrought in Denver and elsewhere — we need a civic-minded local owner or group of owners,” they went on. “So do our Tribune Publishing colleagues.” (At least one Denver Post defector indicated he doesn’t see that in the cards.)

In Baltimore at the Tribune-owned Sun, journalists there are pursuing “local ownership amid hedge fund fears,” read a headline in the city’s business journal. At CNN, Brian Stelter wrote at the beginning of the week about an “uncomfortable” truth: “Despite those Denver Post protests in 2018, Alden still controls the paper. Some of the paper’s writers and editors left and launched a digital news outlet…

Advocacy groups take over Streetsblog Denver 

It was only four months ago when we learned a Colorado newspaper would lose its last remaining staffer. This time, it’s the news site Streetsblog Denver that is saying goodbye to its final full-time employee.

From Denverite:

A news site founded on the proposition that Denver streets aren’t just for cars is losing its only employee. Andy Bosselman’s last day at Streetsblog Denver was Wednesday. The site [where] Bosselman served as executive director, fundraiser and reporter will continue under the auspices of the Denver Streets Partnership, which brings together advocacy groups such as WalkDenver, Bicycle Colorado and the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition to collaborate on improving walking, biking and public transit infrastructure. 

Communications staff will still publish about Denver transit issues, WalkDenver’s director Jill Locantore told Denverite, “We just won’t have a full-time journalist.”

More from Donna Bryson at Denverite:

Alan Gottlieb has served on Streetsblog Denver’s board since soon after the site was founded in 2015 by David Sachs, who left last year to become Denverite’s city reporter. Gottlieb, who chaired Streetsblog Denver’s board at the end, also co-founded Chalkbeat, which like Streetsblog Denver is a nonprofit news organization focusing on a single topic that was incubated at Colorado Nonprofit Development Center. Gottlieb said that unlike Chalkbeat, which focuses on education, Streetsblog Denver struggled to attract national funders. Raising money “just proved over time challenging in the extreme,” Gottlieb said.
Read the full story here.

What you missed on the Sunday front pages across Colorado

The Denver Post dug into “what’s polluting Colorado’s air” (ANSWER: “More than 125 million metric tons of hazardous and heat-trapping gases” each year). The Summit Daily News profiled a Frisco local who played in the NFL. The Longmont Times-Call had a piece about local scientists examining recovery issues in the ozone layer. The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel reported on unsatisfactory high-hazard water dams. The Fort Collins Coloradoan continued its series examining local homelessness issues. The Gazette in Colorado Springs looked at spiking vehicle crashes along the I-25 construction zone. The Boulder Daily Camera reported how the city council is focusing on “new homelessness reduction strategies.”

iHeartMedia layoffs rock Denver radio

Print newspapers aren’t the only media industry in trouble. The nation’s largest radio conglomerate, iHeartMedia, “initiated a round of mass layoffs this week, cutting enough people that one former on-air host described Tuesday as ‘one of the worst days in on-air radio history,” Rolling Stone reported.

Westword’s Michael Roberts reported the local impact of the cuts, and the paper rounded up what listeners were saying, adding:

Massive broadcasting conglomerate iHeartRadio has been slashing staff at its outlets across the U.S. in recent days, and its Denver radio stations have seen cuts, including Colorado Rockies game-caller Jerry Schemmel, and could see more. IHeart’s Denver stations include KOA, The Fox, KHOW, KBPI, KBCO, The Party, The Bull, Channel 93.3 and Freedom 93.7. Terms such as “bloodbath” and “the culling” have been applied to the iHeartRadio cuts, which are likely the largest by a single firm in the history of the industry. One local insider estimates the number of employees affected across the country at 1,500, or more than 10 percent of the company’s total workforce.
Citing an internal memo, Roberts reported the company is calling the layoffs “dislocations” and “hypes the use of artificial intelligence, or AI, as a key component for the company moving forward.” So to recap: robots are helping write the print news, the TV news, and now the radio news. Got it.

Colorado journalists are getting a pro-bono press freedom lawyer

Colorado is one of five states to benefit from free legal help from a press freedom attorney who will battle on behalf of local journalists who believe governments are denying them their rights to open records and meetings. The move is part of the Local Legal Initiative at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

How did Colorado win out in the 50 applications? “The Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition applied for the program with the Colorado Press Association, the Colorado Broadcasters Association and the Colorado Media Project,” writes Jeffrey Roberts of the CFOIC. More from Jeff:

Because of reduced resources, local news outlets in Colorado and throughout the country are waging far fewer legal battles than in the past. If journalists can’t get access to public records, government meetings and court proceedings, Coloradans are deprived of the information they need to be engaged in their communities and hold their institutions accountable. Going to court is the only remedy in Colorado’s open records and open meetings laws when journalists and members of the public believe they have been denied access improperly. Unlike many other states, Colorado does not have an administrative appeals process or an ombudsman to handle open-government disputes. The Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) only requires a records custodian to communicate with a requester who has filed a notice of intent to sue.

In 2015, Colorado earned an ‘F’ grade for access to public information in a yearlong national report by the Center for Public Integrity that analyzed 13 areas of government in each state and graded them on their risk for corruption. (I researched and wrote the Colorado report.) Other states to get a lawyer are Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Tennessee.

The new legal eagle plans to swoop in this summer. Perhaps one issue the lawyer can work on is finding a way to stop public entities from asking for ID to fulfill an open-records request.

The Denver Post editorial page editor canceled a columnist

Colorado’s largest newspaper will no longer publish the work of Jon Caldara, head of the libertarian-leaning Independence Institute, in its editorial pages, cutting loose his run as a guest columnist since 2016. Caldara framed his canning as a casualty of PC culture in the mainstream media, which earned him national mentions in conservative news outlets. “Not to put words in her mouth but Megan found my writing too insensitive,” Caldara wrote publicly, referencing editorial page editor Megan Schrader. “And yes, it is.”

Schrader told me she didn’t want to get into the details of a personnel matter, and while she generally doesn’t dispute his account for why she let him go, it’s more complicated than what he wrote. “I do really value having a conservative voice on our pages,” she added, saying she plans to announce another conservative columnist soon and doesn’t plan to replace Caldara’s voice with a liberal one. Here’s a column calling for new columnists.

In a note to readers, The Denver Post’s top editor, Lee Ann Colacioppo, wrote: “We believe it is both possible and desirable to write about sensitive subjects and about people with whom one disagrees using respectful language. In exercising our right to edit material submitted for publication, we make changes and suggestions to uphold that standard. We expect writers to work with us in a collaborative and professional manner as we strive toward that goal.”

Aspen Public Radio bumps music for more local news

The local public radio station serving the Aspen valley region “has decided to eliminate most of its local music programming to make way for more community-driven news initiatives,” reported The Aspen Times newspaper this week.

More from the Aspen Times:

For Tammy Terwelp, executive director of APR, and her staff, the decision to cancel all of the afternoon and evening music programs — except for the grant-funded classical music programming hosted by Chris Mohr over the summer — was the result of months of research and discussion on the future of APR and its drive to be the a “local news of record” source for Aspen and the valley.

A worthy goal for any local news outlet for sure, but also an especially tall order in Aspen, which is one of the very few U.S. cities left with two robust daily newspapers, The Aspen Times and The Aspen Daily News. The nonprofit Aspen Journalism also serves the area as does the nonprofit weekly Sopris Sun. KDNK public radio in Carbondale has a strong signal in Aspen, while multiple magazines cover the valley, and a smattering of local commercial radio news can be heard on the airwaves.  

The move didn’t go over super smoothly for some volunteers, with one longtime jazz program host telling The Aspen Times, “they are more than insulted.”

More from the Times:

Terwelp said based on her more than 20 years of public media and radio experience, along with local listener survey data and feedback that highlight a steady decline in APR music program listenership over recent years, she, her staff and the APR board of directors felt moving toward a more news-focused station was in its best interest.

The station director said she plans to add more local journalism initiatives and hire a news director.

Could the Springs alt-weekly see impact at the Capitol?

Two years ago, journalist Rachel Aviv had quite the holy-shit story in The New Yorker headlined “How the elderly lose their rights.” The investigation detailed a shockingly depraved racket by legal guardians who brazenly prey on older people and siphon away their money and freedom. If you haven’t read it, you should, given that 1.5 million people were under the care of guardians in 2017 when the story came out.

Earlier this month, reporter Pam Zubeck at The Colorado Springs Independent alt-weekly noted in a cover story some more recent cases of exploitation by guardians in California, Florida, and Nevada. Then she wrote: “Think that couldn’t happen in Colorado? Actually it happens here with some regularity, according to people who have observed guardianship.”

More from The Indy:

But the extent of such exploitation of vulnerable seniors is hard to gauge, because it takes place behind a veil of secrecy in a court process closed to the public in which only those with a direct stake in the outcome have a voice. Sometimes guardians appointed by the court trump the wishes of family members and dear friends, all while cranking out billings to the elders’ estates.

One such case involves a 90-year-old Colorado Springs man who played tennis every day and enjoyed dinner parties regularly with friends until the court intervened and, as his friends tell the Indy, doomed him to an isolated life in a nursing facility from which his friends are barred. In another, a 79-year-old woman simply disappeared from her home and later called a friend seeking help from an assisted living facility where she’d been admitted by a guardian. She later was moved by the guardian to a facility in another state.

And here’s the nut: “Such cases are apt to become more common as baby boomers hit retirement like a tsunami, forming a pool ripe for exploitation by unscrupulous lawyers, guardians and conservators, abetted by a secretive court system that protects the exploiters, reformers say.”

On a recent visit to the alt-weekly with a class of Colorado College students, I learned a state senator had asked for 100 print copies of the newspaper after the Jan. 8 story hit the streets. I wouldn’t be surprised if each member of the 100-person legislature winds up with an issue of it on their desk or in their mailbox. Read the whole Indy cover story for yourself here.

*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.

1 COMMENT

  1. KCFR tried to take over KUNC (northern Colordo) in 2001 but were beaten back. The shock and awe 11 th hour announcement to staff and board after the deal was sealed behind closed doors was a feature then also. KCFR has called itself Colorado Public Radio for many years, despite the existence of other vital, locally engaged public radio outlets. Just a small sign of their arrogance and appetite. Locally owned, operated, and governed public radio stations are a positive, especially for rural communities. They broadcast local news, and also choose different programming from the national feed that fits local tastes and interests But they’re dying, just like news outlets. Very sad.

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