MEDIA: A new site covering politics and policy, Colorado Newsline, staffs up for July launch

Your weekly roundup of Colorado local news & media

Under the dome at the Colorado State Capitol. (Photo by Erica Meltzer, Chalkbeat Colorado)

With a slogan “Start with the truth” and a four-person journalist team, a new nonprofit newsroom called Colorado Newsline plans to begin covering politics and policy at the start of July.

The outlet, based in Denver, becomes the 17th state-based nonprofit digital news site under the auspices of the States Newsroom, a national initiative backed by undisclosed donors seeking to set up similar sites in 25 states by next year.

“Newsline will be a nonpartisan, fair and independent watchdog on government officials and offices,” the outlet stated in its June 24 announcement. “It will hold leaders to account for their decisions and ensure that readers understand what is driving government actions. Newsline will also feature incisive commentary about issues that are important to Coloradans. All content will be free, and the site will contain no ads.”

Joining the site is former Westword staff writer Chase Woodruff and former Colorado Sun reporter Moe Clark. Reporter Faith Miller is leaving The Colorado Springs Independent alt-weekly to join Newsline, and editor Quentin Young, formerly the opinion page editor of The Boulder Daily Camera, will oversee the team.

Earlier this month I wrote in this newsletter about a recent appearance on Democracy Now! in which former Denver Post editor Greg Moore said, “I’m really concerned about some of the new digital startups. I mean, when you go and look at many of these digital startups, very few people of color are a part of that system.” I noted at the time how a looming question might be whether the then-unnamed Colorado Newsline would face that same criticism when it launched. On Wednesday, when it announced its staff, some criticism came, despite one of the Newsline’s reporters, Miller, being Latina.

Miller will cover immigration, the state legislature, and the military for Newsline. “I’m looking forward to providing accurate, balanced and thorough reporting for a statewide readership examining how state and federal policies affect Coloradans’ lives,” she says.

Editor Young says it’s important for the new site that its journalists “in their personal experience reflect Colorado’s diverse population” and its small initial staff is only a start. “As we fill future openings and engage with columnists and freelancers, we will recruit diverse staff members and contributors, and we encourage journalists from communities that are traditionally underrepresented in newsrooms to contact us,” he says.

That’s not dissimilar to what The Colorado Sun said about seeking diversity through freelance arrangements when it faced its own criticism at its launch two years ago, and as it added more staffers. This Wednesday, Patricia Cameron, director of the Blackpackers nonprofit that’s dedicated to equity in outdoor recreation, wrote on social media, “Y’all want me to sign up for another white newsroom and newsletter in Colorado and the answer is no.  I’ve been saying the same shit years: y’all need representation in your newsrooms and I’m not talking freelancers.”

Colorado’s latest nonprofit newsroom hit hard in its launch announcement on the retrenchment of traditional local news, stating, “old business models proved ill-equipped for today’s media landscape.”

Its funding transparency could be an issue for some, as best practices for nonprofit newsrooms in recent years has been to disclose who funds the journalism. “That model may not work for everyone, but it works for us,” States Newsroom director Chris Fitzsimon told a publication last month about the nondisclosure. “We’re proud to be growing and providing a valuable service to our readers at a time when most traditional outlets are pulling back from state house media coverage.”

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

For years, outlets with questionable funding sources have asked readers to judge them by their work. When an outlet doesn’t disclose its funders, I generally assume a couple things: The donors don’t want it known, and the outlet could be calculating a PR hit for not disclosing is easier to deal with than saying who funds it. Then again, as I’ve recently written, some newspapers in Colorado are now accepting donations, and readers might not always know who those donors are and how much they’re giving. Last year, Colorado Public Radio launched its investigative unit “thanks to an anonymous $300,000 gift.” Readers trust that these institutions maintain adequate editorial firewalls between who funds them and how they carry out their journalism.

For its part, the States Newsroom network, which doesn’t take anonymous donations or corporate sponsorships, has a detailed ethics policy that includes this line: “Editorial decisions are made by journalists alone.” For my part, I’m willing to judge the outlet by its work once it begins, because I’m familiar with the work of its journalists. I also expect some skirmishes over the Newsline’s acceptance into certain journalistic clubs like the Colorado Capitol Press Association or INN, should it try to join. (If you have the time, read this history of press credentials housed on the state legislature’s website, this 2014 Pando Daily piece by David Sirota, and these two items from former newsletters about Colorado credential dustups. Newsline’s editor told me he plans to apply for credentials at the Capitol.)

Young says Woodruff will cover the environment, the economy, labor, and money and politics, among other topics. Clark will cover social justice, homelessness and housing, and comes with a background covering water issues. The outlet also plans to tackle stories out of the court system, and they’d like to dig into the new Space Force located in Colorado. Read more about their beats here.

The first newsletter, called the Newsliner, will go out next week, and the site should be live around then. It’s already doing some coverage on social media, and its editor is already offering some commentary.

‘Shifting long-standing culture in newsrooms’

Last week, the Colorado Media Project “partnered with Rocky Mountain Public Media, and other COLab partners to hold listening circles with journalists about the lack of diversity in Colorado newsrooms and equity in reporting,” the group stated in a recent email update. From CPM:
Thank you for pushing far into the “discomfort zone” to question the very nature of our work and its impact on the communities we serve. We heard a lot … about recruitment practices and hiring pipelines; structural inequities of unpaid/underpaid internships; bias in boss vs. coach management styles; the lack of mentorship for journalists of color, and the desire for newsroom statements of solidarity to not be performative, but a commitment to values that address systemic racism and harm to communities of color internally.
Philip B. Clapham, project manager of CMP, published a post at Medium titled “Let’s Talk: Journalism’s Race Problem Is in Colorado, Too” about what the group heard in its discussions. The post expands on these points:
  • “Long-standing recruitment practices and hiring pipelines are broken.”
  • “Tokenism and toxic newsroom culture is actively preventing journalists of color from thriving.”
  • “To truly address these issues, newsrooms must hold institutional norms to scrutiny.”
  • “The current frame of reporting on police violence in Black, Indigenous and people of color communities too often lacks historical perspective and context.”
  • “White allies must actively call out racism and lead change among their peers.”

“These conversations are the necessary first steps towards shifting long-standing culture in newsrooms,” Clapham wrote. “We did not bring or walk away with easy answers, and we know that we cannot to ‘fix the problem’ with diversity trainings or toolkits alone. These journalists came together — some with righteous indignation and some with halting uncertainty — to do the hard work of building deeper community.”

Read the whole thing here. (The Colorado Media Project is a partner in the Colorado News Collaborative with The Colorado Independent where this newsletter appears as a column.)

Return of the Mountain Gazette?

A millennial media entrepreneur from California who “helps brands share their stories” is reviving the once-mighty Mountain Gazette magazine.

From Jason Blevins at The Colorado Sun:

Mike Rogge, a 34-year-old skier and new dad from Lake Tahoe, is breathing new life into the idled magazine, hoping to revive the glory days when Mountain Gazette harbored the stories and characters that defined high-country culture. Rogge bought the dormant Mountain Gazette and its website in January from Summit Publishing Co., which prints the popular, free Elevation Outdoors magazine seen on racks all over Colorado.

Rogge didn’t necessarily have a plan when he inked the deal. He knew the magazine, of course. Its writers — like Edward AbbeyGeorge SibleyMary SojournerJohn NicholsDick DorworthHunter S. Thompson, M. John Fayhee — had inspired his youthful exploration of the West. He got 50 boxes of old magazines shipped to his house as part of the deal. He spent hours poring over the issues. He’d post photos of his favorite covers on Instagram. People loved them.

Blevins checked in with Fayhee, who led the MG from 2000 to 2012, and who told him outdoor media could use a “countervoice” that doesn’t suck up to the powerful outdoor recreation industry and sell out secret spots for influence and engagement on the internet. “MG was always brutally honest and always spoke truth to power, often to the detriment of its bank account,” Fayhee said. “We need that attitude now more than ever. I look forward to seeing that flag raised once again.”

Whether that’s what the new magazine will wind up doing in a print media industry rife with line-blurring sponsored content and brands “telling their stories” remains to be seen. “I don’t know everything, but I know that for publishing to exist in 2020 it can’t look anything like it has in the last 100 years,” Rogge told Blevins. “I think outdoor journalism needs this right now.”

Read the whole piece at the Sun here.

‘Not supposed to read e-mail’: Furloughs at 9News

Apparently the local TV advertising budgets from the presidential campaigns of Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg weren’t enough cushion for COVID-19 in Colorado.

For a few weeks beginning in mid-March, this newsletter aggressively tracked the hurricane of layoffscutbacksprint reductions, and furloughs the coronavirus wreaked through newsrooms here. It got depressing to keep up with. These days, as things start to assemble back into a larva stage of semi-normal, it’s not unusual to see a local Colorado reporter tweet about how they’ll be off their beat for a week, temporarily loaned out of the workforce on a mandatory furlough, which typically means they’re not supposed to engage in job duties even if they want to. That can be a difficult thing for a reporter.

On June 19, KUSA 9News anchor Kyle Clark tweeted, “Hi all. I’m on furlough from 9NEWS and unable to respond to messages here.” On furlough, he uses a separate account. Clark’s colleague, 9News reporter Steve Staeger said, “we’re not supposed to read e-mail or access work computers. If we do, we could have to do the furlough all over again.” Another colleague, Chris Vanderveen:

Westword’s Michael Roberts has the low down:

TEGNA’s furlough decision was accompanied by the following statement to employees: “We believe that these steps are the fairest and best way to reduce costs while protecting and preserving the employment and medical benefits of our colleagues, while maintaining our focus on providing trusted, life-saving news and information in the local communities we serve.” COVID-19 is at the root of this move and others taken by news organizations, including Westword, where a 15 percent pay reduction was recently imposed on employees. Business closures mandated by the state’s stay-at-home order caused a precipitous drop in the advertising revenues that media organizations need to survive, and no one expects the phased-in reopening of retail outlets to immediately cause dollars to start flowing at previous levels. And not even 9News, long the most viewed TV-news purveyor in the Denver market, is immune.

Last month, Poynter reported about TEGNA’s furloughs. KUSA is the NBC affiliate in Denver.

Otero’s Media Bias Chart, Version 6.0

About four years ago, Denver patent attorney Vanessa Otero was looking for a way to help her friends understand where news outlets they read fit along a spectrum of credibility, ideology, quality, and more. So she created a news quality chart on her blog, and shared it on Facebook. The chart went viral and she has since updated it after loads of input. In 2018, she created a company called Ad Fontes Media to scale up her project and make it more interactive.

Now, the Media Bias Chart is in its sixth incarnation. “Going forward, as we add newly rated sources, we’ll provide monthly ‘editions’ of the static Media Bias Chart,” Ad Fontes wrote in an email last week. June’s edition includes local outlets The Denver Post and Houston Chronicle. (Both wind up on the “Neutral” axis and in the “Most Reliable” category.) Read a summary of her methodology here.

What you missed on the Sunday front pages across Colorado

Nursing homes fail COVID-19 test” was the print headline in The Gazette in Colorado Springs. The Loveland Reporter-Herald carried a national report above the fold under the headline “Trump rally sees empty seats.” The Longmont Times-Call and Boulder Daily Camera reported 21 COVID-19 cases in Boulder County and no deathsThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel covered how youth sports are returning to the areaThe Denver Post told the story of a nursing home “pushed to its limit.” The Coloradoan in Fort Collins looked at an unsolved shootingThe Durango Herald asked if Southwest Colorado is receptive to police reformsThe Summit Daily News remembered a local sail-boater who drowned in Lake Dillon earlier this month.

Colorado gatekeeper: ‘What the story demands’

For the past few weeks, journalist Tina Griego had been talking with DACA recipients as justices at the nation’s highest court weighed the fate of a program that protects from deportation nearly 15,000 children of undocumented immigrants in Colorado.

When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last week to keep the program operating, Griego published a story through COLab, the new collaborative hub for multiple newsrooms in Colorado. Her story, an as-told-to piece from the perspectives of five DACA kids, went up at The Associated Press’s StoryShare tool, allowing any COLab participant to use anything from it. The full story ran online at The Colorado Independent and in The Colorado Sun. In newsprint, it was a front-page story for The Coloradoan in Fort Collins. Public News Service made use of it as an audio storyThe Pueblo Chieftain published just one of the vignettes that focused on a 26-year-old DACA recipient who lives in Pueblo. (The local angle, in other words.)

The way the story played out offers a glimpse into how the COLab arrangement, which has transformed both the Colorado Press Association and The Colorado Independent (where this newsletter appears as a column), plays out in practice. It also illustrated how sometimes a reporter just knows when to let her subject speak for themselves.

In a note to readers, Griego explained why she decided to handle the piece in an as-told-to fashion instead of a traditionally reported story. From the note:

By definition of my job as a reporter, I am a gatekeeper. I decide how a story is framed. I decide whose voices to include. Someone once told me, or maybe I read it somewhere, that we must do what the story demands. This story demanded that these Dreamers talk to you directly. I edited my transcription of our conversations, ordering paragraphs to give the individual stories a logical arc because each conversation ran thousands of words. But these are their words. These are their experiences. Each is powerful in its own way. I hope you will take the time to listen to Kenia, Rene, Abner, Armando and Mario.

When I fact-checked with each of them, several choked up. Abner began to cry. He had not, he said, ever been able to tell his full story and he had never heard his own words read back to him. That’s what I mean by standing aside. Nothing, I assure you, nothing I could have written is a substitute for their own words in the wake of today’s ruling.

“You may notice that my byline on this piece reads ‘Colorado News Collaborative’ rather than ‘The Colorado Independent,'” the note goes on. “Our transition to our new nonprofit home is underway and that byline is not just a byline. It is a pledge to work with newsrooms around the state to do what we can to strengthen journalism.”

Read the rest here.

Who shares ‘fake news,’ anyway?

By now you’re used to observing all matter of misinformation slither and sludge its way through your polluted social media feeds. Hopefully you’ve figured out some ways to evaluate it on your own— or you at least employ some safeguards to make sure you don’t re-post it.

But who are the folks who share this stuff with the zeal of an anti-masking virus denier screeching into the face of a department store manager who won’t let him in? It’s people “on the far ends of the liberal-conservative spectrum” and those who “lack trust in conventional media, and in one another,” according to a CU Boulder write-up about a new study by a trio of the university’s professors.

From CU Boulder:

Previous research has shown that older adults and those who identify as Republican are more likely to share fake news. But [Toby] Hopp, [an assistant professor in the Department of Advertising, Public Relations and Media Design] wanted to go beyond demographic or political labels.

“We wanted to look at more nuanced factors indicating how these people see the world around them,” Hopp said.

To do so, his team recruited 783 regular Facebook and Twitter users over the age of 18 and, with their permission, collected and analyzed all of their posts for the period between August 1, 2015, and June 6, 2017 (before, during, and after the 2016 election). Participants also took a lengthy survey to assess their ideological conservatism vs. liberalism and identify how much they trusted friends, family and community members, and mainstream media. The researchers then looked at who shared content from 106 websites identified as fake news or “countermedia” sites by watchdog groups or legacy news organizations like NPR or U.S. News & World Report.

“Despite the fact that we tend to call it ‘fake’ news, a lot of this stuff is not completely false,” said Hopp, who prefers the term “countermedia.” “Rather, it is grossly biased, misleading and hyper-partisan, omitting important information.”

The good news: 71% of Facebook users and 95% of Twitter users shared no countermedia posts. The bad news: 1,152 pieces of fake news were shared via Facebook, with a single user responsible for 171. On Twitter, 128 pieces of countermedia were shared.

Read the rest of the write-up here. Read the study for yourself here.

Cough-’em-up department: The CSU journalism student who sued got that autopsy report

Last week’s newsletter carried a report about a lawsuit Colorado State University journalism student Laura Studley filed against the Larimer County coroner’s office after it blocked an open-records request for an autopsy report. Turns out that’s all it seems to have taken for the office to cough up what Studley asked for.

From The Loveland Reporter-Herald:

A court hearing was initially scheduled for June 25, but the Coroner’s Office reversed course and on Thursday emailed Connole’s autopsy to Studley. She said she is happy with the outcome, even though it came after her class ended. “It was kind of crazy,” she said. “I honestly didn’t think it would go this far, but here we are.”
Her pro-bono attorney, Tom Kelley, told the Herald, “There are some custodians that I think stay up late at night trying to think of new ways of opposing release,” he said. “The tendency to say no until they get sued is pervasive.”

More Colorado local media odds & ends

  • A Grand Junction radio DJ says, “Previously, all these stations were satellite-fed, so nothing was really local content. (Grand Junction Media President and Daily Sentinel Publisher) Jay (Seaton) really wanted to push for a more local feel and to get ingrained in the community.”
  • Colorado Public Radio journalist Grace Hood is leaving for an environmental journalism fellowship at CU.
  • Complete Colorado’s Ari Armstrong says journalists should strive for objectivity.
  • A former Republican congresswoman, now living in Boulder, says, “As a member of Republicans for Integrity, I am thrilled that some Republicans are working with Democrats in the Senate to protect our nation’s local news outlets.”
  • Ex-Denver Post editor Greg Moore and the Independence Institute’s Jon Caldara debated free speech over drinks.
  • The Water Desk is accepting applications for its “second round of grants to support independent and staff journalists, as well as media outlets, covering Western water issues and the Colorado River Basin.”
  • How the Paycheck Protection Program failed Denver’s Black-owned TeaLee’s Teahouse and Bookstore.

*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