An open letter from an early career Colorado journalist

Your weekly roundup of Colorado local news & media

A journalism classroom in 2020 (Photo by Corey Hutchins)

For the first item in this week’s column, I’m turning the mic over to Lucy Haggard, a born-and-raised Coloradan and recent graduate of the University of Colorado Boulder. We overlapped at The Colorado Independent when she interned there while in college, and she offers this open letter in the hope it might spark a conversation:

I don’t know about you, but I’m struggling to get a job right now.

You could chalk it up to an unprecedented global pandemic, the effects of which we’ll likely feel for years as it facilitates layoffs and the closure of more than 50 newsrooms. You could blame it on the ever-shrinking budgets of so many publications nationwide, thanks in large part to foolish hedge fund owners. Perhaps you might think I was a lazy college student who went to classes, wrote a little here and there, and now expects a career handed to me on a silver platter.

The thing is, I did everything I thought I was supposed to do.

Hustling my way to the top of multiple student news outlets in the first two and a half years of college? Check. Unpaid internships juggled with paid jobs? Check. Networking at as many career fairs and on-campus events as I could manage? You bet. Though I admittedly didn’t major in journalism, I did get a minor, and studied a content-heavy major (human geography) that could prove useful for almost any beat. I turned down some would-be-useful opportunities that weren’t the right place or time (including a full-time, post-college job offer at The Ouray County Plaindealer as part of its Report for America program*) and I found ways to freelance in an effort to get a foot in the door. And by the time I graduated this past May, I had a solid portfolio of clips that I had already used to apply for multiple jobs and fellowships, trying to minimize the amount of downtime I had between school and work.

And I consider myself lucky that I’ve gotten this far.

Sure, of course I could have done more, but I was lucky to be able to take on unpaid internships in the first place; so many who are in college do not have that luxury. I was lucky to go to college at all; there are so many talented, motivated would-be reporters who have to pursue better-paying, more consistent careers instead. Take a wild guess at the demographic of students that get to pursue journalism. (Spoiler: it’s usually reflected in the mostly white makeup of our newsrooms.)

Let’s consider, step by step, some of the barriers to entering the journalism industry.

  • Even if a student can afford to go to college, if they have to work to get themselves through school, they might not be able to join the student paper; few papers pay their writers and editors more than gas money, if that.
  • If a student doesn’t join the campus paper, they’ll struggle to build a portfolio of published clips for internship applications; in my experience, very few journalism classes encouraged pitching class assignments for outside publication.
  • If a student doesn’t have the clips needed for an internship, or they can’t afford to do unpaid work that’s so common for interns, then they’ll lack the resume lines necessary to show experience for an entry-level job, regardless of how well they report and write.

And even if someone has done everything “right,” there’s no guarantee they’ll get hired.

This doesn’t just affect new grads, either; it’s tricky and self-perpetuating for the whole industry. If a newsroom doesn’t make space for young journalists to join its ranks, it risks losing touch with the largest generation since the Boomers. Yet with ever-tightening budgets and a need to do more with less, veteran reporters and editors are getting laid off in droves, wiping out institutional knowledge that can be so valuable to pass down for beat- and-location-specific reporting. When a newbie does land a job, there can be no time for mentorship from seasoned staffers.

These days, amid furloughs and layoffs of so many journalists at all stages of their careers, there’s a glut of qualified candidates vying for a dwindling number of positions. Young journalists are often expected to head for the coasts or some small town, but that’s not always a reasonable request — whether it’s because of the current pandemic, the economics of moving, or a need to stay near aging family members. As fast as Denver and Colorado are growing, our news industry is concerningly small, and arguably shrinking, despite a few new publications emerging in the past few years. This void hurts journalists and citizens alike.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m asking too much, but again, this is not just about my career; it’s about an entire generation of this industry, and especially those who have historically less privilege than people like me. And this pandemic, plus the renewed urgency of the Black Lives Matter movement and similar reckonings with inequality, can be a unique opportunity to rebirth our industry. We can diversify our newsrooms in every sense of the word: more people of color; more queer, trans, and disabled journalists; more reporters from low-income and rural backgrounds; and especially more young voices. How do we do this? I’m not quite sure, but we need to figure it out somehow — and fast.

Are you a college reporter, recent graduate, or early-career journalist? Did this resonate with you, or have you experienced something different? Do you have any ideas to address it (or the means to do so)? I want to hear from you. Drop me a line at lucychaggard(at)gmail(dot)com. And feel free to join this new Facebook group, Emerging Colorado Journalists, to keep the conversation going. 

*This line was added following the publication of this column.

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming…

Did COVID-19 hamper coverage of a big election?

Last week, we looked at how local and national reporters were handling how to report on a conspiracy theory in a Colorado congressional race. (NPR’s “On The Media” had more about that over the weekend.)

This week, Columbia Journalism School’s Bill Grueskin authored a piece for CJR headlined “A Colorado race offers lessons for national political reporters.” In it, he surveyed some Colorado sources, including journalists, about the upset defeat of Republican Congressman Scott Tipton who had spent a rather unmemorable decade in Congress and for the most part ignored his challenger, Lauren Boebert, who stunned some observers when she whooped him in the June 30 primary.

Some of the blame in media failing to capture the mood on the ground in a large swath of Southern and Western Colorado, Grueskin writes, could come from COVID-19. “Boebert’s growing fame presents problems for the state’s press corps, hobbled by COVID-19 restrictions and staff cuts —particularly given her reliance on talk radio, social media, and conservative national outlets like Breitbart,” he wrote.

Here’s more:

As the campaign geared up in early 2020, reporters faced problems. COVID-19 restrictions kept them glued to their computers and spurred additional newsroom cutbacks. So while Boebert could command attention with her growing national prominence, the state’s press corps was less equipped than usual to scrutinize the candidate. The Third Congressional District “is far away from Denver,” said Ernest Luning, a reporter for Colorado Politics who has been covering the state for a dozen years. “Since March we haven’t been out traveling at all. It’s all done remotely.”

Grueskin, whose brother Mark is a high-profile Denver lawyer who often represents Democrats and isn’t involved in the 3rd District race, also notes how one Colorado reporter, Charles Ashby of the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, “is hard on himself — offering the kind of candor and self-reflection we rarely see in political journalism.”

From the story:

Speaking of Boebert, he says, “I didn’t do enough in the primary to vet her. That’s partly because of COVID. And I had the legislative session going on. We’re short-staffed. I just don’t have the wherewithal to do everything I’d like to do.” Still, he adds, “I should have done more to know more about her. What I did was poor, given hindsight.” Ashby said that won’t affect how he’ll cover the race between now and November. “My intent is to cover it straight,” he says. Boebert’s national stature “doesn’t have any impact on me. You’re a candidate, and now I get to do my job.”

This isn’t the first time an insurgent GOP candidate confounded the pundits and observers who tend to inform much political coverage (especially in the absence of polling). Remember when Dave Brat knocked off Eric Cantor in Virginia five years ago? There were lessons in that, too, including the power of talk radio.

The general election should be easier to get a read on. There will certainly be more attention to it. Hopefully closer to the ground.

What you missed on the Sunday front pages across Colorado

The Denver Post found the ranks of judges and prosecutors in Colorado are overwhelmingly whiteThe Summit Daily News reported local real estate is strong despite the pandemicThe Loveland Reporter-Herald ran the AP’s “Remembering John Lewis” above the foldThe Longmont Times-Call wrote how the city is revisiting short-term rentalsThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel wrote how new Parks and Wildlife rules could hurt low-income familiesThe Gazette in Colorado Springs investigated allegations of potentially improper backdoor lobbying to halt a local mine quarryThe Coloradoan in Fort Collins reported how the local police force is changing amid national calls for reformThe Durango Herald reported how Colorado’s new mask requirement worksThe Boulder Daily Camera found local residents skeptical of CU’s plans for re-openingThe Colorado Springs Independent’s cover story this week explains how a “Colorado Springs company Lead Stories is fighting the spread of misinformation on the internet.” Westword’s cover story reports how kids of color can find their way through Outward BoundBoulder Weekly reports how “Not even COVID could stop sports books from flooding Colorado.”

The Mountain Gazette’s new owner has a plan

You might recall how a millennial media entrepreneur from California bought the venerable and offbeat Mountain Gazette magazine with a dream to relaunch it. The Colorado Sun’s Jason Blevins reported on the plans in June. This week, the man behind it, Mike Rogge, wrote a first-person piece on the magazine’s website about how his deal to purchase the beloved publication came about after an aborted first attempt, and what he hopes to accomplish.

From the column:

But this time, I was going to do it without investors, without the pressure of delivering quick returns. My hope is that I am right and that all of my research leads me to a mellow, fun slope instead of a devastating business avalanche of shit. People, maybe even you reading this, are tired of the bullshit and general crap out there. If you are, a subscription to MG is the cost of a night of take-out. We will deliver it to your door twice-per-year in a large format print edition that will last a lifetime. Inside will be filled with the spiritual editorial of the magazine’s past, written by a new generation of hungry, bright-eyed folks who believe in the richness of going outdoors. I want to find the next Edward Abbey and Hunter S. Thompson.

“This morning I sip coffee which is an outdoor writing trope I promise won’t be in the magazine,” Rogge goes on. “For the first time in months I smile at the prospect of [bringing] back to life the legendary Mountain Gazette. Together, we are going to do this. I read every single one of your emails, tweets, DMs, and text messages about what this magazine means to you. I won’t let you down. This isn’t my magazine, it’s yours.”

Follow along here to see how that goes or to get involved in the journey.

A national group is helping Colorado newspapers with tax-deductible donations

Since the pandemic hit hard in mid-March and severely cut into traditional advertising, this newsletter has been tracking how some of the state’s print newspapers have been asking for money, spending the new money, and reporting on the levels at which they’ve been disclosing who gives.

Some newspapers are now able to accept tax-deductible donations from readers and supporters even though they are for-profit companies. They’re doing so with help from the Local News Association, a national group that “assists local media companies with their transformation strategies via cutting-edge programs, conferences, webinars, research and training.” Through its COVID-19 Local News Fund, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, the group is offering local newspapers help so donors can write off their giving as a charitable donation.

Here’s how The Aspen Times is asking for donations through the program, which also offers a window into how the virus has specifically affected business for a resort town print newspaper in Colorado:

In a community with only 6,000 year-around residents, we rely on a strong economy to drive marketing messages to visitors. COVID-19 changed our economy overnight. Public health officials not only shuttered businesses, but also ordered non-residents to return home and asked that second homeowners stay away until the pandemic is under control. The Governor ordered all Colorado ski resorts to close on March 14. Our town’s economy came to a standstill and so did our main revenue stream – small business advertising.

The solicitation goes on to say how the paper’s journalists are working to report on the virus during the pandemic, and “We are asking our readers to consider making a tax-deductible donation earmarked for our coverage of this ongoing health crisis.”

‘Next’ host Kyle Clark is (his words) spending more time with his family

When a politician, celebrity, or corporate CEO says they are stepping aside to “spend more time with my family,” it usually means one of two things. A.) They’re actually being sincere; or B.) It means something beyond that.

Shortly after popular KUSA 9News anchor Kyle Clark, who hosts the innovative nightly broadcast show “Next,” made headlines for being furloughed, he made them again when he wrote this message to his audience: “Hi all. I’m stepping away for a bit to spend more time with my family. I expect to be back on 9NEWS in early August.” When Westword’s Michael Roberts checked in with him to get the scoop, Clark gave a similar response: “I’m stepping away from the news and social media grind for a little bit to spend more time with my family.”

More from Westword:

More details will have to wait for now — and a knowledgeable source suggests that we’ll learn more soon. In the meantime, though, Clark says he tweeted about his impending absence and his expectation about returning to 9News in early August at 10:37 p.m. on July 17, in an attempt to squelch at least some of the speculation that would arise from a temporary departure so soon after the furlough.

Keep an eye out at Westword and here for #ClarkWatch. Or follow his Twitter feed where he’s still somewhat active.

More Colorado local media odds & ends

🏥Former Colorado reporter Nic Garcia, now at The Dallas Mornings Newscaught COVID-19.
🚓”As a journalist I could be part of the institution that they feel has been targeting them,” writes a reporter about police on a ride-along with a Pueblo officer.
🤑Poynter reports “buying your local newspaper out from a chain: attractive in theory, tougher in practice.”
💻Google wants to help you with your own local news site.
✍🏻Editor & Publishetook a brief look at COLab.
🆘Denver’s Suspect Press needs your help to make sure it can put out its final issue.
🔎Some noteworthy open records issues in an eye-opening Gazette probe into alleged “backdoor” lobbying.
📡Local broadcasters across the country are asking Congress for COVID-19 relief.
🗞️The Salt Lake Tribune is “finding success as a non-profit.” (Hint, hint, nudge, nudge.)
🏢Construction has “wrapped up” at the Buell Public Media Center in Denver’s Arapahoe Square.
👽This Colorado columnist seems to have a thing for UFOs (and I’m into it.)
⛰️Report for America, which has a reporter at The Ouray County Plaindealer, is in the running for a $100M grant.
⚰️A Colorado Springs reporter dug into a century-old ax murder … in her own neighborhood.

*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