Two years after launching the Broomfield Leader as a for-profit digital local news site, the Canadian-owned Village Media has shut it down.
The move once again underscores the difficulty of sustaining a hyperlocal news startup and paying reporters to produce local news. The development also marks an unfortunate Centennial State setback for a successful local news company based in Ontario.
Village Media, which runs more than 20 Canadian news sites, had chosen Colorado as the place for its first foray into the U.S. market.
In March 2021,* the company took over the Longmont Leader from the McClatchy newspaper chain’s Google-backed Compass Experiment. Later that year, it launched the Broomfield Leader as its second U.S. local news site in the county of about 70,000 between Denver and Boulder.
But now Colorado offers a different kind of data point for the company.
“It’s the first market we’ve actually ever closed,” Village Media CEO Jeff Elgie said over the phone last week. “We’ve never closed a market in 10 years.”
So, what led to the decision to lay off a small staff and shut down one of its three U.S. sites — the third is in a small community of 20,000 in Michigan — especially as the successful local news company continues to expand in Canada?
Elgie said a handful of factors contributed, including not having a corporate presence in the area and struggling to find a commercial sales executive.
Geographical location and news habits also played a role, he said, noting that Village Media has noticed difficulties with some news sites in Ontario that are close to larger cities where residents might work, shop, send their kids to school, or otherwise conduct much of their daily lives.
“And I think that’s what we found in Broomfield,” Elgie said. “Broomfield didn’t really care much about Broomfield itself.”
Broomfield is home to the twice-monthly print Broomfield Enterprise, one of the collection of Colorado papers financially controlled by the newsroom-gutting Alden Global Capital hedge fund. There’s also a Broomfield magazine.
Nearby TV stations in larger markets also cover the county when news breaks; that dynamic is something Elgie noted.
“What we find in the U.S. is the television stations have been much better at digital than what we typically experience in Canada,” he said. “They have been good at social media, but they’ve also been good at that kind of service journalism component of our business, which often drives a large audience.”
Following its demise, visitors to the Broomfield Leader’s website are now redirected to the Longmont Leader, which also experienced newsroom cutbacks.
Amy Lovatt, who worked for the Longmont Leader for about a year and a half, said she was the last reporter of four between the two outlets when she was laid off in July. She now works in communications for Metro Water Recovery.
The best part about working for Village Media, she said, was that the pay was higher for a hyperlocal news outlet than what others were offering in Colorado.
Despite the retrenchment, Elgie said the Longmont Leader is doing fine and Village Media plans to keep at it. The site is close to breaking even financially, he said, and generates between 400,000 and 700,000 views a month. “It’s basically quadrupled in size since we took it over from McClatchy a few years back,” Elgie said about the traffic.
Lovatt said she was surprised to hear that the site was doing well given what she understood when she was laid off, but acknowledged that things might have changed since then, including the company not having to pay her salary. She said the company was transparent with her about why they let her go and she didn’t feel like they were hiding anything.
The Longmont Leader currently shows a masthead with a single staffer, Editor Macie May, who declined to talk about the site. The outlet’s output reflects its newsroom size. The news section is heavily outsourced to “community submission” posts that are verbatim news releases copied and pasted from government agencies.
As for what else the Canadian company learned about the U.S. market that might be noteworthy, Elgie mentioned a couple of things.
“In Canada, we would be known as very fact-based news. We don’t carry opinion, we don’t have a political bent to us whatsoever, and sometimes we wonder often if the U.S. is looking for something different … right or left — and we’re not,” he said. “And another thing that we typically don’t do in Canada because we’ve proven time and time again that it doesn’t work here but might work there is that we’ve never been focused on sports coverage as a local news site.”
Asked if Village Media’s experience in Colorado means it might write off American audiences altogether, Elgie said for now Canada is the company’s priority; they know the area well, and it makes sense to invest where they are.
“It doesn’t mean we don’t think the U.S. would work,” he said, “but we recognize that it probably means more attention and more scale like we have here to work really well.”
Now, a message from Colorado Health Foundation…
➡️ In a state where the Hispanic and Latino population represents the second-largest racial and ethnic group, comprising 22% of the population, it is crucial to spotlight their voices. Pulse: The Colorado Health Foundation Poll is hosting a briefing to provide valuable insights into the recent Pulse Poll data on the experiences of Hispanic and Latino Coloradans, including the unique challenges, concerns, and aspirations of this significant demographic. Journalists and members of the public are invited to join. Click here to REGISTER NOW! This briefing will be presented in Spanish and simultaneous interpretation in English will be available.
Want to put a face to the data? We can help! Contact Austin Montoya, senior officer for policy advocacy communications, at email@example.com to learn more.
My mistake: The Colorado Public Radio donation was $8.3M for the building
In last week’s newsletter I transposed a figure from $8.3 million to $3.8 million — in a headline, no less — when writing about a donor’s gift to Colorado Public Radio for a new headquarters.
When I posted the correction on social media immediately after realizing it, one reader responded: “Large donation the size of a small donation” — a reference to a meme sparked by a legendary 2020 social media post from a rural Colorado sheriff’s office that alerted the public to a “large boulder the size of a small boulder” blocking a highway lane.
Jokes aside, $8.3 million is even more impressive than the inaccurate figure I reported last week, and CPR should be proud.
But also … who is CPR’s mystery donor? Here are some hints
Following last week’s announcement, at least one Colorado media observer questioned the extent to which CPR should be keeping the name of its big donor quiet as it continues to report on entities its audience might want to know could be linked to the wealthy philanthropist.
“I’m sure CPR would say there is an inviolable firewall between its fundraising and news gathering organizations, much as there is a firewall between the journalists and ad sales teams at, say, 9News or The Denver Post,” wrote Denver PR professional Jeremy Story at his Denver Public Relations Blog. “But we know who the advertisers are at 9News and the Post because we see the ads. It is a different situation when an $8.34 million gift is made without any disclosure.” (Story’s agency has run sponsorships in this newsletter.)
Colorado Public Radio’s CEO, Stewart Vanderwilt, said over the phone this week that while he and the station’s development team are obviously aware of who the donor is, they have not announced it within the broader CPR organization. (Colorado Public Radio Executive Editor Kevin Dale said on Thursday he did not know who the donor is; I don’t know, either.)
Vanderwilt says the new building isn’t yet move-in ready and they are at the start of a potential three-year process for that.
“With a project of this scale, the initial gift is what you might call the lead gift,” he said, adding that a large-scale fundraising process will follow to complete the full transformation. With anything like that, he said, there’s a “quiet phase” and a public phase.
“We’re months away from that public phase at which point we will acknowledge our lead donor and any other donors we have,” he said, referring to the donor as a couple.
“These are just folks with means. It’s not a CEO, it’s not someone who has an interest that they’re trying to advance other than their belief in CPR and our role in society,” Vanderwilt said. “There’s absolutely nothing that creates some sort of conflict.”
He added that the donors haven’t asked to have their name on the building and that the $8.3 million isn’t the total extent of the gift.
How CBS Colorado’s Romi Bean handled critics of her Coach Prime posts
CBS Colorado sports anchor Romi Bean riled some sports fans and galvanized some media people on social media this week with her enthusiasm for a notable win by the CU Buffs over Texas Christian University in the team’s first game under new coach Deion Sanders who goes by the nickname Coach Prime.
“THE PRIME ERA IS HERE,” she wrote on the platform formerly known as Twitter along with a star-in-the-eyes emoji. “Absolutely magical watching this team show who they are in front of the world. PLAYMAKERS. But so much more. As [Sanders] says, they truly are smart, tough, fast disciplined with character.”
Paul Farhi, a media reporter for The Washington Post, responded, writing, “Used to be considered unprofessional for a sports journalist to root for a team (famous book: “No Cheering in the Press Box”). Guess those days are gone.”
Another reader told her: “I thought reporters were supposed to be impartial.”
I’m a local reporter. I’m here to cover local teams and the excitement around them. I have no issue getting excited for my Alma mater when they do well. It’s fine if you don’t like it. When you get a job as a journalist, you can do it the opposite way I do.
“I didn’t cheer in the press box,” she told another critic. “I did my job. I took a picture on the field and shared my excitement after the game. Sorry that’s so offensive.” She added: “…you do your job your way. And I’ll do mine my way.”
“I know you definitely watched all my tv reports and aren’t just judging from a tweet, so thank you,” she told another hater.
“Old school journalists may be hating, but you’re doing a great job,” one reader told her.
“Some of the journalistic integrity dweebs are hilarious,” another wrote. “They saw Romi for the first time in a tweet and decided to judge. If you think ‘a fan’ won’t criticize a team…have you ever been a fan, that’s mostly what we do.”
Find the whole back and forth here.
In January, when CBS Colorado elevated Bean’s status at the station, News Director Kristine Strain said Bean had become the “first female main sports anchor in the Denver television market.”
Let’s talk about your college journalism program
I’m finalizing some research for Colorado Media Project about Colorado college and university journalism programs that involve internships with local media.
If you’re involved with a higher-ed institution in Colorado and we haven’t spoken, feel free to get in touch.
I’d especially like to hear from community colleges or universities outside the Front Range. And I’m also interested to learn where a higher-ed institution’s students are producing local news outside of campus publications and how those partnerships form.
🎓 Attention Colorado journalism students and faculty: Do you know any students who would like to attend (for free) the Colorado Press Association convention? Here’s the catch: CPA is looking for students to report on individual sessions. Doing so will offer them great reporting and writing experience while they soak in information from a diverse range of speakers and panels.
CPA is looking for about 10 college students to write up dispatches of the Sept. 22-23 panels and presentations, and plans to publish their work in the CPA newsletter and website. If you know a student who wants this valuable reporting and networking experience — and to attend this year’s “Build Back Better” convention for free (a solid deal) — get in touch with Bay Edwards at Bedwards@colopress.net 🎓
A regional sports network ‘is shutting down’, Denver Post reports
“AT&T SportsNet Rocky Mountain notified its employees that the regional sports network is shutting down, according to multiple sources close to the situation,” The Denver Post reported this week, citing my all-time favorite source for everything. “The last day of work for full-time employees at the network is Oct. 6, although it will continue running through at least the end of the year.”
Here’s more from sportswriters Kyle Newman and Patrick Saunders:
That leaves a giant question mark as to how Colorado fans will watch their team’s games, in the wake of Warner Bros. Discovery’s transfer of regional TV rights back to their respective MLB teams.
Among the potential options to take over production and distribution of local broadcasts are Major League Baseball or Stan Kroenke’s Altitude TV, which is already home to the Nuggets, Avalanche and Mammoth. That is unless the Rockies opt to pick up the broadcasts, which they have yet to indicate they will do.
The Denver Post story comes with a correction stating an earlier version had “incorrectly stated when AT&T Sports Network Rocky Mountain would fully shut down.”
I’m not certain I have the best handle on what this development means in the context of local sports media, but the story notes it leaves “a giant question mark as to how Colorado fans will watch their team’s games, in the wake of Warner Bros. Discovery’s transfer of regional TV rights back to their respective MLB teams.”
More Colorado media odds & ends
🎙 Colorado Public Radio reported this week how “two Colorado College students spent their summer reporting from the borders of Ukraine” and interviewed them about their multi-story series,“The Forgotten Front,” published in The Gazette.
☀️ This Sunday marks the five-year anniversary of the Colorado Sun, which launched as an LLC founded by its journalists, became a public benefit corporation, and has grown from 10 to 27 employees, plus paid interns. Keep an eye out for a big announcement from them over the weekend.
❌ CORRECTION: The email newsletter version of this post misstated the months the Longmont Leader and Broomfield Leader launched in 2021. They were March and December, respectively.
⚖️ “Colorado’s second-highest court on Thursday agreed a man who filed suit over media coverage of his protest activity failed to show how his defamation claims had merit,” Michael Karlik reported for Colorado Politics.
⬆️ Dago Cordova is now an executive producer at CBS Colorado.
🗳 “Our democracy relies on local news, and I am pleased to see Colorado leading the way,” said Michael Bennet, one of Colorado’s two Democratic U.S. senators who represents the state in Washington, D.C. His remark came while offering congratulations to Colorado Public Radio for becoming the first U.S. media outlet to earn certification through the program and to have it independently audited by the Alliance for Audited Media.
🆕 After “a few months of full staffing, we’re now looking to fill a few vacant positions,” said Mitchell Byars of the Boulder Daily Camera newspaper.
📡 The Poynter Institute announced 24 journalists for a fellowship “designed to prepare public media leaders for the challenges and opportunities presented by a changing media landscape” and two are from Colorado: Obed Manuel, an editor for Colorado Public Radio and Denverite, and Jeremy Moore, the journalism director for Rocky Mountain Public Media in Littleton.
🦬 An interaction during a post-game press conference between CU Buffs Coach Deion Sanders and someone who covered him made the rounds this week after Sanders said, “I read through that bull junk you wrote.”
🔎 “Two Democratic state lawmakers and Colorado House leadership entered into an agreement over the chamber’s public meeting procedures that puts clearer expectations around notifying the public about meetings and retaining electronic communication,” Sara Wilson wrote for Colorado Newsline.
🪦 Mike Peters, “who worked for the Greeley Tribune from 1971 until his retirement in 2011,” died at 79. His former paper described him as “a man who earned the trust and respect of local law enforcement and city leaders while always holding them accountable. He engaged readers and community members as friends, and he inspired generations of journalists at the Tribune.”
⚙️ Alex Rose, who left FOX31 in Denver, has become the public information officer for the Wheat Ridge police department. “I’ve been an advocate for transparency my entire career and I’m lucky to be in a position to keep our community informed,” he said. “I have a lot to learn and I’m eager to serve.”
📺🤝👮 The local KRDO TV news station in Colorado Springs is partnering with a nonprofit to “provide rifle-related body armor to officers in our community,” stating that its fundraiser to benefit the police it covers “is a small way we at KRDO can say thank you to the men and women who serve southern Colorado every day.”
🏒 Corey Masisak will be the Denver Post’s Avalanche beat writer. “I am extremely excited and grateful for this amazing opportunity,” he said.
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.