Target: Colorado. New statewide digital news outlet is launching to cover politics and policy

Your weekly roundup of Colorado local news & media

Photo by Corey Hutchins

A new statewide nonprofit digital news outlet with robust but undisclosed funding will launch in the coming months to cover public affairs in Colorado.

An editor and a trio of yet-to-be-hired reporters will make up a newsroom that’s so nascent it doesn’t yet have a name. Quentin Young, who just left his position as opinion page editor of The Boulder Daily Camera, will lead this latest journalistic endeavor.

Funded by and linked to the national States Newsroom, the new site will become the latest local news startup in Colorado to set up shop amid several years of traditional newspaper retrenchment. It comes as the state’s media scene enters a notably new phase of collaboration. Indeed, it was part of this new transformational period, specifically for The Colorado Independent where this newsletter appears as a column, that made way for this new outlet to launch.

The States Newsroom, an apparently well-funded national network whose spread into a dozen states hasn’t received much national attention, helped fund The Indy for about two years as a partner but not a fully-funded affiliate. But as The Indy moves away from daily coverage and joins a partnership with the Colorado Press Association and Colorado Media Project to produce more collaborative journalism, the move offered an opening for the States Newsroom “to go ahead and create an outlet that does what we do for Colorado,” says Andrea Verykoukis, deputy director of the States Newsroom. A standalone Colorado presence will add to the network’s affiliates in states from Arizona to Maine, Louisiana to Maryland. Its latest, the Tennessee Lookout, launched this week.

How a new newsroom focusing on politics and policy will find a lane that sets it apart in Colorado where politics is heavily covered will be left to Young to figure out — after he decides on a name. Since at least February, Verykoukis has been calling Colorado journalists to pick their brains about the state’s media landscape. She heard multiple times (at least once from me) that our legislature is covered enough already.

“We want to find the areas elsewhere in state government and throughout the state that aren’t getting coverage,” Young told me over the phone this week, adding he expects they’ll dig into certain state agencies, look for enterprising stories from Colorado courts, and explain how federal policy is affecting state residents. The newsroom will benefit from a correspondent in Washington, D.C. who reports for newsrooms across the network. They’ll also have a freelance budget for photographers and correspondents in far-flung parts of Colorado.

With a staff of four, the new site without a paywall will have to balance feeding the beast with daily churn while producing long-form, impactful work that takes time. I know from experience that’s not easy. The site will also have to pick its shots in compelling ways to earn a committed following from a fragmented audience in a state where politics and policy perhaps isn’t as captivating to the average resident as, say, outdoor recreation.

I’ve written recently about another new startup in Colorado, the Google-backed Longmont Leader. But while that one is hyperlocal in scale, and also an admitted “experiment,” Verykoukis says this new outlet is not. Funding to expand The States Newsroom into 25 states will go through 2021, she told me, and “we don’t believe our philanthropic funders are doing that to abandon it.”

To reiterate here: 25 states. That’s some big money, right? About that. Whatever site emerges here in Colorado might have to overcome initial skepticism in some quarters about transparency in its funding, although, as I’ve written recently, the extent to which readers care much about that anymore is an open question.

“We have a philanthropic model; it’s kind of old fashioned in that we don’t disclose our donors,” Verykoukis told me when I raised the issue. “We get support from foundations and readers and we so far haven’t disclosed that.” She added that she hasn’t ruled out doing so, and they won’t take corporate sponsorships or underwriting. (I wonder about what a lack of disclosure might mean if this outlet does wind up wanting press credentials to cover the legislature, but that’s a little cart-before-the-horse.) The network has a detailed ethics policy that includes this line: “Editorial decisions are made by journalists alone.” Verykoukis says “it’s fair to say that we have a progressive editorial policy” and that it shouldn’t shock anyone that an opinion page editor has opinions. “Like a newspaper had an editorial view but the reporting is straight reporting,” she says.

Young, who will run the shop, says obviously he’s on record being for or against certain issues from his opinion perch at the Camera. But “I don’t have it in me to do ideological journalism,” he says, adding he hopes to build his team with writers who have backgrounds in journalism, not advocacy.

“I’m satisfied that their intention is for me to do nothing but good, solid, traditional journalism,” he says of the new network funding the state’s latest newsroom. “That’s my job and that’s what I’m going to make sure we’re doing.” A job listing is here for those interested.

For years, outlets with murky funding have relied on a saying: judge us by our work. It looks like Coloradans will have an opportunity to do more of that in the near future.

Colorado Press Association reshapes its mission

The group that represents print and online journalists in Colorado announced May 1 it is changing the way it operates. “While the COVID crisis is proving how critical local journalism is to our democracy, it also is magnifying cracks in our industry and highlighting years of decay that we can no longer ignore,” wrote CEO Jill Farschman to members. More from the email:

We are pleased to share that, since last fall, well before the pandemic hit Colorado, our board of directors and I have been working to reshape the Colorado Press Association’s mission around journalistic excellence – not as a lofty ideal, but as the necessary driver of reader engagement, revenue diversification and sustainability.

CPA has taken a leadership role in forming a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) to get this done. We, Colorado Media Project, and The Colorado Independent are joining forces starting this month to create Colorado News Collaborative (COLab). COLab will encompass thirteen founding partners, most of which are tenants of the COLab newsroom at the Buell Center for Public Media. (You and your colleagues are welcome to work there when you’re in town.)

But COLab is not just a place. It is also a team and a movement that will be funding services and leading training on a whole gamut of foundational journalistic skills and innovative engagement and business methods that will help you and your outlet meet today’s and future challenges. We already have glimpses of COLab’s impact on Colorado journalism and look forward to bringing more local, statewide and national resources to you.

Read what else is afoot for the organization here.

An accused leaker in the crosshairs

Authorities say they believe an administrator in the Brighton City Attorney’s Office in Adams County accessed a sealed arrest affidavit in a high-profile El Paso County child murder case, and they accuse her of leaking it to the public.

Fourth Judicial Deputy District Attorney Michael Allen held a news conference in Colorado Springs this week to say they’re taking action. The case involves the death of 11-year-old Gannon Stauch whose stepmother is facing first-degree murder charges. The grisly protracted true-crime story attracted major national attention online after the boy went missing; his body was later found in Florida. When authorities eventually arrested the child’s stepmother, who had appeared in local TV news interviews and said in one of them “he is not dead,” reporters and members of the public understandably wanted to see the affidavit. In Colorado, authorities have the annoying ability to keep information secret as long as they say it would be contrary to the public interest to disclose. And they get to decide. In this case, the deputy DA explained why they didn’t want the information leaking out.

From The Gazette in Colorado Springs:

The affidavit, originally under a court seal order, was leaked online April 2 and released by officials a day after. The document was sealed “for a reason,” Allen said Tuesday, adding that information contained in it was known only to law enforcement and people involved in the investigation. It was also sealed to “respect Gannon’s parents and relatives,” Allen said, with the intention of showing it to them privately before it was publicly released.

In April, a Denver Post editor said on social media that “someone leaked the arrest affidavit … prompting an El Paso County judge to unseal the thing.” (The Post’s story about that is here.)

“I understand and respect the public’s right to know and I respect the press in the important job they do, but sometimes information has to be kept closed and protected for a reason,” the Gazette quotes the deputy DA saying about the leak. The paper reports that if found guilty of misconduct, the alleged leaker “could face up to a year in jail and up to $1,000 in fines, according to the statement.”

For-profit newspapers and their nonprofit ties

Last week, this newsletter examined the ways in which some for-profit newspapers in Colorado are asking for money from readers in ways they haven’t before, what they say they plan to do with it, and the extent to which they say donations aren’t tax-deductible.

Eric Gorski, managing editor of the education-focused nonprofit newsroom Chalkbeat, mentioned later to me how he believes the issue goes beyond tax deductions. “I’d argue the most important difference is that we as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit operate in the public good,” he said. “We aren’t motivated or guided by profit.”

Now some for-profit newsrooms are noting their affiliations with nonprofit entities when asking for new money. From a note to readers this week by the publisher of The Steamboat Pilot, which is owned by the Nevada-based Swift Communications:

And while Pilot & Today is not a nonprofit, we are now able to accept tax-deductible donations through the Local Media Foundation’s COVID-19 Local News Fund. Donations made through https://givebutter.com/steamboatpilot will reach us at Pilot & Today, minus processing and management fees.

The Local Media Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that represents “3,000 newspapers, TV stations, radio stations, directories, pure plays and research & development partners.”

“The support of our readers has been invigorating, but I’m also proud of the local advertisers who have stayed with us throughout this pandemic,” Steamboat Pilot publisher Logan Molen wrote. “We know the hits on our economy have been far and wide, and we understand how hard it is to remain in business when the challenges come so fast and furious.”

I’d be remiss when writing about The Steamboat Pilot if I also didn’t direct you to its committed local coverage about the pandemic here.

How Week Eight of COVID coverage looked on Colorado’s front pages

The Coloradoan in Fort Collins profiled a family who escaped domestic violence now living in a shelter “in the middle of a global pandemic.” (A recent Southeast Express* story calls domestic violence a hidden casualty of the pandemic.) The Summit Daily News reported how county officials were bolstering outreach to Spanish speakers during the pandemicThe Loveland Reporter-Herald reported cases topped 386 in the county. The Longmont Times-Call covered how the virus is impacting area flight schoolsThe Greeley Tribune explored a “cloud of uncertainty” for local businesses waiting to reopen. Under the headline “Canceled Culture,” The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel reported on the area’s “festival fallout” from the virus and its effects on tourism. The Denver Post reported on how the virus was slowing work in Colorado’s oil fieldsThe Durango Herald looked at what the “numbers tell us about our response to the coronavirus.”

Aaaah-oooooo! Here come the howlers

Newspaper readers of a certain generation might recall the term “Howler.” It was what you called a glaring error in the morning newspaper, particularly in a headline or a photo caption. Or maybe if the layout folks mistakenly swapped the headshot of a brooding Charles Krauthammer with that of a local liberal guest columnist. “Stanley, did you see this howler in the business section?” a chuckling reader might ask over coffee at the breakfast table. The point was, the mistake was so egregious — and so rare — that it would make you just … howl. A classic example might be this typo in a headline last year in The Longmont Times-Call: “City’s first baby of 2109 born.” What a howler!

In Colorado during these pandemic days, each evening people poke their heads out their doors and windows at 8 p.m. and they howl. Democratic Gov. Jared Polis has encouraged the behavior. Here’s how The Associated Press described the phenomenon:

It starts with a few people letting loose with some tentative yelps. Then neighbors emerge from their homes and join, forming a roiling chorus of howls and screams that pierces the twilight to end another day’s monotonous forced isolation.

Well, I hate to say it, folks, but as more editors get laid off from newsrooms around the state or have their work outsourced to far-flung cities, Coloradans aren’t going to have to wait until 8 p.m. to hear the chorus.

Consider this social media post from a former Pueblo Chieftain editor, Anthony Sandstrom, along with a photo of the howler:

The Pueblo Chieftain, owned by a family for roughly 150 years, recently sold to GateHouse. The company is known to slash staff, and its recent merger with Gannett led to nationwide layoffs that hit the Pueblo paper. “The ‘shit’ they’re trying to pull is getting rid of good people and making it to where there aren’t people to proofread,” Sandstrom went on. “And the people in the layout farm in Texas make $12/hour and don’t care.”

This is “what happens when the paper gets sold to Gatehouse and all design goes to Austin,” added journalist and Pueblo-watcher Kara Mason.

OK. Before you start howling at me, I understand some journalists don’t like to see other journalists pointing out egregious typos, errors, and mistakes in local newspapers. They argue those responsible are stretched to the max and feel bad enough about the very public mistake already. But a journalist wouldn’t say that about a local police force if officer errors stemmed from fundamental failures because of an over-worked unit and lack of funding. They’d point out the systemic abuse.

Consider the words of Denver Newspaper Guild administrative officer Tony Mulligan about recent layoffs at The Denver Post that affected those who review copy: “There is more of a need in these next couple months— more than ever — for journalists, and now they whack off the second eyeballs.”

That kind of behavior is likely to lead to more howlers. My advice to readers would be to realize why they’re seeing them. My advice to some papers might be to better explain that.

“There’s something very Western about howling that’s resonating in Colorado,” the AP quoted a poet saying about this nightly quarantine ritual. I’m afraid that goes for its newspaper counterpart, too, as the bloodletting continues.

Another spokesperson who sent a press release got a byline  

In recent weeks, I’ve tracked in this newsletter how some of the state’s smaller newspapers have been unadvisedly giving bylines to people paid to promote causes, politicians, and government agencies without offering readers a proper disclosure. Sometimes when the press agent didn’t even ask for it.

Around last week it happened again. The Pagosa Springs Sun published a news release under the byline of Laurie Cipriano. Nowhere did the item say Cipriano does communications work for the U.S. Census.

“We typically cut off promotional paragraphs about the writer and their credentials from press releases, but they have a byline,” a Pagosa Springs Sun editor told me previously about this practice, adding, “We recognize most press releases we receive are meant to make someone or something look good and are written by paid staff or volunteers, and we edit as necessary to keep it newsworthy and appropriate for our publication.”

That’s not a best practice. Readers should know when an item in their local paper (especially one that appears online and could attract a wider audience) comes from a publicity agent, lest they think a reporter for the paper actually wrote it. A one-sentence line should suffice unless the actual point is that the paper doesn’t want its readers to know the paper is running press releases as news.

Colorado women of color, have a story for this podcast?

If you’re a woman of color with an original idea for a podcast, consider applying for this podcast incubator based in Denver. From the Margins to the Center has this to say about it:

This six-week program will take place at House of Pod in Denver, Colorado during the months of June and July. The program will include two keynote sessions with Juleyka Lantigua-Williams, who founded an independent production company, and from Jennifer White, a veteran of public radio at WBEZ in Chicago. Participants will attend weekly workshops and receive a one-year membership to the House of Pod recording studio and have access to drop-in sessions. Additionally, participants will be paired with leading women of color producers as their mentors.

At the end of the incubator, three promising producers, as selected by the AMPED Board, will be eligible for sponsorship to support the first season of their podcast. The incubator will be free for all participants, and childcare during each class will be included. Housing and transportation will not be included, so the program may be more convenient, though not limited to, aspiring local producers.

Learn more about this project with a May 8 deadline here.

*CORRECTION: A previous version of this post stated a story was a Colorado Springs Independent cover story. The item was on the alternative weekly’s website, and first appeared in the Southeast Express.

*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

2 COMMENTS

  1. Please use a more readable font color. Light colors on light backgrounds are not user-friendly, regardless of how cool they may look.Links are especially problematic.

    It looks like a WordPress template is used to define the presentation. One with darker fonts should be available.

    • Hi, Van: Tel me what you are seeing. Wondering if a browser issue. We use blank font on a white background, so can’t more contrast. Our hyperlinks are green on white background.

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