Inside the News: Denver Post Journalists vs. Their Owners – Hold Our Beer

  • 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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Six years ago, the last time journalists at The Denver Post received an across-the-board pay increase, an image of a vampire reading their paper with fangs bared appeared on the cover of the city’s alternative weekly newspaper.

The accompanying Westword story, by Alan Prendergast, came with this memorable line about the cost-cutting business model of the Post’s hedge-fund owner:

On Wall Street, the strategy is known as “harvesting cash” — an unabashedly ghoulish process of sucking all the value out of a company, stripping assets and spending as little as possible to keep it going until you’ve squeezed out all that’s left, like a vampire working an old folks’ home.

In recent years, amid excellent journalism consistently produced by its smaller-than-should-be staff, The Denver Post has become the poster child for the perils of hedge-fund newspaper ownership. Its overlord, the newsroom-gutting private equity firm Alden Global Capital based out of Florida by way of New York City*, has been deservedly charactered as a vulture, a vampire, and worse.

Clashes between the newsroom staffers and their owners have been legendary. There was The Denver Editorial Rebellion of 2018. Journalists have rallied outside their own newsroom, protested outside their printing plant, and raised hell at the base of their owner’s skyscraper office building in New York City. There was at least one TED Talk that included the word “revolution.”

Now, a new tactic. While their owners drink blood, the paper’s journalists will be drinking beer — a new beer their newsroom labor union has specifically come up with in partnership with a local brewery.

This is from an announcement from the Denver Newspaper Guild about an upcoming event highlighting the newspaper’s ongoing labor dispute:

The Denver Post’s newsroom guild and FlyteCo Brewing are pleased to announce a collaboration beer and to invite locals to show their support for local journalism at a release party on Dec. 8 at the brewery… . Newshounds and boozehounds can join newspaper personnel to raise a pint of The Thirst Amendment, a black IPA, a week prior to the guild’s next bargaining session on Dec. 14. Enjoy happy hour pricing on pours of the specialty release starting at 5 p.m., plus the opportunity to chat with The Denver Post’s journalists about their work.

The Thirst Amendment collaboration seeks to raise awareness about the vital role local journalists play in their communities and rally support for the reporters, photographers and other staff at The Denver Post as they advocate for fair wages.

For the past six months, the newsroom’s labor union has been trying to negotiate a fair contract with Denver Post corporate management to no avail. One of the Denver Post’s journalists credited reporter Tiney Ricciardi with the idea for the news-and-booze collaboration to spotlight their plight.

“In the eight years I’ve been at The Denver Post, our staff has covered wildfires across Colorado, gone to active crime scenes near our homes, inhaled tear gas, entered COVID wards and so much more,” Joe Rubino, a Denver Post reporter and newsroom chair of the union, said in a statement. “My colleagues’ dedication to covering this city and state has never [wavered] and it’s well past time for those efforts to be rewarded with raises that allow us to keep up with the cost of living here.”

Consider joining these journalists on Dec. 8 at FlyteCo Brewing if you want to show your support. If you can’t make it, but still want to help, you can send a letter via this form to Media News Group executives “asking them to invest in their business by investing in their workers.”

Colorado College students co-wrote Axios Denver’s newsletter for a class

📧 Driving the news: For a special edition of its 100,000-plus subscriber newsletter, members of the Axios Denver team traveled and Zoomed to the Springs on Thursday to join a Colorado College class I’m teaching called “Inbox Journalism: Writing for Newsletters.”

Why it matters: Check out what the students helped produce as part of Axios Denver’s special Colorado Springs edition, which came out today. Thanks to John Frank and Alayna Alvarez for visiting with the class. (Esteban L. Hernandez was busy filming this clip for PBS12.)

  • 🗣 What they’re saying: “Loved the Springs coverage today,” one reader responded, adding, “Congrats to the Colorado College students!”

Flashback: In March, an earlier class of students helped produce a previous Axios Denver newsletter.

The intrigue: The Colorado Sun’s Danika Worthington and Eric Lubbers spoke with student’s during today’s class about newsletter writing and their suite of newsletters.

State government looks to ‘partner’ with Colorado-based Outside media company

Following news of another recent round of layoffs at the Boulder-based Outside media behemoth there’s some new news: An office of state government is looking to partner with the brand.

That nugget came about two thirds of the way into a profile of Outside CEO Robin Thurston by The Denver Post’s outdoor writer John Meyer.

From the item:

Conor Hall, director of the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office, said state officials are in discussions with Outside to partner in major “programs” he’s not ready to divulge. “Having an innovative mind like Robin, and having a group like Outside housed here in Colorado that really has become a major leader in the outdoor media space, is huge,” Hall said. “They are an aggregator of so much within the industry, they have a gravitational pull that is good for Colorado.”

Last month, The Denver Business Journal’s Nikki Wentling reported Outside cut 12% of its workforce with Thurston saying he had spent “too freely” as the company grew. This spring, the brand cut 15% of its staff, shut down some of its print publications, and slashed the print run of some of its magazines.

How Twitter turned a Coloradan into The Wall Street Journal’s face of student loan freedom

There’s a hot debate right now among journalists about whether to stay on Twitter after Elon Musk bought it. Some are leaving the platform. I’m in the wait-and-see camp. I also hope it does not go away. I’ve been on it for 12 years (which makes it sounds like a drug, but) and I just get too much out of it to bail.

A lot of what you read in this newsletter each week comes from something I saw on the social networking platform. As a journalist, I’m not alone. We can find a case study this week in Skyler McKinley, who owns Oak Creek Tavern in Routt County and is the regional director of public affairs for AAA Colorado (which has sponsored this newsletter). The story behind the story of how he wound up as the face of a major Nov. 28 Wall Street Journal story about student loan debt might be instructive. Here was the lead photo for the online version of the piece:

Look at that mug.

The lead glamour shot was not the only image of this photogenic bar-owning Colorado media industry figure. The Journal ran at least three other photos of him for the story. Joe Pinsker, who describes his beat as “covering the pursuit of happiness,” wrote the article. Here’s the section that quotes McKinley:

Skyler McKinley, a 30-year-old in Denver, says he wouldn’t have been able to accept his first job working for $34,000 a year if he had graduated with debt. That job, deputy director of a state agency in charge of Colorado’s then-novel regulations on recreational-marijuana sales, was instrumental in launching his career, he says.

“I graduated with so much more freedom because there were no bills that came due,” says Mr. McKinley, who now works in communications at a national consumer group. He funded his education at American University through survivors’ benefits from his late father’s job as a state judge and a merit scholarship.

Mr. McKinley says that being debt-free put him in a better position, financially and psychologically, to take out loans to buy a condo in Denver for about $300,000 in 2018 and a bar for a similar amount last year.

Owning a bar was a long-held dream, though the Oak Creek Tavern only breaks even, Mr. McKinley says. “I wouldn’t have taken that risk if I was also servicing and paying debt,” he says.

Anyone who ever pitched a story to an editor about big public policy issues has likely heard the reply: How are you going to put a human face on it?

I asked McKinley how he became The Wall Street Journal’s face of a successful debt-free college grad living his best life for its story about student loans. His answer: Twitter.

In August, McKinley had tweeted his support for student loan forgiveness since not having loans put him in a position to chase his dreams. About two months later, Pinsker, the Journal reporter, replied to McKinley’s tweet and asked if he might e-mail him. They exchanged e-mails, and Pinsker interviewed McKinley.

“I suspect that, because I work in media relations full time, I was able to answer all of his questions in a way that made narrative sense,” McKinley told me. “He then wrote the story and, a few weeks later, e-mailed me to tell me his editor wanted some photographs of someone featured in the story — and since a large chunk of it represented my experience, asked if I was up for it. Hey, why not? A few weeks ago, the WSJ sent a photographer to my home and with me as I was running errands for the bar, and many of those photographs made it into the story.”

McKinley described it all as a “very surreal experience” despite working in media full-time. He said he has been humbled by it. “It’s also an experience I wouldn’t have had if it weren’t for Twitter,” he says, “which raises some interesting questions about what happens if that site radically changes to the extent it’s not useful for journalism and journalists.”

More Colorado media odds & ends

❌ CORRECTIONS: The newsletter version of this post mistakenly reported The Denver Post’s outdoor writer *John Meyer’s first name as Steven. And it stated the deadline for the COLab survey is Dec. 19. It is *Dec. 9. Alden Global Capital is now based in *West Palm Beach, Florida, according to its website.

👀 In a personal column this week, Vince Bzdek, editor of The Colorado Springs Gazette, wagged a finger at a New York Times story headlined (in print) “Shooting Leaves City Questioning How Much Has Changed.” The editor called it “the mark of irresponsible, sloppy thinking in my view.” (Two of the NYT reporters who wrote the story have deep ties to the Springs, and one of them, Dave Philipps, who still lives in the city, previously worked at The Gazette where he won the paper a Pulitzer Prize.)

⚙️ Sixty35Media has “united some of Colorado Springs’ most respected and beloved publications under one banner” that includes The Indy alt weekly, Colorado Springs Business Journal, and Pikes Peak Bulletin.

🔗 In 2023, the Colorado News Collaborative says it is “taking collaborative journalism to a new level in Colorado.” COLab staff and news partners plan to produce “four major collaborative news projects on topics you and your communities find important. And we’ll help you find ways to engage with your community and generate revenue around the projects.” If this speaks to you, fill out this survey by Dec. 9.*

🆕 Michael Lyle, Jr. is the new All Things Considered host for KUNC in northern Colorado. He comes from WSHU Public Radio in Fairfield, Connecticut. He says he’s most interested in covering social justice issues. “We are living in unprecedented times and the need for hard-nosed journalism in touching on these issues is more valuable than ever,” he said.

📖 Publisher’s Weekly calls Denver journalist and author Alan Prendergast’s forthcoming book “Gangbuster: One Man’s Battle Against Crime, Corruption, and the Klan,” rollicking, “scrupulously researched,” and “an entertaining tribute to a brazen crimefighter.”

🤮 The Colorado Times Recorder’s Erik Maulbetsch reported that Chuck Bonniwell, who publishes the Glendale Cherry Creek Chronicle newspaper,said on a recent podcast, “I think dismembering a Washington Post reporter should be allowed.” Maulbetsch wrote that Bonniwell had previously been “fired from his radio gig after joking on-air that the Trump impeachment hearing was so boring, ‘it makes you wish for a nice school shooting’.”

🤦‍♂️ In a Washington Post opinion column headlined “A new type of reporter emerges: The ‘mass shooting correspondent’,” Greg Sargent highlighted vile responses from viewers to a Denver KDVR TV journalist who covered the Club Q shooting.

😬 “I can remember 22 mass shootings I’ve covered, but I know I’m missing some,” said Susan Gonzalez who works for Chalkbeat out of New Mexico and previously worked at The Denver Post and other outlets in Colorado. “It’s troubling to me that I dont remember all of them. It makes me sad that number will likely go up. This was never what I wanted to do.” Gonzalez said she could likely write a useful “so you’re covering a mass shooting” journalism guide, but isn’t sure how or what entity might be interested.

🎥 For Rocky Mountain PBS, three filmmakers reflected on documentary they made about Club Q while at Colorado College. “During this mournful period, we want to remind people of the infinite love, imagination, and generosity that exists in Queer spaces, as well as celebrate all of the passion, energy, and tenderness that burst from this place and we hope will continue to do so far into the future,” they said.

🎤 In the aftermath of the Club Q shooting in Colorado Springs, KVOR radio host Richard Randall “complained about the media coverage of the tragedy, saying that news outlets don’t cover crimes committed by immigrants as extensively,” Sean Price reported for The Colorado Times Recorder

➡️ “As a journalist that recently reported on the gay club shooting that occurred at Club Q in Colorado Springs on Nov. 19, I have personally felt the mental health effects of being a journalist,” wrote Catherine Hicks, digital distribution producer at FOX21  in Colorado Springs.

⚰️ Longtime 9News sportscaster Mike Nolan died at 85 after a brief illness.

🆕 Nikki Swarn, founder of the hip-hop and R&B public radio station The Drop, has been “appointed by Rocky Mountain Public Media to serve as general manager for both that project and Denver’s legacy jazz station KUVO,” Kyle Harris reported for Denverite.

📰 Who wore it better? Check out the covers of Boulder Weekly and Denver’s Westword, two alternative weeklies in different cities with different owners, two weeks apart. (Boulder was first.)

📺 Steph Martin, described as“a writer and editor from Lakewood,” Colorado, will compete on the TV quiz show JEOPARDY! on Dec. 5, according to an announcement.

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.