In 2022, a nonprofit newspaper revolution hit Colorado. MmmnOK, that might be an overstatement — but as they say, three’s a trend.
This past year we did see the small monthly Crestone Eagle in rural Saguache County go the nonprofit route, followed by the weekly Sentinel in Aurora (with inspiration from the Green Bay Packers football team, no less), and then The Indy alt-weekly in the Springs did the same. (That paper consolidated a bunch of its sister papers into one weekly magazine and changed its name, to boot.)
The nonprofit trifecta recognized a collapsing business model for traditional advertising-supported local news, and it represented just one theme in Colorado’s local news scene throughout 2022.
If you follow this newsletter each week, you know it as the place that reports on, comments on, and analyzes the goings on in our state’s local media scene. It connects local developments to what’s happening nationally and explores what makes Colorado’s local news ecosystem unique.
For the past three years I’ve published a big annual year-in-review column at The Colorado Sun. The one for 2022 came out Sunday and you can read my attempt at rounding up the year’s news behind the news (by month) at this link below: 👇
One theme for last year’s recap, in 2021, was that new startups and ownership changes could reshape our local news landscape. That certainly continued into 2022, and you’ll notice some new arrivals popped up across the calendar (while other outlets unfortunately folded up shop).
Another theme of 2022 was a better understanding about where Coloradans get their local news — and what they think about it. A unique-in-the-nation Colorado News Mapping Project, unveiled this fall, illuminated for the first time where Coloradans say they are getting relevant news and information in each of our 64 counties. The map, which I helped produce along with students and others, shows the location of these sources — both traditional outlets and nontraditional or emerging media on various platforms — as well as background and context about who owns and runs them. They include Instagram accounts, local Facebook pages, one-person newsletters, podcasts, and sources that are harder to classify.
Meanwhile, a statewide research survey of 1,800 Colorado adults, conducted over the summer, revealed the attitudes our residents have about their local news, where they get it (spoiler: on their phones), and why they pay for it (because they trust it).
One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that plenty of the challenges facing the local news industry nationwide are exacerbated in Colorado while many of the potential solutions are taking root here as well. Our state remains a place where media thinkers across the country look to assess what’s working, what’s not — and why — and to test out experiments. If you want a primer on all that’s happening here on that front, read this👇
📝 As for the top five news-behind-the-news stories in Colorado this year, in no particular order, my vote goes to:
- Print newspapers converting to nonprofits.
- Colorado Media Project, which underwrites this newsletter, pledging $1 million in grants to strengthen and advance equity in local news and hosting a convening for grantees.
- The fallout in Aspen (and elsewhere) after Ogden Newspapers of West Virginia bought a string of Colorado ski-town newspapers from Swift Communications.
- Learning where Coloradans get their news and information in each county.
- This newsletter reaching a subscriber milestone and taking more underwriting and advertising. (Just kidding, I couldn’t decide on a fifth, so that’s what you get.)
🏆 Below were the five most-read online editions of this newsletter this year, based on Substack’s analytics for views at the website:
- The Aspen Times is making news for all the wrong reasons
- Layoffs at Boulder’s Outside Inc. follow rapid consolidation of outdoor media
- Denver Post journalists vs. their owners: Hold our beer
- 🆕 👀 Rocky Mountain Media Review
- Gazette editor accuses Denver competitors of bias
*Most of the traffic to these stories came directly. Twitter was the second-best referrer, Google the third, and Facebook the fourth.
📈 These newsletter subject lines earned the highest open rates from your email inboxes this year:
- Gazette editor accuses Denver competitors of bias (59%)
- 💰 What Colorado newsrooms are paying journalists in 2022 (58%)
- Denver Post hits the snooze button on columnists (58%)
❄️ January proved that impacts from the pandemic were not yet over when a Denver Post journalist shared that a “large chunk” of the paper’s staff was “struggling with positive COVID or symptoms.” On TV, Denver’s KUSA 9News “Next” anchor Kyle Clark found himself unexpectedly back in his basement, once again broadcasting the news from his in-home studio after a close contact with someone who had tested positive. Pandemic effects on the journalism business side, or just general print newspaper decline, rippled into 2022; the Coloradoan in Fort Collins and Pueblo Chieftain, both owned by the beleaguered mega-company Gannett, cut their Saturday print deliveries. The Florence Citizen newspaper in southern Colorado made what it called a “bittersweet change” to go online only, citing unsustainable subscription and newsstand sales. (Later in the year, it would simply fold up shop.) At the same time, a new online newspaper emerged in the area called The Cañon City Tribune, operated by Jordan Hedberg, the young publisher of The Wet Mountain Tribune. That new online publication would later hit the pause button after Hedberg filed a federal First Amendment lawsuit against the Board of Custer County Commissioners that argued his local politicians had retaliated against the Wet Mountain Tribune when they voted to make its rival, the conservative Sangre de Cristo Sentinel, the county’s “paper of record.” In Denver, journalist and author Helen Thorpe served as news editor of the alt-weekly Westword for a total of one day, calling it the “shortest amount of time I have ever held a job.” (In our fast-paced, high-metabolism social media age, the tempo wasn’t a good fit.) The Roe v. Wade decision hadn’t yet exploded the political firmament, but a private Catholic high school in Aurora fired teachers when students produced a pro-abortion rights item in the student paper. After nearly four decades, Betsy Marston, a “fierce defender of the Western word” announced she would retire from the Colorado-based High Country News magazine. Ogden Newspapers of West Virginia began a takeover of a string of Colorado ski-town newspapers formerly owned by Nevada-based Swift Communications. The change would lead to one of the biggest Colorado journalism scandals of 2022, out of Aspen, and cause other headaches throughout the year for the newly acquired papers.
Read about the rest of the year here 👇
More Colorado media odds & ends (from the past couple weeks)
🔥 The Center for Environmental Journalism at the University of Colorado Boulder and its students embarked on a smart collaboration with Boulder Reporting Lab, KUNC, and The Conversation “to explore the impacts of the devastating Marshall Fire one year after the blaze.”
👀 Colorado Politics reported state Democratic House Member David Ortiz “used sexist language to criticize a Colorado Politics female reporter for a story he didn’t like.”
📺 Standard General, which has been described in financial news coverage as a hedge fund and purchased the national TV station operator Tegna that owns KUSA 9News in Denver, has pledged “no newsrooms layoffs for two years.”
💊 Vince Bzdek, editor of The Colorado Springs and Denver Gazette, said the story of the year in Colorado has been fentanyl.
⚖️ “This is us just making a stance,” Wet Mountain Tribune Publisher Jordan Hedberg told 9News in Denver about his recent court win against Custer County government. “And even though we’re a tiny little newspaper, we are going to go to the courts and the courts upheld our First Amendment rights both as an individual as myself, but also as a newspaper publication.”
🗞 Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News paperboys reflected on their “former profession — one that’s virtually extinct today.”
💳 Please “don’t donate” to RealVail, “but do give, if you can, to these other worthy websites” and journalists, wrote David O. Williams who runs the Real Vail site. (“If you’re interested in the ever-shifting Colorado media landscape and who can best tell your story or dig into a hot topic you feel is being underreported by the struggling mainstream media, subscribe,” he writes about this newsletter you are currently reading.)
💨 Jefferson Geiger left The Summit Daily News as the paper’s arts and entertainment editor. “I still don’t know what’s next,” he said as he heads to California.
🎙 A newish local podcast called “Mile High Stash” delivers “intimate conversations from big-name Colorado creatives,” The Boulder Daily Camera reported.
🔗 Jason Salzman, founder and editor of the Colorado Times Recorder, published a list of national media outlets that cited the progressive online publication this year.
🆕 The Steamboat Pilot & Today “has a new reporter, Kit Geary,” the paper reported, adding, “she is taking over the role held by reporter Spencer Powell, who is stepping back from his full-time job at the Pilot to focus on other opportunities.”
🙏 Thanks to Colorado Media Project, Grasslands, One Chance to Grow Up, AAA Colorado, and Colorado Press Association for underwriting and advertising in this newsletter in 2022, which helped keep it free for subscribers all year.
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.