Inside the News: Colorado Media Odds & Ends — Post-Post-Holiday Roundup

  • 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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🛩 This week’s newsletter was produced transcontinentally, so it’s just a roundup. Hopefully it compliments your post-post-holiday sloth.

👊 Staff of High Country News, the venerable Paonia, Colorado-based magazine, announced their intention this week to form a “wall-to-wall” labor union, said HCN associate editor Anna V. Smith. Smith described the magazine in an email as “based in the Western Slope of Colorado with remote staff nation-wide that has covered the people and places of the Western U.S. for over 50 years, with a focus on public land, Indigenous affairs, and environmental issues.” The High Country News Union said it had chosen to organize with the Denver Newspaper Guild.

💵 The magazine’s leadership “openly recognizes the industry norm of underpaying staff as par for the course,” Bradon Schwarz, the charitable gifts advisor at High Country News, said in a statement. “But they base their compensation model on similarly-sized organizations in Denver, not nationwide publishing standards. It’s more akin to playing a different golf course.” With the launch of HCN’s Union, Schwartz added, “we pivot towards prioritizing staff retention over this approach, which fails to align with the standards set by other nonprofit news publications in the industry. This is a notable moment for all HCN’s staff, as some of our devoted staff have contributed for decades and will now hopefully have representation across all departments through our wall-to-wall bargaining unit.” (Wall-to-wall means the union includes all magazine departments, not just the editorial side.)

👊 Across the state on the Front Range, “around 75 full- and part-time staff from within the FOX31 and Channel 2 production and assignment desk teams,” declared their intent to unionize, KDVR’s Lanie Lee Cook wrote this week. “After a successful election, the KDVR/KWGN union hopes to continue the work of building a collaborative, respectful and mutually beneficial partnership that ensures KDVR/KWGN remains a vital and growing public media presence in Denver for years to come,” Cook reported the petitioners said in a press release. The workers hoped to organize under the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians-Communications Workers of America. The large broadcaster Nexstar owns the Denver stations.

➡️ Journalist Judah Freed at Courthouse News Service published a detailed story this month titled “Colorado explores solutions to ‘news deserts’.” The story puts Colorado’s experience into a broader national context. Freed noted the recent closure of the Indy alternative weekly newspaper in Colorado Springs and quoted publisher Fran Zankowski saying: “We’re looking for any potential investors to help us revive and relaunch as a more financially stable publication.” Zankowski added, “losing the Indy would mean losing a critical voice in the Springs, leaving a really huge gap in news coverage of the city and adding to news deserts statewide.”

🎙 Former Denver prosecutor Craig Silverman interviewed me last week for his Craig Silverman Show podcast about Colorado media, journalism at Colorado College (he’s an alum), and more. He had quite a bit to say about some fellow talk-radio hosts. We also talked about this newsletter, how it works editorially (spoiler: I copped to using ChatGPT as a copy editor sometimes), and other journalism topics.

🗞 Gilpin County has chosen to retain the Mountain-Ear newspaper as the county’s paper of record, editor Barbara Hardt said this week. Last year, a newspaper war was brewing in the state’s second-smallest county located just east of the Continental Divide over which publication should receive this coveted status.

💨 Eric Larsen, who has served as editor of the Coloradoan newspaper in Fort Collins for the past several years, is leaving to become the top editor at the IndyStar in Indianapolis, Indiana. Both newspapers are owned by Gannett, the nation’s largest newspaper chain. He starts Jan. 22 and “will be the third executive editor for the IndyStar since 2021.”

😬 First Amendment lawyer Seth Stern, who is the director of advocacy for the Freedom of the Press Foundation, wrote a piece for Columbia Journalism Review this week titled “When Contempt of Court is Deserved.” It focused on “prior restraints” — when governments try to order the press not to publish something — and how they might be on rise. The first case he noted was the recent one involving BusinessDen reporter Justin Wingerter.

🆕 The Aspen Times has a new editor. Ray Erku is “a Hunter S. Thompson fan (he’s a 30-something-year-old guy, of course he knows where the famed writer and failed Pitkin County Sheriff candidate regularly sat at Woody Creek Tavern), and he sees room for gonzo journalism in the paper, but maybe not the front page,” reads a Jan. 1 introduction to him. “I’ve always strived to be the guilty-pleasure read. I’ve never really liked to be on the front page,” Erku said. “Obviously, Aspen has its freaks, but at the same time, I still want profoundly by-the-book journalism.” (The paper’s previous editor bolted this summer for Utah after about a year; the editor before that is now suing the paper.)

📡 “After being silenced for two years, the official radio station at the University of Colorado campus in Colorado Springs has been reborn in the post-pandemic era with a new vigor that’s headed toward surpassing previous accomplishments,” Debbie Kelley reported for The Gazette in Colorado Springs. “UCCS Radio is the only college in the state that’s up for the title of the nation’s Best Streaming/Online Only College Radio Station. It’s also in the running for Best Student Radio Station Manager.”

👀 Vic Vela, the weekend host and voice behind the award-winning Back From Broken podcast surprisingly departed Colorado Public Radio after nine years, leaving some colleagues scratching their heads about the circumstances and the future of the podcast. “I’ll have some big news to share when the time is right,” he said on social media. “More will be revealed.”

🗞📲 The World Journal newspaper in Walsenburg landed a $25,000 grant from the Lenfest Institute for Journalism to “redesign its website using the Newspack platform and launch a digital advertising program,” Lenfest announced this week. The grant is part of a Beyond Print initiative, which “works with publishers to move away from print-centric revenue models toward a sustainable digital future.”

⚙️ Susan Greene has left as a reporter and editor for Colorado News Collaborative, known as COLab, and will be “going to work as the Israel-based correspondent for The Forward,” she said on Facebook. “I’ll be reporting for the next six months about the Israel-Hamas war, the experiences of people affected, what they think about what Americans and the rest of the world are thinking – and the humanity in it all,” she said.

🎙Recent Colorado College grad Chloe Brooks-Kistler spoke to Rossana Longo Better for an interview on KGNU’s “Storytellers of Color” show about her award-winning audio journalism and her hunt for a radio news job in California.

📧 Colorado Community Media has launched La Ciudad, a bilingual newsletter for the Commerce City community. “Why Commerce City?” wrote CCM publisher Linda Shapley. “Around half of its residents identify as Latinx, and in 32% of households, languages other than English — predominantly Spanish — are being spoken daily.” Rossana Longo Better, CCM’s bilingual newsletter editor, said they’ll “do an approach that we’re describing as la mezcla (the mix). Español will be in bold-face typography; English will be non-bold.”

📰 Jordan Hedberg reflected on being the eighth “steward” of the Wet Mountain Tribune newspaper in Custer County. “I came to journalism by accident,” he wrote.

🗣 Denver’s 9NEWS anchor Kyle Clark said in a broadcast this week that the current Colorado Republican Party chairman, Dave Williams, “seems content to burn down what’s left of the Colorado Republican Party so long as he can be king of the ashes.” Clark added that “most of Colorado’s Republican leaders from legislators to talk radio hosts seem content to be ruled by this man.”

💸 “Towns and cities such as Firestone and Longmont have charged hundreds — sometimes even thousands of dollars — to fulfill public records requests, and say they have no choice but to do so in certain instances,” Matthew Bennett reported for the Boulder Daily Camera.

☀️ A New York Times piece by David Leonhardt and Lyna Bentahar titled “The Rebirth of Local Journalism” that highlighted “some of the best work from news outlets across the U.S.” noted a September Colorado Sun story by Jennifer Brown about how Colorado’s “long battle over raw milk is reenergized by the ‘food freedom’ movement.”

💊 A Washington Post piece by Maura Judkis titled “The List: What’s out and what’s in for 2024” highlighted a September Boulder Weekly story by Will Brendza about DMT. The WaPo piece opined that ketamine is “out” and DMT, a psychedelic drug, is “in.”

➡️ ICYMI: Read my yearly month-by-month blow-by-blow roundup of the news behind the news in Colorado for 2023 at the Colorado Sunpublished Jan. 1.

🔎 Media scrutiny helps keep “all of government honest,” wrote the editorial board of the weekly Sentinel Colorado newspaper in Aurora. “Given the vital nature of public records and affordable and practical access to them, drawing out problems and finding solutions should be a priority for the 2024 General Assembly,” the editorial concluded.

🗳 The Denver Press Club is “reviewing” its bar food menu and surveying members about what types of grub might be best when the bartenders themselves have to prepare it while also serving other customers. (They use an air fryer, not a deep fryer.) Some ideas are popcorn, spanakopita, egg rolls, moz sticks, pot stickers, and pizza. “While we want to provide food that our members want, we also do our best to maintain a healthy fare,” read an email to members.

📺 “The switch to community reporting was challenging for me at first,” said Tori Mason of CBS News Colorado. “Finding stories, making connections and diving into the concerns of one area has been fulfilling. It’s made me a better reporter and a better neighbor.”

💨 Markian Hawryluk, a Colorado correspondent for KFF Health Newssaid Jan. 5 was likely his last day as a full-time working journalist. “After 31 years of reporting, I’m happy to say that I’m leaving on my own terms,” he said, “a privilege not afforded many of my colleagues in the field.”

🥃 Reporter Meg Wingerter published a four-part series that took six months to produce for the Denver Post that revealed “alcohol kills nearly as many Coloradans as drug overdoses and that “when counting deaths from chronic conditions caused and worsened by alcohol, drinking’s toll far exceeds that of illicit drugs.” Meanwhile, “Deaths from drinking shot up since 2018, but during that time, Colorado didn’t take steps designed to change that trajectory, like raising alcohol taxes,” she found. “The only major changes in liquor laws during that time expanded where residents could buy alcohol.”

📈 “There’s been lots of bad news in the media industry, so here’s some great news that defies the trend: Our reader-supported news outlet had huge subscriber growth last year as our reporting held politicians accountable,” said Denver journalist David Sirota who runs The Lever news outlet. “Thanks to that growth, we’re now expanding our newsroom.”

🚔 Kelly Reinke has “started a new role as the crime and justice investigative reporter” at 9NEWS. “I look forward to digging deeper into crime trends and ways the justice system impacts our community,” she said. (She has been at the station since 2021.)

⚙️ Bay Edwards has left the Colorado Press Association as assistant director. “While I am excited about the new challenges and opportunities that lie ahead, I will undoubtedly miss the collaboration and partnership that has defined my time at CPA,” she wrote in a letter to members. Scott Kunz left as CPA’s sales director at the end of 2023. “We have been working increasingly closely with COLab over the past year, and a smaller staff is one of several factors prompting us to explore with COLab ways our small teams can work even more closely to better serve newsrooms,” CPA president Tim Regan-Porter wrote to members. “You’ll hear more about that in the coming weeks.”

⚽️ Braidon Nourse said he is “thrilled to announce I’ll be back on the Rapids beat this season and beyond, this time for the Denver Post.” Meanwhile, Brendan Ploen said he has left the Rapids beat for the Post and is “moving to a job outside of journalism and will be back in Sweet Home Chicago.”

💬 If “the news media” wants to build trust with audiences, “it will require doing the hard work of asking and listening to those that don’t currently like or trust them,” wrote Northeastern Junior College math and physics instructor Cory Gaines of Sterling in Complete Colorado.

⚙️ Evan Kruegel has left KDVR FOX31 in Denver. “I’ve received an opportunity here in Denver that I simply couldn’t pass up,” he said, urging his followers to “stay tuned.”

⚖️ An anonymous private survey that Colorado lawmakers use “to prioritize bills impacting the state budget ‘thwarts the entire purpose’ of the Colorado Open Meetings Law because it shields the public ‘from knowledge that it would otherwise be entitled to know,’” Jeff Roberts of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition reported. (Flashback to reporting by Scott Franz of KUNC last year.)

💻 The nonprofit Colorado Newsline now has a sister site next door. Utah News Dispatch launched this week under the auspices of States Newsroom, the growing network of state-based politics and policy news sites.

📡 Colorado billionaire Charlie Ergen “has reunited the satellite and communications technology businesses he controls,” Cassidy Ritter reported for the Denver Business Journal about the companies Dish Network and EchoStar.

🗳 The Denver City Council last week “postponed a vote on whether to buy the former Denver Post building downtown after multiple members said they still had questions about the deal,” Thomas Gounley reported for BusinessDen.

⚖️ Jeff Roberts rounded up 2023 on the open government front by writing for the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition that several key rulings throughout the year “showed why courts matter so much for enforcing and interpreting Colorado’s open government laws.”

🏔 Editor Vanessa Porras wrote about the latest iteration of Sol de Valle, a publication for Spanish speakers in the Roaring Fork Valley. “El Sol del Valle received a grant from the Colorado Media Project that helped not only to create a full-time editor position, but also provided us with the funds necessary to hire Latino freelancers,” she wrote. “We have a team of approximately 10 columnists, two translators, an illustrator, a photographer and an intern.” Porras called the publication a “magical newspaper.”

📡 “Dish Network will lay off another 157 workers in March, according to a letter sent to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment on Monday,” Samantha Jarpe wrote for KDVR. “In November 2023, the company announced it would lay off 499 employees, bringing the total number of recent layoffs in the company to 656.”

🗞 Jason Salzman of the Colorado Times Recorder compiled a list of Colorado institutions that “need to shed Trump extremism” and included the Denver and Colorado Springs Gazette for what he called “wild editorials (e.g., endorsing Trump and Boebert, promoting misinformation about abortion) [that] inject fatal doses of Trump and craziness into Colorado’s conservative circles, poisoning the Republican Party.”

📺 Rocky Mountain PBS rounded up its 10 most popular stories of 2023. “The number one favorite article from 2023 takes us to Oak Creek, a small town where workers from expensive ski-towns go to live a more affordable life than the one in their place of work,” Elle Naef reported about the June story by Alison Berg. “As the population grows, the town is working to strike a balance between maintaining its historic identity and welcoming newcomers.”

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 Threads, reply or subscribe to this weekly newsletter here, or e-mail me at CoreyHutchins [at] gmail [dot] com.