Inside the News: Colorado Journalists Talk Objectivity, Identity, and Reporting

  • 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

Columbia Journalism Review this week hosted a major panel discussion called “The Objectivity Wars” that included journalists Wesley Lowery and Lewis Raven Wallace, among others.

Something of a local version of a similar panel took place Thursday in Colorado at the Advancing Equity in Local News convening on the campus of the Community College of Aurora.

“This is an uncomfortable conversation to have, but it’s important,” said Tatiana Flowers who is the equity reporter for The Colorado Sun and who moderated the discussion. She added it can be hard to talk publicly about your own opinions as a reporter and joked that she would try to get through the conversation without getting fired.

Here are some quotes from the panel, which was billed as “real talk from Colorado journalists wrestling with and defining the power of identity and representation”:

  • “I’m one of the few transgender reporters in Colorado,” said Heidi Beedle, who covers reproductive justice for the digital progressive nonprofit Colorado Times Reporter. She said her identity is helpful when covering politics because she has a wealth of knowledge about trans people and their experiences. Covering politics, she said, “I’m often the only trans person in a room full of Republicans who are making jokes about their only being two genders, or men getting pregnant or all of that stuff.”
  • Flowers said when The Sun announced her hire as its equity reporter last year (a position funded for three years by The Colorado Trust) some Sun members canceled their subscriptions. After The Sun told readers about one of them who felt The Sun had gone “woke,” some members upped their donations to make up for it.
  • Colorado Public Radio’s May Ortega said she thought plenty of those in the room likely understood that “the definition of objectivity as we’ve always known it has been created by white, cisgender men.” A conversation about that, she said, has been going on in her newsroom for the past few years. (She noted that with a newsroom of 60 to 70, maybe a third of CPR journalists are nonwhite, adding, “that wasn’t exactly the case when I started working there.”
  • Lori Lizarraga, a Latina reporter who last year accused her ex-employer, KUSA 9News, of a host of harmful things (and helped change the journalism industry), said she wonders if people conflate the term “objectivity” in journalism with fairness, balance, neutrality, or bias. “It’s difficult because objectivity isn’t supposed to mean all of those things,” she said.
  • Flowers said she’s been surprised she has not been the subject of harassment for her coverage in her year at The Sun. “I’m almost sort of waiting for the other shoe to drop, because I’m just not used to that,” she said. Maybe, she added, it’s a sign that “people are just more ready than they have ever been to hear some of the stories that we haven’t been covering well enough.”

The discussion was just one of several this week during overlapping dual conferences hosted by Colorado Media Project and the Colorado Press Association that was still ongoing as this newsletter went out Friday afternoon. Recordings of some of them might be available in the future.

New survey results coming about how Coloradans consume local news

We’ll soon have a better understanding about how Coloradans are getting their local news, who is paying for local news, what they think about the outlets providing it, and what they want from local news outlets. The Corona Insights firm in July surveyed 1,800 Coloradans about their news consumption habits.

Most respondents were from the Denver area, but researchers got a “nice sample” from across the state, said Corona Insights director Jim Pripusich this morning at the Advancing Equity in Local News convening.

“We learned what percentage of the state’s residents are interested in paying for content, which is critical to state and local media in times of strapped funding,” Pripusich said. “We also learned a lot about the perceived purpose of state and local media, and ratings of how well state and local media performed in various areas.”

Colorado Media Project, which underwrites this newsletter and retained Corona to conduct the survey, plans to release the data Thursday, Sept. 22. (Follow this link to register for a Zoom meeting to learn the results.) I hope to report the results next week. The last time Corona Insights surveyed Coloradans was in 2019, so we should have an idea about how things have changed in the past few years.

National Association of Hispanic Publications chose Denver for its annual conference

The group that calls itself “the most influential Hispanic print and digital media organization in the country” has chosen Colorado as the setting for its annual convention in November.

From the announcement:

“This Convention gathers industry, business and government leaders from the United States and Mexico to participate in educational forums that explore best practices, research findings, advertising innovations, online strategies, business development and ways to integrate new and Social Media.”

Founded in 1982, the NAHP is the trade group that represents “the leading Spanish language publications” serving 41 markets in 39 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, “with a combined circulation of over 23 million.”

The convention will be at the Double Tree by Hilton Hotel in Denver from Nov. 16-19. It is the organization’s 40th anniversary.

The group chose Denver because of the city’s half-century strong tradition of thriving Hispanic publications and because of Colorado’s statewide ecosystem that supports ethnic media, says Jesús Luis Sánchez Meleán, who is on the NAHP board. (Fun fact: Denver beat out Las Vegas, he says.) He adds: “It is an opportunity for showing the city as a tourist destination and as a place for conventions.”

Obstruction case moves forward for man who live-streamed the Boulder King Soopers shooting

A judge this week said a criminal obstruction case can move forward against the man who live-streamed scenes of a mass shooting last March that left 10 dead at the Boulder King Soopers.

From Shelly Bradbury at The Denver Post:

Dean Schiller, 44, had argued his actions were protected by the First Amendment, but Judge Zachary Malkinson on Tuesday declined to take up that argument, saying it was outside of his authority to consider at this point in the case.

He agreed, however, to hear additional debate on Schiller’s argument that he never should have been prosecuted under the state’s obstruction law, which specifically prohibits anyone from being charged with obstruction of a police officer merely because the person “stated a verbal opposition to an order by a government official.”

A twist in the case is that lawmakers changed language in the state law he’s charged under — after he was arrested. More from the story:

Schiller, who regularly responds to police incidents and livestreams video of their actions to YouTube, just happened to be at the Table Mesa King Soopers on March 22, 2021, when the mass shooting began. He’d gone to the store with his roommate, Denny Stong, 20, who was one of the 10 people killed in the attack. …

Schiller began livestreaming video to YouTube before police arrived at the grocery store, at one point walking to the entrance of the store, where he captured footage of three bodies before he retreated amid the gunfire. He directed police inside when they arrived and also told passersby to stay away. Over the next 90 minutes, Schiller ignored about 60 different requests from law enforcement to leave the area, according to the Boulder County District Attorney’s Office, which said his livestream “jeopardized the lives and safety of all responding police officers, as well as the safety and lives of the victims inside.”

When told to leave, Schiller told officers that he was a journalist, responded with profanity, yelled and sometimes moved back as officers told him to, [Schiller’s attorney, Tiffany] Drahota wrote.

“Maybe I could have used better words or acted more appropriately, but considering the circumstances, I was just kind of … People were dying and I wasn’t really thinking clearly,” Schiller told the newspaper.

Last year, this newsletter reported: “no doubt questions will arise about whether Schiller is or is not a journalist like he said he was during his hours of broadcast … He seemed to even anticipate it. ‘Who says I’m not a journalist?’ he asked at one point during his hours-long, adrenalin-fueled run as he racked up the views.”

We’ll see if a judge decides to try and answer that.

Student media accuses student government of breaking open meetings laws

Met Media, the “student-driven multimedia news platform of MSU Denver,” carried an item this week that flat-out accused the university’s student government of violating Colorado’s open meetings laws.

From the editor of The Metropolitan at MSU:

In multiple sessions that broke Colorado Open Meeting and Sunshine Laws, MSU Denver’s student government held meetings last summer and this fall where budget, co-chair elections and weekly meeting times were decided.

Quoted in the story is Jeff Roberts of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition.

“Formation of public policy is public business, and may not be conducted in secret — and for a body, like a student government of a public university, to be making these decisions, without opening these meetings to the public is contrary to what that statute is all about,” Roberts told the student publication in an interview. “The point of it is to make sure that the public — and in this case — the student body, the school community, can observe the process and know what’s going on. (Students) are paying fees to have the student government. The student government is making important decisions with their fees — and they should be able to see how those decisions are made.”

More Colorado media odds and ends

🎒 A story about media literacy this week in The New York Times headlined “When Teens Find Misinformation, These Teachers Are Ready,” led with an initiative at Palmer High School in Colorado Springs. Also this week, in a TV news story on KRDO in the Springs about a new study showing misinformation can thrive on TikTok, Jessica Gruenling reported:“One journalism professor here at Colorado College says it’s an opportunity for educators to teach media literacy at early ages.”

🔎 “The Aspen Times is handling opinion with maybe a bit more scrutiny now,” its new editor, Don Rogerswrote in a column, adding, “assertions of fact need to match the actual evidence in commentary as well as news stories … I am vetting and editing letter and column submissions.”

➡️ “If your newsroom is not representative there’s no way that you are practicing excellence in journalism,” Emmy and Pulitzer-winning journalist Maria Hinojosa said during the Colorado Press Association/Advancing Equity in Local News keynote lunch speech, supported by The Colorado Trust.

🧀 If you’ve been following the Aurora Sentinel’s ownership transition journey (the much-talked-about “Green Bay Packers model” for community newspaper ownership) we should know what kind of structure the paper chose tomorrow with a “big reveal,” editor Dave Perry said Friday. Will it be a touchdown or a fumble?

⚖️ After multiple unsuccessful attempts of trying to obtain an amended autopsy of Elijah McClain, Colorado Public Radio sued the Adams County coroner. (Other news outlets, including The Associated Press, also signed on.) The case went before a judge today, Sept. 16. First Amendment attorney Steve Zansberg, who represented media, sounded happy after the hearing. “We’re hopeful that the coroner upon consulting with the attorney general’s office will disclose at least the entire certificate of death,” he said.

📺 John Wenzel at The Denver Post offered more details about CBS News Colorado’s “grand experiment in newspaper-style beats.”

🎙 In season two of The Colorado Dream, KUNC host Stephanie Daniel “explores the Black immigrant experience in Aurora as told through the eyes of one African immigrant and Aurora as the city – and its residents – strive to become an inclusive home for all.” Daniel spoke about her reporting on a recent panel. (The sound kicks in at about the 20-minute mark.)

📺 Kyle Clark, who anchors the nightly newscast “Next” on 9News in Denver, offered on-air advice for how viewers can help get him fired.

😬 Quite the dystopian headline typo on a Denver7 story this week. (They fixed it after this newsletter went out, but had called the Colorado Parks and Wildlife agency Colorado Parks and Wildfire.)

🤺 “In Colorado, we’re building a conservative media infrastructure to fight back against the Democrats biggest supporter – the LIBERAL MEDIA,” Republican political operative Matt Connelly said this week. He created a digital ad that says “the media is out of control and broken.” Flashback: In the run-up to the 2016 elections, the Colorado Republican Committee mailed flyers to voters that read “The media can’t be trusted.”

🔥 A new edition of the Burning Questions newsletter about the intersection of wildfires, climate, and research in the west, is out with a field trip edition.

👀 “False narratives take hold because of bad reporting,” said Denver author and filmmaker Julian Rubinstein during a packed-house talk last Thursday at The Denver Press Club. “This is a very, very networked city where there’s a power structure, and the media has become part of that,” he said at another point in the discussion.

🏆 CU Boulder announced it has awarded journalism student Emi Ambory the Kevin KaufmanWendy Kale Memorial Scholarship.

✞ “The Denver Post is big mad that I love Jesus,” said Lauren Boebert, a Republican member of Congress in Colorado. “To clarify,” said Conrad Swanson, who researched and reported an important recent story about her, “The Denver Post spoke to social, political and religious experts who say that spreading falsehoods about the election, calling for a religious takeover of America and warning of an impending judgement day is ‘not compatible with democracy.’”

🗞 The Scribe student newspaper at UCCS recalled how in 1996, Palmer High School’s student newspaper, the Lever, “published two articles in their Oct. 24 edition related to LGBTQ+ issues and opinions that raised a great deal of uproar in the Colorado Springs community, especially from the Christian publishing industry Focus on the Family.”

❌ In last week’s newsletter, I misspelled the last name of a KUNC reporter. It’s Luke Runyon.

📱 The Denver Gazette’s David Migoya reported that an interview request by his newspaper “appears to have prompted” State Sen. Kevin Priola, a former Republican, to “accelerate the announcement that he was switching political parties.” The revelation came in a piece about the senator using “text message to avoid open records scrutiny.”

❓In what he called “a first,” Denver 9News anchor Kyle Clark said the campaign of Republican U.S. Senate candidate Joe O’Dea created “lookalike” graphics and captions for 9News and its nightly show “Next” for “the portions of our extended interview” the campaign shared on social media. “Can you take a company’s intellectual property to create a lookalike for campaign purposes?” the journalist asked, adding, “Dunno. That’s outside my area of expertise.”

👣 “The Search for Sasquatch,” a book by Colorado author Laura Krantz, is available for order.

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.