Inside the News: New ‘First-of-Its-Kind’ Map: Where Coloradans Get Their News and Information

  • 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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For the past several months, I’ve been working on a project with students at Colorado College and others in a series of classes called “The Future and Sustainability of Local News.” Out of it, we’ve produced an interactive map that seeks to reflect the reality of Colorado’s fragmented and evolving local news landscape. (We aren’t done.)

Like that landscape, what we’ve created with our partners — the University of Denver, Colorado Media Project, the Colorado News Collaborative, and others — is a living, changing thing. But it’s just a starting point. And now we need your help to continue building it.

Today we launched our initial research. I wrote a story to go along with it published at COLab this morning. From the (admittedly long, but I hope useful) piece:

Over roughly the last decade, the ranks of professional journalists in Colorado have shrunk by nearly half and one in five community newspapers has closed. The consequences of these spreading news deserts aren’t pretty.

When local news organizations diminish, research shows citizens can become less engaged in their communities, municipal finances can suffer, and corruption can flourish.

With fewer outlets and fewer reporters, more Coloradans are looking to varied sources to fill the gap. In these turbulent times and amid a fractured media landscape, it’s important to try and understand where Coloradans are looking for local news and information. Getting a clearer picture of what exists and where the gaps lie can illuminate the degree to which a need exists for reliable, trustworthy sources of local news and information and the path to providing those sources. …

It’s a challenging undertaking, but we have a starting point in a first-of-its-kind Colorado map.  We expect it will be a living, evolving thing. 

The story details how we’re doing this work and hope to continue it, and it asks readers like you (if you’re in Colorado) to help us by filling out this form to add missing sources or correct and update anything on the map.

Another excerpt from the story:

What you’ll find on the map: Our goal is to reflect the reality of the state’s local media ecosystem. The main criteria in deciding what to place on this map is that the source of news or information is locally owned or operated, has a large or significant audience of Coloradans, and demonstratively impacts the broader media ecosystem. For some communities that might be a traditional, credentialed news outlet staffed by trained journalists. For others, it might be a local Facebook page with thousands of members run by someone with clout over the way local information flows. Our intent is not to weigh the reliability or quality of the information disseminated, but to pinpoint for the first time what Coloradans themselves have told us are their local sources of community information. 

As someone who is always interested the different ways citizens are getting their news and information — whether it’s from an unfiltered YouTube livestream during a mass shooting or from a Ring security system — it’s been fun to find and examine new emerging media in Colorado and the way it impacts how residents here make decisions in their lives. In the story, I profile some of these sources, including an Instagram account, Facebook page, and a site in central Colorado I myself don’t even know how to characterize.

Some of the work from this project has wound up in this weekly newsletter throughout the process, and I hope more of what we find continues to do so.

You can find the story and our new map here.

Vail Daily stops candidate endorsements citing fear of political violence as a reason

Earlier this month, this newsletter reported how the Alden Global Capital hedge fund newspaper chain’s decision to ban statewide endorsements will affect Colorado.

Since that move, The Great Newspaper Endorsement Debate has been the rage in media circles. Some news organizations are making these decisions out of a recognition that readers have a hard time telling the difference between news and opinion. Others have been paring back their opinion content in general.

In Colorado, one ski-town newspaper has decided to stop endorsing candidates for a reason I hadn’t yet seen. From Editor Nate Peterson in Vail Daily (emphasis mine):

We will not be endorsing candidates for this year’s election, as we have in years past. I wish that wasn’t the case, but in a time of intense partisanship and political extremism, including a significant rise in threats of political violence, it’s become a no-win proposition for a nonpartisan news organization to make endorsements. We may revisit that policy in the future. As of now, we are still doing endorsements of ballot issues.

The decision also comes months after Vail Daily switched ownership. The paper was part of a string of newsrooms sold from Nevada-based Swift Communications to Ogden Newspapers of West Virginia.

Responses to the decision ran the gamut. “What a rise of authoritarianism looks like in slow motion, fear of violence promotes preventative self-censorship,” wrote one commenter. “Yeah,” wrote another, “look at all those *Democratic* political threats.”

Elsewhere in Colorado, a TV anchor in Colorado Springs noticed his local newspaper, The Gazette, endorsed “16 candidates in Colorado races…. all 16 are Republicans.” He wondered: “Does the endorsement carry any weight at that point? Save people a click and just tell them to check the box with the (R) next to it.”

‘Vulnerable Creatures’ podcast debuts

Colorado Springs podcasters Matthew Schniper and Lauren Hug launched “Vulnerable Creatures,” a multi-part audio journalism series.

Here’s the teaser:

A kitten is injured. Christian Breuer, a young autistic man, is the only suspect. His fiancée triggers an animal cruelty investigation, then disappears. Christian faces charges based on a faulty affidavit, compelled into a calloused legal system which has little understanding of and makes no considerations for his disability. People with autism are vulnerable to bullying and domestic abuse, and often have tragic run-ins with law enforcement. Given that 1 in 44 children today are identified as autistic, Christian’s story shows how neurodiversity may be the next human rights movement.

Schniper is the former editor of The Indy alt-weekly in Colorado Springs. Hug is a former criminal defense attorney with an autistic child. “Join us on Vulnerable Creatures as we delve deeply into this case and hold powerful institutions into account,” Schniper says in the trailer.

The first few episodes are out at the links above, and the first one gets into some thorny ethical questions. Christian’s father, Mark, hired Schniper and Hug to investigate the case, and Schniper said he had initial hang-ups about it.

“I’m coming from a newspaper background where we employ rigid ethical standards,” he says in episode one. “I insisted those be followed here. I made our editorial independence non-negotiable and we agreed that should we find anything damaging to Christian we would report it faithfully.”

9News sportscaster: ‘Denver was different’

On Thursday, the second most-read story on the site OutSports, a product of Vox Media and affiliated with SB Nation, was about a gay sports reporter “living her best life in Denver.”

From OutSports:

Arielle Orsuto spent the early portion of her career pretending to be someone else. As a young woman starting out in TV, she was told she had to look a certain way: long hair, dress, smile on her face. After starting her career in Rapid City, S.D. (media market no. 169) and Wichita, Kan. (media market no. 70), Orsuto received her big break when she got the call to work for 9NEWS in Denver. Colo. (media market no. 16). It was a career-changing job; but more importantly, it was a life-changing opportunity.

In the piece, Orsuto, who had come out to her family when she was 15, says she struggled with her identity while working in TV on the conservative Great Plains and didn’t want to “rock the boat.” But “Denver was different,” she says. “Immediately, Orsuto saw how the progressive city embraces its LGBTQ community. She cut her hair, traded in her dresses, and started being more of her gay self.”

Read the story, titled “This gay sports reporter finally exhaled when she could be herself,” at the link above.

Denver Post reporter on quitting … smoking

Readers of local news in Colorado probably know John Wenzel from his compelling arts and entertainment coverage for The Denver Post.

This week, audiences got to see another side to him — and learn something in the process. He recently spoke to SE2 client Tobacco Free Colorado “about his on-again, off-again relationship with tobacco throughout his life.”

In a video, titled “John’s Reason to Quit,” he talked about how stresses from the pandemic in 2020 led him back to smoking as a coping mechanism. But now he’s off the cancer sticks again, inspired by his family. “It feels so hard won,” he says in a video at the link above. “To be able to quit and stay quit during the pandemic with all the stress, with all the … social and political turmoil. It feels like a real accomplishment.”

Lawsuit against Denver’s ‘The Holly’ author dropped

Speaking of Wenzel, he has a story out today in the Post about another win for a journalist relying on Colorado’s relatively new anti-SLAPP law when sued for defamation.

From the piece:

Two Denver men suing author-director Julian Rubinstein and his production team over “The Holly” book and film withdrew their lawsuit on Thursday after admitting they hadn’t actually seen the movie they were suing him over.

At the same time, “The Holly” documentary grabbed a surprise, last-minute red carpet spot at the Denver Film Festival. The unusual addition came after previous “Holly” showings on Nov. 6 and Nov. 9 quickly sold out, prompting widespread demands for more tickets, according to producers at Denver Film. …

Both the book and the documentary investigate and critique Denver’s gang scene and the city’s use of informants. They’re centered around activist Terrance Roberts and the Holly Square area of North Park Hill, as well as Denver’s news media and political machinery.

Wenzel reported Rubinstein and his attorney, Steve Zansberg, notified the plaintiffs “they would be filing an anti-SLAPP motion, which protects the media from frivolous lawsuits meant to prevent the publication of public interest stories.” Had the lawsuit “been dismissed on that basis,” the plaintiffs “would have had to pay Rubinstein’s legal fees.”

Seems like the threat of the new anti-SLAPP law worked for the author. Rubinstein told the paper he had never answered his litigants in court, and made no concessions. In a post at his own website, Rubinstein says his journalism project “has now survived yet another barrage of falsehoods.”

He also posed some questions: “Why is this book and film the target of so many lies? Why have so many of the claims been spread by people working with taxpayer money? Why have people who hold themselves up as ‘activists’ threatened my life over it and made false claim after false claim about it. Ask yourself: Are these people who they say they are? Why would they make up so many falsehoods? Please read the book and see the film for yourself and you will understand why.”

More Colorado media odds & ends

🗣 The Colorado Sun: We’re creating a separate Twitter account called @ColoradoOpinion so people aren’t confused and because “separating news from opinion is incredibly important, especially as public trust in journalism is strained.” The Denver Gazette: Hold my beer.

⑤ Resource: In these final days of the midterm elections, Trusting News has a list of five things journalists can do to “demonstrate credibility.” (Here are even more.)

🆕 Bennett Durando has joined The Denver Post to cover the Colorado Avalanche and “can’t wait to get to know the city, interact with the fanbase and find interesting stories.”

📰 The Denver Gazette and Colorado Springs Gazette “have decided to start publishing our commitment to standards of fairness, balance and accuracy in our publications and on our websites,” Editor Vince Bzdek wrote in a column this week. “Our commitment to keep the news from becoming a partisan shadow of its former self will be spelled out for you every day.”

📺 KDVR anchor Kirk Yuhnke showed off the station’s “new digs” this week.

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

🆕 The Gazette has hired Jenny Deam to replace Evan Wyloge at its investigative unit. “Her hiring brings her back to a state she knows well, having worked previously for The Denver Post and as a special correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, covering Colorado and the region,” the paper reported.

📬 The Aspen Times and its new editor Don Rogers were the latest to see a column get re-published as a direct-mail campaign advertisement from the GOP candidate for U.S. Senate, Joe O’Dea.

❓ Colorado Sentinel editor Dave Perry suggested a “great project” for the Colorado Press Association, Colorado Media Project, or COLab might be to find out what value “readers place on high-profile candidate endorsements” in Colorado.

🗳 Sarah McMahon, a professor of journalism and English at Pikes Peak State College, wrote in The Colorado Springs Business Journal this week that “when it comes to local voting and civic engagement, the vast majority of young adults report being uninterested, unmotivated and uninformed.”

🙏 Thanks to the Kettering Foundation for hosting a lively discussion about deliberative journalism and the Northern Colorado Deliberative Journalism Project this week in Dayton, Ohio.

⏳ Deverite’s Kyle Harris profiled local historian Phil Goodstein, reporting that his Naysayer newsletter offers “a look at Denver through the contours of Goodstein’s lens that often depicts a city quite differently than the Denver Post and other dailies he believes are filled with ‘hype’ and ‘boosterism.’”

☀️ Colorado College journalism minor Lorea Zabaleta has a fun, quirky story in The Colorado Sun this week titled “The history of Colorado climbers who summit buildings instead of mountains.”

🔎 The Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition has updated its free online guide to Colorado’s sunshine laws “to include a recent Court of Appeals opinion on records subject to the attorney-client and deliberative process privileges.”

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. 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.