What’s the future for Pulp magazine in Pueblo?

Your weekly roundup of Colorado local news & media

The storefront of Pulp's former newsroom in 2019 before moving to a garage space in downtown Pueblo (Photo by Corey Hutchins)

Pulp newsmagazine, as we know it, could be no more.

Publisher John Rodriguez, who runs the monthly print magazine that transitioned to digital-only during the pandemic, has taken a job doing communications about COVID-19 for the City of Pueblo, which he starts Monday.

Now he’s trying to figure out what to do with Pulp’s website, equipment, and infrastructure including its Facebook page and other social media accounts. He could just mothball the whole thing, but he’d like for the outlet to somehow remain a medium for local journalism in southern Colorado — though he knows as a city official he couldn’t have any meaningful ties to it.

Local journalism in Pueblo is in trouble. A hedge-fundy company bought the once-powerful family-owned Pueblo Chieftain a couple of years ago — by now you know what goes down when that happens — then merged with Gannett. As hard as it tries and as much as it does, it’s a shell of itself, as The New York Times recently reported. That’s an indictment of the circumstances, not the journalists who work there.

For more than eight years, Rodriguez, who had a background in politics before publishing, ran the punchy Pulp with a stable of freelancers, most recently out of a funky garage space downtown where he also hosted live events. In recent months, with a pandemic-ravaged advertising base, the outlet has turned into something of a digital TV station and ramped up its online journalism. This summer, Rodriguez brought on three Colorado College students as interns to report on the region with support from a Google grant. He’d like to see the outlet remain an incubator of young talent.

Rodriguez would also love to see someone take over the assets and infrastructure of Pulp, even if they change the name, so it could remain an outlet for local reporting. “There’s a hole,” he said about local journalism in Pueblo in an interview this week. “I don’t know how to save it.”

So what’s a local news-publisher-turned-city-spokesman to do? Especially if his grant-funded role with the city ends up not being a permanent position and he wants to get back into publishing local news. Can he hand it over to an individual or entity in a blind-trust-type manner similar to how a politician does with assets until he or she leaves office? “I don’t know how to shut this down and have that clear line,” he says.

One potential option could be that longtime Pueblo journalist Kara Mason, who recently became managing editor of the Aurora Sentinel, previously served as Pulp’s editor, and has a long relationship with the publication, could take control of it in some capacity.

“I just worry about what happens if we lose it but I don’t know how we keep it, either,” Mason says. “I feel like I will do anything to save it. I don’t know what that looks like yet.”

A TV show panelist got a two-week time out for ‘harmful’ comments

Each week for nearly three decades, Denver TV viewers have had the opportunity to watch 30 minutes of public affairs programming in the form of a show called Colorado Inside Out that airs on PBS.

Hosted by Dominic Dezzutti, the roundtable show frequently includes panelists like longtime Westword editor Patty Calhoun, Denver political analyst Eric Sondermann, and David Kopel, a law professor, gun rights advocate, and research director for the libertarian-leaning Independence Institute.

Last week, during the Aug. 7 edition, Dezzutti kicked off the show with an apology. Looking into the camera and speaking in a sober tone, he said for 28 years the show has been proud of its position as a place for “thoughtful discussion” and for being more “polite” than the cable-channel talking head set. “But last week we failed to do that,” Dezzutti said. “There were comments said on this show last week that did not live up to our standard. David [Kopel] said that he wondered about what could be achieved of future protests regarding the death of Elijah McClain unless the mob of people were getting together to lynch police officers. Later he called NBA players the real puppets of the slave master. His comments were not appropriate and they were harmful.”

Dezzutti went on to say terms associated with racist violence “should not be used trivially and should certainly never be used to vilify any groups protesting racist violence.” He added that he hadn’t done his job as a moderator in responding in the moment. He said the show values differences of perspectives and opinions, but “the words we choose matter. And we do not value language that crosses over into harm.”

So what did Kopel say specifically that got him canceled? Let’s review the tape from July 31.

During a segment about protests in Aurora against the police killing of McClain, Kopel said in part, “there’s already been one investigation and now there are three new investigations — one city, one federal, and one state — so whatever you could hope to accomplish by a protest other than lynching the accused officers has already been done and it seems the better thing would be to wait for the results of the investigations. But if they want to continue protesting there’s no real goal they can achieve in that sense of a peaceful protest.”

During a re-occurring segment in which Dezzutti asks his guest panelists to share something they feel was a disgrace that week, Kopel said, “the National Basketball Association with its performative wokeness and its Nike jerseys with all their social justice slogans on them made by slave labor in China.” He went on to call the NBA one of the “top organizations in this country supporting systemic racism,” namely the “Communist Chinese Party’s oppression, enslavement, and genocide of ethnic minorities in China. And they call themselves woke. They’re puppets of the slave masters.”

On last Friday’s show, Dezzutti said he was taking action by giving Kopel two weeks off and will invite him to return after that. “I wanted to make a distinct point,” Dezzutti said, “from where we were and where we are going.”

A rural West Slope newspaper owner speaks out about local retaliation over bad press

Every small-town newspaper publisher knows there can be a financial cost to public-interest coverage, and the cost can be higher the smaller the community. Advertising is limited based on geography, after all. Serious newspaper owners also know they can’t pull punches if they want to maintain credibility. They could, of course, offer only fluffy good-news items each week and stay away from controversy — and that might work for some people.

But not for the owners of The Ouray County Plaindealer in western Colorado. Co-publishers Mike Wiggins and Erin McIntyre, a husband-and-wife team who left The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel last spring to buy and run the small paper, recently learned this — again.

A recent column McIntyre authored in the paper explains how after they reported the county health department had warned a local KOA campground about pandemic-related lodging restrictions, the campground asked that the papers no longer be delivered in a newspaper box there. “This isn’t the first time we’ve had someone retaliate against us for our coverage,” McIntyre wrote. “And it won’t be the last.”

More from the OCP:

I struggled with the decision to write this column, but I’ve decided it’s important for our readers to know some of the challenges we face as community newspaper owners. …

We’ve had folks cancel subscriptions because they’re mad about a story. Our own former sheriff, Lance FitzGerald, had one of his staffers call us to cancel the office’s subscription in retaliation for our continued coverage of his personal and legal issues. He also wasn’t happy that I refused to use a selfie he wanted us to use in the paper instead of publishing his mug shot, as we do with all other crime-related stories. He clearly didn’t like my answer – the rules applied to him, too, regardless of his position.

I don’t take it personally, because for every person who doesn’t like us publishing the truth, we know there are hundreds of others who appreciate it. When we bought the Plaindealer, we promised ourselves that we wouldn’t make editorial decisions based on money. That means, even though I knew the KOA owners wouldn’t like the coverage and might try to punish us, I still needed to do what was right and report the story.

My goal is to prioritize truth and the community’s right to know over our own finances. I hope that will earn dividends from others who support our work and value what we do here. I don’t know the price of integrity, but it’s more than I ever made on collecting quarters from that newspaper rack. Part of our job here at the Plaindealer is to hold people accountable – and usually people think of the government when we say that, because journalists are often referred to as the “Fourth Estate.” But it’s also about providing vetted information to our readers so they can make their own decisions. Businesses and their decisions related to public health orders during a pandemic certainly fall under that umbrella.

It is not the job of newspaper operators “to be popular, or even well-liked,” McIntyre went on. “We hope you appreciate our work, but we know there may be times you’re not happy to see something in the paper. I accept this. As long as we know we’ve done our job fairly and accurately, I’m OK with that.”

Cheers to the Plaindealer. And if you want to help out the paper, here’s one way you can.

Take this survey about Colorado newsroom pay equity and more 

Diversity and inclusion “have become buzzwords in the media over recent months,” reports the Colorado Media Project about a new initiative launched this week.

From the project:

After recent conversations — led by Colorado journalists of color and their allies — spotlighting the systemic and institutional biases present within their newsrooms, a call-to-action was made to begin laying the groundwork for real and actionable change. The Colorado Media Project consulted with allies and DEI leaders in Colorado media to create the Colorado Media Pay Equity Project.

Achieving equity in journalism requires a shift in hiring practices, transformation of newsroom cultures that impede retention, diversification of management that places decision-making power in the hands of journalists from underrepresented communities, and the elimination of wage gaps for women and underrepresented communities. This survey takes the first step in bringing transparency to pay disparities across race, gender, sexual orientation, and disability in newsrooms across Colorado.  Please contribute your truth to this survey and share with your colleagues so that they may do the same.

If you’re a member of the media, you can fill out the survey here. Some questions include “What is your current student debt, if any?” and “How many people of color are in upper management positions or leadership roles in your current newsroom?”

Why you might not miss what you missed on the Sunday front pages across Colorado

For the past five years, this newsletter had one constant feature: An item rounding up what news story made the Sunday front pages of local newspapers from around the state. Sundays, typically, are the days newspapers showcase some of their best reporting, and the weekly feature, I believed, offered a snapshot in time of the news agenda for the week.

The Sunday newspaper grew out of the Civil War when so much news was coming in that publishers moved to add an extra day. And it was also a byproduct of immigration and market-driven economics — more immigrants were moving to the U.S. who didn’t particularly hold the same reverence for religious days off, so publishers felt they could make some extra money with Sunday editions.

Last week, a reader sent me a note about this newsletter and its Sunday front page roundup feature. “Seems a little Old School these days, yes?” He’s probably right. In Colorado, some of the newspapers whose work I used to highlight in the section have stopped printing on Sundays. These days, economic realities are driving publishers to scale down their print operations, not ramp them up. So they print “weekend editions,” or just publish a few days a week. “Due to the current [pandemic] situation, we had to drop Sunday,” one newspaper editor told me several weeks ago. For plenty of newspapers, the Sunday front page just does not mean what it once did — across the country and here in Colorado.

Perusing the Sunday front pages in Colorado was, for me, a fairly easy task. The Newseum offers a digital version each day of newspapers who send the Newseum a PDF version the night before. The Newseum, however, is now closed, and I’m not sure how long it will keep up this free service. (Read my Colorado-related Big Idea for what should happen to the Newseum here.)

So this week I’m trying something new: A roundup of 10 recommended local Colorado news stories from around the state, regardless of what day they came out and whether they published in print, on the radio, on TV, online, or anywhere else. (With it comes a pre-emptive response to inevitable grumbling: I’m bound to not include everything your favorite news outlet produced, and I’ll miss something you believe is important. I’ll take complaints seriously, but only if you’ve emailed me a link to something before the newsletter goes out on Thursdays.) Now, onto the news.

The Colorado Sun reported how Democratic Gov. Jared Polis is “taking big money from private donors to fund key positions” in the governor’s office, and also how “Marlboro’s owners negotiated Colorado’s proposed tobacco tax hike,” which could “help them dominate the cigarette market.” Colorado Newsline covered how some criminal cases among the state’s backlog “could be dropped due to Colorado’s speedy trial mandate.” For a multi-day seriesThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel “embedded with Mesa County Sheriff’s Office investigators” as police probed the shooting death of a 26-year-old. (See how the paper explained to readers the way it reported the series here.)

The Denver Post explained the context and controversy of a fascinating and frustrating housing debate in Boulder over how many unrelated people should be allowed to live together. The Gazette in Colorado Springs reported how “Colorado has found a solution for voting that is secure, convenient and appears ideal for the unusual circumstances created by a pandemic.” ColoradoPolitics covered the addictive and cult-like mass alternative-reality deception known as QAnon, calling it, in the reporter’s own words, “utterly whack.” The Yuma Pioneer reported two city council members recently called it quits with one of them telling the paper, in all seriousness, “he resigned because it became too much of a distraction on a daily basis, referring to calls, texts and people stopping by his office to discuss city business.” The Durango Herald examined how the city is “reimagining policing through a pilot program” in response to “challenges such as a rise in local crime and national calls for police reform.” Denverite exposed the various chemicals police recently used or “possibly used” on citizens during protests— creating a list roughly 20 weapons long.

This independent college newspaper wants your help

In December, when the University of Colorado in Boulder announced plans to cut funding for The CU Independent student newspaper and “move toward a more academic and faculty-led student learning enterprise,” the rollout was a bit choppy.

This week, eight months later and as the fall semester is about to begin, the independent campus paper’s former editor, Robert Tann, published a column in The Colorado Sun about the university’s College of Media, Communication and Information (CMCI) decision. And he used the opportunity to seek support from readers.

From the piece:

CMCI’s decision, unfortunately, plays into the much larger, turbulent picture of the local news industry. Amidst a landscape of routine budget cuts, furloughs and layoffs, even student newsrooms are not safe from top-down decisions that threaten their very existence.

Tann said he worries a faculty-led venture “loses the authenticity that makes independent newsrooms so great,” and he invited the community to contribute to a GoFundMe fundraising effort to “follow in the footsteps of other Colorado outlets such as The Colorado Sun and Colorado Independent that have built a funding model through trusted reader-based support.”

A Colorado journalist had a big story. Instead of a book deal, he went for a podcast

When Chris Walker left Westword last year in search of bigger national projects, he thought he might pursue a book deal. He’d been spelunking around in Colorado’s cannabis-smuggling underworld and had the bones for a story full of colorful characters and their black-market antics set against the backdrop of a burgeoning business of legitimacy. That would have followed a long tradition of alternative weekly reporters parlaying local news into book form in one way or another.

Instead, what has emerged from Walker’s national project is The Syndicate, an eight-episode podcast listeners can find on platforms at Apple and elsewhere. The podcast launched Aug. 11, and by Thursday was No. 13 on Apple’s top show chart. The story focuses on a band of college buddies who “took advantage of Colorado’s medical marijuana laws to create one of the longest, most lucrative smuggling runs in U.S. history.” The group got busted and when the cases wrapped up, the 31-year-old journalist obtained investigative files via Colorado’s open records laws and uncovered about 100 hours of taped interrogation interviews.

Over beers with Denver friends Scott Carney and Laura Krantz, the entrepreneurial journalist couple who were fresh off a successful podcast venture called Wild Thing suggested he try the audio medium of long-form journalistic storytelling. “The audio files are key to understanding as to why I decided to make a podcast,” Walker told me over the phone this week.

These days, approaching a podcast deal isn’t much different than trying to land a traditional book contract, Walker says. You pitch the project with a proposal, hook up with a production company that pays an advance and handles the advertising, and the journalist goes to work making the show. In this case, a California firm, Imperative Entertainment, signed on with a 50/50 partnership last October. Walker did the reporting with producers Carney and Krantz. About the advance, Walker says, “I was able to work on it full time and it was more than I made as an alt-weekly writer.”

You can read a column Walker wrote this week for 5280 magazine about skydiving with one of his cannabis smuggling subjects, and an interview his former paper conducted with him about the new podcast.

Walker, who has had bylines in AtavistThe Atlantic, and NPR, encourages Colorado journalists with national ambitions to think bigger about some of the stories they’re covering in their own local communities. “I think there’s a tendency to report local stories in local publications, but I think there also is national interest in Colorado stories,” he says. “Especially if they say things about similar trends in other states.”

As for what’s next, he’s working on an idea for a second season. “It will probably not involve cannabis,” is all he’ll say for now.

More Colorado local media odds & ends

🔌eCampus News: “When the ‘world changed,’ a daily student reporting project tackled ‘Pandemic Fall’ at a Colorado liberal arts college.”
📢After Zoom-bombers posted “disgusting” content that “violate our policy prohibiting racial slurs or other hate speech at our events” during a newspaper-sponsored virtual event about women and POC running for office, TheColorado Springs Independent/Business Journal’s publisher wrote, “we are all about free speech and diverse opinions” but “that doesn’t mean the rest of us have to listen to your crap.”
🍼Kyle Clark is back. The KUSA ‘Next’ anchor took a TV time out to have his second child, a daughter.
🏴‍☠️New Mexico’s two largest newspapers announced: “a partnership that allows the two companies to print their publications from a single location.”
📉Colorado-based Liberty Media reported, “a second-quarter loss of $200 million, after reporting a profit in the same period a year earlier.”
💼The Solutions Journalism Network is looking for a “skilled journalist-entrepreneur to lead SJN’s work in the Mountain West states,” which includes Colorado. ($65k-$75k.) Email keith[at]solutionsjournalism[dot]org.
🤦‍♂️Colorado newspaper headline: Man shot himself. Pop-up digital ad on the story: win this gun.
👀Chicago Nate Marshall “asked some friends to prank the Colorado Nate Marshall on Facebook.” (Chicago Nate Marshall is now also a Colorado Nate Marshall.)
🎙️Apply for the new KGNU TRENDS Reporting Fellowship program where you’ll receive “in-depth training over 9-10 months from nationally-recognized experts on structural, systemic, and historical issues, particularly those linked to racism and discrimination.”
😖Read a ProgressNow operative’s frustration with Colorado political reporters.
🚫Colorado Newsline’s environmental reporter says “If you’re reporting on one of the largest wildfires in Colorado history in the middle of a severe drought and record-setting heat without once mentioning climate change, you’re doing it wrong.”
🔥A journalist asks why reporters use acres to describe wildfire spread. Why not better descriptions?
📷Westword’s Patty Calhoun says “…a grim, grim” story “broke on Instagram” (23.14 in)
📻KRCC in an email: “you’ll notice a new experience”; its website redirects to “our new home” at CPR.

🐦”Friday will be my last day, indefinitely, on this platform,” 9News journalist Jeremy Jojola says about Twitter.

*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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