Why these Colorado journalists wear masks, and other local media news

Your weekly roundup of Colorado local news & media

Photo by Corey Hutchins

To mask or not to mask. For some Coloradans in the news business, that’s not even a question.

From a recent news-behind-the-news item produced by Denver CBS4’s news director Tim Wieland:

Here at CBS4, we’ve been wearing face coverings for the last four months. As “Captain Party Pooper,” I had recommended face coverings back in early April; two weeks later, it became a requirement.

During these last four months, we have talked to family members grieving over the loss of a loved one to coronavirus, profiled patients who battled the virus for weeks, interviewed health care workers who described the process of putting someone on a ventilator, and reported on employees who have lost jobs and businesses forced to close. It is often heartbreaking work. We don’t want to continue telling these stories. So if the simple act of wearing a mask gets us a step closer to that end, I’m all for it.

Captain Party Pooper asked some of his team members at the station to weigh in about why they wear a mask.

“It’s smart,” said one, while another said she wears a face covering to help flatten the curve. “I believe it’s in the best interest of public health,” said another. “It protects you, and it protects me,” a third said. One said she does it to protect her grandmother, while another wants to protect coworkers. Yet another said donning a mask is for “the greater goal of keeping each other safe & stopping the deadly virus.”

One journalist said he couldn’t live with himself “knowing my selfishness brought upon grief and hardship for another.” Finally, one reporter said, “When wearing a mask while on the air I close out my reports pointing to my mask saying ‘covering’ Colorado first as a reminder to others.”

The spirit and limits of a new police transparency law

In the wake of nationwide protests following another police killing of an unarmed Black man in America, Colorado lawmakers passed “one of the most comprehensive police reform packages in the country,” The Denver Post reported — a clear impact of those nightly demonstrations outside the state’s seat of power.

But months before that, lawmakers hammered out another piece of legislation related to how law enforcement officers conduct themselves. The bill’s title was “Peace Officer Internal Investigation Open Records,” and it was “groundbreaking,” according to the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, which tracks government transparency issues and advocates for more open government. The new law requires police to make public their records of internal affairs investigations. To an extent, anyway. The point was to allow the public to evaluate how police officers are evaluating each other when their conduct comes into question.

But since the law went into effect in April, Jeff Roberts, who directs the CFOIC, has found a mixed result for how it’s working in practice. “Journalists who cover criminal justice matters are grateful for the access provided by HB 19-1119, but they can be frustrated by its narrow scope,” he wrote recently. “The law — the result of legislative compromises — applies only to records ‘related to a specific, identifiable incident of alleged misconduct involving a member of the public’ while an officer is in uniform or on duty.”

In a post at his CFOIC website, Roberts rounded up some recent news coverage and how the new law was able to advance some accountability reporting or hinder it. In July, for instance, he found “the Fort Collins Police Department denied a reporter’s request for a log of complaints filed since the effective date of HB 19-1119 because the request did not identify ‘a specific incident,’ nor was it limited to “internal investigations involving a member of the public.” (Read the whole post to see how other agencies attempted to stifle disclosure.)

But this week, one reporter said she believes the new law had an impact on her own reporting for a cover story in The Colorado Springs Independent about local police officers being disciplined after moonlighting for a neighboring sheriff’s private security company.

From the story, headlined “BUSTED“:

Nine Colorado Springs police officers took part in off-duty operations that led them to place trackers on vehicles, mount a secret camera to monitor a house in El Paso County, dig through trash and follow several citizens without their knowledge, including in Colorado Springs.  They also used Colorado Springs Police Department phones, computers and cameras, and some carried their department-issued weapons and badges — all to benefit Teller County Sheriff Jason Mikesell’s private security business, iXero LLC.  Those activities violated CSPD policies, including a ban on use of police equipment for private purposes and a mandate that officers receive permission in advance for outside work.

CSPD Internal Affairs (IA) investigators even suggested some actions by those officers — members of the elite multi-agency Metropolitan Vice, Narcotics & Intelligence Division (VNI) — might have violated state laws against trespassing and conducting investigations without a private investigator’s license.

A few more paragraphs into the story, which relies on details from internal affairs documents, reporter Pam Zubeck writes: “The IA report was obtained by the Indy under House Bill 19-1119, which forces disclosure of police internal affairs reports upon their completion.”

Roberts wonders if the agency released that particular IA report because of the new law, since its scope is somewhat narrow and the Springs report in question pertained to off-duty activities. Regardless, “obviously, there is a substantial public interest in officers using police department equipment to benefit a sheriff’s private security business,” Roberts says, adding that releasing the reports to the reporter was the right thing to do.

Read the Indy story here, which is getting attention from other journalists in the state, and includes a snide comment to the reporter from a sheriff’s office source (the “he” I refer to in the tweet below):

Roberts would like to see Colorado lawmakers go further in shedding more light into agencies, pointing to states like New York, as well as cities, including Denver, which, he writes, “opened public access to the internal affairs records of police officers and sheriff’s deputies.”

Dispatch from a Colorado news desert

Last week I reviewed the Colorado connections in Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan’s new book Ghosting the News about American news deserts and the crisis in local news. This week, COLab’s Tina Griego wrote about Yesenia Arreola, Beatriz Soto, and Alex Sánchez.

From her recent piece:

The three live in a news desert, not one defined by the lack of news outlets, but by the lack of news outlets that cover in-depth, in Spanish, in a consistent, culturally informed way the Latino communities strung through the Eagle River, Colorado River and Roaring Fork valleys from Aspen to Parachute. This stretch of Colorado splendor is home to thousands of Latino families, who, like Arreola, Soto and Sánchez are immigrants or children of immigrants, many working in the essential industries of mountain, ranching and farming communities: construction, ag, hospitality.

News about, to and for these communities comes via social media. It comes via government outreach. It comes via Spanish-language radio stations, which are not headquartered locally and not news stations, but whose hosts have assumed the responsibility of, say, interviewing the Garfield County Public Health department about COVID because 30% of county residents are Latino and they are disproportionately affected by the new coronavirus. The English-dominant newsrooms do what they can to cover these communities, working themselves into exhaustion while hamstrung by advertising losses, by furloughs, by reduced print runs…

“News is power,” Arreola, an administrator at Colorado Mountain College, told Griego. “It equips people to make decisions, to be engaged citizens. I see it from a social justice perspective. It is the just thing to do to provide access to information and when you don’t do that, when I see it in my own community, it becomes personal. It becomes emotional.”

Read the whole thing here, and find out how you can help.

Ugly history: Colorado’s Klan newspapers

Complete Colorado columnist Ari Armstrong this week delved into the history books and plumbed the depths of Colorado’s (thankfully short-lived) haunted history with the Ku Klux Klan. In the 1920s, Colorado had a Klan governor whose motto, Armstrong writes, was “Every man under the Capitol Dome a Klansman.” These days, a Denver neighborhood is in the process of changing its name from Stapleton to Central Park because of its link to the name of a former Denver mayor who was in the KKK.

In researching this dark period for the news site of the libertarian-leaning Independence Institute think tank, Armstrong came across the intersection of the racist organization and newspapers.

From Complete Colorado:

To get a better sense of the Klan’s views and agenda, we can turn to a Colorado Klan newspaper (one of several in the state), the Rocky Mountain American, published weekly out of Boulder from January 30 through July 31, 1925. The Klan was a fraternal and service-oriented group that often led charity drives. The masthead of the paper includes the phrase, “Non Silba Sed Anthar”—not self, but others. This orientation toward others extends only to members of the in-group; the masthead also says, “Put none but Americans on guard.” And the Klan had a very restrictive view about the true American.

The first edition of the Klan paper begins with the question, “Why the Klan?” The rambling answer mentions “decadence of public and private morals succeeding the war” (WWI) and government corruption. The essay explicitly denies that “race conflict” and “religious intolerance” played a dominant role in motivating the Klan. Here the writer protests too much. The same paper regularly published anti-Catholic and racist screeds…

But apparently newspapers also had a role in repelling the Klan from gaining political traction in certain parts of the state.

Armstrong conducted a podcast interview with Bob Alan Goldberg, a University of Utah historian who wrote a 1981 book called Hooded Empire: The Ku Klux Klan in Colorado. In that interview, Goldberg says leaders in Colorado Springs, what he called “the wealthy leaders, the elite leaders, the people who ran the newspapers,” saw the Klan “as a major problem right from the beginning, and they basically organized to make sure the Klan could not get a foothold.” The KKK did get a foothold, he said, “but never could get any power.” Those city leaders and newspaper folks, Goldberg said, “stood united” and rallied the “rank-and-file of the community not to favor the Klan.”

In Grand Junction, Armstrong writes in his column, “newspaper editor Walter Walker at first tried to control the Klan by opening a benign local chapter; his pandering failed when the Klan kicked him out and sharpened its hateful edge.”

What you missed on the Sunday front pages across Colorado

The Durango Herald reported police arrested a local church leader “in connection with sexual assaults” on childrenThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel reported the extent of freeze damage on this year’s Palisade Peach cropThe Coloradoan in Fort Collins examined how pairing police officers with therapists works but doesn’t happen often enoughThe Gazette in Colorado Springs reported how people in rural parts of Colorado have different political views than those living in more urban areasThe Summit Daily News reported the class of 2020 finally walked across the stage at socially distant ceremonies. The Colorado Springs Independent’s cover story this week reports on local police officers getting in trouble for their side gigs as private investigators for a neighboring sheriff’s private security businessWestword’s cover story digs into the death of Elijah McClain at the hands of policeBoulder Weekly’s cover story is about how the pandemic threatened signature-gathering and city officials delivering wrong information.

Cops credit a local TV station for helping crack down on ‘illicit spas’ 

The police department in Colorado Springs is “implementing major changes to the way it investigates illicit massage parlors tied to organized prostitution, potential human trafficking, and possibly more serious felony type crimes,” following an investigation by the local TV station KRDO.

From the local ABC affiliate:

Police leaders credit an ongoing KRDO NewsChannel 13 investigation that began in 2019 for exposing the issue in the greater Colorado Springs area.

That TV special report investigation was called “Hiding in Plain Sight” that found “36 massage parlors in the city that have recent reviews specifically outlining explicit sexual acts that can be purchased inside.” The report notes “Since our initial investigation, some of these parlors have closed.”

For a recent update, a police lieutenant in the city’s metro vice unit told KDRO, “Out of your coverage, we took a look at where can we be better? What things can we do better? How can we look differently at these investigations? Are there other things that are going on?”

The police force in the Springs “has not made any recent human trafficking arrests tied to the illicit spas,” KRDO reports.

The Steamboat Pilot newspaper turned 135

For its 135th birthday, the newspaper its publisher says is “said to be the oldest business in Steamboat Springs” celebrated with a keepsake edition called Pilot Proud that celebrates its role in the community.

The journalism project reeled back into the history of the newspaper with items about its 19th-century pioneer publisher, moving from linotype to an offset press and computer system, and the top 20 stories that shaped Steamboat Springs over the years. In some of them you catch the spirit of an evocative time back when newspapers provided the only news in town.

From one of the Pilot Proud pieces:

In an era when friends might not see one another all summer until the County Fair arrived, that kind of small town news was treasured. “I think of how the paper reached out to local communities and had reporters in all of them,” Jay said. “In summers, we got the local gossip in Clark with the ‘Clark Callings’ column, We were always eager to read it to get what the rumors were. We also had Clara Henry at Hahns Peak in the summer.” To be clear, the columnists didn’t deal in hard-hitting journalism, except perhaps when they reported on traffic mishaps.
But that has changed to an extent, according to Publisher Logan Molen who wrote his own piece for the celebratory issue:
And while today’s Pilot & Today journalism provides greater enterprise and more of a watchdog role than The Pilot in its early years, we continue to publish information that long has been the fabric of small-town America: The Record police blotter, weekly real estate sales, business changes, reader photos and stories, the school honor roll, fair results, local activities and much more. I hope that mix remains in our products for the next 135 years, because that’s the kind of intensely local content that creates tight bonds with you and your neighbors.

“The Pilot’s history is marked by peaks and valleys, and the recent pandemic has tested us. But the Pilot crew remains strong, and we’re determined to keep this ship afloat,” wrote Editor Lisa Schlichtman in her own contribution. “And as difficult as the last four months have been, COVID-19 has served to reinforce the important role a community newspaper plays in keeping people informed and providing them with the information they need to navigate any crisis. Simply put, we are a vital piece of a healthy, functioning community, and we work hard to live up to that responsibility.”

Find a timeline of the newspaper throughout the years here that includes some old photographs.

More Colorado local media odds & ends

🤦Outgoing reporter: “This job truly is something else.” (And not in a good way.)
⬇️The Denver Post is looking to reduce the average age of its guest opinion writers.
📰The Gazette has embarked on an “occasional series to capture views among Coloradans.”
The Denver Press Club will hold its annual gala virtually. (I’ll be there, will you?)
🐦Learn about evictions policy as the governor and a Denver Post reporter tweet at each other. (Same reporter points out misleading information from the governor and a TV station during a Spanish-only town hall.)
💉In a post-truth, well-some-say-this-but-some-say-that society, a deep look into how Elijah McClain died after a ketamine injection and a pile-on by police. (<– Read it.)
📢Newt Gingrich signal boosted a Colorado College student’s Portland dispatch.
📓A Mountain Journal intern was given a task as a college student that “prompted her to reflect in this op-ed…”
📉Fill out this survey that seeks to “shed light on the experiences of people working at local U.S. newspapers with a print circulation below 50,000 readers.”
😬An inmate sent a Colorado TV news anchor a homemade dollhouse in the mail. “That was … interesting.”
🚔First Amendment lawyer in Colorado Springs case: “It’s clearly established that you can’t arrest someone for saying ‘f— the police…’”
🔌Vermont college student about The Colorado College COVID-19 Reporting Project: “Every student newspaper should aim to provide a similar overview of what students can expect.” (Archive here.)
☀️The Colorado Sun is hosting a “first-in-a-series of statewide discussions on race, relations and bias in Colorado.”
📵VICE scoop shows how political operatives handle the press: “…you would just ignore that call and let me know and the campaign would handle it.”
📚Regan Foster takes a job at CSU Pueblo, but says it doesn’t mean she’s leaving The Southeast Express.
❓Mollie Bryant of Big If True in our neighbor state asks: “Who owns the future of our newsrooms?”
*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

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