Inside the News: More Colorado Newspapers Cut Their Print Days, This Time on the Eastern Plains

  • 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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Starting next week, two newspapers on the Eastern Plains will cut the number of days they publish a printed edition.

“The decision to eliminate the Monday and Tuesday print editions, offering digital replicas only on those days, was made in consideration of economic conditions,” publisher Brian Porter told readers of the Sterling Journal-Advocate and the Fort Morgan Times Thursday without being specific. “The new model will result in mailed newspaper delivery four days a week, Wednesday through Saturday, and the six-day-a-week digital replica editions, Monday through Saturday.”

Headquartered in Logan and Morgan counties near the Nebraska state line in the northeast corner of the state, the Journal-Advocate and Fort Morgan Times are two of several newspapers in Colorado controlled by the cost-cutting Alden Global Capital hedge fund that also owns The Denver Post.

Both of them are small. The online masthead for the Journal-Advocate editorial staff lists one reporter; the Fort Morgan Times lists two. But the papers make up some of the few sources of news and information for the largely rural areas. Because of their ownership they can rely on their sister papers for statewide or regional news.

“I am grateful for the people in our community who support the Journal-Advocate with their readership and advertising,” Porter wrote. “Our dedicated journalists are proud to serve the community with exclusive and in-depth reporting about Sterling and Logan County news, sports and business. The team looks forward to serving you for many decades to come.”

Cutting days out of a newspaper’s printing schedule has become something of a trend in recent years in Colorado, making it harder to find an actual daily printed newspaper in many of the more rural parts of the state.

The move also marks a trend for Colorado’s Alden papers that operate under the brand of Prairie Mountain Media, says Carol Wood, the business innovation director for the Colorado News Collaborative who is part of a working group studying the future of printing in Colorado.

Less than a year ago, PMM folded the 130-year-old Colorado Daily after shifting it to a weekly publication, she noted, and at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic the twice-weekly Broomfield Enterprise moved to a Sunday-only print edition.

Just because print newspapers halt printing days doesn’t mean their reporters at the news organization stop producing work. Their journalism just ends up online.

The feasibility of printing newspapers in Colorado hit a flashpoint this summer when the nation’s largest newspaper chain, Gannett, chose to shut down the printing press run by the Pueblo Chieftain.

The decision left several smaller newspapers in the state scrambling for a new place to print. Some of them are looking as far away as Wyoming or Kansas, are considering going online-only, or are worried about having to simply close up shop.

Notably, the Sterling-Advocate slashing its print days now opens up some available runtime at the PMM-run printing plant it uses in Berthoud about 120 miles west near Loveland.

“The increased costs of printing and logistics begs the question of how hyper-local news organizations will absorb or distribute the cost,” Wood said via email. “If, like Prairie Mountain Media’s Sterling Journal-Advocate, it means reducing the number of days for daily print publications, that begs another question: When are daily papers no longer daily papers, and what is the impact to citizens, consumers and democracy?”

Twitter’s breakdown affected how Colorado journalists do their work

This week, Elon Musk’s social media platform Twitter was sputtering on fumes.

Tweetdeck, a tool journalists use for news gathering and reporting, as well as categorizing, searching, and identifying information, all but broke down. Elsewhere on Twitter, users were complaining about seeing fewer tweets. Musk said Twitter had implemented rate limits, which pushed people away from the platform.

And worse.

“Due to issues with Twitter rate limits, we are unable to access most tweets at this time,” the Twitter account for the National Weather Service’s Boulder and Denver office posted during an extreme weather situation on Tuesday. “Send reports to our other social media accounts or direct through our email/phone lines.”

That particular development led Colorado Sun reporter Jesse Paul to tweet: “There are real public safety consequences to the recent changes at Twitter re: rate limits and Tweetdeck. It’s going to mean big changes to how I monitor breaking news, including severe weather, and, consequently, share and report critical info.”

When there’s a big breaking news event, “I’m glued to Twitter, constantly updating my feeds and using Tweetdeck — when I’m not on the move — to monitor a lot of different accounts simultaneously,” Paul told me over text this week. “What if I’m on my phone in the field and my feed gets throttled?”

That seems a serious possibility at this point.

“Additionally, if the throttling means users are posting less on Twitter or unable to get updates from me or other journalists or official accounts sharing critical information, that’s a problem,” he added. “People rely on Twitter to know when to evacuate in a wildfire or what place to avoid because of a mass shooting. CDOT posts live road updates on the platform.”

Twitter’s troubles have meant journalists are looking elsewhere.

On local TV in Colorado Springs, KRDO’s Annabelle Childers said she was wary of telling her Twitter followers where they could find her on other social media platforms. She had noticed Twitter suspended a colleague’s account immediately after he told them where else he could be found.

Some journalists said changes at the platform limited their ability to do their job.

“I use this site a lot to monitor breaking news and find stories to keep our FOX31 viewers informed,” Alex Rose at the Springs TV station posted Monday. “But because of the new #TwitterLimits, I can’t see any more content today.”

Throughout the week, some Colorado journalists (myself included) were signing up for Threads.

“I haven’t been on Twitter over the last few months for a myriad of reasons. The platform WAS a great tool for news sharing, news gathering and breaking news,” Denver’s 9NEWS investigative journalist Jeremy Jojola wrote on Facebook. “I just joined Threads tonight, the so-called new ‘Twitter Killer’ app that is connected to Instagram.”

Trenton Sperry, who runs The Greeley Gadfly, said, “Someone in Colorado journalism should do a list of Colorado reporters’ Threads accounts.” (If anyone decides to do so, send it my way.)

Personally, I’m waiting for someone to create a feature, if possible, that inputs all my Twitter followers into Threads (or any new platform) in just a few clicks.

Not everyone, however, was loving the new alternative they hoped might come close to replacing Twitter.

“Threads — very confused why people I don’t follow are overwhelming my TL,” said the Associated Press’s western political writer Nick Riccardi. “Why do I need to see Paris Hilton’s posts?”

This isn’t the first time Twitter destabilized the state’s media landscape.

In April, the platform’s antagonism toward National Public Radio trickled down to Colorado where local public radio and TV stations here decided to stop using it.

Inside the Western Colorado Public Media Center

In April, Rocky Mountain PBS once again expanded its physical presence — this time with space in a building in downtown Fruita on the Western Slope.

The Western Colorado Public Media Center follows the creation of the Buell Public Media Center in Denver and the Southern Colorado Public Media Center in Colorado Springs.

This week, RMPBS brought viewers inside the new western Colorado outpost with a broadcast and online story about how the latest space came about. “We serve 19 counties of the Western Slope right out of this space,” said Alex Forsett, described as the broadcast entity’s leader in western Colorado.

The new space is in the Fruita Arts Recreation Marketplace, a former hardware store that now houses several artist studios and retail spaces.

“We live in a space where so many other media organizations are there to just entertain people or they’re there to bring you the news,” Forsett said. “Our mission is that of centering the humans. We want humans to see each other in our democracy in this idea of citizenry — not the loaded word of being a citizen — but this idea of being a part of a community and having a place and a voice and power here in our democracy in our community.”

Watch a seven-minute video about the new space here.

KFFR in Grand County is looking to build a small news operation and rooftop solar array

Last week, the National Federation of Community Broadcasters held its annual conference in Denver.

Presentations from the event will eventually wind up at the organization’s website here if you couldn’t attend.

In 2016, when the group was also in Denver, a dispatch about the event mentioned how author and journalist Denis Moynihan was the NFCB’s “Media Citizen of the Year” at the time — and was constructing a “new community radio station” in Winter Park.

I caught up with Moynihan this week to see what’s new at that station, KFFR, which recently celebrated its seventh birthday. The station, based in Fraser and serving eastern Grand County, has acquired a second FCC license it hopes to deploy this year to expand its reach.

Beyond that, “we’re hoping to raise the money to build out some kind of news operation,” Moynihan said, acknowledging that it would be small. Doing so, though, is kind of like starting a new radio station from scratch itself, he said. “You can’t really demonstrate its value until you’re actually doing it. So people aren’t as likely to contribute until they see something and actually understand its value.” (Want to help? Donate here.)

While KFFR is primarily a music station in the afternoons, volunteer DJs and two staff members have been sharing information about the Devil’s Thumb wildfire that recently sparked in the area, the station founder said.

Moynihan, who has worked with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! for years — KFFR airs the show in the mornings — says the local radio station tries to operate without reliance on fossil fuels.

“We’re hoping to roll out a large solar power installation to kind of practice what we preach in terms of reducing emissions,” he said of the studio building, which broadcasts from rented space in a shopping center.

Will a new law allowing elected officials to block people on social media actually work?

Last month, First Amendment experts told Seth Klamann of The Denver Post that a new law Gov. Jared Polis signed was a first-of-its-kind in the nation.

The new measure ostensibly would allow Colorado elected officials to block people on their private social media channels.

Here’s how the reporter described it:

HB23-1306, enacted into law with Gov. Jared Polis’ signature, seeks to draw a line between officials’ public and private social media pages. Under the law, a public page — like one linked directly to an office or run using public resources — couldn’t ban anyone from interacting with it. But a private one — an account that predates an official’s election or one that’s kept distinct from official action — now can.

But a nonpartisan office at the state Capitol that offers legal advice to lawmakers put out a memo that threw some cold water on the new law.

The Colorado Sun’s Jesse Paul wrote about it this week and ran down a list of reasons why Colorado lawmakers might want to think twice about getting crosswise with a social media follower by blocking them.

Here was a relevant excerpt:

Finally, and possibly most relevant, the legal services office warned that just because House Bill 1306 was passed by the legislature and signed into law doesn’t mean that it’s constitutional for a state elected official to block someone on social media.

“Exercising your rights under (the new law) does not necessarily prevent a person that you restrict or bar from using your private social media from filing a lawsuit against you alleging a violation of the person’s First Amendment rights,” the memo said. “Nor does the law guarantee success in defending against such a lawsuit.” 

The Colorado Press Association and the ACLU of Colorado both opposed the law.

“This area of law, related to legitimate public discourse on social media and the protections provided by the First Amendment, is unsettled,” Gov. Polis acknowledged when he signed the law. “I appreciate the goals of the sponsors of this bill in providing clarity to public officials in this area of law, and the bipartisan work that went into this bill. However, I also want to make sure that elected officials don’t view the presence of this statute as a safe harbor for the activity allowed under this law due to ongoing litigation.” 

The U.S. Supreme Court is currently considering the question about social media blocking by elected officials. Colorado Democratic Attorney General Phil Weiser this week told The Sun that he hasn’t decided whether to file a brief in any of the cases.

More perspectives on the Denver Post’s decision to kill off its comment section

Following last week’s newsletter about the Denver Post’s decision to end the ability for people to comment on its stories online, some journalists reached out with more perspectives about the move.

One of them was Bree Davies, host of the City Cast Denver podcast. Here’s what she said:

What I feel like has been totally missed here is when journalists — particularly women, non-binary folks, people of color, and other marginalized groups — write anything for public consumption, we’re often attacked, threatened, or just belittled and made fun of in the comments, often for things that are more about our bodies/identities, not anything we actually wrote. (Not to mention the amount of commenters who don’t even read what we’ve written, they are just there for the pile on.)

I say this as a person who wrote for an alt-weekly for many years, and more recently, gets to see just how much people don’t like me (not my work) through Apple podcast reviews. My theory is that commenters and reviewers are, 90% of the time, not looking to engage in conversation, offer constructive criticism, or share an actual opposing opinion. They come to the comments/reviews to get off on saying terrible shit to people/writers/creators who often can’t respond directly (and frankly, shouldn’t have to? The amount of stress and emotional labor it takes to manage comments, especially hateful commenters is one reason I stepped away from journalism for a few years). 

With our podcast and newsletter over at City Cast, I find that people actually invested in a constructive conversation or a desire to respond to the work we make (not make comments about who we are or what we sound like) will write in to our email or leave us a voicemail — they utilize a form of communication that often allows us to respond back, and also, means [they] aren’t (for the most part) anonymous and therefore usually nicer or at least polite. I’d also like to note that Denverite doesn’t have a comments section and they are doing just fine — the argument that ending comments is a free speech issue or a “hedge fund overlord silencing people” problem is BS to me. 

After years of death threats, being told I’m ugly/stupid/old/fat, being doxxed, stalked, and impersonated on the internet (all of these things often happening in the comments of my own stories, sent to my email directly, or through social media, most often in response to things I’ve written or produced) I’m glad writers at the Post have one less avenue of access by people who generally don’t want to come to the table with constructive criticism or respectful dialogue. 

Elsewhere, Denver Post reporter Tiney Ricciardi said the vast majority of online engagement and conversation is no longer happening in the comments sections of newspaper websites, but rather on social media.

“We grappled with this at my old newspaper, too, but realized killing the comments section isn’t killing the conversation,” she said via email. “It’s removing our role as host of these conversations, though we remain participants alongside our readers on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, etc.”

More Colorado media odds & ends

📺 A 9NEWS viewer noticed the on-screen closed captioning of the local Denver TV station referred to meteorologist Chris Bianchi as “Crispy Donkey” during a broadcast at the scene of a tornado this week. A news anchor called it “either the best or the worst closed-captioning mistake we have ever seen.”

🆕 “Our mission is to engage, inform and support our community by sharing information and voices that are not easily accessible via traditional reporting,” states the recently launched women-led Loveland Voice online magazine. “It is also to highlight the issues impacting you that are currently not reported by our city government.”

🦅 Matthew Eric Lit is the new managing editor of The Crestone Eagle. “July 1 was my first official day and I’m working with an amazing team of like-visioned people to continue covering what makes Crestone so unique and also expand our coverage out into the San Luis Valley,” he said on LinkedIn.

📰 Colorado College journalism students who are reporting from Eastern Europe this summer on a CC Venture Grant had a story on the front page of The Gazette Wednesday. (One of the students had the cover story of The Indy in the Springs a week prior.)

🎥 In their recent Rocky Mountain PBS coverage of people experiencing homelessness in Colorado Springs, reporters Alison Berg and Zach Ben-Amots “tried to approach this series a little differently than I’ve seen it covered elsewhere,” Berg said. “Instead of publishing complaints from housed residents, we interviewed dozens of people experiencing homelessness. Our series focuses on what’s important to them.”

🏆 KRCCKUNC, and Colorado Public Radio took home awards from the Public Media Journalists Association for “the best of local public radio news in a wide array of categories.”

📉 The circulations of the largest U.S. newspapers “fell 14% in the year to March 2023,” according to the Press Gazette. “The Denver Post and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which entered our ranking for the first time this year, saw the biggest declines among the papers reported on.”

🗳 The editor of The Gazette in Colorado Springs wrote that the Jan. 6 “takeover” of the U.S. Capitol created a “chilling prospect of losing our democracy.”

🐘 Sherrie Peif, a reporter for Complete Colorado, who conservative radio personality George Brauchler called a “gem of local journalism,” told the host she planned to walk with the Weld County GOP in this year’s July 4 Greeley Stampede Parade.

📵 “We do not believe the police or district attorney ever should have brought the initial charges, which were unsupported by evidence or in law, nor do we think the media outlets who reported on the allegations without contacting us for the facts lived up to the basic standards of fairness or journalism,” said a defense attorney for a college student who entered a plea deal in a recent case.

📲 The National Association of Media Literacy Education is hosting a virtual conference July 14 and 15. Check out the schedule here.

🗣 “Prosecuting threatening speech just got a bit more difficult after last week’s Supreme Court ruling in Counterman v Colorado. As a media commentator and as a target of hostile comments, the ruling elicits mixed feelings,” wrote Denver Post columnist Krista L. Kafer.

🕸 “Colorado leaders are ready to get 99% of households in the state connected to high speed, affordable broadband internet, now that the state has been awarded a large sum of federal funding, Gov. Jared Polis said,” according to Shannon Tyler of Colorado Newsline.

➡️ Denver local TV news anchor Kyle Clark of 9NEWS does a lot of things differently on his nightly newscast “Next.” This week, as he has done for seven years, he pointed readers and viewers to great recent journalism produced by others. The team “will occasionally suggest work that’s not from us but is worth your time,” the “Next” team wrote.

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.