Inside the News: A TV Story Disappeared After a Newspaper Reporter Called Out ‘Almost Identical’ Paragraphs

  • 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.

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on whatsapp
Share on email

Typically, when a news organization decides to remove a piece of reporting from its website after publication, a best practice is to acknowledge it publicly and explain what happened.

Sure, it might be embarrassing, but in the long run doing so builds credibility with an audience. These days it’s hard for things to really disappear from the Internet anyway, and because of social media (and newsletters like this) newsroom SNAFUs don’t tend to just float down the river unnoticed.

One local TV station in Colorado Springs is learning that this week after Pueblo Chieftain reporter Anna Lynn Winfrey pointed out on social media that one of the station’s reporters appeared to have cribbed language from her reporting.

“Shoutout to @KRDONC13 for plagiarizing a recent story I did about potentially raising the lodging tax in Pueblo to pay for childcare,” she posted on Twitter on July 14, attaching screen-grab photos. “Note how these paragraphs are almost identical, except that KRDO omitted my source attribution and also deleted a period in the 2nd paragraph.”

Here is more from a longer thread she posted about it:

This is unacceptable. Anybody who calls themselves a journalist should know better. I get story ideas from reading other articles all the time. But you need to link to their reporting or at *least* make some calls yourself/reference the source material.

I’m very annoyed because this happened to an article I wrote, but also anybody who happens to find the KRDO story is getting a watered-down, less detailed/nuanced story. This is not only a clear ethical violation but a disservice to the public to publish something so sloppy.

I was the first person to report this story, but it’s not like this was an exclusive investigation. Pueblo city council talked about this at a work session a few weeks ago, so KRDO could’ve covered this at any point before my story came out. The materials/recording are public.

Over the phone this week, Winfrey said she sometimes notices local TV outlets in her market will publish stories that look almost verbatim from press releases that local publicity agents hand out. “I think that’s bad, too,” she said of so-called press-release journalism that doesn’t include original reporting or a call to a source, let alone added context or nuance. But, she added, lifting language from another reporter at another news outlet is “taking it to another level.” Pointing it out on social media, Winfrey said, was important to “show people that this happened” and that “plagiarism is a big deal.”

Not long after her tweets, KRDO zapped the story from the web — without telling its audience why.

For the reporter who had flagged it, the station’s move was something like an admission that it had messed up. But not acknowledging it, she said, seemed like attempting to “erase the evidence.”

KRDO’s news director, Staci-Lyn Onofre, told me the station feels issues are better handled internally than on social media. She attributed the problems to an “oversight” compounded by rewriting on the digital desk and a “misunderstanding” that stems from a content-sharing agreement the station has with the Chieftain.

Lynn Walsh of the Trusting News project, which seeks to help newsrooms and journalists establish trust with their audiences, has said in the past for this newsletter that she encourages journalists to explain how a mistake happened and what they are doing to prevent something like it in the future.

In calling out the station, Winfrey said she intentionally didn’t tag the reporter who wrote the story.

“I didn’t want people to pile onto her because online discourse can get really nasty really quickly and I didn’t want to contribute to that,” Winfrey said. Rather, she said she wanted to make it about KRDO and its leadership and how they handled the situation. (In an awkward-timing twist, the author of the KRDO story, Riley Carroll, was leaving the station for another news job in California at the time all this went down last week; she declined to comment about it and deferred to station management.)

Notably, while KRDO and The Pueblo Chieftain are owned by different companies they are what is known as “news partners.” That’s when a local newspaper and TV station enter into a formal agreement to share content in order to beef up their output. In 2012, KRDO actually moved a bureau into the Chieftain’s newsroom to air live broadcasts as part of the deal.

That partnership is partly to blame for what happened, Onofre, the KRDO news director, said in an emailed statement.

“We did include more sentences than allotted in the content-sharing agreement,” she said, adding that one story did credit the Chieftain while others did not. “An oversight also occurred when the television story aired without attribution and a member of the digital team created a new article that was written off the television script. There was never any intent to plagiarize, it was a misunderstanding of our content-sharing agreement by a few staff.”

When the station heard from the editor of the Chieftain about the issue, Onofre said KRDO “immediately removed the articles and video story and then communicated directly with the editor to explain what happened.”

A week later, Lynn Winfrey is still left shaking her head. “I’m not surprised that they continue to avoid fully taking responsibility for plagiarism and erasing traces of these mistakes,” she said.

As for whether the two southern Colorado news organizations are still partners, I asked the obvious question of both. For what it’s worth, I didn’t hear back.

Colorado Press Association announces convention speakers and schedule

This fall’s upcoming convention of local Colorado newspapers and digital newsrooms, held in Denver, comes with the post-pandemic slogan and theme of “Build Back Better.”

This week, the state press advocacy organization announced its speakers and schedule for its annual conference.

This year’s featured speakers include Michael Bolden, director of the American Press Institute, Hearken co-founder Jennifer Brandel, and Frank Mungeam, the chief innovation officer of the Local Media Association.

Other speakers include a diverse roster of roughly 40 journalists and people in the democracy and local news sustainability space from in and out of Colorado.

According to the schedule, the Colorado News Collaborative will kick off the convention with the launch of a project called Amplify Colorado.

Programming includes panels about mental health in the newsroom, artificial intelligence, building trust with audiences, newsletters, how to better cover elections, philanthropy, revenue, mis-and-dis-information, inclusive storytelling, internships, podcasting, science reporting, and more.

‘Boondoggle’ writer takes on local Taylor Swift coverage, Denver reporter responds

Pat Garofalo, author of the book “The Billionaire Boondoggle: How Our Politicians Let Corporations and Bigwigs Steal Our Money and Jobs,” has made something of a beat out of the topic with a Substack newsletter he calls “Boondoggle.”

In it, he chronicles “how corporations take advantage of states, cities, and local communities.” This week, he set his sights on coverage of Taylor Swift in the context of media hype surrounding her concerts and certain reporting about the alleged economic benefits that her shows bring to cities.

Here’s an excerpt:

Well, I’m here to throw cold water on everything: Not only is the economic effect of Swift’s shows being exaggerated and overblown, but news coverage of this kind is detrimental to good public policy, because if local residents, and more importantly local politicians, believe that a couple of days of concerts has some massive economic impact, they’re more likely to OK corporate subsidies for the sports and entertainment industries that ultimately harm communities.

Swift recently played a pair of shows in Denver, and naturally local news organizations rushed to provide the kind of news about it that citizens need to be self-governing and stay entertained.

Here’s Garofalo on the news angle:

Tourism office hype, though, meets a willing co-conspirator in news outlets, particularly local ones run by dodgy owners or national ones that are glued to big media conglomerates, that need to generate clicks, and are thus willing to engage in fantastical economic thinking so long as “Taylor Swift” and “Eras” gets in the headline.

He goes on to take apart an NBC News piece with the over-hyped headline “Federal Reserve credits Taylor Swift with boosting hotel revenues through her blockbuster Eras Tour,” and then turns his attention to the local press.

In this case, Garofalo is citing a Denver Post story by Aldo Svaldi:

A similar dynamic is at play in this piece, which claims “Taylor Swift’s two Denver concerts could give Colorado economy a $140 million boost.” Leaving aside why that number is bogus, which I will get to in a moment, even if it were true, it would represent 0.03 percent of Colorado’s GDP for the year. Calling that a rounding error would be generous. But it gets its own headline because that’s what folks will click on, which serves the interests of both the news outlet and the tourism and events industry that wants everything to sound like an Earth-shattering big deal.

Now, why is that $140 million number, as well as the other measures of Swift’s economic impact, as actually insignificant as they are, still way too big. Because much of the spending attributed to her shows is actually not new to the economy, but simply shifted around within it: People who attended a Taylor Swift concert did so instead of spending at least some portion of those same entertainment dollars on a different show, a sporting event, a night at a restaurant, some new clothes, etc. etc. So Taylor Swift, Ticketmaster, and the owners of the stadium she performed in benefitted, at the expense of a restaurant owner, clothing brand, different music venue, and on and on.

Garofalo goes more in-depth on what the study says, its caveats, and what’s important about it, and then gets to why he’s focusing on all this in the first place:

So why does this debate matter? Because perpetuating the myth that large concerts, major sporting matches, and other events, such as the NFL Draft or the Grammys, have a serious economic impact leads policymakers to make bad decisions, and leads to voters rewarding them for those bad decisions.

While I appreciate analysis of coverage like this, I would have liked to hear from one of the reporters whose work he critiqued.

In that spirit, I asked Svaldi, the Denver Post reporter who hadn’t seen the piece before I sent it to him, what he thought. Here’s his response:

Over the years I have covered large events such as the Summit of the Eight, the Biennial of the Americas, and the Democratic National Convention, and written business stories related to different sports championships. Trying to understand the impact large events have on a community, including economically, is newsworthy, but the estimates aren’t always easy to get at or to get right.

Garofalo is correct when he argues all spending is substitutionary, but people set different priorities and value things differently. The analysis used in the story attempted to measure the economic priority Swift fans put on seeing her in Denver. The study didn’t represent an argument for a stadium expansion or support for incentives, which as far as I know Swift didn’t request or receive. 

[TKTK cute turn-of-the-phrase based on a lyric from a Taylor Swift song here TKTK]

Lisa Schlichtman tapped as editor of nonprofit Boulder Reporting Lab

Boulder Reporting Lab has a new editor just as it approaches its two-year anniversary as a nonprofit digital newsroom on the Colorado news scene.

From BRL this week:

Boulder Reporting Lab has named Lisa Schlichtman as its editor. In this position, Schlichtman will leverage her extensive experience leading local newsrooms to oversee and elevate the impact of BRL’s journalism. … Schlichtman will play a key role in shaping and executing BRL’s editorial vision moving forward. …

Under her leadership, the [Steamboat] Pilot’s online audience grew significantly and her team earned numerous journalism awards. Among these was the 2020 News Leader of the Year award from the Colorado Press Association for the newspaper’s in-depth reporting series “Indivisible,” which covered racial equity barriers in Steamboat Springs and Routt County. They also won the 2019 Presidential Award from the Colorado Organization for Victim Assistance for a series on sexual assault. 

For eight years, Schlichtman ran the newsroom of The Steamboat Pilot newspaper in Routt County, and later served as editor of the sprawling string of Colorado Community Media newspapers.

“We’re delighted and fortunate to welcome Lisa — with her remarkable talent, professional integrity and dedication to community journalism — to Boulder and our team,” BRL’s founder and publisher Stacy Feldman said in a statement. “Her track record leading newsrooms in Colorado and beyond, and earning trust of communities, demonstrates a commitment to public-service local journalism precisely when it’s needed most.”

Calling itself “the only independent, digital, not-for-profit newsroom in the City of Boulder and Boulder County,” Boulder Reporting Lab launched in 2021. The Google News Initiative’s Local Experiments Project seed-funded the site, which has an exemplary About Us page.

Colorado transparency group to elected officials: Delete your secret-messaging apps

The speed of technological advancement seems to have hit a rapid pace within the past year, disorienting parts of public life and destabilizing industries.

In recent weeks in Colorado, lawmakers have come under scrutiny for how they use such technology — in the legal courts and in the court of public opinion.

On the later front, the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, a nonprofit dedicated to governmental transparency, has issued a report and a call to action.

From the CFOIC:

Colorado should enact legislation like a 2021 Michigan statute that outlaws the use of disappearing messaging apps in state government, but the language should be broadened to affect all state and local officials, a law student’s report prepared for the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition recommends.

CFOIC’s publication of “Disappearing transparency: How public officials’ use of ephemeral messaging apps undermines open government laws,” follows the filing of a lawsuit earlier this month that accuses Colorado House members of regularly communicating via the Signal app in violation of the Colorado Open Meetings Law.

Read the full 29-page report here. And read a writeup about it from Jeff Roberts at the CFOIC here.

More Colorado media odds & ends

➡️ Make sure you’re reading Editor & Publisher to keep up with what’s going on in the U.S. local news scene. (They didn’t pay me to say this, but they do often link to this newsletter. So if you like what you’re reading here, you might follow them, too.)

🗞 Clarification: An item in last week’s newsletter quoted the editor of the Florence Reporter saying his newspaper is the “paper of record” for Fremont County. That official designation, afforded by the county, actually falls to the Cañon City Daily Record, though both papers publish announcements from the county. Furthermore, last week’s newsletter conflated the population of the City of Florence with the population of the county. Florence has a population of about 4,000. Fremont County has about 50,000 people.

🥃 Turns out a couple who “came out of the news business” is behind the Colorado-based liqueur Tingala (disclosure: a personal favorite). “I joke we went from news to booze,” one of the pair told Colorado Public Radio’s Dan Boyce and Ryan Warner. The CPR reporters drank the mouth-numbing stuff that’s made from Amazonian buzz buttons while at The Denver Press Club as they interviewed the local family who makes it.

➡️ The Center for Community News took a look at CSU’s Deliberative Journalism class for an item this week at the University of Vermont. “How I find my stories is I actually go on the street and literally just wander and talk to people,” one student said.

⛰ Three Colorado journalists are among the latest 61-person cohort taking part in the Poynter-Koch Media and Journalism Fellowship. They are Anna Lynn Winfrey of the Pueblo Chieftain, Nina Joss of Colorado Community Media, and Parker Yamasaki of The Colorado Sun.

💰 Colorado-based Ad Fontes Media announced it has raised a $4.2 million “to take the Media Bias Chart global.” Bias and misinformation “is a global problem, and we’re here to solve it on a global basis for both consumers of news and advertisers,” the company stated.

💻 Reporter Heidi Beedle at the statewide progressive Colorado Times Recorder had an important story this week I didn’t see in the local press about a decision the El Paso County Commission made that involves youth homelessness. “Municipal reporting down here has taken a hit with the Indy reductions,” she told me about the local alternative weekly. (But collaboration ensued: the Colorado Springs Business Journal, run by the nonprofit Indy, published her story.)

🚬 Eric A. Anderson, whose firm SE2 has sponsored this newsletter, wondered on LinkedIn: “Does a column at The Post, like a board position with Denver Health, give legitimacy to a tobacco lobbyist?”

🤖 The American Journalism Project, “a nonprofit organization that aims to revitalize local media in the US, announced a ten-million-dollar partnership with OpenAI, the company that owns and operates the artificial-intelligence tool ChatGPTMathew Ingram wrote this week for Columbia Journalism Review. Meanwhile, Google is testing an artificial intelligence tool that is “able to write news articles,” Benjamin Mullin and Nico Grant wrote for The New York Times.

🔎 Reminder: Colorado journalists and media makers “who need access to public records in order to investigate and report on social, economic, racial and other inequities can now find support from a new ‘watchdog fund’ established by the Colorado Media Project.”

🎙 The Veterans Voice podcast “informs veterans about the benefits of Mt. Carmel and their partners,” KOAA’s Aidan Hulting reported. “The podcast also tells stories about veterans and how Mt. Carmel helps guide them through a difficult system transition back into civilian life.”

🌞 The Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition has updated its Sunshine Laws guide.

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.