Colorado Indigenous Communities Want ‘Reach, Representation, and Respect’ From Local News

  • Corey Hutchins is a journalism instructor at Colorado College and a contributor to Columbia Journalism Review, The Washington Post, and other news outlets. This column is produced with support from the Colorado Media Project, and is distributed statewide via the Colorado News Collaborative.

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The important and impressive Voices Initiative is out with another report for Colorado — this time about Indigenous communities and their recommendations for improving relations among them and local media.

The initiative, which launched in 2021, is a project led by Colorado News Collaborative in partnership with Colorado Media Project.

The latest report, written by by Tara McLain Manthey, a member of the Osage nation, is the culmination of a working group of community members and Indigenous journalists. It follows a remarkable movement in Colorado that has led to recommendations to our local media from a Black Voices working group, a Latinx Voices working group, and an AANHPI Voices working group. (More than 500 people have contributed altogether.)

“It is important that Indigenous voices be heard in Colorado on whatever level, whatever topic,” one participant in Denver said in the report. “We are here.”

From the latest Indigenous Voices working group’s executive summary:

Daily news coverage either omits coverage of Indigenous people and communities or advances stereotypes by overly focusing on bad actors and traumatic experiences. Local news organizations often miss opportunities to make deeper connections with Indigenous communities that result in more nuanced and comprehensive stories.

“When editors and producers fail to include Indigenous people in their news and newsrooms, they fail to cover the full breadth and diversity of their communities,” the report states.

Here are some takeaways from the rest of it:

  • 75,000 Coloradans identified as American Indian or Alaska Native in the 2020 Census; more than 35,000 of them live in the Denver metro area.
  • “Some Indigenous communities in Colorado, especially in Front Range cities, have no local news media that reflects their identity — either in coverage or representation. Many rely on community connections, nonprofits, informal networks and social media to share information. That lack of local news coverage by and of the Indigenous community in all areas, but especially in Front Range cities, is a significant contributor to the invisibility of Indigenous peoples among the general public.”
  • “Across Colorado, many Indigenous people access reliable information about Indigenous issues from a few local Indigenous journalists, digital newsletters, government commissions and local radio programs like KGNU’s Indian Voices program hosted by Theresa Halsey.”
  • “Indigenous organizational leaders are reluctant to respond to media requests if representatives of the outlets have in the past been rude, transactional, untrustworthy or misrepresented the issues or voices in their coverage. This is a significant barrier to rebuilding trust.”
  • “Participants want news media to know, respect and use the preferred terms, capitalization of, and descriptions of Indigenous peoples. The Native American Journalists Association (NAJA) has a useful guide for members of the media. Most importantly, news media should ask people what they want to be called, how to spell it, how to characterize it and how to capitalize it.”
  • “Coverage that uses the appropriate language and seeks permission to share photos of cultural dress and activities before publishing is very important to building trust with Indigenous community members.”
  • “Many Indigenous journalists who’ve worked in mainstream media felt isolated as the only Indigenous person on staff. Some felt a duty to cover Indigenous issues because no other reporters were interested or capable of covering Indigenous issues with respect. Some weren’t allowed to cover the community or issues as frequently as needed or desired due to supervisors’ perception of conflicts of interest.”
  • “Asking ‘what about Indigenous people?’ when reporting most stories would be a major step toward representation.”
  • “Whenever possible, use the present tense when writing about tribes and Indigenous people. This often works even when talking about historical events. For example: ‘The Cheyenne, Arapaho and Ute tribes are the first caretakers of the lands in Colorado.’ They are still here, and defaulting to past tense implies to the reader that they aren’t.”

The report noted that there are “strong examples of helpful and respectful coverage by non-Indigenous news outlets in Colorado.”

Leaders and journalists cited in the report some coverage from Kyle Clark’s nightly newscast “Next,” highlighting “the work of local Indigenous-run nonprofits, The Colorado Sun and Colorado Public Radio with ongoing coverage of several Indigenous issues, High Country News with its Indigenous Affairs desk and a collaboration between KSUT Public Radio and Rocky Mountain PBS to share mini-documentaries created by Indigenous storytellers.”

Meanwhile, “there was not a consensus on how to hold news media accountable, or whether that was possible,” the report states. “If this is something news media want from the community it must be part of the work of building relationships with community members. Some felt only other members of the media would be successful in holding other media accountable.”

Read the entire report, titled “reach, representation, and respect,” here.

On May 25, McLain Manthey will host a virtual event with others that digs into the report’s recommendations and will moderate a conversation with Indigenous leaders. An invite states: “you’ll hear about in-depth action steps communities, newsrooms and funders can collectively take to improve access to news and information that serves Indigenous communities.”

The inside story of Sixty35 The Indy’s struggle, rebranding, and rebirth in the Springs

Zach Ben-Amots, reporting for Rocky Mountain PBS, this week authored the most definitive story thus far about the trauma facing a local alternative news source in Colorado’s second-largest city.

Titled “‘This is how it feels to save a newspaper’” with the sub-hed “Inside the effort to keep independent, local news alive in Colorado Springs,” the in-depth piece casts a wide net, and goes deep. It covers the Indy’s founding, its boom times during Colorado’s cannabis rush, the arc of its business troubles during a period of secular newspaper decline, and the pandemic. Readers learn details about a unique set of circumstances that led to the news organization’s most recent dire challenges after it converted to a nonprofit and discovered hundreds of thousands of dollars in unexpected debt. “As with most financial crashes, it happened over a long time and all at once,” he writes.

Ben-Amots is well positioned to pen such a story; he grew up in Colorado Springs and comes with beaucoup institutional knowledge about the paper, it’s history, and the players involved.

Here are some nuggets about the saga that have not previously appeared in this newsletter:

  • “At the time of this article’s publication, Citizen-Powered Media has collected over $160,000 in owed advertising, reduced their past-due debt to $128,000, and raised over $55,000 from a combination of donations, subscriptions, and memberships. More than 230 people have committed to monthly recurring payments — enough for a full-time staffer or several part-timers to return.” … (“Several former designers and writers are back, just weeks after being fired — some returning to the same roles, and some as freelance contractors.”)
  • About that $300,000 shortfall staff discovered that led to the mass Ides of March layoffs: “Editors and board members said the financial misreporting was due in large part to an overextended staffer who lacked the necessary experience that a massive business transition required. The previous business manager had left the company earlier in the year, and responsibilities were handed over to ‘somebody much less skilled,’” the paper’s board chair Ahriana Platten told the reporter. “Once the debt was fully revealed, that person was quickly moved into a minor data-entry job, and replaced by a professional bookkeeper brought in as an independent contractor, a decision reflective of Weiss’ mantra: to be ‘hard on problems, and soft on people.’”
  • “Another looming threat is the possibility that the Indy’s former office building gets demolished by its next buyer — a serious prospect, given the rate of development in downtown Colorado Springs.”
  • “Last year, ahead of the rebranding, local marketing agency Magneti was brought in,” Ben-Amots writes, adding that while the news org’s leaders said nice things about the company on the record, “one editor described the end of their contract as ‘drama,’ saying that they were denied access to web editing tools after the creation of the Sixty35 website. A writer called the website’s search functions ‘completely unusable.’”
  • This newsletter recently reported on a local group resurrecting the Pikes Peak Bulletin in Manitou Springs from its rollup with Sixty35 Media. Since then, “one anonymous donor has already pledged to match donations up to $50,000,” Ben-Amots writes. “And reportedly, advertising interest is up.”

The Indy’s board is still hoping to reach its goal of 2,500 members, and “membership growth has slowed a bit in recent weeks,” the reporter writes, quoting Platten saying she thinks it could be a result of people seeing theIndy back on newsstands and falsely believing that donations have surged and they’ve averted a crisis. (I personally overheard someone this week say they thought that was the case.)

“It feels like success when you get that paper in your hands,” Platten said in the RMPBS story. “And it is success. It was a huge amount of work for us to get there. But financially we are still relying on membership to get to a position where we are sustainable.”

Read the whole story at the link above.

🌥 Colorado news outlets sue Denver Schools over sunshine laws

Six local news outlets have sued Denver Public Schools over access to footage from a March meeting that they allege board members held in violation of Colorado’s open-meetings laws. The meeting came after an East High School student shot and injured two administrators.

“When school board members emerged from the meeting, they voted unanimously to return police officers to Denver high schools — a major policy change — with no public discussion,” Chaklbeat Colorado’s Erica Meltzer reported.

More from the education-focused nonprofit news outlet:

Colorado law requires public bodies to meet in the open, except under particular circumstances, such as discussing a student or employee or to receive legal advice. Before entering a closed meeting, elected officials have to announce the topics they’ll be discussing “in as much detail as possible without compromising the purpose for which the executive session is authorized,” along with the legal basis for entering a private meeting. 

The lawsuit’s plaintiffs, each of which were met with denials when their journalists filed open records requests, include Fox 31, Colorado Newsline, The Denver Post, Colorado Politics and The Denver Gazette, Chalkbeat Colorado, and 9NEWS.

Colorado First Amendment attorneys Rachael Johnson and Steve Zansberg are on the case.

“You need to inform the public what you are going behind closed doors to discuss,” Zansberg told Chalkbeat. “And even if it had been a properly convened executive session, they are not allowed to make a decision behind closed doors.” 

The lawsuit asks a judge to make recordings of the meeting available to the news organizations that asked for them. Colorado Newsline Editor Quentin Young wrote a column about why his news outlet is suing. “Democracy is healthy only when elected leaders exercise transparency,” he wrote. “The law says they must do so.”

“Here’s the deal,” said journalist Alex Rose of FOX31, “whether you agree with bringing school resource officers back or not, you have a right to know how that decision was made.”

Reporters get stonewalled — and turn it into a story about media

Reporters for Colorado Community Media, a network of two dozen weekly suburban Denver newspapers, are taking a look at Colorado’s Republican Party for a project called “Shades of Red.” The story asks whether a divided political organization on the decline can find unity.

Along the way, though, the reporters, Nina Joss and McKenna Harford, ran into an issue. Republicans didn’t want to talk to them.

Colorado Community Media decided to turn that into a story itself, and in the process got local Republicans to open up.

One of them was former Arapahoe County GOP Chair Suzanne Taheri. Here’s an excerpt of something she said:

Although local media tends to be seen as more trustworthy than national news outlets, local journalists can still help improve trust by “sticking together and kicking everyone else out of the pool,” she said.

Find that story and the whole project at the links above.

‘Black in the Newsroom’ film screening at Colorado College & CABJ event in the Springs

Next Thursday, May 11, Colorado College Visiting Instructor Venneikia Williams of Free Press and others will host a film screening on campus in the Springs followed by a panel discussion about being Black in an American newsroom.

The 15-minute documentary, “Black in the Newsroom,” follows the “journey of a talented young journalist who finds herself unfairly targeted and underpaid while fighting to tell Black stories” in a major local newsroom.

Williams is currently leading a class at CC called “Diagnosing the Media System: Lineages of Harm to Futures of Care” with Media 2070 and Free Press. Media 2070 seeks to highlight “how the media can serve as a lever for racial justice — and underscore the repair and reconciliation necessary to build strong, free, democratic communities.”

Following the film and discussion, Marla Jones-Newman will host a Colorado Association of Black Journalists networking event (with refreshments served) at the Southern Colorado Public Media Center a few blocks away in downtown Colorado Springs. The events are free and open to the public. The screening will start at 6:30 p.m.

More Colorado media odds & ends

👊 Stacy Feldman, founder of Boulder Reporting Labis one of this year’s fellows at the Reynolds Journalism Institute. Feldman wants to “help small community news organizations create pop-up newsrooms.”

🐺 Anne Herbst of 9NEWS profiled Colorado agricultural journalist Rachel Gabel about “one issue that has kept her occupied lately” — Colorado’s wolf reintroduction. “When something makes cowboys cry, it’s emotional for everybody,” Gabel said. “That is hard to talk about.”

📺 Denver7, the Scripps ABC affiliate also known as KMHG, has hired Megan Jurgemeyer to “lead its news department as senior director of news, effective Aug. 14,” TV News Check reported. Jurgemeyer recently left as news director of the rival 9NEWS, the city’s NBC affiliate. “Megan is a seasoned newsroom leader,” said Dean Littleton, senior vice president of Scripps Local and Denver7’s former VP and general manager.

📸 This Wednesday, for the first time, Denver Post photojournalist Helen H. Richardson talked publicly on a panel about the events and aftermath of the day in October 2020 when she captured in chilling frame-by-frame detail a 9NEWS security guard shooting and killing an attendee at a patriot rally. In the weeks that followed, Richardson said, trolls targeted her online, and people in conservative media concocted a narrative that she somehow might have had more to do with the story than being a professional photojournalist acting independently for a respected newspaper. “After this whole thing happened, I got threats of violence, I got people saying I should be shot and killed, I should be hung,” Richardson said. “It was pretty terrifying.”

🗣 The discussion came as part of DU’s journalism and democracy summit. Denver author and journalist Julian Rubinstein moderated a discussion among Richardson, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Wesley Lowery, and Marie Barry, who directs a center on international security and diplomacy. “I really want to thank you all for just thoroughly depressing me,” one self-described citizen said during the Q-and-A portion. (Sad commentary: that’s what happens when you attend a panel on journalism and democracy in 2023, apparently.)

🔀 Colorado Community Media went through a redesign of its two dozen newspapers in the Denver suburbs. “We welcome your feedback and comments on our new look, and any part of our newsgathering,” wrote publisher Linda Shapley.

🎵 KUVO host Carlos Lando reflected on a radio career for Rocky Mountain PBS. “This station has been supported year in and year out, from the person who walks in once a month with five dollars, to someone else who writes a check for $500 every time there’s a membership drive,” he said.

➡️ Denver Post reporter Sam Tabachnik was named as a finalist in the Livingston Awards that “honor the best reporting and storytelling by young journalists.” His honor came in the international reporting category for his series “Looted: Stolen Relics, Laundered Art and a Colorado Scholar’s Role in the Illicit Antiquities Trade.”

🎛 Former Colorado Public Radio journalist Grace Hood made a “mid-career pivot to city planning.” CU Denver News has the story.

🔥 Longtime Greeley Tribune sports reporter Bobby Fernandez “lost his home in a fire this week,” Trenton Sperry reported. There’s a GoFundMe to help.

🤺 The publisher of the Wet Mountain Tribune in Westcliffe accused an anonymous Twitter account of being related to the publisher of the rival Sangre de Cristo Sentinel newspaper. “Pro-tip to be an ANON: don’t comment on websites I own,” he wrote on social media. “I can see the IP address and if they match different ‘commentators.’”

🤦‍♂️ Denver Post reporter Seth Klamann pointed out some neccessary context about a KDVR story on fentanyl. “If you click this link and read the story, you’ll discover this is a study from WalletHub and that the reason Colorado ranks so high isn’t overdoses or rates of use — but because of rates of arrests and other enforcement actions,” Klamann said. “Questionable methodology strikes again,” another Post reporter added.

🚫 Colorado’s Peace Officer Standards and Training board, known as POST, “is a criminal justice agency, and it did not abuse its discretion by denying two news organizations’ requests for the state’s database of certified and decertified law enforcement officers, the Colorado Court of Appeals decided Thursday,” the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition reported. (“This is an alarming ruling that undercuts Colorado’s open records law,” one Denver journalist said.

🏆 Check out the Colorado student journalists who won honors from the Society of Professional Journalists Region 9 Mark of Excellence Awards.

I’m Corey Hutchins, co-director of Colorado College’s Journalism Institute. For nearly a decade I’ve reported on the U.S. local media scene for Columbia Journalism Review, and I’ve been a journalist for longer at multiple news organizations. Colorado Media Project 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.