Nearly half a million dollars in Facebook money plunked down on six Colorado news outlets this week, part of a multi-million-dollar cash infusion the social networking platform says is to help a hemorrhaging industry.
Across the country, more than 200 local news organizations chopped up $16 million from the tech giant. “These grants stem from $25 million in local news relief funding announced in March as part of Facebook’s $100 million global investment in news,” the company stated.
For Colorado, this was the latest round of FB bucks to drop. In April, this newsletter reported how eight Colorado newsrooms pulled in money linked to the social network run by Mark Zuckerberg, who, Forbes reported, has an estimated net worth of more than $60 billion.
Here are the latest Colorado outlets and how much they, or their companies, received in this latest round of funding:
- The Denver Post (Media News Group): $150,000
- Animas Del Oeste, LLC / World Journal in Walsenburg: $100,000
- Colorado Public Radio: $50,000
- The Colorado Sun: $40,000
- High Country News in Paonia: $39,450
- Left Hand Valley Publishing, LLC / The Left Hand Valley Courier in Niwot: $25,000
Again, these are just the latest grants, made as part of a COVID-19 relief effort. The Sun, for instance, earlier received $60,000 from Facebook. The Colorado Independent received $5,000 linked to Facebook in April.
Nationally, the pool of COVID-19 Local News Relief Fund Grant Program recipients “is notable in that nearly four in five are family or independently owned, half are published by or for communities of color, nearly 40 percent are digitally native publishers, and just over a third are non-profits,” the Facebook Journalism Project stated.
More about how the organizations were chosen:
These grant recipients were selected through a process [led] by the Local Media Association (LMA) and The Lenfest Institute for Journalism and with significant contributions from the Institute for Nonprofit News (INN), Local Independent Online News Publishers (LION), Local Media Consortium (LMC), and the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB). Past Accelerator participants from the US and Canada are also receiving relief grants to help safeguard the transformation they’ve achieved over the last several years and to capitalize on new opportunities. Remaining funds will be used throughout 2020 to support projects focused on longer-term sustainability in local journalism.
In recent years, Big Tech platforms have siphoned advertising dollars away from news outlets nationwide. Facebook and Google particularly “have used monopoly to rob journalism of its revenue,” argued former USA Today editor Joanne Lipman last year.
Both mega-companies also have created programs to kick some of that cash back into the local news scene, which in turn thanks them for it.
In Colorado, beyond these multiple Facebook grants, Google is funding a newsroom experiment in Longmont. Is this altruism, being a good corporate citizen, or a realization that both large companies need a healthy local news ecosystem to support their bottom lines and also maybe hold regulators at bay as the platforms struggle to limit their roles in the spread of dangerous misinformation online? Regardless of why, is what they’re doing enough? Also: Might it keep some outlets from scrutinizing their behavior? Some news organizations seem loath to take government money for a variety of reasons, but what about money from powerful so-called Net states or “digital non-state actors” some liken to “the equivalent to global superpowers”? All questions to keep in mind as local news organizations scramble to plug holes in a bottomed-out business model that late-capitalism wrought well before the brutal impacts of this current pandemic.
Then again: What are you supposed to say when the editor at a small local newspaper tells you, like one did this week, how a Facebook grant likely kept it from closing? (“Glad to hear it,” was my answer.)
Upon news that The Denver Post earned one of these grants, some readers immediately wondered whether the money would go toward producing more local journalism or be hoovered up by the newspaper’s hedge-fund owner. A very fair question. And the answer to the latter is no, says Daniel Petty, digital director of audience development for Media News Group, which includes the Post. “It has to be spent on reporting and journalism,” he says. That could also mean commissioning freelancers, paying for open records requests for newsgathering, and supporting internships, for instance. About that $150,000 number, though. It might sound big for a single newsroom like the Post but the money will also go to other MNG papers, too, and doesn’t have to stay in Colorado. “It’s being spread around the company,” Petty says. The paper is grateful for the new money (the third grant Facebook has made to The Denver Post), he added, which has helped the paper better ramp up subscriptions.
I pinged a couple of the smaller newsrooms to see what Facebook’s cash meant for them.
Our grant funds will be used to bolster our COVID19 coverage, subsidize advertising for struggling local businesses, and provide free subscriptions to elderly and low-income residents. In the coming weeks, we are hoping to add a part-time reporter, an educational outreach specialist, and a social media coordinator, and will begin working with small businesses in the area who want to advertise with us, but are experiencing a financial hardship.
But, I don’t want to overlook the fact that this grant in all likelihood saved the Left Hand Valley Courier. We are a very small newspaper in Niwot, with a small staff and limited resources, and were forced to cut our print edition when advertising revenue plummeted in March. In April, we transitioned to online subscriptions, and the funds provided by the Facebook Journalism Grant will help us continue to publish as we struggle back to profitability under this new scheme.
As for another small news outlet, Brian Orr, co-publisher of the World Journal in Walsenburg, said, “Real basically, we’ll be using the Facebook grant to stay in business.” That paper hasn’t laid anyone off, “and now that threat is lifted,” he said. “We paid our back printing bill, and will be able to sock away ad revenue coming in now for the next big slowdown in the fall.”
‘I got laid off from Westword today’
About two months ago, a newsroom labor union trying to organize its workers announced Westword’s parent company, Voice Media Group, was slashing pay. The employees also warned budget cuts could lead to layoffs. That happened at some of Westword’s sister papers, and now the pandemic-induced contractions have come to Denver.
On May 8, staff writer Chase Woodruff said, “I got laid off from Westword today.” He called writing for an alt-weekly a dream job, and he carried out that dream in the true spirit of the unruly alts of yesteryear with a profane smashmouth style and a social media presence that entertainingly eviscerated the day’s buttoned-down political reportage from D.C. to Denver. As someone who said he planned to vote for Democratic Gov. Jared Polis, these days Woodruff lances the state’s chief executive sometimes better than the governor’s sharpest conservative critic. Woodruff used to have a pinned tweet that quoted Joseph Pulitzer’s creed from 1907, and said about it, “One really striking thing about the National Conversation About Journalism we’ve had lately is how narrowly so many journalists want to define their role. It’s all: we tell stories, we get the facts, we’re defenders of truth. Imagine seeing this from a newspaper editor today.”
It’s obvious who profits from a news media that has grown increasingly sanitized, under-resourced and afraid to be seen as antagonistic or unruly. If you believe at all in the power of the press to make the world a better place, it comes as no surprise that its decline has corresponded with the rise of entire rotten generations of new or newly re-emboldened villains: megalomaniacal tech billionaires and unabashed white-nationalist demagogues, economy-crashing Wall Street robber barons and planet-burning climate deniers, an ever more cartoonish and more powerful tableau of ruthless plutocrats and conspiracist grifters and mercenary political operatives and, not least, the dodderingly despotic reality-television star currently presiding over it all.
How Week Nine of COVID coverage looked on Sunday’s front pages across Colorado
The governor lauded the local press. And then…
As Republican President Donald Trump continues his anti-media schtick during press briefings and on social media, some governors have taken a different route. They’ve gone out of their way to praise the work of local news outlets during a scary and confusing time.
Colorado Democratic Gov. Jared Polis created a video in which he thanked “our incredible journalists across the state for getting good information into the hands of our residents.” Local news outlets, he said, “are working hard to put out facts, not fear, throughout the pandemic.” By working together “and getting information to, reputable, professional news sources, I have no doubt that Colorado will emerge stronger than ever.”
Some local journalists responded, but not in the way the governor might have expected. From Denver Post senior politics editor Cindi Andrews:
I mean, if @GovofCO wants to show his appreciation for the role of journalists, he can always support stronger state document retention policies and charge less for public information. https://t.co/KnmFquOqOJ
— Cindi Andrews (@CindiinCO) May 12, 2020
“Thanking the press is great,” said Chris Vanderveen of KUSA 9News. “Thinking of how your administration will handle records retention policies moving forward is even better. Committing to full transparency without asking the press to pay thousands of dollars for public records? Priceless.”
Gazette reporter and editor Tom Roeder:
This is a refreshing comment. But complimenting a journalist creates the same reaction as an insult: Increasing our suspicion. :) https://t.co/K03QjzljLj
— Tom Roeder (@xroederx) May 12, 2020
And Chase Woodruff formerly of Westword: “there are some white lies and rhetorical crutches I’m trying to be more tolerant of but sorry, the notion that we’re going to come out of this ‘stronger than ever’ is delusional.”
New site plans to hawk-eye Denver Public Schools
A new digital information site “dedicated to community-based commentary and advocacy-focused coverage of Denver Public Schools” has hit the scene.
Launched by longtime Denver journalist Alan Gottlieb and funded by RootEd, BoardHawk seeks to watchdog the new school board that has “three new members skeptical of the direction the district had taken under its two previous superintendents.” The site’s fiscal sponsor is The Colorado League of Charter Schools.
Here’s what Gottlieb said about the site in an email he circulated recently:
Some of you grizzled veterans might remember that before Chalkbeat existed, I launched EdNew Colorado in January 2008, with Todd Engdahl covering the General Assembly and me soliciting and writing commentaries on the education issues of the day. As I merged EdNews with Elizabeth Green’s GothamSchools to form Chalkbeat, we decided that the edgy commentaries would distract from Chalkbeat’s goal of becoming the most credible and neutral education news source possible. So we did away with that component of what had been EdNews. I’ve always missed the give and take the commentary section provoked, and I’m hoping to revive that here. This site in no way competes with Chalkbeat, which does a stellar job covering Colorado education. What I’m trying to do is provide the op-ed page for Denver education coverage which has been missing for several years.
Gotlieb could have launched the site sooner, “but the Covid-19 crisis delayed us as we waited for what seemed like an appropriate moment,” he said. “Now, however, the school board is about to [swing] back into action, so the time seems right.”
Alt-weekly wags a finger at local dailies. Then…
Last week in this humble little newsletter about the news behind the news I had the embarrassing responsibility of making a correction about a section of the newsletter that, ironically, had highlighted a local newspaper’s front-page correction that had also needed to be corrected. No journalist wants to issue corrections; they’d rather get it right the first time. But when they screw up, which is bound to happen sometimes, they’re supposed to correct them — and swiftly. Also last week, I made the case for why we’re likely to see more typos, errors of fact, and other “howlers” in daily newsprint, leading to more corrections, as more and more editors who do the proofreading are getting laid off.
Amy Gillentine Sweet, who publishes The Colorado Springs Independent, took a different tack, publishing a column in the alt-weekly under the headline “Media should do better in times of crisis — and always.” In it was this:
When the press gets it wrong, it’s just another reason for naysayers to shout, “fake news.” And while we don’t always get it right, we should always immediately correct mistakes and make sure readers understand the facts. Hey, Gazette, I’m talking to you. And to The Pueblo Chieftain, you guys down south. Get it right. When you don’t, admit it and fix it. Let your readers know there was a mistake. The truth is more important than your ego.
Consider last week’s headline in The Gazette, claiming that Leon Kelly of El Paso County Public Health said the county was ready to reopen. They quote Kelly: “We could open businesses tomorrow — open them all — it does not matter if people are too scared to go to those restaurants, too afraid to go to those shops. Our job is to prove that we are ready. El Paso is ready to go.” However, The Gazette failed to report the rest of his statement. Kelly took to social media to correct the record — because The Gazette didn’t.
The alt-weekly column about owning up to errors, omissions, and mistakes was later updated at the end with this: “Clarification: Regarding last week’s publisher’s note, according to Leon Kelly, the media outlet who cut off his remarks was KRDO. While The Gazette also claimed that Kelly wanted to completely re-open the economy in its original coverage, it has since updated the story to more accurately reflect Kelly’s stance.”
…imagine our surprise when the Chieftain printed an editorial allegedly penned by Colorado Publishing House employee and Southeast Express General Manager and Editor Regan Foster. While Regan formerly worked at the Chieftain, she didn’t write the editorial, nor did she contribute to it. She hasn’t been on staff there for more than 18 months. Oops. The Chieftain is owned by GateHouse Media, which says its centralized design team in Austin made the mistake. (We believe you should keep operations local and know your community — and maybe your staff too.)
On social media, Chieftain sports reporter Austin J. White asked for a clarification from the paper.
Can we get a clarification @csindependent? This column sure makes it sounds like the Chieftain didn't run any kind of correction. The paper also is not owned by GateHouse anymore like the story states https://t.co/2FigvsIVE3
— Austin J. White (@ajw_sports) May 13, 2020
(That’s how I read the column, too. The Chieftain’s acknowledgment of its mistake is online here.)
Gillentine Sweet told me she felt she “did say they corrected it — by blaming it on their distant designer” so she doesn’t think a clarification is needed. The following day, this separate clarification appeared in the column: “Some people are pointing out that GateHouse no longer exists as GateHouse. In November 2019, New Media Investment Group, the successor to GateHouse Media, acquired newspaper publisher Gannett. The two companies merged and will operate under the Gannett brand. Subsidiary papers include Pueblo Events and The Pueblo West View.”
Find more of the alt-weekly’s local coverage here.
Mike Littwin moves to The Colorado Sun
️“This is, sadly, my last column for The Colorado Independent. But it’s also, happily, my first column for The Colorado Sun.” That was columnist Mike Littwin’s note to readers today, marking another chapter in the Indy’s ongoing transformation.
From his goodbye/hello column:
I’m gone. I’m back. It’s a weird world, but you already knew that. But first an explanation. I’m leaving The Indy’s employ after seven years because my bosses, Susan Greene and Tina Griego, are going in what we call “a different direction,” which is great for them, great for Colorado, great for journalism, but not so great for me. They are out to help save local journalism in Colorado (they’d never use the word “save” — that’s my take, which I’ll explain in a bit). My mission — as I like to think of it — is not exactly to save the world, but to offer a twice-weekly alternative vision to the surreal one we’re stuck with today.
But fortunately for me in this new world, my new boss doesn’t want me to change much at all. He wants me to write the column in much the same way I did it at The Indy, which is much the same way I did it at the Post, which is the much the same way I did it at the Rocky, which is much the same way I did it at the Baltimore Sun, which is much the same way I did it at the LA Times. I could go back even further (my first job was covering the Virginia Squires and Dr. J in the old ABA), but, for those keeping score, I’ve been at this for a long, long time — working, in various iterations, as a sports columnist, news columnist, features columnist, op-ed columnist, everything but a men’s-fashion columnist.
Littwin says a lot more about the new direction of The Colorado Independent and its editors, Susan Greene and Tina Griego, and so you should read it here. In their own newsletter today, those editors added this: “The Indy’s thoughtful statehouse reporter, John Herrick, and Forest Wilson, our former intern who has grown into quite the resourceful correspondent, will be ending their stints with us.”
More from that note:
When you come to our site this spring and summer, you’ll find stories from us, from our partners such as Sandra Fish, who is helping journalists and the public root out viral misinformation, and Jeff Roberts, the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition’s public-records and open-meetings watchdog. You’ll find the early fruit of our reporting partnerships. We’ll be highlighting journalism from the Eastern Plains to the Western Slope, from valley to mountain and points in between. You’ll still be able to read Corey Hutchins’s media column as he tracks massive changes to Colorado’s media world. And our guest posts aren’t going anywhere, so please keep submitting.
“Public relations spinmeisters might frame our new mission as innovative – the first alliance nationally between a nonprofit news team, a statewide press association and an organization dedicated to the understanding that local news is a public good,” the editors also say. “Those spinmeisters would not be entirely wrong. The mission is innovative. But it is also practical, a wiser, more strategic way to marshal the strength of newsrooms across the state and to buttress the weaknesses. And it is also an experiment.”
So there you have it. Another news experiment in test-tube Colorado.
*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.