Inside the News: Colorado Local Media Convention 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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Next week’s journalism-conference world welcomes a doubleheader from two powerhouse organizations in the state.

The Colorado Press Association and the Colorado Media Project each are hosting overlapping conferences at the Lowry Convention Center at the Community College of Aurora.

The convention is the Colorado Press Association’s 144th. Their conference takes place Sept. 15 to 17 (next Thursday to Saturday) with events at other locations around the city as well.

“The 2022 convention will feature journalism leaders throughout Colorado and the nation, with many opportunities to learn from the success and challenges of your peers,” CPA said in a statement. From the announced schedule:

This year’s convention will feature Evan Smith (Texas Tribune), Maria Hinojosa (Futuro Media), Jennifer Brandel (Hearken, Election SOS, Zebras Unite), Mike Blinder (E&P), Jim Brown (Borrell Associates), Joaquin Alverado (Studiotobe), Tina Xiao (Google News Initiative), Eric Prock (Microsoft), Sue Cross (Institute for Nonprofit News), Charity Huff (January Spring), David Philipps (The New York Times), Kevin Slimp (The News Guru), Lee Ann Colacioppo (Denver Post), Melissa Davis (Colorado Media Project), Laura Frank (COLab), Kevin Dale (Colorado Public Radio News), Amanda Mountain (Rocky Mountain PBS), Corey Hutchins (Colorado College/”Inside the News in Colorado” newsletter) and many more.

Confirmed sessions include meeting the needs of a polarized public, a bi-partisan legislative luncheon, how to launch newsletters, creating sponsored content, re-imagining journalism’s relationship with the community, advanced In-Design skills, how to avoid a lawsuit, and more.

Other sessions include mental health for journalists, best practices in hiring and retention after the Great Resignation, using public notices as a reporting resource, how to handle trolls, disinformation and accusations of bias, what advertising agencies wish you knew, what younger audiences wish newsrooms understood, improving the ways news organizations serve communities of color, reporting basics, and more.

The rooftop of the new Buell Public Media Center in downtown Denver that houses the CPA, Rocky Mountain Public Media, COLab, and more will be the setting of Thursday’s opening reception.

A Friday evening social includes a brewpub tour and team trivia. On Saturday afternoon, the conference moves to Coors Field for an awards ceremony, tour of the stadium, food, drinks, and socializing.

The Advancing Equity in Local News convening

Alongside next week’s CPA convention, Colorado Media Project, which underwrites this newsletter, is hosting a convening of its grantees and others to help advance equity in local news.

The event is Sept. 14 to 16 – next Wednesday to Friday. Here’s what’s in store:

Whether you’re a Colorado journalist, a student or faculty member, a librarian or teacher, an advocate or business leader, a funder or community member or civic leader – we invite you to join us for a unique convening designed to inspire your sense of what’s possible for the future our local civic news and engagement in our democracy, hosted by the Colorado Media Project and sponsored by the Colorado Trust.

Here’s a preview of the opening plenary:

Aurora is Colorado’s most diverse city, with a rich cultural landscape that is home to immigrant communities from around the globe. Local media plays an important part in the social fabric and information ecosystem of Aurora, especially for non-English speakers. What can Aurora’s newsroom leaders teach us about covering and connecting with diverse communities? What roles do ethnic media play within their respective communities, especially during times of crisis? How do they build trust and serve their communities? Where do they see opportunities to partner with other journalists and nonprofits – both to uncover and illuminate inequities, and also to uplift and inspire?

Sessions throughout the AELN conference include how students at CSU Pueblo are helping fill news gaps, “ideas emerging from Native and Indigenous residents across Colorado participating in a COLab working group,” how newsrooms and community groups “are working to bridge information gaps in the Roaring Fork Valley,” new storytellers and forms of storytelling, “‘objectivity,’ identity and reporting,” “Observers” and “Documenters” who provide “citizen-powered, independent, nonpartisan coverage of public meetings,” DEI, media reparations, and more.

I’ll be on a panel talking about a Colorado news mapping project I’ve been working on at Colorado College in partnership with the University of Denver, CMP, and COLab.

Folks who haven’t already registered should be able to find Zoom recordings of some of the sessions later.

A Colorado river guide is explaining the megadrought on TikTok, racking up views

Teal Lehto, a 25-year-old Colorado woman, is “explaining the problem to a new generation of water users to debunk misinformation that can easily spread during a crisis,” Luke Runyon reported this week for KUNC.

Lehto, who was an environmental studies major at Fort Lewis College in Durango, is using TikTok where she goes by WesternWaterGirl. Her clips, Runyan reported, “regularly garner hundreds of thousands of views.” From the piece:

Lehto came to TikTok after feeling shut out of more traditional forums.

After being rejected in early 2022 for a county-appointed seat on the Southwest Basin Roundtable, a watershed group focused on her local rivers, she went searching for other ways to be heard. TikTok rose to the top of the list. “I was like, ‘Screw this, I’m going to make my own platform with my own voice, and I can say whatever I want,’” Lehto said.

She quickly picked up the tone and style that the TikTok algorithm rewarded. Videos where she spoke quickly did well. So did those where she reacted to other users’ clips of declining reservoirs. Videos where she teases a revealing tidbit in the first 20 seconds but then held off on the answer until the end of the clip also garnered views. The app’s users appreciate straight-talk about niche passions, Lehto said. And that’s exactly what she’s serving up. So, she said, what started as a place to vent frustrations quickly became a place where Lehto could be heard by an audience more than twice the size of the city she lived in.

“More than anything, the impact that we saw with that is how direct and accurate the information was,” Bronson Mack, who does communications for the Southern Nevada Water Authority, told Runyan about some clips from Lehto’s TikTok account.

The Colorado Sun turned four

Serving as a bright spot in a narrative of local news decline, the journalist-owned Colorado Sun this week celebrated its fourth year in business. And it has grown. From editor and co-founder Larry Ryckman:

Our very survival over the past four years is a testament to Coloradans’ hunger for more than out-of-state newspaper owners are willing to provide. While hedge funds have continued slashing newsroom staffs from coast to coast, shrinking coverage and raising subscription prices, The Sun has more than doubled the size of our staff, expanded our coverage and kept our site free to read for all. In return, we’ve asked readers to support our public benefit corporation, if you can afford to help.

Each year, the Sun publishes an annual report for readers. Some nuggets from its latest:

  • “The Sun published 2,074 news articles in 2021/2022 — a pace of more than five per day.” “More than two-thirds of the news articles The Sun publishes can’t be found anywhere else.”
  • “Had more than 20.5 million pageviews and more than 9.4 million visitors. Both numbers are more than three times what they were in our first year of existence.” “Had our work published in newspapers across the state as part of partnerships with dozens of newsrooms throughout Colorado. Our work also has been distributed nationally through our membership in The Associated Press.”
  • “Continued in our dogged determination to save and protect local news, both in our own work and in our stewardship of the 24 community newspapers in the Colorado Community Media family, which The Sun jointly owns along with the National Trust for Local News.” “Earned the support of more than 17,000 paying members from all across the state.”

As a public benefit company, the Sun also submits itself to an independent review by the University of Boulder that seeks to answer whether the news outlet is providing a public benefit to Coloradans. I’d imagine such transparency from other media organizations that don’t do this might be risky. For instance, the report contains an entire section on “company culture”: Some items from that section:

  • “The size of the newsroom has remained relatively stable over the past year, and the level of its ethnic and cultural diversity likewise remains unchanged.” “Retention of younger journalists has also been a difficult task for the Sun, but crucial, as the 25-34 age range makes up the largest portion of its readers at 23 percent, according to the 2020 and 2021 readership surveys.”
  • “Many of the reporters in the newsroom were colleagues in the past at the Denver Post; for new reporters at the Sun, even if they are industry veterans, the rapport among the founders can make it hard to feel like a full member of the team.”

Personally, I thought this part of the university report was quite a statement about politics and media today: “Tanya Ishikawa, communications chair for the Uncompahgre Valley chapter of the League of Women Voters (a nonpartisan nonprofit), says the Sun’s news coverage seems ideologically centrist, but ‘some may consider it slightly left of center since it is a news publication and it is critical of misinformation’.”

Find the entire report here.

Sixteen ‘stars’ have left FOX31 in Denver, Westword reports

Last week, this newsletter highlighted the work of Westword’s Michael Roberts who is tracking a journalistic exodus at FOX31 in Denver. This week he was back with another item, reporting on more departures. From the piece:

On September 1, Lori Jane Gliha, a high-profile investigative reporter for Fox31, became at least the sixteenth on-air personality to leave the station since early 2021 — and she won’t be the last. Another longtime station favorite will also be departing soon, according to multiple sources, and the individual’s position is already being advertised. That exit will be the seventeenth from Fox31 and partner signal KWGN/Channel 2 in around eighteen months.

Many businesses have experienced more than the usual amount of employee comings-and-goings since the COVID-19 pandemic, and local-TV outlets are no exception. But the number of people who’ve decamped from Fox31/Channel 2 has been conspicuous even under these circumstances.

Gliha will be national investigative correspondent for Scripps Networks.

Denver TV goes to Westcliffe to report on the Wet Mountain Tribune’s lawsuit against Custer County

CPR checked in on the Crestone Eagle’s transition to a nonprofit in rural Colorado

In July, when this newsletter reported on the status of the small Crestone Eagle newspaper’s transition to a nonprofit in rural Colorado, the news got around.

The American Press Institute highlighted it in its Need to Know email, Columbia Journalism Review noted the development, and The Society of Professional Journalists threw a spotlight on the Eagle as well.

This week, Dan Boyce of Colorado Public Radio went out to Crestone to report on the story and gather more details about an endeavor he called “the latest positive sign for local news in Colorado, which until recently had been dominated by decades of steady decline.”

From the story, quoting Mary Lowers who writes a history column:

“I feel like the values that people had here, the old families from the mining and ranching days, the back-to-the-land hippies who came out here — the people who came out here, so the government would leave them alone,” Lowers said. “All of us support the Eagle and I think will support the Eagle through the transition.”

The piece also details “other bright spots” in Colorado’s local news scene.

The Eagle also counts support from higher education. Colorado College has a Baca campus on the outskirts of Crestone, and next month some students plan to stay there as they intern at the Eagle. It’s part of a new program and partnership between the paper and Colorado College’s Journalism Institute.

More Colorado media odds & ends

🎣 Last week I included the wrong hyperlink in this item, so here’s the correct one: From an excellent story by Ben Ryder Howe in The New York Times about river access, private property, the commons,and our state’s strange water law: “In Colorado, the largest landowners happen to be media moguls like Mr. Turner and Michael Bloomberg, who bought a ranch in the state five times the size of Central Park during the pandemic.”

💳 Cutler Publications has launched a donation page. Help support independent student journalism at Colorado College.

😬 Richard Karpel, who runs the Public Notice Resource Center, dunked on both The Aspen Times and The Aspen Daily News in a recent Public Notice Monthly newsletter about the saga in Pitkin County. (ADN’s publisher responded.) Karpel also opined that the Wet Mountain Tribune’s federal lawsuit over public notices in Custer County is a slam dunk.

⬆️ Micah Smith is Denver7’s new 4 p.m. anchor. “So excited and grateful!” she said.

🤷‍♂️ “As Colorado’s week of record-shattering heat continues, the media empire owned by activist right-wing billionaire Phil Anschutz is publishing flat-earth climate denial by some crank ex-meatpacking executive,” wrote Colorado Newsline’s Chase Woodruff about the Colorado Politics site.

💵 A note about the CPA’s sponsored box in the middle of this week’s newsletter: The org unexpectedly asked to place it after I’d already drafted the first part of the newsletter and had chosen to lead with their convention. I don’t want readers to think anyone who sponsors the newsletter automatically gets coverage along with it. CPA also was not one of the potential upcoming new sponsors I’d alerted readers to in a previous edition. Needless to say, I appreciate their support!

☀️ David Krause, who quit The Aspen Times following its purchase by Ogden Newspapers of West Virginia, is now a team editor at The Colorado Sun.

📺 KDVR in Denver is “building a whole new studio.”

👀 Quote of the week: “I want you journalists to learn how to spell this: Fuck No, with a capital F, on the name change,” a town board member in Moffat, Colorado, told Alan Prendergast of Westword for a story about an effort to change the town’s name to Kush, after a kind of cannabis crop.

🆕 Rebecca Tauber started at Denverite last week “covering Denver city council and transportation with a focus on equity.”

🔌 Phil Anschutz, who owns The Gazettes in Denver and Colorado Springs, as well as Colorado Politics, “is getting ready to construct a 732-mile power line across Wyoming, Utah, Colorado and Nevada, to ship electricity to the Golden State,” reported Sammy Roth at The Los Angeles Times who “talked with the project’s fiercest supporters and harshest critics.”

💯 The University of Colorado Boulder is celebrating “a century of journalism at CU Boulder.”

🐦 Eric Anderson has a free list of Colorado journalists to follow on Twitter that counts more than 1,000 of them. He’s always looking to add or clean it up so get in touch if you catch anything.

🐝 Colorado Public Radio got some beehives installed on the roof of its building.

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.