When The Washington Post embarked on a major project to document every instance of gun violence on a single day in America, Colorado wound up the setting for two of them— one in the Springs and one in Pueblo.
The national report, a year in the making, sought to identify every act of gun violence in the United States during a single 24-hour period. The Post chose Sept. 5, 2019, “because it did not fall on a prime day for gun violence, such as a holiday, a Friday night, or a long day in the middle of summer. No single shooting grabbed national attention. It was just a Thursday.”
The Washington Post wanted to capture this daily drumbeat of gun violence as fully as possible, knowing the toll cannot be precise. There is no nationwide registry to search. Suicides rarely show up in news reports or police blotters. … We identified 36 of them who died — in domestic attacks, shootings involving police, robberies, accidents, fights that escalated, suicides. Some unlucky people just happened to be in the line of fire, or on the other side of a wall.
As a Colorado contributor for The Washington Post, I handled nearly 20 of the incidents from across the West. On Sept. 5 of last year, gunshots rang out in Oklahoma, Arizona, New Mexico, California, Washington state— and here in Colorado. From those states, on that day, people fired guns into the air, into cars, at law enforcement officers, into each other, and into themselves. One was a murder-suicide.
In Colorado that day, both gun incidents involved domestic violence. The one in Colorado Springs made the local news; I’m not sure the one in Pueblo ever did. But here’s what went down in the southern Colorado city that day, per my notes:
Pueblo police say they responded to a call from a man who told police he shot at his girlfriend but missed. A police report lists the nature of the event as “DOMESTIC FIGHT W/ WEAPONS.” Charges filed in the case were “attempted first-degree murder, attempted second-degree murder, and menacing,” Pueblo County District Attorney Jeff Chostner said last November. He said the case involved a 71-year-old man who used a walker and fired a handgun one time; the bullet struck a ceiling. A 53-year-old domestic violence victim was cooperative at the time, Chostner said, but believed the defendant suffered from dementia and didn’t want him to go to jail.
The past two years have seen deep journalistic analyses of shootings in Colorado, a state with a reputation long stained by gun violence. Earlier this year, both Colorado Public Radio and The Denver Post undertook in-depth investigations into police shootings. The previous October, The Colorado Springs Independent analyzed 20 years of police shootings in the Pikes Peak region. Following the May 2019 STEM school shooting in Highlands Ranch, The Denver Post found the area around Colorado’s capital city “sees more school shootings by population” than the nation’s largest metro areas.
We are so used to gun violence in this country that there was a mass shooting at a family gathering in a park today in Denver, and this isn’t even our paper’s most clicked story right now. So scary and sad, all around. Details from @ShellyBradbury: https://t.co/Przo11aOFH
— Alex Burness (@alex_burness) August 10, 2020
Just this week, Westword reported data showing gun violence in Colorado impacts people of color four times more than it does whites. “During the first eight months of 2020, during which ninety people were killed by firearms in Colorado, around three-quarters of the victims were people of color, according to the National Gun Violence Memorial,” the paper reported.
Read The Washington Post’s full national narrative of “A day in gunshot America,” anchored by reporters Bonnie Berkowitz and Christine Loman, here.
Gun violence in America: The story of one day and the 113 people shot. The Post analyzed how the epidemic of gun violence unfolded over a full 24 hours, a year ago today https://t.co/rTF4l8IPji
— Post Graphics (@PostGraphics) September 5, 2020
How do you use (or abuse) datelines?
MY COUCH — Journalists, editors, and some communications-adjacent folks might know what a “dateline” is but the average reader likely does not. A good editor might delete the word “likely” from the lede of this item, or she might change the spelling to make it read “lead.” Before this gets too meta, I’ll get to the point: Let’s talk about datelines and how outlets use them.
A dateline is the capitalized location that starts off a news report in print or online. The goal is to signify something— and that something might be up for debate in the age of COVID-19 when reporters are doing more desk-bound reporting.
Here’s what The Associated Press says about using datelines:
A dateline should tell the reader that the AP obtained the basic information for the story in the datelined place. … For bylined stories, a reporter must be reporting from the dateline on the story.
So what does the AP mean by that? (A “byline,” by the way, means the author’s name.) The AP is saying that a dateline should signify where a reporter was while reporting a story. Look at the beginning of this item. MY COUCH is an accurate dateline, as would be COLORADO SPRINGS. An accurate dateline could be DENVER if, say, I typed up the majority of this item while in Denver (and if it was about something in Denver) and then finished it up when I got back home. I’d argue it would be wrong for me to use an ASPEN dateline if I wrote about Aspen but from my couch in Colorado Springs. Make sense?
When I lived in Charleston, South Carolina, and covered four states on the east coast for CJR, sometimes I’d get a reader complaint about using a “CHARLESTON, SC” dateline when I wrote a story about something that happened in Charleston, West Virginia. One particularly prickish West Virginia columnist hung up on me once as I tried to explain that, seriously, I was writing about Charleston, West Virginia from the city of Charleston in the Palmetto State. But I get the objection: Let’s try not to confuse readers.
And that brings me back to the use or misuse of datelines, particularly now that reporters might not be out there reporting as much from the field during a virus pandemic. Someone pointed out to me how it seemed improbable that the ABC affiliate Denver7 was using datelines to signify where reporters were on the ground reporting stories. You could see a DENVER dateline by a reporter and then a PITKIN COUNTY dateline from the same reporter about 15 minutes later. Even the fastest commercial flight in the country (Eagle to Aspen) typically takes longer than that.
I reached out to the station’s digital executive producer, Blair Miller, to get to the bottom of dateline use at Denver7 where he said there’s not really a set policy. “We try to stick toward putting them where we are reporting from, but obviously that has become increasingly difficult during COVID, so we’ll at times do stories remotely,” he told me. With all the wildfires happening around the state — and some of them raging in areas not well known — he said it might be easier to use a dateline for where the fires are happening rather than where a reporter physically is (like in Denver) when writing the story. The intent, he said, isn’t to create a “fake” dateline, but rather try to make the most sense for readers and viewers.
By contrast, The Colorado Sun uses datelines to signify where a reporter physically was when reporting a story: Like, for instance, when Jason Blevins wrote about an Eagle-to-Aspen flight, which he physically took on a plane, for a story datelined GYPSUM. I would argue he could have gotten away with THE SKY as a dateline like Christopher Beam did in 2007 when reporting from a Ron Paul blimp. Speaking of reporting from modes of transportation, a Denver Post reporter once used the dateline “ABOARD THE SOUTHWEST CHIEF.” (Here, I suppose I should disclose that I once drove out to Divide, Colorado to interview people on the eve of a presidential election for the sole purpose of being able to slap a cheeky DIVIDE, CO dateline on a politics story in a battleground state.)
But let’s take this even further. These days, a lot of reporting, particularly meetings coverage, is being done via Zoom or over screens because of coronavirus restrictions.
“It does cause some problems,” says Sun editor Dana Coffield who is responsible for checking the credibility indicators that accompany Sun stories and denote whether a reporter relied on original reporting, cited credible sources, or was “on the ground” meaning “physically present to report the article from some/all of the location(s) it concerns.”
In recent days, Sun reporter Mark Jaffe has been sitting through several oil-and-gas setback hearings from his home in Lakewood, which has vexed Coffield about whether to check the “on the ground” indicator box on his stories. (She has not.) “It gave me pause,” she told me over the phone this week. “He’s on the ground in the sense that he’s attending the meetings but he’s attending in the way he can, which is by Zoom.”
My take: I think it’s a best practice to keep the reader in mind when making technical decisions that mean different things to different people in the news business and do whatever will be most clear to someone with the least amount of inside knowledge about what it actually means.
A public radio journalist covers the rural West … by bike
During the current pandemic, Nate Hegyi, a reporter for a regional public radio collaboration called the Mountain West News Bureau, is using a different strategy to cover our region in the lead-up to a big election. As the virus tamps down much field reporting and keeps plenty of journalists bound to their desks, he’s been on a bike.
Since late August, the Missoula denizen has been on a 900-mile trip on two wheels across the West for a series called “Across the Great Divide,” using the occasion to report from the road. His journey will take him through Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho, and he expects to end it later this month in Greeley, Colorado.
“This is an exciting and significant project for us,” Kate Concannon, the Mountain West News Bureau’s managing editor, said. “What Nate hears will inform future reporting and help us connect the dots on some of the biggest issues facing our region ahead of the November election.”
Since he began on Aug. 27 on a project described as an “experiment in slow journalism,” Hegyi met a cowboy shaking his head at cancel culture, learned of bar fights sparked by mask-wearing, and explored how the show Yellowstone is resonating where it’s produced in the Bitterroot Valley. In Idaho, he found “an example of a different kind of migrant in the West – young, urban folks who are tired of how expensive cities are, are concerned about the environment, and are moving to rural communities to live closer to the earth.” He ran into rural randos like a “magnificent mullet” man and he met Just Folks living in backcountry cabins who told him about “God’s country.” He heard of an undercurrent of racism from immigrant Mormons and pushed back at vacation-homers who say “public lands” are the biggest issue facing the West.
In Salmon, Idaho, an old man told the reporter his town is ruined. Why? “You see the masks? Well that’s one thing.” (A main drag, pre-pandemic, “had a brewpub and a bar featuring a giant owl stitched with arrows on it. Both of those businesses are now closed.”)
Flags have become a central theme in the reporting so far. Hegyi’s editor nagged him to put an American flag on the back of his bike as he rolled through the rural West. (He did it.) He has found multiple confederate flags in the hinterlands, including one “standing like a middle finger in someone’s front yard.” Trump flags, he realized, “are everywhere – flying from the backs of pickup trucks or hoisted up in front lawns from Lolo, Montana to Rexburg, Idaho.” In Leadore, Idaho, he ran into a PBS and Telemundo-watching “oddball” who wears a mask and worries about COVID-19— “a rebuke to the blue Trump flags” flying around the town. “I’ll be honest – I demure when I see one of those trucks flying the Trump flag,” the reporter wrote from the road. “I assume they don’t want to talk to the media, especially someone from public radio.” (Hegyi later says he’ll make it “my goal from here on out to speak with an enthusiastic, flag-flying supporter of our president.” At the end of one dispatch, the “wind whips” and a “flag has been torn to shreds.”
This week, the roving reporter caught up with KUNC’s Colorado Edition to talk about his ride so far.
“I started this trip thinking that it was going to be very focused on the 2020 election — Trump versus Biden — and speaking with voters,” he told host Erin O’Toole. “But what I’ve discovered is, of course, that rural and small-town communities are way, way more diverse than we like to think they are, and the conversations aren’t necessarily about national politics.” What he says he’s heard over and over again is that “growth and affordability are some of the biggest issues facing folks in these small towns.” They’re worried about an influx of out-of-staters flooding in and “changing their way of life” or driving up costs and squeezing them out financially.
As for what surprised him most on the trip, Hegyi told KUNC that the nation’s political divide, which can be “pretty mean-spirited online” has split some of the country’s smaller communities. “At the same time, at the end of the day, people feel like they can rely on their neighbors to help them out,” he said. “And that’s what gives me hope.”
Follow along with the rest of his reporting journey here.
Three’s a trend: Colorado media anniversaries
Multiple Colorado media organizations are celebrating anniversaries in different ways.
The Colorado Sun, now 2 years old, celebrated by launching a new daily podcast and a free virtual party. On Thursday, the Daily Sunup podcast featured editors Dana Coffield and Larry Ryckman. On the episode, Ryckman revealed the highs and lows of running a local news startup business in whatever stage of capitalism this is that we’re living in.
“Every now and then in business, you get thrown a curveball,” he said, “and we certainly got a big one last November.” Civil, the New York-based cryptocurrency-and-blockchain company that seeded the Sun with initial grant funding, ran out of money, “even though we had a contract saying they would continue funding us through May of this year,” Ryckman said. “So that left us with a pretty big hole in our budget.” The development could have meant an eclipse, but it didn’t. A surge in interest for the Sun emerged and readers stepped up as paying members, Ryckman said. He also noted how they chose to make Sun stories free to read despite smart people telling them it was a mistake.
Coffield offered a sunny outlook for the future and reflected on what the outlet has accomplished. “Through this two years we’ve been able to do intense political reporting, really high-quality business reporting, exciting outdoor adventure reporting,” she said. “All along the way we feel like we’re in just complete service to our community.” Reporter Jason Blevins spoke about how staff members often push each other to take the “harder, longer road to getting the story.”
High Country News is celebrating its 50th anniversary with preparations for its June 2021 gala as it tries to meet the second half of its $10 million fundraising goal. This week, the magazine Seattle-based director, Greg Hanscom, spoke with KVNF public radio’s Gavin Dahl about the magazine’s digital expansion, collaborations, and a shifting staff model for the magazine that covers a beat of more than one million miles in the West.
For years, he said, nearly the entire staff was based in Paonia, Colorado. But for the past five years, the staff “is now scattered all over the western United States.” The shift, he said, “has really allowed us to better cover this region.” He added that the move also helped the magazine build a more diverse staff. “I think if you were to look at our editorial staff I think it’s far more racially diverse than it ever was when we were purely based in Paonia,” he said. He also suggested his magazine’s Indigenous Affairs Desk, staffed largely by Indigenous journalists, could be the only such one in the nation for a non-Indigenous publication.
“I think that the days when news organizations looked at each other with great suspicion as kind of the evil competitor are long gone,” Hanscom said about the magazine’s appetite for collaborating with other news organizations. “I think at this point local news, in particular, has taken a massive hit in the last couple of decades, and I think we all realize that we need each other right now, and I think we all realize that we’re stronger together.” On that front, he said High Country News is willing to provide stories with others, share sources, and even help with business models.
Finally, Westword is honoring its 43 years as Denver’s alternative weekly with a new headquarters “that’s a far cry from the space where we created our first weekly issue, which hit the streets on September 1, 1977.” The paper’s new landlord is now the Colorado State Land Board at 1278 Lincoln Street.
“There have been a lot of times over the past six months, since Colorado found itself in the midst of a pandemic, that my spirits have sunk Titanically low,” wrote longtime editor Patty Calhoun this week. “But walking into our new offices always gives them a boost. History happened here. And having a past suggests a future.”
More Colorado local media odds & ends
🤺Will we see a Hunger Games scenario in the Mile High City as The Denver Gazette readies itself for a launch next week and looks for veteran journalists who might currently have jobs?
🆕Colorado’s Vanessa Otero of Ad Fontes Media has a new version of her Media Bias Chart and is raising money with a crowdfunding campaign.
👀Tina Griego writes about how “a larger conversation is happening among journalists and the public around coverage of communities that long have gone uncovered or not been covered well, the result of ignorance or arrogance, of newsroom blind spots and deaf ears, of the subjectivity that disguises itself as objectivity in largely white newsrooms.”
📹One day, CU Boulder sophomore Areyana Proctor will have “her own video production company focused on telling the stories of marginalized communities.”
⛔The AP reports “News media access to wildfires is severely limited in Colorado and in neighboring Utah.”
🖌️”They stifled my free speech,” a lawyer said of someone he says painted over a Trump sign on his red barn with a “lewd reference” on Highway 24 near Woodland Park.
🤐The Denver Gazette’s publisher “remains cagey about how many of those fifty folks will be new to the payroll.”
📱The Colorado Times Recorder interviewed lawmaker Lisa Cutter who wrote Colorado’s media literacy law.
🗞️Marketplace informs us that the local newspaper that covers the biggest city in rural Morgan County, Colorado, “used to have four reporters, but now it shares just one full-time reporter with another paper.” (So now, during an uncertain and confusing time, parents in the county have been “turning to a Facebook group with more than 5,900 members to get and share information.”)
📰 Judy Muller writes in Telluride magazine: “Small town newspapers are not antiquated bits of Americana.”
☀️The Colorado Sun explains to readers how it will cover the upcoming election.
🔥Colorado is mentioned in a piece about climate coverage and wildfires in Columbia Journalism Review.
🗺️Learn how a revelation in Colorado led a geography editor at The New York Times to try and find out “if the color in your neighborhood, as seen from above, might indicate how you voted.”
👉Department of other people’s problems: A new major study shows “About 7 in 10 Americans are concerned about bias in media other people consume.”
*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.