Why not try to move the defunct Newseum’s exhibits to the Union Printers Home in Colorado Springs?

Your weekly roundup of Colorado local news & media

The Union Printers Home in downtown Colorado Springs in March 2020 (photo by Corey Hutchins)

So, I have a kind of half-baked idea, and I’d love your take on it.

If you’ve never been to the Union Printers Home near Memorial Park in Colorado Springs, you should check it out. It’s a stunningly beautiful historic building set on a hillside on the outskirts of downtown.

In 1892, members of the International Typographical Union built the home “to care for printers who contracted tuberculosis from exposure to carbon-based ink,” reported The Gazette in 2016, and more than 25,000 printers eventually wound up being treated there. Over the years, “the Home grew to comprise of over 260 acres which included a dairy, farm, several gardens, a power plant and much more,” according to the UPHF foundation.

In recent years, this out-of-the-way landmark of journalism history was a nursing home and assisted care facility. But it’s shutting down after the state pulled its license, and its residents are being relocated.

The building is now for sale, reports The Colorado Springs Business Journal.

So here’s my idea: Someone should buy it and figure out how to move whatever relics will fit from the Newseum in Washington, D.C., which closed in December. Colorado Springs is already about to open a U.S. Olympic Museum downtown, a bunch of new hotels are popping up, and the state’s second-largest city has overhauled its zoning code as it executes a comprehensive plan for growth.

Not everyone loved the Newseum, which was plagued by financial problems and housed quirky journalism exhibits from the “Watergate break-in door” to the blown-up car of murdered Arizona reporter Dan Bolle. But I thought the Newseum was a fascinating place, and I’m sure many wonder what might happen to everything that was in it— beyond being stuffed into storage in Maryland. “I have great optimism that we’ll have an exciting new footprint somewhere,” executive director Carrie Christoffersen told Poynter in December.

To which I say: Someone should buy the Union Printers Home (Google? Facebook? Anyone?) and make it the new Newseum in Colorado Springs.

Corporate conglomeration coming to Colorado local TV news?

Typically when the word “consolidation” finds itself in this column it’s about monster mega-mergers among national newspaper chains and how they affect Colorado. This week it’s different.

Citing “people familiar with the matter,” the news agency Reuters reported, “U.S. regional TV station operator Gray Television Inc has made an offer to acquire larger peer Tegna Inc for approximately $8.5 billion.”

That would affect Colorado TV news stations. Atlanta-based Gray owns KKTV in Colorado Springs and KKCO in Grand Junction. TEGNA owns KUSA 9News and KTVD in Denver. In writing about a potential purchase, The Gazette in Colorado Springs pointed out how “in some past media-company mergers involving significant debt, the consolidations have been followed by cost-cutting moves, including layoffs.” The story also included this line: “Denver’s KUSA has a relationship with KRDO in Colorado Springs, a KKTV competitor, while KKTV has been partnering with Denver station KCNC. KKTV also is a news partner of The Gazette.”

Consolidation concerns aren’t just about layoffs; one study shows “an inverse relationship between consolidation and the amount of local news coverage.” Locally, there’s another wrinkle to consider. The Wall-Street Journal has reported that the private equity titan Apollo Global Management might also be trying to buy TEGNA. (Apollo was the Mr. Money Bags behind a recent merger of the nation’s two largest newspaper chains, Gannett and GateHouse, that smashed together The Coloradoan in Fort Collins and The Pueblo Chieftain.) Just yesterday, the WSJ reported “budding media mogul” Byron Allen also “has made a bid” for TEGNA, and his would be “all cash.”The Broadcasting + Cable trade publication offered this:

“Our read of the situation within Tegna is that they’d prefer to not be acquired by Apollo,” said Steven Cahall, analyst at Wells Fargo Securities. “We think prior overtures were met with resistance and while the price then might have been a reason to rebuff, we also think Tegna management has reservations about living under private equity oversight with the belief it could mean a bigger debt burden or more cost slashing that could hit newsrooms.”

TEGNA has been innovative in recent years with its approach at local stations across the country when it comes to trying to engage and grow audiences, particularly younger ones. USA9 in D.C. hired a comedian to anchor a morning show, for instance. In Denver, host Kyle Clark’s nightly broadcast of news and commentary “Next” is another innovative approach roughly four years in the making that appears to have paid off.

One question might be whether (or which) potential new owners might be willing to spend money trying— or sustaining— TEGNA’s news innovations, be it Gray, a hedge-fundy firm that might look to trim fat for shareholders, or a media mogul.

Local TV stations haven’t felt the same pressures of their print newsroom counterparts in many cities, especially after the 2010 Citizens United decision that allowed unlimited spending for political advertising where much of it winds up on TV. Amid another big primary election that included two free-spending billionaires, local TV stations made a killing off the campaigns of Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer. If history is any lesson, much of that money might not stay in local markets.

If anything, this latest news shows one thing is clear: when it comes to corporate media right now, consolidation is king— whether it’s the kind of news you get rolled up at your doorstep or on your TV.

Behind The Denver Post’s new ‘hard paywall’

On a recent Friday, during a morning editorial meeting at The Denver Post, a mini debate flashed over a new initiative. If you’re not a loyal subscriber to Colorado’s flagship paper (and if you’re not, you could be by clicking here), you might have noticed getting locked out from viewing a story online even if you had a few freebies left on the monthly meter. The debate that day around a newsroom conference table was about which stories should go behind the Post’s new “hard paywall,” viewable only to Premium digital subscribers.

City government reporter Conrad Swanson had a competitive story he was running down and hoping to break about a Denver councilwoman threatening legal action against the mayor. Top editor Lee Ann Colacioppo had a suggestion. Might that exclusive go behind the new hard paywall? Senior editor Cindi Andrews, who oversees political coverage, wasn’t so sure. Maybe instead a less-exclusive state government story about paid family leave, she offered. “Be brave,” Colacioppo said.

In the end, the Swanson item wound up as Premium content. Kind of. Because of a mixup involving the new system, the story went live as it normally would, and the drawbridge only came up behind it hours later. So on that particular story they soft-launched before a hard paywall. Or something.

The development represents a new layer of news judgement for The Denver Post, and likely other news outlets, as newsroom leaders choose what stories they should wall off hard, and how to decide. The digital-only Colorado Sun, which doesn’t have a paywall but offers exclusive content to people who pay for premium newsletters, is also likely trying to figure out what readers are willing to pay for. All this at a time when some are asking if paywalls are helping the proliferation of ‘fake news’.

The same day of that Friday editorial meeting, which I attended with a dozen Colorado College students who were getting a tour of the paper, Colacioppo published a note to subscribers in an email about the new program.

From the letter:

We have started experimenting with locking down some of our stories online so they can only be seen by you, our subscribers. You will know these stories because they are labeled “Post Premium” and they’ll be highlighted in a newsletter with the same name.

To give you a sense of some recent stories the paper decided to Premium (yes, I’m using it as a verb now), here’s a roundup: “8 unanswered questions at the halfway point in Colorado’s legislative session;” “Colorado’s metro district developers among the biggest campaign contributors”; “In improving roster, Broncos should look at how top teams fared in five key statistics”; “As Colorado college students go hungry, state encourages them to apply for SNAP benefits.”

(An aside about that tour of The Denver Post: In every newsroom meeting students sat in on, women outnumbered men.)

Speaking of paywalls …

As I was finishing up this newsletter Thursday evening, I was rounding up different answers after asking on social media how local newsrooms around the country are handling their paywalls and premium content in regard to their reporting on the coronavirus. Plenty have dropped their paywalls on coronavirus coverage; others maybe just unlocked some of it. Lots of journalists receive this newsletter each week, so feel free to ping me on anything interesting you’ve seen about this or your own thinking around it.

The kids are all right

Speaking of Colorado College students, as another journalism class wraps up this week — and I learn to teach my next class online (thanks, coronavirus) — I’m super proud to highlight some solid work by student journalists this year who understand the importance of local news.

From the CC communications department:

Original, on-the-ground reporting in local communities is a staple of higher-level CC Journalism Institute classes. It allows students the vital opportunity to explore the areas of this region on a deeper level and to better understand the communities and cultures of which they are a part. The stories they produce not only help them grasp the reality of a journalism profession and begin to resumé build, but help local news outlets publish [emerging writers] at a time when the local news industry is struggling.

A group of students recently published a 10-part series on cannabis in southern Colorado for PULP in Pueblo; an in-depth explainer on a housing issue in Colorado Springs for The Colorado Independent; a quirky, offbeat feature on the legend of witches in Manitou Springs for The Colorado Sun; and a deep-dive into the ballot measure to re-introduce wolves into Colorado.

This week, a graduating senior published a guest column in The Denver Post headlined “Yes, I’m Asian. No, I don’t have coronavirus” that came out of a class column-writing assignment and appeared on the front page of the paper’s Sunday Perspective section.

And then there’s this …

For her thesis project, student Sam Sanson just dropped a five-episode, must-listen podcast series called “Per-sistence” about toxic chemical pollution in the Colorado Springs area.

From the tease:

This podcast tells the story of a chemical contamination in Colorado’s Fountain Valley. Starting with a decade long cover up of dangers certain PFAS chemicals pose, and ending in Congress today, you’ll learn about toxic PFAS chemicals and meet people who they’re hurting.

The second episode, titled “Canary in a Coalmine,” is all about how a “devoted journalist alerts tens of thousands of people in Colorado’s Fountain Valley that their water contains toxic PFAS chemicals.” (SPOILER: It’s John Hazlehurst of The Colorado Springs Business Journal, who says he started his journalism career at age 56.)

“Sam’s work in investigating and reporting this story is exceptional,” says Tyler Cornelius, a CC professor who oversaw the project along with Steven Hayward of the Journalism Institute. (Disclosure: I had some minor involvement.)

More from Cornelius:

“PFAS pollution is a very difficult subject to communicate with any type of nuance, and the local story she reports is full of just that. There are very few journalists in the entire country that have put in the time and effort to detail the ups and downs, the contradictions and tragedies of our PFAS tragedy, and what it has meant for the families who have lost loved ones and the many others who are struggling to have their voices heard. CC should be exceptionally proud that Sam Sanson offered this important contribution on an issue of regional, national and international importance.”

You really should listen to the whole podcast series. Find “Per-sistence” here.

What you missed on the Sunday front pages across Colorado

The Denver Post reported on the financial clout of developers in local metro district campaigns. The Coloradoan introduced readers to Manhattan, Colorado, a place it called the “gold rush town you’ve never heard of.” The Loveland Reporter-Herald localized the party caucusesThe Longmont Times-Call reported the city police chief is retiring after 25 yearsThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel checked in on its regional airport as fares drop and traffic increasesThe Durango Herald reported how the area is preparing for COVID-19The Gazette in Colorado Springs reported on a federal report of a woman’s death in the Union Printers Home nursing facilityThe Boulder Daily Camera reported oil-and-gas spills are increasing modestly at the same time as regulations tighten.

Howdy, sheriff, Springs Indy edition

County sheriffs in many places across the country can sometimes rule like lords. They’re often elected partisan officeholders with a rather remarkable amount of power over large jurisdictions.

Recently, satirist John Oliver of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight” took on U.S. sheriffs in a 16-minute clip that zeroed in on the role of the country’s roughly 3,000 powerful lawmen whose duties are sometimes enshrined in state constitutions. The clip lances sheriffs in South Carolina, a state with a serious corruption problem, as well as one in Alabama, Ohio, and another in California.

Oliver might not have mentioned any sheriffs in Colorado, but Pam Zubeck of The Colorado Springs Independent put the spotlight on one this week. From her cover story, headlined “Side Hustle“:

Jason Mikesell might be watching you.

But is he conducting surveillance as Teller County sheriff? Or is he doing so as head of his private company, which employs a stable of local peace officers now in hot water over their part in Mikesell’s profit-making enterprises? As sheriff, a post he’s held since being appointed in May 2017, Mikesell is paid $104,889 by county taxpayers. But as owner and chief executive officer of iXero LLC and at least seven other firms he owns, the sky’s the limit. Described as “the world’s premiere [sic] security provider,” iXero commanded nearly $500,000 for one 30-day contract and landed a $3.5 million security job in a West Coast school district.

Public records document that Mikesell has spent hundreds of hours working for his side businesses’ clients while serving as sheriff. In the past 15 months, he’s made several real estate deals in Woodland Park on property totaling $1.5 million, including a luxury home and two commercial properties. In his moonlighting job, Mikesell offers a range of services to clients worldwide through a web of private companies, several of which he established after pinning on his sheriff’s badge.

The piece details the lucrative side business of the county sheriff, and how other local law enforcement leaders think about the arrangement.

Here’s another excerpt:

During the 48-minute interview, Mikesell said 11 times that his side businesses pose no conflicts and are separate from his law enforcement duties. “My business has nothing to do with the law enforcement capacity in the job that I do here,” he says. “My private business has no relationship to the Teller County Sheriff’s Office.” In fact, he said, his situation is common. “I believe most sheriffs and other folks that I’ve ever dealt with had businesses,” he said.

When the Indy asked him to name three, Mikesell refused, saying, “You’ll have to find them,” and accused the reporter of being “brash” and “rude.”

As part of Wednesday’s cover package, Zubeck also penned a separate mini-profile of the sheriff headlined “Sheriff Mikesell: A success story.” Springs TV station KOAA picked up the story, and revealed Zubeck’s reporting came from a tip “several months ago,” leading her to make an open records request. Zubeck then got her hands on completed internal affairs reports.

Her being able to do that might have been a result of a new law Gov. Jared Polis signed in April that brought more transparency to completed internal affairs investigations. Before this law, just about every agency would routinely withhold such files, says Jeffrey Roberts of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition. “It was very unlikely you were going to be getting a completed internal affairs report, and now it’s a whole lot more likely because of this new law.”

Denver man explains Bernie’s media critiques

On Tuesday evening, as I was driving, a Sunrise Movement activist was on the public radio station answering a question about why she thought Bernie Sanders wasn’t driving up turnout more among young people. As she began to argue that Joe Biden was getting much more “earned media,” the host cut her off and apologized— they had to go live to a speech Biden was giving in Philadelphia. One could imagine steam shooting out the ears of any Bernie supporter listening in.

The Sanders campaign has had some critiques about media, and this week, the campaign’s advisor David Sirota, who lives in Denver, went on CNN to explain how those critiques differ from Trump’s.

“The main critique is that the media often doesn’t focus on the issues that are of real importance to the American people,” Sirota said. “The issues that Senator Sanders has campaigned on.” (He noted climate change, poverty, low wages, and healthcare.) “The critique is that a media that is owned by big corporations and billionaires is often not all that interested in covering the major issues that are not necessarily of economic importance to billionaires and corporations.”

While Trump “impugns the existence of the media” and doesn’t appear to believe reporters have a worthwhile role in our democracy, Sirota said Sanders “very much believes in the free press as an integral part of our democracy, but his critique is, again, that the media often ignores the fundamentally important public policy issues that the media should be covering and, frankly, what we need the media to be covering.”

He also talked about why he left journalism to work for the Sanders campaign, and what a President Sanders would do to protect journalism. Watch the whole thing here.

Denver Business Journal sued DIA for records

The Denver Business Journal reported this week it has “filed a public-records lawsuit against Denver International Airport to reveal the members of an independent panel that recommended DIA CEO Kim Day should hire Great Hall Partners for a $1.8 billion renovation project.”

From the DBJ:

The lawsuit stems from a Jan. 16 request by the DBJ under the Colorado Open Records Act seeking the names of the independent panel members who recommended Great Hall Partners to Day. Several days later, Day responded via Rachel Marion, DIA’s director of government affairs. Marion withheld the names of the panel members, citing two state statutes. …

DBJ is being represented pro bono by Thomas Kelley, an attorney with Denver civil rights and employment law firm Killmer Lane & Newman. Kelley also sits on the board of directors of the nonprofit Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, which promotes transparency in state and local governments in Colorado. Jeff Roberts, executive director of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition connected Kelley with DBJ. “It’s DIA’s burden to prove that disclosure of the names would substantially harm the public interest,” Roberts said in an email about the case.

Read the whole thing here.

So, The Maverick Observer is … not live

In last week’s newsletter I pointed readers to the website of The Maverick Observer, a new digital information site in Colorado Springs, whose founder had said would likely go live by the end of February.

Turns out the site wasn’t ready for public viewing, according to someone involved with it. Information on the site was “not up-to-date,” Angela Gilpin of Fourth Estate News Bureau, told me, adding she would let me know when the site is up and running, “hoping in the very near future.”

The link I published last week now goes to an under-construction page reading: “Get Ready… Something Really Cool Is Coming Soon.”

COVID-19 blots out Colorado Sunshine Week panel

We won’t be able to hear Jon Krakauer on March 19 in Denver as the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition has postponed its Sunshine Week panel at the University of Denver.

From the announcement:

We hope to reschedule the event, “Sexual Assault on Campus: The Battle for the Public’s Right to Know,” once [uncertainty] about COVID-19 subsides. Meanwhile, we will issue refunds to those who purchased tickets.

This isn’t surprising as the coronavirus continues to spread and disrupt U.S. daily life, and officials urge social distancing, and warn against gathering in crowds.

*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