Inside the News: Colorado Journalism Award Season, and More News About the Local News This Week

  • 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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‘Strong news’

The snowpack is melting, rivers are rising, green shoots poke through mulch, and “Springtime in the Rockies” means annual honors for the state’s journalists.

Last week, Colorado news organizations and their scribes found out how they fared in this year’s Society of Professional Journalists Top of the Rockiesand Mark of Excellence awards, which cover Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming.

“Top of the Rockies showcases the best in journalism from 2021, and it is evident that journalists in the four-state region are doing excellent work,” Deb Hurley Brobst, the contest coordinator, said in a statement. “Every year, I am thrilled at the strong news reporting, feature writing, photography and design that is taking place in cities of all sizes in our region.”

The journalism organization chose Colorado Sun Editor Larry Ryckman as its journalist of the year.

Meanwhile, TV and radio broadcasters learned how they stacked up in the Colorado Broadcasters Awards of Excellence. “This year, the CBA received 904 entries (461 from radio, 443 from television),” the organization said. “172 volunteer broadcasters from around the country were assembled into panels to judge all 904 entries.”

In radioland, Roger Ogden of KYSL-FM in Frisco earned the broadcaster of the year award.

You can view all the individual accolades at the links above.

Tonight, The Denver Press Club will hold its annual Damon Runyon Dinner. This year’s honoree is Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post Columnist Eugene Robinson.

A Colorado campus paper looks at itself

Student journalists at some college newspapers are trying to figure out how to build audience engagement in the digital age.

At the University of Northern Colorado, Cinthia Cortez reflected on the campus newspaper, The Mirror. “In the past decade, The Mirror’s staff has dwindled from a busy newsroom to two editors who run the publication by themselves,” Cortez wrote.

From the story:

The paper started losing traction and impact on campus around 2010 with the start of a new newspaper, The UNC Connection. This paper was more of a tabloid, and it contained stories that looked more like they belonged in TMZ than The New York Times. 

Before this paper started, The Mirror was higher in demand and popular around campus. One person who lived through this time is Kurt Hinkle, a former reporter and former general manager at The Mirror. “I remember going to class at Candelaria or wherever I’d go, and people would walk by the rack and pick up the newspaper right before they walk in,” Hinkle said.

Another reason The Mirror started losing popularity was the crash of print newspapers in the early 2000s.

Elsewhere in the piece, the author offers other reasons for staff decline and quotes its co-editor saying “I’m afraid it’s gonna die.”

It’s notable that a campus newspaper is interrogating its own woes and letting its readers know why they might have noticed changes in its output. Not too many traditional newspapers do that, and some editors have said they think being transparent about their own business problems is itself bad for business.

“What such reporting does, in my mind, is fuel the public’s ever-growing perception that we are slipping toward oblivion,” one former Colorado newspaper editor told me for this newsletter in 2017. “We are idiots to promote our difficulties.”

That, of course, leaves others to do it for them.

Website of ‘absolutely not’ a journalist seeks to join SPJ

The new conservative online information site Campfire Colorado, run by a Republican political consultant who is active in current political campaigns, says it is joining the Colorado Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

All it took was paying a $67 fee, wrote the site’s founder, Matt Connelly, who added that he is “eagerly awaiting our credentials and being listed on the website for the Colorado Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.”

This week, The Colorado Sun’s paid subscription newsletter The Unaffiliated pointed out how “at least three Republican congressional candidates” were paying Connelly for services. The Sun asked him if he considers himself a journalist.

“Absolutely not,” Connelly said. “It’s a conservative news service, and I cover political and current events here in Colorado. I’m a political consultant and I’m also a concerned citizen watching the media change … to an activist media.”

In a post on his site, he went on to call attention to OnSight Public Affairs, a consulting firm that worked for Democratic candidates, being listed as a funder of The Sun. Editor Ryckman is quoted in the post saying “our sponsors have zero say over our content.” (As local media startups increasingly rely on reader support, grants, and creative funding streams beyond traditional advertising, “the opportunities to make these claims will be endless,” one journalist pointed out; outlets should prepare for them.)

Political consultants running websites situated as news outlets isn’t new. Sometimes it can make an impact and I’ve seen it add value in the aggregate to a state’s information ecosystem. That doesn’t mean they all will. Readers, of course, should seek to understand the motives behind what any outlet is publishing.

As for credentialing, having a stamp of approval from the SPJ or admission to an organization like a state press association can be a credibility builder with audiences — a screener or filter offering a sort of nutrition label for a news outlet. About Campfire’s admission to SPJ Colorado, its president, Doug Bell, said Thursday that the local chapter hadn’t yet received notification from SPJ national that Campfire has joined and he wondered if the site might have joined the national group but not the Colorado one.

”In any case, membership to SPJ is open to any individual or group that supports the First Amendment and a free press,” he said, adding, “regardless of Campfire’s motivation for joining, its annual dues will go to support ethical and objective journalism. And I’m sure a welcome packet is now heading the group’s way with the SPJ Code of Ethics inside. I look forward to Campfire living by this code.”

Better than Amtrak: Saguache Crescent followup

The April 7 issue of The Saguache Crescent newspaper carried an item on its front page about the paper’s own appearance in the latest edition of The Smithsonian. (Writer Nick Yetto had profiled the small Colorado paper as the “last linotype-produced newspaper in the United States.”)

I’d offered some of the backstory for how the Smithsonian piece came about in a recent newsletter, but the Crescent had even more insider details. From the brief item:

They had originally presented it to the magazine on Amtrak. This fell through, but there was interest from Smithsonian and a publication was scheduled for January, 2020 and then delayed to October. Finally, Nick asked for a bit more information that Smithsonian requested and the date was set. They did a great job.

The mention ends with this: “A nice upgrade from Amtrak.”

Air Wars: Altitude vs. Comcast, a Colorado timeline

Colorado has a history of quirky disputes when it comes to what they can access on their TVs from a satellite provider.

For decades, DISH Network and DirecTV customers in parts of the Four Corners region of Colorado complained about not being able to get news out of their own state since it came beamed in from New Mexico instead. (The FCC ruled to change that in 2019.)

In Denver, a different battle has been raging over the airwaves. As the city’s magazine 5280 puts it: “Comcast and DISH Network subscribers in Colorado haven’t had a reliable way to tune in to Avalanche and Nuggets games from home since the 2018–19 season.” More from Henry Hargrave at 5280:

Since the Altitude Sports channel launched in 2004, fans with subscriptions to major cable providers could tune in to watch their teams with no issues for years. But in August 2019, DISH Network dropped Altitude upon the expiration of their 15-year contracts, and nearly every other major cable subscription service followed suit—including Comcast, Colorado’s largest provider. Negotiations to strike new contracts have since soured and led to a drawn-out antitrust lawsuit between Altitude and Comcast, leaving thousands of fans with TV blackouts for the third season in a row. And the Nuggets, despite their success (not to mention having the reigning league MVP on their team), are on pace to have the lowest local TV rating in the NBA in at least the past 15 years.

Hargrave has created a timeline of Colorado’s “years-long TV dispute and sports blackouts,” which you can find at the link above.

Colorado Sun readership survey

A few weeks ago, Eric Lubbers, The Colorado Sun’s chief technology officer, said the nearly 4-year-old public benefit corporation and statewide news outlet would be conducting a big readership survey.

This week, the survey is out. It runs until May 13 and takes about 10 minutes to complete.

Those who do and provide their contact information, “will get the chance to win a Visa gift card, valued at $100, $75 and $50,” The Sun says, adding that they’ll keep info you provide private and won’t sell it. Some of the questions are personal, like net worth and household income, but those also give the outlet a clue as to who The Sun’s audience is. From The Sun’s pitch:

Participating will ensure The Sun can continue to grow and produce the quality journalism you deserve. We’re committed to keeping The Sun a fast, reader-friendly site that always treats you with respect.

One question that jumped out at me was this one: “Would you subscribe to a weekly print edition of the Colorado Sun?”

When asked about it, Sun Editor Larry Ryckman reiterated what he said during The Sun’s launch announcement in 2018, that the outlet would be “whatever Colorado needs us to be” and is interested in knowing what its readers want. “We want to serve readers on any platform they need,” he said.

Click here to take the survey.

Colorado Media Odds & Ends

💸 As the U.S. government confronted a global pandemic, nearly $70 billion in federal aid flowed into Colorado. The Denver Post has “set out to determine where all the money went” with an ambitious series called “The Big Payout.”

🗺 In case you missed it, last week’s newsletter took a more regional look at the news about the local news in New Mexico, Utah, Idaho, Oklahoma, Arizona, Kansas, Nevada, Montana, and Nebraska.

⛔️ The state GOP wouldn’t allow a Colorado Newsline journalist to cover its state assembly in person. “In the end, Newsline was able to report effectively on the assembly,” Editor Quentin Young said.

🧐 Bob Sweeney, owner of The Villager newspaper in Greenwood Village, didn’t have the above problem. He attended the GOP state assembly as a delegate with voting privileges and “wore two hats, one as [a] partisan and another as a journalist.”

🆕 Ken Doctor, the national media analyst who founded Lookout Santa Cruz, wrote a big piece for Nieman Lab titled “18 months after launching a local news company (in an Alden market), here’s what I’ve learned.” In it, he mentions conversing with the founders of The Colorado Sun.

🔎 Don’t forget to register for the IRE 2022 conference in Denver this June hosted by Investigative Reporters & Editors.

⛰ “In a valley rich with high-quality media, what sets The Sopris Sun apart?” Editor Raleigh Burleigh of the weekly nonprofit newspaper based in Carbondale answered that question for readers in a column this week.

⚖️ “Denver-area media push back in pursuit of transparency,” was the headline of an Axios Denver item this week about two news outlets looking to the courts to hold local governments accountable.

📰 Eric Heinz is the new editor of the Denver North Star and G.E.S Gazette hyperlocal newspapers in the Denver area. David Sabados will still be publisher and said he’ll be “working behind the scenes … stepping back, but not going away.”

🔎 In the journal New Media & Society, researchers have published a“quantitative study of the effects of corporate acquisition on local news” that leads with The Denver Post.

🗞 “The newspaper industry, as you well know, has changed drastically throughout the years,” writes Colorado newspaper editor Michael Hicks. “I know this firsthand.”

📻 iHeartMedia Denver announced “the Return of Jerry Schemmel to the KOA Colorado Rockies Radio Network.”

👀 Laura Chapin, who works in a professional environment populated by progressive women and women of color, said she noticed “zero of them represented on either of Colorado’s two ‘political’ TV shows this past weekend” on local Denver TV. Earlier she noted how KDVR had four men talking about reproductive health on its new Sunday politics show.

⏳ Frank Scandale reflected on his 42 years as a journalist including his time as city editor of The Denver Post during Columbine. “They call it gallows humor when you joke and laugh in the face of dire circumstances,” he writes. “And believe me, as a reporter and editor, that kind of circumstance courses through a newsroom like oil in Saudi Arabia.”

1️⃣ Behold a one-word news story.

💨 Julie Marshall is out as the opinion editor of The Boulder Daily Camera after a little more than a year. “It was a very tough and agonizing decision, but an opportunity landed in my lap that I cannot pass up,” she said in her goodbye column. She’ll be working as the national communications coordinator and Colorado state director for the Center for a Humane Economy out of Washington, D.C. (The paper is hiring a new opinion editor and will pay that person $45k to $50k a year.)

📖 Judges of this year’s Colorado Book Awards have chosen Julian Rubinstein’s book “The Holly: Five Bullets, One Gun, and the Struggle to Save an American Neighborhood” as a finalist for general nonfiction. Winners will be announced June 25 in person at the Colorado Book Awardsevent.

⛺️ Up to 25 middle and high school students from across Colorado will be selected “to participate in the free virtual summer camp, where they’ll learn what it takes to be a journalist,” The Colorado Sun reported.

📱 The Washington Post examined how the online creator economy is intersecting with a congressional campaign in Colorado.

🔪 “On advice of legal counsel, we are unable to air all our concerns at the present time,” wrote leadership at the Colorado Springs Indy alt-weekly in a column publicly severing ties with a nonprofit fundraising campaign it launched years ago.

🆕 “There has been a new byline on stories running in Douglas County newspapers recently, as McKenna Harford has dived into her new position with Colorado Community Media,” CCM reported.

🏟 Howard Mittman will lead the “branded betting and gaming” site Sports Illustrated sportsbook, which has a presence in Colorado.

🐺 Gannett owning both the newspapers serving Fort Collins and Pueblo — two very different regions with much different local concerns — means they share content to offset limited resources. One Pueblo County resident who says his job was eliminated by the daily paper and who volunteered work for the new nonprofit Pueblo Star Journal opined this week: “Ft. Collins’ concerns aren’t aligned 1:1 with Pueblo’s concerns and shouldn’t be treated like they are just because it’s easier or convenient to do so on a ridiculously early deadline. No one here gives a fig about wolves.”

💨 Ashley Franco is leaving KKTV in the Springs to join the Colorado Springs Fire Department as a Fire and Life Safety Educator. “In all honesty I thought news would be my forever,” she said.

🥇 Denver’s 5280 magazine won its second National Magazine Award in four years and was the only non-national publication to win an award this year.

🤐 The news media is “heeding call to limit naming perpetrators in mass shootings,” The Conversation reported this week. “After a July 2012 mass shooting at a Colorado movie theater, relatives of the victims asked that the state’s governor not to mention the perpetrator’s name at a memorial service where the victims’ names would be read,” the outlet noted. “Victim advocates and family members wanted to give no publicity to the killer out of concerns that notoriety was one of the perpetrator’s motives.”

👀 In a column this weekVince Bzdek, editor of The Gazette in Colorado Springs, likened the right-wing candidates elected at the Colorado Republican Party’s recent state assembly to “Disney characters.”

🆕 Shelby Reardon is the new assistant editor and digital engagement editor of The Steamboat Pilot.

👃 Another Denver journalist has decided to carry Narcan. “I hope to never have to use it, but it’s better to be prepared,” he said.

🕵️‍♂️ Sean Rice will join KRDO’s investigative team in the Springs later this summer and is hoping his work “will make an impact on the Southern Colorado community.”

🚁 “All the news stations in town share the same chopper,” a Denver TV journalist said this week. “All of us have a different name for it. Our friends at KDVR call it ‘Sky Fox.’”

📺 “Before you fire off that e-mail or social media comment about someone’s flaws… perhaps you’ll consider what that person might be going through…that you know nothing about,” said a Denver TV journalist who has recently gained weight and heard about it from insensitive viewers.

I’m Corey Hutchins, interim 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. 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.