Colorado publisher ‘bullish’ after buying out-of-state-owned Denver-area newspapers in a pandemic

Your weekly roundup of Colorado local news & media

The office of The Brighton Standard Blade, a former Landmark newspaper recently sold to Colorado Community Media. (Photo provided)

Throughout the past eight months of the pandemic, newspapers have been gushing red ink.

Money woes led to layoffs, reduced circulation and printing days, closures, and journalists having to take unpaid time off in the form of furloughs. This column has chronicled the changing contours of Colorado’s media landscape since the rumbles began in March.

The latest development, though, goes in a different direction. This week, Colorado Community Media, which operates nearly two dozen newspapers in the Denver suburbs, announced it bought a collection of Denver-area papers from a Kentucky-based company called Landmark Community Newspapers. That’s right, a newspaper purchase during the pandemic— and a publisher “bullish” about the future.

That’s a far cry from April, when the coronavirus crisis was shredding newspaper balance sheets and Landmark sent a letter to employees saying workers would need to take days off to save money. By late May, though, the company told workers they “won’t have more furlough days.” Also during the pandemic, Colorado Community Media accepted $256,000 in federal small business rescue loan relief through the Paycheck Protection Program at a time when “many advertisers” were postponing or canceling buys.

So what should this new newspaper sale in Colorado tell us? For one thing, it’s part of a broader trend.

“Small deal activity increased significantly during the third quarter, with nearly 20 transactions closing since August,” wrote Santa Fe-based newspaper brokerage firm Dirks, Van Essen & April in its November newsletter. “The vast majority of buyers were small groups or independents, as most of the large newspaper companies remained on the sidelines while weathering the pandemic.”

Also, are things maybe turning around, somewhat, somehow? At least for one local newspaper company in Colorado? In April or May, if a newspaper broker had come to Colorado Community Media President and Publisher Jerry Healey about the possibility of buying the Landmark papers, he says he would have said no.

“But we’ve seen a lift recently in advertising, and definitely have seen a lift in terms of people wanting to contribute to journalism,” says Healey, who along with his wife Ann, bought nine community newspapers in Colorado from a Texas-based company in 2012. “So I feel pretty bullish on this.”

The papers moving from Landmark to CCM are the Brighton Standard BladeFort Lupton PressCommerce City Sentinel ExpressMetro AdvertiserCanyon CourierClear Creek Courant, and (my favorite of the bunch, at least by name) 285 Hustler. This means CCM now runs 22 weekly papers, two monthlies, and two “shoppers,” which are direct-mail advertising publications.

“It is with mixed feelings that we sold this group of newspapers, which our company has owned for many years,” Michael Abernathy, president of Landmark Community Newspapers, said in a statement. “In today’s challenging times, we came to the decision that the communities we serve and our employees in the Denver area would be better served being part of a larger, Denver-based newspaper group.”

Healey says CCM is keeping all the journalists, but two office-and-production workers lost jobs in the merger.

As for what’s shaping a buoyant advertising period, Healey says he’s hearing those who might advertise are feeling like they have to get back to business, adding, “they’re being a little bit more aggressive in terms of marketing.” Advertising agencies tell him they believe community newspapers are well positioned to get the eyes of quality readers on the products and services of clients. “We don’t convert them all, but we’re getting a lot of inquiries for advertising,” he says. He noted he started seeing an uptick around September. Healthcare, in particular, is one sector where they’re seeing more advertising.

This comes from a publisher’s note by Healey that popped up in one newly acquired Landmark paper:
Our goal is to strengthen and preserve these newspapers for the future. With Google and Facebook taking so much advertising money out of newspapers and out of state, we have a tough challenge. But the team at … Colorado Community Media are meeting this challenge and continue to be the eyes, ears and storytellers in your community. And a great place for advertisers to reach local consumers.

Colorado Community Media calls itself “the largest local, family-owned media group in Colorado,” and I’m told by one CCM reporter who’s worked there a few years that the mood among staff seems generally pleased about this new deal.

The purchase, which apparently caught some of the Landmark folks off guard, had a particularly interesting twist for one early-career journalist, Liam Adams, who had just put in his two-week notice at the Landmark-owned Brighton Standard Blade when he learned of the deal. He’d planned to go full-time freelance, he wrote in a social media thread.

“However, due to a freak newspaper sale, that all changed in a matter of days,” he said. “So, technically, I am, ‘sticking around.’ And I couldn’t be more psyched.”

Judge notes newspaper photos when denying reduced bond for 9News security guard

When a security guard protecting a 9News producer at a Denver “Patriot Muster” rally shot and killed a man during a confrontation last month, Denver Post photographer Helen H. Richardson caught the whole thing through her camera lens.

Now, Richardson’s photos have informed a judge’s recent ruling to deny reduced bond to the shooter, 30-year-old Matthew Dolloff.

From The Denver Post:

Those moment-by-moment photographs greatly increase the likelihood that the security guard, Matthew Dolloff, will be convicted, and so increase the risk that Dolloff will refuse to appear in court if released on bail, District Court Judge John Madden IV wrote in a six-page order. “The precision with which the moment of the charged homicide is captured is unprecedented in the Court’s experience,” Madden wrote.
More from the newspaper:

Madden found that the Denver Post photographs do not support Dolloff’s claim that he acted in self-defense when he shot Keltner, who had slapped him in the face a moment before the shooting, and who appeared to be spraying pepper spray at Dolloff as Dolloff shot him.

“The evidence of which the Court is presently aware appears to show that, at the time of the shooting, there was no danger from the victim that placed the Defendant or anyone else in imminent risk of death or great bodily injury, and that the victim was backing away from the Defendant holding a can of mace,” Madden wrote, although he emphasized that there will be significantly more evidence considered as the case goes forward, and said that additional evidence could prompt him to reconsider reducing bail.

Photographs taken by the Denver Post moments after the shooting show law enforcement officers removing a handgun from the left side of Keltner’s body. Denver police have said two guns were found at the scene.

Dolloff’s attorney was trying to get his bond reduced from $500,000. This week, media reported Dolloff, who faces second-degree murder charges, posted bond and is out on bail.

A lawsuit to ‘halt publication’ of a Colorado book?

Reporter Jason Blevins of The Colorado Sun hasn’t yet published a story about this, but he teased in his Thursday newsletter The Outsider that one is coming Monday.

I’m hesitant to write too much about it here since the news came from a subscriber-based service that offers a “Sneak Peek of the Week” about upcoming stories. But I do want to make sure readers of this column are aware of it since it deals with efforts to curtail the publication of written material.

So I’ll offer some vague background: It has to do with a guidebook publisher in Colorado coming out with a book that will publicize information about where people can do certain outdoor activities in certain places that aren’t widely known or particularly easy to discover. A former employee of a company that makes money by bringing people to such places helped write the book and that company wants to stop the book from coming out, calling some information in it “trade secrets.”

“Defendant’s continued use of these trade secrets is willful and malicious, and [the company] is entitled to damages,” Blevins quoted the civil complaint saying. He added the lawsuit asks a judge “to temporarily halt publication of the book” while a court decides if its author “is using trade secrets that could injure the company.”

So check out the Sun for that story Monday.

The Denver Post is looking for a new politics editor

The Denver Post politics desk over the past two years has seen some serious turnover. Reporters have moved in and out, which can sometimes be a good thing because of fresh eyes and new perspectives, but can also lead to a loss of institutional memory.

Now the paper is looking for a new editor to handle politics coverage. Cindi Andrews is leaving after coming over in 2018 from The Cincinnati Enquirer where she had spent 13 years. She’ll be joining the Gannett-owned Courier & Press in Evansville, Indiana, becoming “the first female executive editor in the newspaper’s 175-year history.” She’ll start at the end of this month.

“I’m a Midwesterner and really excited to get back to the Midwest and learn about Southern Indiana and Evansville,” she told her new paper. “I will miss Colorado and the great @denverpost folks but it’s the right move at the right time,” she said on social media.

Here’s what The Denver Post is looking for in a new politics editor, per the job listing:

We are looking for an editor to lead a talented team of experienced journalists, coaching them to write with urgency, depth and authority. We value enterprise and watchdog journalism and – given our highly competitive market – want to be the first to break news important to our readers. …

The successful candidate will understand the need to put our readers at the center of all decision making and will have a firm grasp of both print and digital journalism, including a willingness to use audience data as a component in editorial choices. We want you to help guide big ideas, hone a lead and ask tough questions. Our editors engage with reporters in lively discussions about coverage so we are looking for a person comfortable in that atmosphere. You will be part of a team that supports and pitches in as needed. We’re looking for an editor who cares that the newsroom as a whole succeeds and will work to that end.​

Another Post editor said: “Members of underrepresented communities encouraged to apply.”

Emerging journalist highlight: Colorado high school papers are finalists for awards

Two Colorado publications are among 60 finalists for this year’s “Best of the Best” Pacemaker awards for high school publications. The National Scholastic Press Association announced this week that Elevate Magazine at Regis Jesuit High School in Aurora and The Pack at Monarch High School in Louisville made the cut. The two papers competed against publications in 19 states and the United Kingdom.

Editors the NSPA named are Elevate’s Sophia Marcinek, Maddie Proctor, and Hunter Sullivan. Advisers are Nicole Arduini and Adam Dawkins. The editor at The Pack is India Turner, and the adviser is Ben Reed.

From the NSPA:

“With the pandemic closing schools across the country, many of the papers submitted for the competition were produced with student journalists working from their homes,” [NSPA associate director Gary] Lundgren said.  “The high-quality journalism these publications provided, against all odds, is remarkable.”

The NSPA and Journalism Education Association will recognize the two Colorado high school publications during a Nov. 21 online awards ceremony where contest organizers and will announce the winners.

If you or someone you know is an early career Colorado journalist, this Facebook group dedicated to Emerging Colorado Journalists is up to 65 members.

More Colorado local media odds & ends

🎊Susan Gonzalez, Social Media Strategist at Chalkbeat, who lives in Denver, was elected to the Online News Association’s board of directors. The ONA announcement says she “brings expertise in audience engagement and a passion for supporting underrepresented voices in the journalism industry.”
⚖️A Colorado judge has forbid a man named David Lesh “from posting any picture or video on any social media platform of himself or anyone else violating state or federal laws on any federal lands under the jurisdiction of the court.”
⚔️The Colorado Times Recorder says it believes a political group is “fundraising to sue” one of its reporters.
🔎Outed: Meet the former Colorado journalist’s daughter whose middle name is Cora. (She was the blind item in the lead of last week’s column.)
⚠️A Denver TV news station “deleted an incorrect tweet saying that Biden has won Georgia.”
🗳️This voter guide was “the latest project from COLab that aims not only to support local journalism in small towns but also to amplify the voices of the people who live there.”
🎉The New York Times gave a shout out to The Colorado College COVID-19 Reporting Project, a pandemic-focused higher-ed newsletter, in a story about how college students nationwide are shining in their coronavirus coverage. (Read our newsletter’s origin story here.)
➕Energy journalism project Empowering Colorado added a new board member.
📚Lisa Cutter, a Democratic member of the Colorado House who successfully pushed for a media literacy bill at the Legislature, won re-election and is now a co-Caucus chair.
📢Colorado editor extraordinaire Tina Griego writes how a “recognition that the era of paper-doll coverage of communities, flat and one-dimensional, should have ended a long time ago collides with the current reality that so many local newsrooms are becoming smaller and whiter and so struggle to provide this kind of in-depth coverage.” (Also, COLab’s participating newsrooms are “up to 95 and counting.”)
🌿Westword’s ‘Ask a Stoner’ columnist says: “Higher education has come a long way in the past five years, and even major universities are offering studies related to cannabis hospitality, science, policy, journalism and more.”
🤐A New York Times columnist who was asked to leave Shooters Grill while interviewing diners wrote: “So much for ‘freedom,’ Boebert’s slogan on her campaign posters. So much for freedom of expression and the freedom to talk to people who think different.”
☑️A journalist who rounded up editorial board endorsements found The Gazette in Colorado Springs was the only newspaper to endorse Republicans Cory Gardner and Lauren Boebert.
🛑The board of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists says it “will ask newsrooms to stop labeling POCs as ‘minorities.’ Accurate terms depend on the context or group that is being referred to; these could include communities of color, marginalized, underprivileged, or emerging majority when referencing statistics and data.” (The Denver Post’s top editor said “This language has seemed off for a long time. In addition to the labeling, it can be just inaccurate.”)
🎊The CU Independent is a finalist for the 2020 Pacemaker awards for higher-ed student journalism.
💨David Olinger writes in The Gazette about a hate crime in Lakewood: “An international flurry of news followed the hate crime announcement, from the West Coast weekly India-west to television networks, the Associated Press and Colorado papers. Then, silence. The media had moved on.”
💬Colorado Politics mentions a dispute in which a dismissal by the Secretary of State’s office stated an allegation “raised ‘serious questions’ that PTI and Staiert were attempting to violate Salazar’s freedom of speech.”
❌Colorado Newsline newsletter subscribers might have learned “Stan” Garnett is the new Colorado House Speaker. But it was a mistake in the subject line. It’s Alec Garnett. Stan is a former Boulder district attorney. They quickly corrected it.
💰Apply for money from this emergency “rapid response” fund to help you cover elections.
📺A 2018 Colorado true crime local murder story got “the Dr. Oz treatment.”
🗞️What is a “newspaper” these days anyway? (Paging The Denver Gazette and The Salt Lake Tribune…)
📰Here were the front-page headlines of some of Colorado’s largest newspapers Wednesday.

*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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