Inside the News: Denver Post Hits the Snooze Button on Columnists

  • 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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In the 1994 journalism film “The Paper” there’s a scene where Michael Keaton’s ink-stained-wretch character moseys into the office of his editor, Bernie White, and finds him in a particularly salty mood.

“I hate columnists,” the glowering editor says from behind a desk. “Why do I have all these columnists? I got political columnists, guest columnists, celebrity columnists.” (He goes on to describe a state of being that he’d actually prefer a columnist, but I’d rather not repeat it.) “You know what every columnist at this paper needs to do?” the editor asks, chopping at the air with a smoldering cigarette: “Shut. the fuck. up.”

Any readers of The Denver Post who share Bernie White’s view of some columnists will get their wish. For now, anyway. With endorsement season approaching, Denver Post Opinion Page Editor Megan Schrader says she informed four of the paper’s regular freelance commentators that they can zip it for a while.

Readers learned about the move last week in a note to readers. Here’s part of it:

Changes are coming to The Denver Post opinion pages in preparation for the election this fall, and the changes will mean more of what you love — in-depth opinion and analysis of the issues that Coloradans care most about.

Immediately, you’ll notice that there no longer will be opinion pages on Mondays and Tuesdays, as the department begins a transition to writing more in-house content. Longer-term, you will notice more thoroughly reported opinion pieces that bring depth and understanding to the complex issues we face as a state and a nation.

The Post has told four freelance columnists to take a break from writing regularly between now and the Nov. 8 election. I have appreciated the political commentary over the past several years from Ian Silverii, Doug Friednash, George Brauchler and Dick Wadhams. I know many readers will miss their voices on these pages, however, I hope readers will appreciate The Post’s unfettered commitment to impartiality and fairness as we head into the general election.

Schrader says the temporary muzzle is not about financial belt-tightening at the hedge-fund controlled newspaper. “My budget has stayed the same,” she told me, adding that she has encouraged her columnists to come back after the midterms.

One of them, though, will find himself with a good problem to have if he is not asked to return. If voters elect Brittany Pettersen to Congress, Schrader says, the congresswoman’s spouse, the Post’s resident progressive columnist Ian Silverii, will have to hang up his keyboard.

While these four columnists take a breather, Schrader plans to use the time she spent editing them to write more in-depth opinions of her own and redirect her workload to the business of endorsements.

Given the Denver Post’s history of having to rescind a pivotal endorsement when its editorial board made a mistake (Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, 2014; Schrader wasn’t running the show then) the more time spent thinking about them the better.

Elsewhere in the print periodical business, the nation’s largest newspaper chain, Gannett, is asking its 260 papers across the country to pare down their opinion offerings. (The Denver Post is not owned by Gannett. The Coloradoan in Fort Collins and The Pueblo Chieftain are.)

“Gannett has concluded, according to an internal PowerPoint from the editors who prepared the cutback recommendations, that its opinion pages are ‘among our least-read … (and) least-understood content’ and are ‘directly tied to our problems in perceived credibility, trust, objectivity, balance’,” according to The San Francisco Chronicle. An “overarching theme” from Gannett’s research was: “Readers don’t want us to tell them what to think.”

Edward Wasserman, a professor and former dean at the Graduate School of Journalism at UC Berkeley, wrote in the Chronicle that while some of the chain’s opinion pages “have grown stale and redundant … that argues for an editorial reboot, not closure.”

Notably, a reboot is what’s happening at the Fort Collins Coloradoan where the paper’s opinion pages have launched a partnership with a local university in an effort they’re calling deliberative journalism.

Why not house Newseum exhibits in the Union Printers Home in the Springs?

Last year, a group of seven Colorado Springs area families pooled their money to buy the Union Printers Home for nearly $20 million.

The 26-acre estate near Memorial Park in Colorado Springs is an out-of-the-way landmark of journalism history that includes a beautiful historic brick building set on a hillside on the outskirts of downtown.

In 1892, members of the International Typographical Union built the home “to care for printers who contracted tuberculosis from exposure to carbon-based ink,” the Gazette reported in 2016, and more than 25,000 printers eventually wound up being treated there.

When the local investors bought the estate last year after a nursing home that owned it shut down, they didn’t have much of a plan. Details about its future are still unclear, but this week, one of the investors, Susan Pattee, told local media they hope to preserve the Union Printers Home’s past.

From Abigail Beckman at KRCC:

But before this building and the 26 surrounding acres can once again become a functioning destination, someone will have to go through the hundreds, if not thousands, of boxes and piles of records left behind, some dating back to the early 1900s. 

Enter Ellie Hinkle, director of history and archives for the project. …

The group sent thousands of medical records they found in the buildings to a Utah-based company called Family Search. It will all be digitized and put into a database for people looking into their own family history. They’re also working with the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum to figure out what to do when all those documents are sent back. …

“People in that union and in the printing business were really susceptible to a lot of lung issues because of the environments that they worked in,” Hinkle said.

The castle has a large sun porch for fresh air, and at one point tuberculosis tents were set up nearby. All of the buildings were built solely by union labor.

“It became this sort of symbol of unions and of care for the fellow laborers,” Hinkle said. “It was one of the top employers in El Paso County for a long time.”

Whatever the investors do with the Union Printers Home, they are expecting to spend north of half a billion dollars, Pattee told KRCC. So it’s hard to believe it won’t end up as some sort of commercial enterprise. She told the public radio station they are looking to Ivywild as a potential model. That’s the former public school building in the Springs that now houses a brewery, restaurants, bars, and holds concerts in the old gym.

Here’s my idea for part of the Union Printers Home: Figure out how to acquire and move whatever relics will fit from the old Newseum in Washington, D.C., which closed in 2020. The new owners could rely on the Union Printers Home’s existing links to journalism history and incorporate that into the exhibits. It just so happens journalism is currently seeing a resurgence in union organizing.

To be sure, not everyone loved DC’s Newseum, which was plagued by financial problems and housed quirky journalism exhibits from the “Watergate break-in door” to the blown-up car of murdered Arizona Republic reporter Don Bolles. I thought the Newseum was a fascinating place to spend a few hours when I took Colorado College students there on a field trip a few years ago, and I’m sure many wonder what might happen to all the history that was in it — beyond collecting dust in a Maryland storage facility.

Two years ago, the Newseum’s executive director, Carrie Christoffersen, said, “I have great optimism that we’ll have an exciting new footprint somewhere.” So why not the Union Printers Home in Colorado Springs?

Deadline today: ‘Journalism Trust Initiative’ wants Colorado newsrooms to participate

Colorado will be the state-based testing ground for an international project seeking to bolster trust in local journalism. Today (July 8) is the last day local newsrooms here can sign up for a shot at getting in on the action as part of a pilot cohort.

From the Journalism Trust Initiative:

The Journalism Trust Initiative (JTI) is an international effort to identify news sources that adhere to professional, industry standards for independent journalism reporting and transparency in a way that is more clearly distinguishable — by humans and by algorithms — as separate and apart from opaque or partisan news sources, community-created content, and other types of information. JTI is a project of Reporters Without Borders, which works for journalistic freedom, independence and pluralism all over the world.

The Journalism Trust Initiative: Colorado (JTI: Colorado) is an effort to increase trust in local journalism. Colorado is the first in the nation to pilot the JTI on a statewide scale. This project is presented in partnership with the Colorado News Collaborative, the Colorado Press Association and Colorado Media Project. JTI has hired local news and higher education leader Beth Potter to provide hands-on assistance to Colorado newsrooms in the pilot cohort and others over the years to come.

For this summer’s pilot cohort, the JTI and its Colorado partners are “specifically seeking participation from a wide range of Colorado news outlets — from the largest statewide news sources, to the smallest serving rural areas and communities of color,” according to a statement.

If your newsroom would like to participate, the project asks you to fill out this form and submit it today. The first clinic for the Colorado pilot cohort will take place July 28 and 29 in Denver. (I’m told newsrooms that don’t make it in this round should have more opportunities in the future.)

Aspen Times debacle goes national

It was only a matter of time. The rumblings at the foot of Aspen Mountain have gotten the attention of national media.

Last week, writing for the Poynter Institute, Angela Fu recapped the drama that has engulfed the Ogden-owned Aspen Times newspaper you’ve been reading about in this newsletter.

That drama includes a billionaire developer’s lawsuit (and later settlement), the paper’s editor David Krause quitting while citing the “vibe” under new ownership, the town’s mayor accusing the paper of suppressing news coverage, the interim editor Rick Carroll “strenuously” objecting to management decisions, and the paper promoting Andrew Travers to editor and then firing him after he published a guest column that included internal emails and was critical of how the paper has handled some of the above developments.

Last week’s coverage in this newsletter focused on how public officials in the Aspen area had threatened to use their government power to influence the newspaper. Nearly 20 current and former public officials had penned a letter to Ogden Newspapers saying they were considering pulling their “advertisements and notices from the paper; encouraging local businesses to do the same; refusing interviews with reporters at the Aspen Times; or calling for a community boycott of the paper.”

From the Poynter piece:

In an email to Poynter, Ogden regional publisher and CRO Cameron Nutting Williams criticized the officials for threatening economic sanctions. Still, she wrote that she believes Ogden and the letter writers have “more in common than it might appear,” including a commitment to transparent and uncensored reporting.

“Everyone who cares about journalism and democracy should be deeply concerned at the specter of elected officials using their positions to expressly threaten a community newspaper,” Williams wrote. “Nevertheless, we recognize that their concerns are based on the importance of local journalism, even if those concerns are based on incomplete and misinformation.”

But Ogden’s critics say that the company’s actions have put journalism and democracy in danger. The blow-up at The Aspen Times has left some to question whether the 141-year-old paper will pursue reporting vital to the community.

Some more nuggets from the story:

  • “When Ogden took over, The Aspen Times was doing well financially, [former editor David] Krause said. Yet the company started to make cuts. The biggest change was the loss of employee housing, which was crucial to many staffers in a resort town like Aspen. (Williams wrote in an email that the company is working to address this issue and that Swift’s previous owners sold the real estate without offering it to Ogden.)”
  • “There are just four people left in the newsroom: two reporters, a photographer and the interim editor.” (In June, Aspen Public Radio reported the Times “remains one of the largest newsrooms in the valley.”)

Locally, a couple of commentators have gone full zeitgeist by casting the threat of government action as (wait for it) cancel culture by those who are “woke.”

From Paul Menter in a column in Aspen Daily News:

In the historic wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, one might expect acute awareness of the Bill of Rights from our elected officials. Instead, these liberally tilting current and former officeholders delivered to Ogden a missive that reads like a mafia shakedown, or perhaps its contemporary cousin, a woke culture “cancellation” attempt against a Roaring Fork Valley newcomer who isn’t toeing the line.

Conservative writer Glenn K. Beaton, who publishes the local Aspen Beat commentary site, said of the public officials who wrote their letter to the Times, “I hope they get their bullying butts sued.”

From Beaton’s item, headlined “Fascist officials of Aspen threaten to cancel a newspaper because its new owners are unwoke”:

Note to them: The case against you would be in federal court since the First Amendment issue is a federal one. You probably don’t know this, but there’s no federal court in Aspen. The forum would therefore be in Denver, presided over by a judge and adjudicated by a jury of people living in or near Denver.

Watch this space for more developments.

Aspen Times debacle goes … international?

This week, Democratic Congressman Steve Cohen of Tennessee, who co-chairs the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, weighed in on the battle for Aspen.

“I condemn the firing of Andrew Travers from the Aspen Times,” he said in part in a statement posted on his congressional webpage. (Read the whole thing here.) The headline of the statement read: “Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Cohen Condemns Firing of Andrew Travers.”

How might this have gotten on Cohen’s radar? Last week, Bill Browder, a financier and author, was speaking at the Aspen Ideas festival where he met Travers and learned about the local Aspen developments. Travers says he thinks that might be how word reached the Tennessee congressman.

Colorado noted in ‘State of Local News’ report

Groundbreaking journalism researcher Penny Abernathy at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism is out with a new report on the state of local news. Its subhead is: “Expanding News Deserts, Growing Gaps, Emerging Models.”

Here’s the report’s upshot:

There is a growing divide between communities that have local news and those without. The country is continuing to lose newspapers, and most struggling communities that lose a paper are not getting a print or digital replacement. New Medill research on the state of local news in 2022 finds a fifth of the population live in a news desert or in a community at risk of becoming one.

Colorado earned a handful of mentions in the report. They include:

  • “Over the past three years, entrepreneurs have managed to establish new newspapers in three dozen markets and eight states—including Florida, Kentucky, Iowa, Minnesota and Colorado—and five dozen digital outlets in more than six states, including California, Georgia, Oregon and Massachusetts.”
  • “…in many states such as Colorado, Kentucky and Wyoming, residents in “orphan counties,” which are usually located along a state border, receive only the signals of stations in neighboring states.”
  • “In 2021, Paxton bought the Landmark chain of 46 weeklies, while Ogden purchased the Swift Communications group in Colorado in 2021 and KPC Media in Indiana in 2022.”
  • “The Colorado News Collaborative is a statewide network of 170 news organizations that work together on stories and offer training and resources to journalists at smaller outlets.”

More is coming from the research, including data and analysis on regional newspaper barons, the future of the daily newspaper, strategies of successful digital news outlets, and challenges and opportunities.

More Colorado media odds & ends

⚾️ Sportico, which calls itself the “default resource for professionals seeking the latest and highest quality news and information in the $500 billion worldwide sports industry,” reported The Denver Post is “looking to sell a piece of its stake in the Colorado Rockies, according to multiple people familiar with the plans.” The story, by Ben Novoy-Williams, had no on-the-record sources, and two sources declining to comment. In 2012, The Denver Post itself reported the newspaper was shopping around its 7.3% stake in the Major League Baseball team. “The Post took over the stake in the Rockies following the closure of the Rocky Mountain News in 2009,” the 10-year-old story read.

🔗 Rocky Mountain PBS teamed up with students in Colorado State University’s Department of Journalism and Media Communication “to work collaboratively to create Colorado Voices stories.”

␡The Colorado Politics Twitter account stated Thursday that it had “deleted a tweet on a story that erroneously reported GOP gubernatorial nominee Heidi Ganahl had picked Felix Lopez as her running mate. Her campaign says Lopez is not her pick. We regret the error.” UPDATE:

🆕 Cassandra Ballard is the new city reporter at the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent. Amy Wadas is leaving KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh to become an anchor and reporter at Denver’s KMGH-TVaccording to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Tony Gorman has joined Colorado Public Radio as a general assignment reporter.

🎙5280 magazine’s Barbara Urzua talked with Colorado Public Radio’s May Ortega about her new podcast, “¿Quién Are We?,” that launched this week and “focuses on the lives of people in the Latino, Hispanic, and Chicano communities.” The new co-host of Colorado Matters, Chandra Thomas Whitfieldtalked about “journalism and her obsession with Prince” on CPR.

🌊 Ernest Luning of Colorado Politics noted that the “venerable UK weekly” The Spectator used a photo of “Baywatch actress Pamela Anderson to illustrate [a] story about Republican Pam Anderson winning [the] Colorado secretary of state primary.”

💳 “We’re asking for additional support as we move forward with news coverage in the wake of the recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions, in the face of increasing climate change, as we buckle down for what looks like the next recession,” asks The Indy alt-weekly in Colorado Springs.

⚙️ Colorado Community Media Publisher Linda Shapley says she is “on the lookout for a #journalist who is ready to lead a thriving community news network and live by the mantra that #LocalNewsMatters.” CCM will pay an editor $65,000 to $70,000 a year.

📍 Bookmark this: “Reimagining the public square: What’s happening in Colorado’s information ecosystem right now.”

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. (If you would like to underwrite this newsletter like CMP and Grasslands, hit me up.) Follow me on Twitter, reply or subscribe to this weekly newsletter here, or e-mail me at CoreyHutchins [at] gmail [dot] com.