On Tuesday, journalists Wesley Lowery and Julian Rubinstein convened at Colorado College for a public conversation about media, covering social justice movements, law enforcement, and more.
Lowery, a Pulitzer Prize-winning former Washington Post reporter who contributes to The Marshall Project, GQ, and other publications, recently published a major story for The Philadelphia Inquirer about that newspaper’s history of being “complicit in systemic inequality” and whether it can meet its new pledge to be an anti-racist institution.
Rubinstein is the author of the book “The Holly: Five Bullets, One Gun and the Struggle to Save an American Neighborhood,” which came out last spring. (The Holly is an area in Denver.) His documentary about Denver anti-gang activist Terrance Roberts comes out soon. The Estlow Center for Journalism and New Media at the University of Denver co-sponsored the event.
A Q-and-A from an in-person audience followed, including a back and forth with a Colorado Public Radio reporter, and a question from the editor of The Gazette about the extent to which progress is coming from “reckonings” in journalism.
Some nuggets from the nearly two-hour discussion:
- When news organizations talk about Black communities and coverage of Black communities, we can accept that, historically, “our newspapers weren’t for those communities,” Lowery said at one point. “We know that. It’s not who they were attempting to serve, it’s not who they were covering … and so the question becomes today: how is that remedied, right? And the solution is not always — or not just, or maybe not at all — more coverage about those people for the people we are actually writing for.” (His advice: Listen to communities about what they want, how journalists can build trust, and what coverage they need.)
- Colorado Springs was “the getaway for me when things got really hairy,” Rubinstein said about why he left Denver for a bit when his book came out last spring. “I was threatened,” he said at another point. “It was suggested that by digging into certain things or divulging certain things that it would be potentially dangerous. And I had … well-known people getting public money … threatening me,” he said with a caveat that it was done in a way “so there’s plausible deniability.”
- Lowery asked Rubinstein how he approached his book and documentary “as a white guy” dropping into a historically Black neighborhood in Denver. “It was definitely the biggest challenge I’ve had as a reporter,” Rubinstein replied, but said he didn’t face questions about that aspect during his reporting as much as he has since the book came out. Later, he said he was told, it might have been beneficial because he was perceived as less likely to be an informant for law enforcement.
- Rubinstein said law enforcement recently put out numbers to a Denver news organization stating there were zero African-American gang homicides in Denver last year. “I haven’t gone through all the numbers,” he said, “but all I can say is if that’s the case, Denver has now suddenly gone from the most atrocious, horrific … example of … fighting gang violence to literally solving it over night.” (He distrusts the numbers.) “What we did see and what I did capture on camera and in the book is, frankly, the corruption of a federal anti-gang effort that … revealed a lot of how law enforcement and how Denver is deciding to deal with their problem,” he said.
- “We have major media organizations accepting people who are working with or for law enforcement,” Rubinstein said. (Editor’s note: Some local journalists emcee law enforcement award ceremonies, and some local TV stations help the local police raise money.)
- When covering crime, “I think we can get into — the collective ‘we’ in journalism — we can become so reliant on the official sources in part because they’re easier to get to,” Lowery said. “They’ve got a spokesperson who you can call. It’s a lot harder to track down that guy who was there and figure out what happened, right? But what do we miss when we don’t do it?” (His advice: Go knock on some doors. Take the time to get the definitive story about what happened. Do readers and viewers really need to know about a stabbing on South Nevada just because police put out a news release?)
- Lowery said a former reporter colleague used to say a lot of journalists aspire to be the first to report a story. But he would say he wanted to be the last to report it — because he’d get it right.
Watch the entire event below:
In Colorado, local governments find all kinds of ways to keep information secret from nosy reporters or others who seek public records.
They might charge staggering fees in hopes a journalist or anyone else requesting public information will balk at the price tag of an open records request. Sometimes they might claim something is privileged, or say it’s just not in the public’s interest to release a document or video. (Maybe because it’s embarrassing.)
At least once, an administrator of a school district in Colorado directed employees to delete emails and shred documents in order to “protect against an Open Records Request.” Every reporter probably has a story about some sophisticated public entity evading transparency in frustratingly creative ways or some podunk outpost just not knowing how our state’s open records and meetings laws work.
The Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, the nonprofit organization that helps everyone in Colorado get access to public records, wants to hear your doozie whether you’re a journalist or not. The group “will reveal the worst of the worst during Sunshine Week, which this year is March 13-19.”
What’s your favorite (or should we say least favorite) example from the past two or three years of someone blatantly obstructing the public’s right to know in Colorado? It could involve a Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) request, a Colorado Criminal Justice Records Act (CCJRA) request, access to a meeting under the Colorado Open Meetings Law, or access to the court system.
The group is calling it the “Sunshine Madness” contest.
Exposing obstruction of Colorado’s FOI laws goes hand in hand with CFOIC’s mission “to educate,” the organization says. You can submit your nominations to email@example.com.
Coloradoan newspaper brings back opinion, sheds more print
A new report shows the top 25 U.S. newspapers have lost 30% of their print sales in the past two years. That includes The Denver Post, which the trade publication PressGazette lists as is the 22nd largest U.S. newspaper.
“While print circulations have declined in recent years, many of these publications have built up, and are still growing, sizable digital subscription businesses,” the report states.
The Post reporter above wasn’t the only journalist for a Colorado paper this week to spotlight the importance of its digital presence over its vestigial print product. Writing in the Gannett-owned Coloradoan in Fort Collins, editor Eric Larsen acknowledged that his children “will probably never subscribe to a daily newspaper.”
In a column to readers, he said Gannett would stop printing the Windsor Beacon and will focus on hosting news about that area online at the Coloradoan’s website.
From the column:
Today, more than two-thirds of Coloradoan subscribers get their news digitally. That ratio will continue to tilt toward a screen-based news experience in the future. It’s our job at the Coloradoan to ensure that we’re filling those screens with timely, relevant and trustworthy news.
Meanwhile, the Coloradoan is bringing back its opinion offerings, which it scrapped in 2019 to save money. In November, this newsletter reported on the paper’s compelling collaboration with a CSU program on an effort called the Northern Colorado Deliberative Journalism Project. Through work on it so far, the Coloradoan learned readers have a clear desire for a renewed opinion forum.
“Best of all, our opinion content will be free to all readers so that no voice is quieted simply because they can’t pay their way into the conversation,” Larsen wrote. “We’ll also work with CSU’s Journalism & Media Communication School and the Center for Public Deliberation to introduce features surrounding media literacy and building civic capacity.”
Meanwhile, Denver’s new PBS leader says the ‘future is digital’
A few months ago, Kristen Blessman took over as president and GM of Denver’s independent PBS station, known as PBS12.
This week, the Denver consulting firm SE2 caught up with her to talk about how she approaches her new role in local public media.
Asked how the station will reach younger audiences who might not be familiar with PBS — or even watch broadcast news — Blessman said in part: “We absolutely understand the future is digital,” and said over time PBS12 has “built robust communities on various social media platforms and YouTube to extend our reach into nontraditional audiences.”
Some more highlights from the interview:
- “I learned in my time fighting to create diverse workforce cultures that the ones with the most diversity in thought, culture, race and gender are the ones that are most successful,” she said.
- “Put simply, we’re impact media for Colorado,” she said.
- PBS12 knows it can’t “produce all the content that’s worth creating,” she said, “so we look to content partners, independent producers and new sources of content to curate impactful, meaningful, relevant and entertaining programs for our community.”
Read the entire Q-and-A at SE2 here.
Legal notices go poof from the Littleton Independent
Last week’s newsletter carried an item about the newspaper in Estes Park fighting the town over a ballot measure that asks voters to allow the town to publish its legal notices online instead of in the paper.
The Independent had gotten the public contract to publish official town business last spring after the paper that previously published them, The Villager, ran an idiotic April Fool’s article that included stereotypes of Asians, prompting a swift backlash, a barrage of critical local news coverage, and an advertising boycott.
New radio series: ‘Headwaters’
Gunnison freelance journalist Stephanie Maltarich earned a 30-minute interview and profile on KVNF public radio on the Western Slope this week. Her work focuses on “the environment, social justice, and the outdoors,” host Gavin Dahl said.
In the interview, Maltarich offered a sneak peek of a new project she’s working on for the Water Desk at CU’s Center for Environmental Journalism. She was a winner of a grant funded by the Walton Family Foundation to “support water journalism connected to the Colorado River Basin.”
Maltarich said she felt the Gunnison Valley is an important place to focus reporting. She told KVNF she plans to report five feature stories for a series called Headwaters.
“I’m just diving into different aspects of what’s important in this valley in terms of being a headwaters community,” she said. “So I’m looking at some innovative science research that’s taking place up at the north end of the valley … I’m going to look at policy and how that kind of shapes and impacts the water we use.”
She also said she’ll look at “water equity,” dams, and the future of water in Colorado.
Why the Colorado Press Association opposes a recycling bill
Colorado Press Association CEO Tim Regan-Porter said his organization is “very concerned” about potential impacts of a lawmaker’s intent to propose a law that would create a state recycling program.
The journalism advocacy group leader told reporter Marianne Goodland of Colorado Politics that he worried such a bill could burden some local newspapers and impact the ability of some citizens “to get trustworthy news.”
Because the bill would “require a shift in the financial responsibility for recycling from consumers to manufacturers,” Goodland reported, it could mean newspapers might have to pay a fee on top of the cost of newsprint they are already buying.
Some small rural newspapers, including in Colorado, have a very limited online presence in part because of poor broadband access and so they rely almost exclusively on their print product.
The lawmaker promoting this potential bill is Democrat Lisa Cutter, who is also pushing a bill called “Supporting Local Media” that would give tax credits to those who subscribe to and advertise in local news outlets.
“As currently structured, the bill would impose significant hardship on newspapers and likely force some to shutter,” Regan-Porter said. “This would be especially devastating to rural communities where the local newspaper is the only source of local news.”
Cutter hadn’t introduced a recycling bill by the time Colorado Politics reported on it, but she told the publication said she expected she would soon. The Press Association isn’t the only critic. In the piece, Cutter said she planned some amendments she hopes would address concerns.
More Colorado media odds & ends
📺 “My first time ever co-anchoring a #BlackHistoryMonth special. AND it’s at a FOX affiliate, IN DENVER,” said KDVR’s Joshua Short on Feb. 12. “There’s Black history made every day and in places some would least expect.” He thanked the station and journalist Shaul Turner for what he called a “remarkable moment, for me and so so many.”
🔦 “I understand the discomfort as a journalist in covering extremism. I was there, too, at one point,” said Denver’s KUSA 9News anchor Kyle Clark. “But the public deserves to know who these people are and the power they hold in state politics.”
😬 As of Feb. 13, McKenna Harford was “officially the Sky-Hi News. Or I should say the Sky-Hi will be the McKenna Harford Times for a bit since I’m the last editorial person standing,” she said. “Wish me luck and sanity!!”
📰 Someone give the page one editor of The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel a “beer and a day off” indeed.
⛷ Steamboat has “trademarked the phrase CHAMPAGNE POWDER™ and very much doesn’t like it when journalists use that combination of words to describe the quality of snow that fell anywhere else,” Denver Post Managing Editor Matt Sebastian said.
📝 Potentially releasing the names of Douglas County teachers who were not in school on a recent day of protests against the conservative majority school board, said 9News anchor Kyle Clark, “continues what’s been a trend of conservative leaders in Douglas County seeking the names and sometimes even the addresses of perceived political opponents like teachers, public health workers, and journalists.”
🏆 OutThere Colorado was named “best blog in a poll by Outdoor Media Summit, the organization annually celebrating content creators across the national industry.”
💳 Ever wonder why you can’t just purchase one story to read at a news site that has a paywall instead of having to subscribe to the whole publication? Simon Owens explains the four biggest hurdles for publishers.
✝️ The Archdiocese of Denver plans to review the “Catholic identity” of its high schools following an Aurora Catholic school’s firing of student media advisers after students published a pro-choice column in the student paper, according to The Denver Post. “According to an email obtained by The Post sent by Regis administration to the school’s faculty, the archdiocese plans to increase intervention in the region’s Catholic high schools, from providing ‘a new prompt’ for theology teacher applicants during the schools’ hiring processes to asking schools to submit their theology curriculum to the archdiocese,” Elizabeth Hernandez reported.
📢 “Catholic schools should extend free speech rights to student journalists,” was a headline in the National Catholic Reporter by Heidi Schlumpf.
🙄 “I’ve gotten a lot of dumb pitches in my time, but the press person who just sent me two separate emails offering the same guest to argue opposite sides of an issue must really take the cake,” a Colorado Public Radio editor said this week.
⚙️ Denver Business Journal is looking for a reporter “to cover technology and innovation” ($50k to $60k) and a data reporter (same salary range) “who will be a spreadsheet master with journalism chops to build on the newsroom’s strong legacy of using data to drive essential, exclusive business coverage.”
➡️ Axios Denver is hiring a third reporter. “The salary range for this role is $60,000-$75,000,” the listing states. “This range is for potential hires in the state of Colorado.” I’m told that salary is the floor not the ceiling.
📚 Colorado Springs City Council has appointed two conservatives to the Pikes Peak Library Board “who last year were rejected by a 5-4 vote of approval, failing because a two-third majority is needed,” The Indy alt-weekly reported. But the vote went through this time because City Council President Richard Skorman recently stepped down from office. Why? In part to focus on his bookstore, cafe and toy store ever since Denver’s investor-backed Tattered Cover bookstore announced it would open a Springs location with a cafe and “kids zone” just blocks from Poor Richard’s.
🌱 The Denver Post’s new business reporter, Megan Ulu-Lani Boyanton, is one of UVM’s Professional & Continuing Education cannabis media fellows and is “learning all about cannabis science and medicine.”
🆕 Amber Delay, “a Moffat County High School graduate and Craig native, has joined the newsroom” of the Craig Daily Press this week. “We’ve been extremely fortunate to expand the Craig Press newsroom, something that few newspapers have been able to do in the last decade or so,” wrote editor Cuyler Meade.
⏎ Anna Alejo is returning to CBS4 in Denver as the station’s executive producer of community impact. The station’s general manager, Tim Wieland, called her “a journalist and community leader in Colorado for three decades” who is “smart, well-respected and passionate about serving diverse communities across Colorado.”
👀 One of Colorado’s wealthiest residents, John Malone, who Westword once said is nicknamed the “Cable Cowboy,” was quoted in The New York Times this week saying, “I would like to see CNN evolve back to the kind of journalism that it started with and actually have journalists, which would be unique and refreshing.”
💸 “There’s such a huge urgency mismatch in reporting on gas prices and on the fact that so much of the country is broke enough to notice when a tank goes up by $10,” said Denver Post reporter Alex Burness. “The way bigger story is that most Americans can’t weather a $1,000 emergency or buy a house where they live.”
🎙 A journalist freed from a Burmese prison is a former Telluride resident who talked with KVNF public radio about his experience.
I’m Corey Hutchins, interim director of Colorado College’s Journalism Institute, the Colorado-based contributor for Columbia Journalism Review’s United States Project, and a journalist for multiple news outlets. The Colorado Media Project, where I write case studies, is underwriting this newsletter, and my “Inside the News” column appears at COLab, both of which I sometimes write about here. Follow me on Twitter, reply or subscribe to this weekly newsletter here, or e-mail me at CoreyHutchins [at] gmail [dot] com.