Inside the News: Journalists Pile On Dem Colorado Lawmaker Who Said They’re ‘Too Afraid To Do Their Jobs’

  • 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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Steven Woodrow, a 42-year-old Democrat and lawyer who represents Denver in the Colorado House of Representatives, faced swift backlash from some in the state’s press corps this week following a post on social media.

On Wednesday, he tweeted:


Colorado journalists were quick to share with the lawmaker links to accountability stories they’d published about those exact election-denying figures he’d named. And they also illuminated for Woodrow some context about the current state of our media landscape.

“It’s not that journalists are afraid,” Denver Post reporter Conrad Swanson told him. “We’re running skeleton crews because our organizations have been pillaged by hedge funds, we’ve been furloughed and laid off, we’re struggling to recover from trauma and those who remain are stretched thin and exhausted.” (Woodrow’s response: “This is helpful and refreshingly honest.”)

Journalists would rightly be sensitive to such a comment from a politician any time, but this week was a particularly unfortunate one to swipe at local media as you’ll read later in this newsletter.

“Do you have any idea how many journos we’ve lost from burnout?” Rylee Dunn of Colorado Community Media responded to Woodrow’s Twitter post. “From low wages? from extreme trauma? as disrespectfully as possible; you’re just as bad as the ‘threats to democracy’ you decry.”

Quentin Young, who runs Colorado Newsline and has made covering threats to democracy a major focus of his nonprofit news site, said: “It’s one thing to urge more coverage, but to smear reporters as being afraid of covering a guy who calls for mass executions of political enemies is pretty unseemly, and I doubt any of the figures named would agree local press has given them a pass.”

Carina Julig of Sentinel Colorado wondered what set Woodrow off in first place. “Fair criticism of the press is always needed,” she told him, “but if you simply assumed the reason there isn’t the level of coverage of these people that you’d like to see is because we are cowards–that hurts.”

In 2019, Colorado Media Project, which underwrites this newsletter, published a report called “Local News is a Public Good” that included five recommendations for lawmakers to help support local journalism in Colorado. As a legislator who seemed like he might just be learning about the bottomed-out business model for local news and the causes for it, I sent the report his way and followed up with a call.

Over the phone Thursday, Woodrow said he had started to read the document, and I asked if given his position as a state lawmaker he might have any appetite to try do something. Anything. (Two years ago, during the height of the pandemic when newsrooms were deeply suffering, a reporter asked Democratic Gov. Jared Polis a similar question.)

“If part of the problem is that newsrooms are stretched paper thin and don’t have the resources to cover the breadth of what’s happening, then I’d like to figure out ways that we could help with that, sure,” Woodrow answered. But he said he would want to be careful about government “meddling” with the press. (That’s always been a balance in these discussions.)

As for what he meant about journalists being “too afraid,” Woodrow said fear was maybe a strong word, but he feels like many journalists have an apprehension about looking “too left-leaning” and that it could lend itself to a bias toward an appearance of evenhandedness as opposed to a bias toward truth.

It might be something to hear him and The Gazette’s Vince Bzdek talk about that.

Denver Public Library acquires ‘lost’ issues of Black newspaper The Denver Star

Researchers trying to better understand how Black residents in Denver lived from 1913 to 1963 will have Denver’s public library to thank after a recent acquisition.

From a post this week at DPL’s site:

While the Denver Public Library and other institutions have attempted to preserve the Denver Star, there have always been gaps in that record. Recently, the Western History and Genealogy department was able to fill in some of those gaps thanks to the generosity of Dr. Nancy Dawson, a retired college professor/journalist who currently resides in Russellville, Kentucky. 

Dawson first approached DPL with an offer to donate a bound volume of the Denver Star covering 1934-1940 back in 2017. Her offer came with the condition that DPL microfilm, or other formats make these issues available to the public. DPL’s Denver Star holdings at the time included a gap from 1918-1937. Though many institutions offer access to the Denver Star via a database, very few have the actual papers, and no institutions had the year 1934 at all. 

The full story about the journey of these archives is fascinating, so read the whole post by Brian K. Trembath here.

“Dawson points out that the value of a newspaper like theDenver Star is that it tells the story of a community whose story wasn’t generally printed in the daily newspapers of the time,” Trembath writes.

5 journalists make Denver Press Club Hall of Fame

This week in Denver, the nation’s oldest Press Club inducted five Colorado journalists into its hall of fame. Making the cut were Sandra Dillard, Rosalind “Bee”Harris, Mike Littwin, Kathy Walsh, and (posthumously) Alan Berg.

Denver City Councilman Kevin Flynn, a former Rocky Mountain News reporter, joined Marty Lenz on KOA radio this week to talk about the late Berg, a radio man who was gunned down by white supremacists in 1984. (If you want the riveting, maddening backstory, listen to History Colorado’s Lost Highways podcast “The Passion of Alan Berg.”)

Harris, who publishes Denver Urban Spectrum, was in 2020 inducted into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame. Littwin, who is currently a columnist for The Colorado Sun and is a veteran of many other publications, has inexplicably never been inducted into the Beard-Growers Hall of Fame.

CBS News Colorado aired a clip of the induction ceremony Sunday given that Walsh, a former anchor, had spent nearly four decades at the station before retiring last year. Denver7 aired a clip honoring Dillard, who it noted was “the first Black female reporter at The Denver Post” and had “spent three decades in a variety of roles.”

Now partnering: Denver7 and BusinessDen

If there’s a new orthodoxy in Colorado journalism it’s collaboration. I don’t know of another state where it’s happening more — or as deliberately.

The 400-pound gorilla on the collaboration front is the Colorado News Collaborative. But newsrooms are also linking together to create stronger local journalism outside of COLab. The Colorado Sun has done that on recent projects, and TV stations often partner with a local newspaper or digital site, which gives them each the ability to share in the credit of scoops or maybe approach a story with their own expertise and flair.

One recent hookup is between the ABC affiliate in Denver and the 7-year-old digital site BusinessDen.

Denver7 announced the partnership this week in a broadcast and online story. The clip and accompanying item reported on the successes of BusinessDen and the importance of the seven-person niche outlet in a city like Denver. “Their small but mighty newsroom has earned a clout covering residential and commercial development, property moves, legal filings, and entrepreneurship,” Denver7’s Brian Sanders reported.

Holly Gauntt, senior news director for Denver7, said in an email that the station is hoping to get more robust business and economic news for its audience, and she praised BusinessDen for building a “strong team that’s plugged into local businesses” with good sources and and their fingers on the pulse of a changing business and development scene. “It seemed natural to reach out to them to partner with our business anchor/reporter Brian Sanders,” she said. “They are great experts themselves but also produce insightful stories that can be taken to another level with video.”

Basically, BusinessDen is “making our staff easily available to Denver7 when the station wants to follow on reporting we’ve been doing, or when the station needs a voice to discuss topics that we’re well-versed in, such as real estate,” says BusinessDen editor Thomas Gounley.

Also of note: BusinessDen is hiring a real estate reporter it will pay $60,000 to $70,000.

Denver Post levels ‘supply chain surcharge’ on subscribers

Readers of the hedge-fund controlled Denver Post got this note in their inbox this week:

Supply chain prices and surcharges are at an all-time high. Due to the critical nature of the current situation, we can no longer continue to absorb the increased costs.

Therefore, effective October 10, 2022, we will be implementing a temporary supply chain surcharge. The surcharge will remain separate from our usual charges and will be debited from your subscription fees. The surcharge will be based on your delivery schedule at a rate of 10¢ per delivery day. Your subscription term will be shortened as a result of the supply chain surcharge.

On Wednesday, I reached out to the Post’s general manager, Bill Reynolds, asking for details about what exact prices and surcharges the company was paying that it is now passing along to subscribers. I followed up Thursday and Friday but didn’t hear back.

Gannett, owner of 2 Colorado papers, gasses up Mr. Chainsaw

As predicted, a 2019 monster merger between the nation’s two largest newspaper chains, Gannett and GateHouse (made possible with a pile of hedge-fund cash) has not been a dream for robust local journalism.

Journalists at Gannett papers nationwide learned some grim news this week.

“The chief executive of Gannett, the largest newspaper publisher in the country, announced widespread cost-cutting to its newsrooms on Wednesday, citing headwinds from the ‘deteriorating macroeconomic environment,’” The New York Times reported.

“The company also has paused overall hiring and will temporarily suspend matching contributions to employee 401(k) accounts starting Oct. 24. The email, which was sent companywide though some staff said they didn’t receive a copy, came two months after Gannett laid off 400 employees and eliminated 400 open positions in response to a bleak second quarter,” reported The Poynter Institute.

In Colorado, the company owns The Coloradan in Fort Collins and The Pueblo Chieftain, two regional newspapers that bookend the Front Range. Watch this space to track local reverberations.

More Colorado media odds & ends

🆕 The Denver-based weekly public affairs TV show, Colorado Inside Out on PBS12, has landed on a new host: “Longtime local journalist Kyle Dyer,” reported Alayna Alvarez in Axios Denver.

🍑 One of Colorado’s newest Palisade peach farmers has a journalism degree from CU Boulder and edited a magazine in Vermont. “I said yes, but give me 10 years to try this journalism thing out and then yes, I’m in,” Gwen Cameron recalled telling her father who was wanting to retire and pass along the West Slope farm to her. “That was in 2010, and then I think he got more antsy to retire, and then he approached me in 2015. I came back sooner than I thought, and I’m so happy I did.”

⏳ Shannon Mullane wrote about the history of student journalism at the University of Colorado Boulder. (Last week’s link to this was broken, so I’m re-doing it.)

🕸 Axios Denver’s John Frank reported this week that “the Mile High Sentinel and Southern Colorado Times” are part of a “network of websites in midterm battlegrounds like Colorado that mimic local news outlets” and were created by Democratic operatives.

👻 🗳 KUNC’s Scott Franz reported this week that lawmakers are using a “secret ballot system” out of the public view and with potential influence from lobbyists. The relatively new “off-book voting system,” known as quadratic voting, has drawn the attention of the state’s largest transparency organization.

➡️ Join researchers from Colorado College and University of Denver “as they unveil a new map of news sources, owners, and content in 64 counties.”

📺 “Former reporter Suzanne McCarroll was remembered as a friend, journalist and mentor on Wednesday,” CBS News Colorado reported. “She died Wednesday in Southern California, her family confirmed.”

🎤 The African Community of Colorado is hosting a candidates forum “for ALL Candidates running for public office” tonight, Oct. 14, at 4 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at Saint Mary’s Ethiopian Orthodox Church at 16250 E. Colfax in Aurora. The forum will include candidates for U.S. Senate, U.S House, governor, attorney general, and state and local representatives, says Afrik Digest Media Coordinator H. Malcolm Newton. “ALL are welcome.”

✒️ “Columnists find separate paths for formulating a coherent expression of something we are feeling,” wrote Jay Wissot in a tribute to columnists in Vail Daily.

📫 From a story in The Wall Street Journal this week: “Chris Reen, president and CEO of Clarity Media Group, publisher of several local publications, including the Colorado Springs Gazette, said the company is considering mail for some regional papers but grappling with the idea that readers who rely on print will be getting outdated news.” (The story is about some newspapers switching to mail delivery because drivers and paper carriers have found better gigs, “exacerbated by high fuel costs, wage inflation and the secular decline of the newspaper industry that has meant that subscribers in some areas are too few and far between for traditional delivery to make sense.”)

📰 Republican U.S. Senate candidate Joe O’dea published an entire George Will opinion column that appeared in The Washington Post as a direct-mail advertisement for his campaign this week. (The campaign left off the “Opinion” label.) Chase Woodruff of Colorado Newsline has rounded up how the campaign has used selective local media coverage in ads.)

🗣 Columbia Journalism Review’s Jon Allsop wrote this week about the Alden Global Capital hedge fund’s decision to end endorsements at its newspaper chain. The nuanced piece included commentary from Colorado journalists. (This newsletter got a shoutout.)

🪦 The family of longtime reporter Ron Mitchell who died at 75 in 2016 had the 9NEWS logo etched on his headstone, the station reported.

🍣 Colorado Springs food writer Matthew Schniper wondered why he didn’t get credit for a recent scoop, and, after hearing that a less-nuanced story on the same topic might have led to bad restaurant reviews for the business at the heart of it, he scolded the author, saying, “publishing content like this w/out doing reporting is irresponsible. It lacks context. Sensationalizes. Little research would have revealed my story to you.” (Out There Colorado removed a story, stating: “This article has been removed at editorial discretion after the owner of Dozo Sushi reported that employees were being harassed due to media coverage of patron’s online reviews and the owner’s unconventional responses to those reviews.”)

📡 Westword’s Michael Roberts has an update on a “pissing match” between Comcast and Altitude.

🍽 Lily O’Neill is joining The Denver Post next week “as the Food Reporter.” O’Neill comes from BusinessDen where the reporter spent almost three years.

➡️ “Readers of this publication would appreciate knowing when a columnist cites himself and his own work product as justification for the points he makes,” a letter writer wrote in to The Denver Gazette.

📱 Writing for Westword, Katrina Leibee rounded up the top 10 Colorado TikTok accounts.

⚙️ Voice Media Group is hiring an “experienced digital journalist”based in Denver “to direct its editorial operations and drive audience growth and engagement.” The job is a corporate management position that pays “$120,000 or more depending on experience.”

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.