In the latest Colorado newspaper sale, ‘vulture’ hedge fund swoops down to pick at The Greeley Tribune

Your weekly roundup of Colorado local news & media

Image of a paper vulture by Daniele Adami for Creative Commons on Flickr

“As vultures circle, The Denver Post must be saved,” once wrote The Denver Post’s editorial board, likening its cost-cutting, newsroom-gutting hedge-fund owner to a scavenging bird of prey.

The hedge fund in question controls MediaNews Group, which oversees a company called Prairie Mountain Media. Typically, when these kettling creatures of late capitalism swoop in on a newspaper, journalists inside the newsroom start to disappear. Buyouts and layoffs ensue, and the residents of towns and cities become less informed about their communities.

About a month ago, the hedge fund sunk its claws into the large Tribune Publishing newspaper chain. This week, closer to home, it bloodied its beak on The Greeley Tribune in Northern Colorado.

From BizWest Feb. 24:

Prairie Mountain Media has purchased the Greeley Tribune for an undisclosed amount, adding to the company’s near-total domination of the newspaper market along the Front Range. … The deal, announced Monday morning, brings the Tribune from Swift Communications Inc. under the same ownership umbrella as the … Denver Post … Prairie Mountain is a subsidiary of Media News Group, a company controlled by the hedge fund Alden Global Capital…

The move comes a few months after The Greeley Tribune sold its building to the local library district, so its new owner, which is known for selling the headquarters of newsroom buildings after a takeover, perhaps won’t absorb that particular piece of Weld County real estate to sell off for cash. The Tribune’s newsroom has been a whirlwind of turnover lately; last year, the paper cut its print run to four days a week. “The Tribune laid off its two high school sports reporters in early December, saying it did not have the financial support to continue covering prep games in person,” BizWest’s Dan Mika and Ken Amundson wrote.

“Prairie Mountain president and CEO Al Manzi told BizWest [for a Feb. 24 story] no changes to staffing or operations will be made until he meets with Greeley Tribune staffers next week,” BizWest continued. Some journalists who used to work at the Tribune expressed sadness about the latest move.

Others who know the historical context of its new owner offered condolences.

Following this sale, if the new owner invests resources into the “once-mighty” Greeley Tribune, hires more journalists, and increases the amount of local original reporting the newspaper produces, that would be a welcome departure from what anyone who has been paying any bit of attention for the past few years sees on the horizon for this broadsheet on the brink. Denver Post journalists have been protesting outside their newsrooms against their journalism-job-destroying hedge-fund owner since 2016.

Folks at the Tribune and Prairie Mountain Media declined to make anyone available when KUNC’s Colorado Edition covered the sale.

More female sources quoted in #copolitics coverage, please

Coloradans now have their ballots in hand and are learning about the myriad presidential candidates on them, particularly on the Democratic side. More voters will be able to participate than ever before — and it’s easier than ever before, too, under the new mail-in ballot laws and the ability for unaffiliated voters to participate. As journalists approach their election coverage, consider this advice from The Denver Post’s Alex Burness:

Chapin, whom Burness was responding to above, told me she thinks Colorado media folks need to diversify who they talk to (my added link) across a whole range of issues. “And I think it’s notable that three of the state’s biggest labor unions — CEA, Colorado WINS, and the AFL-CIO— are led by women,” she said. “It would be nice to hear from them more.”

To that point, Chapin and One Colorado deputy director Sheena Kadi have compiled a list of more than three dozen female experts in Colorado for journalists interested in diversifying their Rolodex. You can view that document here — and you can even add to it.

Just because we have an all-mail election doesn’t mean we need an all-male analysis.

A 24-hour local TV news service comes to Denver

Are you ready to turn on your TV in the dead of night to find a bright-eyed local Denver CBS 4 anchor reporting the latest live headlines from the graveyard shift? It sounds like you’ll be able to tune into some kind of local programming from Denver’s CBS affiliate 24/7 via a streaming service now that the Viacom-owned station’s around-the-clock initiative came to the Mile High City last week.

From a Feb. 19 CBS 4 statement:

CBS Television Stations and CBS Interactive today announced the launch of CBSN Denver, the seventh of ViacomCBS’ 13 local direct-to-consumer streaming news services in major markets across the country. CBSN Denver features anchored programming, coverage of live breaking news events in the region, as well as an extensive library of local news content that will be available for on-demand viewing. …

CBSN Denver is available through CBSN, on CBSNews.com and on the CBS News apps for mobile and connected TV devices. In addition, the service is available through www.CBSDenver.com and the CBS Local mobile app. … CBSN Denver and the portfolio of CBSN Local services build on the success of CBSN, the pioneering 24/7 streaming news service from CBS News and CBS Interactive that delivers live national and global news coverage and in-depth reporting from CBS News’ team of trusted journalists

On demand. Not just on your TV. So what will that actually look like?

The station will live stream all of its newscasts between 4:30 a.m. and 10:35 p.m., CBS 4 news director Tim Wieland told me. “Also live: any breaking news coverage or special events.”

The other hours, he says, “will feature news segments, individual stories and weather forecasts that are record and playback.” Anchors will be “in the studio recording updates to stories as well as new stories to add to this ‘wheel.'” So, the 24-hour programming “will be a mix of live newscasts and live coverage of breaking news and special events, and news and weather segments that are record and playback from our studio.”

Walt DeHaven, the general manager of KCNC-TV, which is the other alphabet-soup monicker for CBS 4, called the move in a statement a “tremendous opportunity to serve the rising demand for streaming news content by debuting CBSN Denver.” Having “the ability to provide our coverage of local and state news to viewers here in Colorado and across the country whenever and wherever they want is something we are embracing as a key driver of our future success,” he added.

Will more Colorado news outlets re-think their approach to mugshots?

In 2018, I wrote for Columbia Journalism Review about the ethics of local news outlets publishing mugshot galleries for clicks. At the time, some thoughtful, conscientious, and responsible editors and publishers were re-thinking the ways they handle crime coverage in the digital age.

“Look, I chase traffic just as much as anyone else, but that’s the wrong way,” one Ohio local news publisher told me about the proliferation of mugshots on local newspaper sites. “You’re really preying on human suffering there, and I don’t think that’s what we should do.”

Last week, The Marshall Project resurfaced the debate with a piece about how some large newspapers are following suit — the latest being The Houston Chronicle. Faced with questions about “the lasting impact of putting these photos on the internet, where they live forever, media outlets are increasingly doing away with the galleries of people on the worst days of their lives,” the MP’s Keri Blakinger wrote.

Earlier this month here in Colorado, The Loveland Reporter-Herald had a newsroom discussion about how to handle mugshots, according to reporter Carina Julig. “We don’t run mugshot galleries, and we have to follow every person we report on who was charged with a crime through the court system, so we can follow up on whether or not they were ultimately found guilty,” she said on social media. “That keeps me, the only court reporter, pretty busy.”

That’s a responsible policy, especially given Colorado’s haunted history with small-town crime reporting ruining lives of people who have been arrested but not convicted of crimes. I wonder if any other Colorado newsrooms are talking about this and how those conversations might be going. Do you see your local news outlet running egregious pre-conviction mugshots? If so, send me some links and your thoughts about the practice.

What you missed on the Sunday front pages across Colorado

The front page of The Gazette in Colorado Springs was a roll call of names— a death toll of local people experiencing homelessness who died in El Paso County — for a story about where and how each happenedThe Coloradoan in Fort Collins reported how faculty at CSU want the school’s leaders to cut athletic spendingThe Summit Daily News covered a healthcare forum in Frisco that focused on costThe Steamboat Pilot covered a local music festivalThe Loveland Reporter-Herald reported on students customizing 3D printers for schools. Under the headline “From beer to biotech,” The Longmont Times-Call reported on the city’s new economic development plan. The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel covered a local job corp’s outlookThe Durango Herald reported on an immigrant spending 1,000 days in a local church in sanctuaryThe Denver Post looked at where Democrats running for president stand on the environmentThe Boulder Daily Camera reported how CU chose a new head coach.

Patty Calhoun reflected on Westword newsrooms over the years

As cherished alternative weekly newspapers die across the country, I’m happy the business news about Denver’s Westword is that the paper is merely moving a few blocks north. As the paper packs up to do so, its longtime editor Patricia Calhoun penned a love letter to Denver in the form a story about all the places where Westword journalists hammered out the news.

From “the second floor of an old storefront” to “a space right above what was then the Wazee Lounge and Supper Club” to an office that “had once been a coffin factory” to “the Atrium Building, across from the brand-spanking-new Wynkoop Brewing Co., Colorado’s first brewpub, which had been started by an unemployed geologist, John Hickenlooper,” Westword has had a front-row seat to the rapid transformation of Colorado’s capital city. Read the story here.

Responses to the last column’s item on PR content in small Colorado newspapers

Responses from readers to last week’s lead item in this media newsletter about how publicity content winds up presented as news in some small newspapers across Colorado came in swiftly. I thought I’d round up some of the most relevant.

“It is troubling in an era where public information offers, spokespersons and PR firms are being treated the same as journalists,” said Jill Farschman, CEO of the Colorado Press Association. “This is happening all over the state, particularly as radio encryption makes it impossible for journalists to cover breaking news as timely as in the past. It’s critical that our members don’t run PR content without verifying facts and ensuring proper attribution.”

“With fewer professional journalists reporting news, more and more organizations produce their own content for their target audiences — from schools to businesses to governments and law enforcement agencies,” noted a government public relations professional on the Front Range who suggested I check out what Abbe Smith’s team does at Cherry Creek Schools, Joe Verrengia does at Arrow Electronics, Conor Wist at South Metro Fire, Karlyn Tilley at City of Golden, or what Deborah Sherman does at the Arapahoe Sheriff’s office. “All former journalists now hired to fill the information gap that used to be filled by journalists,” the PR pro said. “They all produce quality, unfiltered content for their audiences. Some of that content gets used by small news outlets verbatim — and I include videos and photos, not just news releases.”

Erin McIntyre, who edits the small Ouray County Plaindealer, decided not to run a targeted PR pitch, saying that if she wanted to have an article about her local elections clerk going to a conference “we can do that ourselves, even if we only have two full-timers.” She stressed that she appreciates Lynn Bartels as a responsive and helpful spokesperson, “but we don’t accept submitted articles from PR folks.” The paper did recently run an item about not feeding wildlife from the Colorado Department of Parks and Wildlife, but it was “written as a column and we’ve had incidents with people hand-feeding deer around town lately, so we decided to publish it.”

Others, as I expected, turned the reporting back on me personally, asking whether I should disclose that I’m a contributor to The Colorado Independent where this newsletter is published as a column when I write about it instead of relying on the disclosure at the bottom of this email. Another reader wondered if I should disclose my “participation” in the Colorado Press Association. If any readers wonder, I could be an active member of the organization, but I’d have to check — (it might have lapsed if I haven’t paid up).

The same reader wondered about my relationship with the Colorado Media Project. I’ve participated in some of their workshops and moderated some public panels they sponsored. About a year ago they asked if they could underwrite this newsletter somehow, maybe with an ad or something, and I said maybe, but I haven’t gotten around to being serious about trying to make a business out of this newsletter even though I probably should. As for any other memberships that might have lapsed or not, they include the Society of Professional Journalists, Investigative Reporters and Editors, The Denver Press Club, and The Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition. I’m also considering joining my local chapter of Trout Unlimited since a friend recently joined the board.

How High Country News is celebrating 50 years

Last month, the venerable Paonia, Colorado-based nonprofit magazine turned half-a-century old. And it is going through some changes as part of its … maturity. “We’re making High Country News a monthly magazine, delivering to you all the journalism you’ve come to expect – and then some,” the outlet announced. “Readers will get more content in a beautifully redesigned magazine each month, along with four special issues throughout the year. All for the same low subscription price.”

More from HCN:

You might find us soon in a town near you, too. We’re taking High Country News on the road in 2020, meeting with readers to improve and introduce you to the redesigned magazine with live performances and parties. We’re honoring the magazine’s 50-year legacy with a traveling exhibit … High Country News also has big plans to improve and expand, and we’re asking all of our readers to support the magazine and its coverage of the West [well] into the future. Show your support with a special contribution.

Find out where the magazine will be here.

The life and times of Anne Trujillo, a long-time Denver TV news anchor

Over the years, Michael Roberts at Westword has been keeping Denver readers informed about the life and times of the Mile High City’s TV news anchors.

The latest check-in was with Denver7, the local ABC affiliate’s Anne Trujillo who has had “one of the longest runs at a single station in the market’s history: 35 years and counting.” In addition, Roberts writes, “she’s served as lead anchor for the outlet’s main weekday newscasts since 1999, a two-decades-plus stint that makes her the present local title holder in that category, too.”

The lengthy Q-and-A winds through her background and career in other states, her approach to social media, ratings and more. Some nuggets from the piece:

A lot of people have lost trust in media. How do you feel you’ve been able to keep hold of it?

“I think that speaks to the 360 reporting we’re doing now. People expect more from local news. They expect that we’re going to present the truth. That’s something I’ve always striven for — and we don’t want to sugarcoat anything.

I’ve always viewed my job as putting information out there, almost like at a dinner party, where you put out a platter of food — so people can choose for themselves how they should feel about something, rather than me telling them how to feel about a topic or a person. It’s not just about two sides anymore, where you just talk to an expert in the field. There are more than two sides to every story — and there’s so much going on in our world. Local news has changed over the years, and people are so much more engaged. They want to hear more, and they want to know you’re telling the truth.

Last year, we won an Edward R. Murrow award for our reporting — for the best local TV station in the entire country. And that was due in part to our 360 reporting, but also because of the leadership of [general manager] Dean Littleton and [news director] Holly Gauntt. They’re among the smartest people I’ve ever worked with in the industry, and they’ve done a great job of asking people what they want from local TV.”

As for what Trujillo believes viewers want from local TV news, she said, “They want facts.” The anchor said she thinks it’s harder than ever “to turn on the television and know who’s telling the truth right now, because there are so many outlets that claim to be offering up news.”

CPR’s ‘Back from Broken’ podcast is live

In 2018, this newsletter wrote about the very public ways in which Colorado Public Radio host Vic Vela talks about his recovery from drug addiction.

At the time, I pointed readers to a podcast interview he gave to Joe Hanel of the Colorado Health Institute in which he talked about a secret he had while he was a reporter for a string of newspapers at the Colorado Capitol in 2013. That secret: He was smoking crack daily while on the job. He later gave a speech at the 2018 Hot Issues in Health conference about his road to recovery. Drug addiction, he told the crowd, is no Disney movie. The following year, Vela said he was set to launch a yet-to-be-named podcast of his own at CPR about recovery. “After all,” he said when announcing it, “who doesn’t love a good comeback story?”

Now the podcast has a name. You can start listening to it.

Denver’s 5280 magazine caught up with Vela about “Back From Broken,” his Colorado Public Radio podcast about drug use and recovery. “There’s a lot of great reporting out there from incredible journalists on opioids and mental health,” he told the magazine. “And sometimes, we see a lot of numbers…and that’s great, that’s important. But I also think it’s important, as someone who’s been in recovery, to hear success stories.”

An excerpt from the interview:

Will your story also be a throughline in the series?
You’ll hear me from time to time chiming in whenever it’s appropriate. You’ll hear me often interjecting throughout the interviews with my own experience…I’m in a unique position to do this because I’m in recovery. It’s not just because I’m a journalist. It’s because I know what these people are talking about. Then I can tell the audience: ‘OK, I can relate to this because the kind of hell this person is describing is exactly the kind of hell that I went through.’ Being able to have a sense of empathy…is going to hopefully be special for our audience.

“I hope everyone listens,” he added. “This show is not just for one audience.” Find the trailer and first episodes here. “Everyone knows someone who struggles with addiction or mental health issues or a physical ailment that has dramatically changed their life,” reads the show teaser. “This show is a place to regularly showcase courage and what it takes to come back.”

Come to the Springs to hear about the ‘myth of journalistic objectivity’

Two months after the 2016 presidential election, radio journalist Lewis Raven Wallace proclaimed in a blog post “Objectivity is Dead and I’m Okay With it,” highlighting how “neutrality” in newsrooms can be a tool of racism and transphobia.

While some journalism schools and newsrooms might tout objectivity as a pillar of the craft, Wallace argues that if you look at how American journalism reported on issues from slavery and lynching to the early LGBTQ movement, “many of the journalists who’ve told the truth in key historical moments have been outliers and members of an opposition, here and in other countries.”

Wallace, then the only transgender journalist at the public radio show Marketplace, was fired after refusing to take the post down from his personal blog. Now, his subsequent research into the history of “objectivity” and power has resulted in a new bookThe View from Somewhere: Undoing the Myth of Journalistic Objectivity, published by University of Chicago Press, and a podcast by the same name.

Tonight, Feb. 27 at 7 p.m., Wallace will give a public talk at Colorado College about the harm caused by the myth of objectivity, and facilitate a discussion on how journalism can rigorously pursue truth while also claiming its values, better representing the communities it serves, and advocating for human rights. Lewis will speak in Gaylord Hall on the Colorado College campus at 902 N. Cascade Ave. in Colorado Springs.

“If you choose to hear Wallace speak at Colorado College on Thursday night, expect to be aggressively challenged,” wrote David Ramsey in a preview of the event for The Gazette. “And expect to walk away pondering worthy questions.”

 

*This column appears a little differently as a published version of a weekly e-mailed newsletter about Colorado local news and media. Image by Daniele Adami for Creative Commons on Flickr. If you’d like to add your e-mail address for the unabridged versions, please subscribe HERE

1 COMMENT

  1. How long is the state going to subsidize the vulture hedge funds through the practice of monopolistic legal notice advertising which made perfect sense in the 19th century but makes no sense today? Posting legal notices on the web by the responsible governmental agency would be faster, cheaper and more readily available to the public than the outdated practice of politicians choosing an anointed newspaper for a lucrative publishing monopoly. Tax dollars for hedge funds? Exactly.

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