Inside the News: Springs Alt-Weekly Becomes 3rd Colorado Newspaper in a Month To Go Nonprofit

  • 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

Three’s a trend, folks. A nonprofit newspaper revolution has hit Colorado. This week, the alternative weekly in Colorado Springs, The Indy, a for-profit enterprise for three decades, announced a transformational ownership change.

“The Indy and its sister papers, the Colorado Springs Business Journal and the Southeast Express, will become part of Sixty35 Media, a public charity,” Publisher Amy Gillentine announced in an opinion column in Wednesday’s paper. “We’re becoming a nonprofit,” she added.

The move follows the small Crestone Eagle newspaper in rural Colorado converting to a nonprofit earlier this month, and, about two weeks ago, the weekly Sentinel Colorado in Aurora also switching to a hybrid nonprofit ownership model. (The Ark Valley Voice, a digital newsroom in Chaffee County that started as a for-profit company in 2018, switched to a nonprofit this August.)

From a separate news dispatch by Indy reporter Pam Zubeck:

The change coincides with the exit of ownership by local entrepreneur and publisher John Weiss, who will remain with the organization as a nonvoting member of the new nonprofit’s board of directors.

On Friday morning, Gillentine told a class of Colorado College students during a field trip to The Indy that as part of the paper’s transition it will try to raise $250,000 to match an endowment within the next year. On the journalism side, Editor Bryan Grossman said the paper would be moving to a more “digital first” model, calling it an editorial 180 from how the outlet typically approaches publishing. He added they expect to do more multimedia storytelling. On the sales side, the paper was one of several accepted into a Google News Initiative training program. Under its new model, the nonprofit plans to launch a media literacy program for local schools, do more internships, and start a scholarship fund to promote diversity in the field.

One big change for the paper will be that as a nonprofit newsroom, The Indy will no longer make political endorsements. For years, the paper’s endorsements often countered those of the daily’s conservative editorial page.

Gillentine is quoted in the paper saying the new nonprofit will work with the Colorado News Conservancy through its transition. That entity, formed last year, helped keep 24 locally owned newspapers in the Denver suburbs in local hands; it was a unique-in-the-nation ownership model that included The National Trust for Local News and The Colorado Sun.

More from The Indy:

Colorado Publishing House’s switch was precipitated by the desire of John Weiss, 67, to end his involvement in publishing, Gillentine says. “He wanted to do it in a way that allowed the papers to continue,” she says. “He believes local journalism is vital to the strength of cities. When he decided to fully retire, we came up with this plan to create some things that will last beyond one person, or two people or a group of people.”

Weiss notes that local independent newspapers that contribute excellent reporting used to be profitable. He termed such papers “a community resource” deserving of support just like a library or KRCC public radio.

A membership structure is still in the “planning stages,” the paper reported.

The Indy is not the first U.S. alt-weekly to convert to a nonprofit. In 2019, The Chicago Reader hopped on the nonprofit train, and just last week reported it had “built a solid nonprofit newsroom.”

Friday morning, Gillentine teased this new ownership model shift is the start of something bigger, though she declined to offer specifics.

“This is the first of several changes that we are going to have in a play to cover and impact Colorado Springs and El Paso County in a whole new way,” she said. “We are putting the final touches on those plans, and that will be available in January. We do believe it will shake up the media landscape. It will increase coverage and improve how people get their news.”

Colorado filmmaker’s ‘Trusted Sources’ doc plans to take viewers inside newsroom meetings

Colorado has played a pivotal role in three recent journalism or news-adjacent documentaries.

Last year’s “News Matters,” by Colorado filmmaker Brian Malone, focused plenty on Colorado. Rick Goldsmith told this newsletter that “much of the action takes place in Colorado” in his forthcoming “Stripped for Parts” documentary about U.S. journalism at a crossroads. Meanwhile, “The Social Dilemma,” a 2020 dystopian doc about how corporations have broken the promise of a utopian digital-age future, was a Colorado-based production.

We’re soon set to add another to the list. Filmmaker Don Colacino of Erie, Colorado, is at work on “Trusted Sources,” a documentary he calls a “solutions-focused film about the reliability of news.” (Watch the trailer here; he is aiming for a release date at the end of next year.) The former engineer says he “aged out of the tech industry” and wanted to pursue his passion for filmmaking. His most recent documentary was 2019’s “Winner Take All,” available on Amazon Prime, about the National Popular Vote movement.

Colacino was filming a series of panels last week at the Advancing Equities in Local News conference, and I was able to later catch up with him to learn about his latest film. What follows are excerpts from our conversation, which have been edited for clarity.

What got you interested in this topic and how long have you been working on it?

I started working on this in 2019 after I read a report from the Knight Commission on Trust, Media and Democracy. It talked about the decline of trust in institutions, one of which is the news media. That was during a time when politicians were calling journalists the enemy of the people, and obviously that was not true. What really bothered me, at least at the time, was that journalists didn’t really push back on that. I could see more and more polarization brewing, and people — in my own family, for that matter — not trusting news unless it came from their preferred source. So, I wanted to do something about that. I went to film school to learn to do something different and got interested in the power of communication through film and it just seemed like a great way to try and do something about the problem.

What does it mean that it’s “solutions focused” and why is that important?

There are a number of documentaries over the years that have addressed social problems or all kinds of different problems to create awareness. But they often just leave you feeling like it’s just hopeless. There’s one film I liked very much called The Social Dilemma, but, boy, after watching that film it’s like Where are we going? You can’t trust anything anywhere. So I just wanted to do something that really showed that there are solutions and that there are people working on them. Part of the way I came to that decision was looking at that Knight report. They had a number of recommendations for restoring trust, and I wondered if anyone was doing anything about them.

You say the film ‘demystifies the journalism process.’ How so?

What I intend to do — and I’ve gotten some commitments to do so already from The Colorado Sun and Colorado Community Media — is to go into editorial meetings and film these discussions that go on. How are we framing this story? If they’re questioning a journalist about Should we use this word, or What stories should we cover? To be able to film those discussions and show snippets of those to show people that these are not discussions of How do we push an agenda but rather How do we inform the people of stuff that we believe is important. I’m going to shoot for five or six but I want to get print, radio, and television. I want to get different types of media involved.

You’ve been filming in Colorado. You live here. It’s a place where some solutions are taking root. How much does Colorado play a role in the film?

Well, necessarily because of my budget, quite a bit. [Laughs]. But I am making this a documentary with a national scope. So, Colorado is the easiest place for me to access people. But I am traveling to the SPJ conference in D.C.; I went to Philadelphia in August. It’s just a matter of getting funding so I can make these trips and hire a professional cinematographer to come along to give me the production values that I need.

Anything else we didn’t cover that you think is important?

This is not something new. There have been cycles of mistrust since the very first newspaper, Publick Occurrences, in the 1600s. We’ve just been through this a number of times. Today it’s cable and the Internet. Social media. So, it’s cyclical, and I just want people to recognize that it’s not something completely new. We can get through it — but it’s really all on each of us to be smart about what we consume, just like consuming a good food diet.

Lori Lizarraga joins NPR’s Code Switch as host

Not long ago, former KUSA 9News Denver TV journalist Lori Lizarraga indicated on a journalism panel that she might soon have some professional news to share.

This week, that news dropped. National Public Radio announced Lizarraga as a co-host of the station’s Code Switch show. From Current, which tracks developments in public radio:

Lizarraga is an award-winning journalist who previously worked for KUSA-TV in Denver and KGET/Telemundo in Bakersfield, Calif. After KUSA declined to renew her contract last year, Lizarraga wrote about discrimination that she and two of her Latina colleagues faced in the station’s newsroom. Her article sparked changes at the station’s parent company and national coverage, including by NPR’s David Folkenflik. She has since worked as a freelancer, according to her LinkedIn profile.

“As a first-generation daughter of immigrants, I can’t say enough what an honor and privilege it is to be joining the dedicated Code Switch team at NPR,” Lizarraga said in NPR’s announcement Monday. “For years, I have introduced myself as a ‘race and culture reporter’ when the truth is where there are people there is race and culture. This beat is in everything and the folks at Code Switch have pioneered an entire award-winning show proving, year after year, diverse stories told by diverse people are essential for everyone.”

Code Switch describes itself as “the fearless conversations about race that you’ve been waiting for.” About two weeks ago, Lizarraga appeared on a panel in the Aurora area with other Colorado journalists to talk about objectivity, identity, and reporting.

Michael Bennet’s brother James is The Economist’s new Lexington columnist

Oh, The Economist. It’s one of those magazine subscriptions I just can’t bring myself to cancel. Guilt about not reading it enough comes in waves. I also know one probably should not immediately turn to the Lexington column to read what the U.K.-based magazine has to offer about U.S. politics; one should broaden one’s horizons about the rest of the world.

But, after doing just that intermittently for years, I still somehow missed the news from July about who The Economist had hired as the first American to pen its un-bylined Lexington column. I learned it this week from a colleague who pointed out this disclosure in an Economist dispatch from Colorado earlier this month about (what else?) the U.S. Senate race:

Mr O’Dea is trying to unseat Michael Bennet, the two-term Democratic incumbent. (Mr Bennet’s brother is The Economist’s Lexington columnist, and had no involvement in this story.)

It can be hard to tell who writes what for The Economist because the magazine doesn’t show an author’s name with a story or column. Bennet resigned from The New York Times in 2020 in the fallout of his opinion section publishing a guest column by Republican. U.S. Sen Tom Cotton of Arkansas titled “Send in the Troops” during nationwide protests over the murder of George Floyd. The column drew a fierce backlash from Times staffers, some of whom said it put them in danger.

Notably, Cotton came to Colorado this week to campaign for Michael Bennet’s GOP opponent, Joe O’Dea. A Republican political operative created a video clip capitalizing on the Cotton-Bennet-brother connection.

More Colorado media odds & ends

📈 Hey! This newsletter is about to hit a subscriber milestone. And I’m excited about that. If you’ve been enjoying it and look forward to reading it each Friday, would you mind sharing it with someone else you think might get something out of it? Anyone can subscribe here.

🤣 When The Wall-Street Journal teased a story on social media that said Colorado Springs was “once considered a bedroom community of Denver,” the responses were lit. (The story was actually pretty illuminating, though, and came with plenty of stats and data behind a rapidly changing city that I’ve been experiencing as a resident. )

⚖️ Colorado First Amendment attorney Ashley Kissinger is part of the legal team representing the Las Vegas Review-Journal in its attempt to get a judge “to stop authorities from accessing slain investigative reporter Jeff German’s cellphone and computers, and instead allow the news organization to lead a cooperative review that protects the identities of German’s confidential sources.” The judge punted this week, but Kissinger is still on the case.

🎙🔜🗞 After nearly a decade as a broadcast journalist with Colorado Public Radio and KUNC, Michael de Yoanna is moving into the print world, joining Colorado Community Media as its editor.

📑 The FCC is asking for documents in a purchase of Tegna by some hedge-fundy entities. Tegna is the large national broadcaster that owns KUSA 9News in Denver. Regulators specifically asked for “documents discussing the cutting of staff, the diminution or displacement of local content, and the expansion of national content.” Standard General “has consistently confirmed that its plans for post-closing Tegna do not involve station-level layoffs,” the company told Reuters.

➡️ The G.E.S. Gazette, the bilingual paper serving the Globeville, Elyria, and Swansea neighborhoods in Denver, is one of 31 news orgs that will receive support from the American Press Institute through an Election Coverage and Community Listening Fund.

🍽 The Colorado Springs Indy alt-weekly’s longtime food and drink editor and critic Matthew Schniper has launched a podcastState of Plate, that “critically examines Colorado Springs’ culinary culture along with guest chefs, restaurateurs and industry insiders.”

🚰 In the lead-up to a highly publicized wrongful death case stemming from a 2019 altercation at the Shotgun Willies strip club in Glendale, an attorney for the family of the deceased is accusing one side of leaking court testimony to the press, reporter Justin Wingerter of BusinessDen reported.

🏆 Claire Cleveland of Collective Colorado, a publication by The Colorado Trust, is one of 16 journalists from across the country who was awarded an aging-focused fellowship. The project is focused on the “search for non-discriminatory assisted living that won’t force LGBTQ+ older adults back ‘into the closet.’”

⚔️ Writing in Complete Colorado, the news and commentary arm of the libertarian-leaning Independence Institute, former KOA conservative talk-show host and ex-Denver Post columnist Mike Rosen didn’t seem to like a recent front-page news story in The Denver Post about Lauren Boebert.

⛔️ Steve Zansberg, the First Amendment attorney who represented Colorado Public Radio and its reporter Allison Sherry in a transparency lawsuit, told the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition that Adams County officials “unnecessarily prolonged” the release of an amended autopsy report of Elijah McClain.

🏃‍♀️ Ninth-grader Ruth Wiseman is the newest columnist for The Pikes Peak Courier who will write a monthly column called “Running with Ruth.”

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.