Whether someone plunged a knife into a college student in Boulder last week might not be the most pressing news story in Colorado.
But how coverage of it played out in local media might offer some insights into the way people are getting their news and information, the role of online social networks, and how different local news organizations treat developing “crime” stories.
An Aug. 28 Daily Camera newspaper headline about an alleged incident stated a “stabbing” had left a CU Boulder student with minor injuries. The KDVR TV station reported in a headline that a “CU student’s attack” marked the “3rd stabbing this month.”
That led the Denver Gazette’s OutThere Colorado site to generate a headline reading “Third stabbing of month reportedly takes place in downtown Boulder.” The story came with this advice:
While these incidents don’t seem to be linked and there doesn’t seem to be an immediate threat to the public, they serve as examples to stay aware of potential crime regardless of where you’re at, even in Boulder, which has been dubbed one of the ‘best places to live’ in the country in recent years.
Each of the news bulletins relied on police as their sources.
Standing out amid the coverage was Boulder Reporting Lab and the local college newspaper. The 2-year-old digital nonprofit newsroom founded by Stacy Feldman partnered with the University of Colorado’s CU Independent to tackle the story in a markedly different way.
Here’s how the three reporters who worked on it over the course of a day crafted their own Aug. 30 headline: “Was a CU Boulder student stabbed downtown last week? Here’s what we know and don’t know.”
The story begins by explaining its apparent origins: It wasn’t police who often publicize incidents with digital alerts and press releases, but rather posts on a popular digital message board and a polarizing online social network for neighborhoods.
Behold a local news story line for the ages:
Over the weekend, the Reddit post accumulated updates, with some referencing unconfirmed comments from Nextdoor as their source.
Boulder Reporting Lab obtained and listened to audio recordings of police scanner traffic referenced in some of the posts, and reported the “audio verifies some of what the police said on the radio but still leaves many questions unanswered.”
The story cited campus officials saying they were “aware of an incident” that involved a student, and reported that police were referring to it as an “‘altercation,’ in which someone was cut and driven to the hospital by friends.”
More from BRL:
Despite evidence suggesting otherwise, at least three reports from local news media still depict the incident as a stabbing. One television station referred to it as the “third stabbing” in downtown Boulder within a month, one of several “attacks that have been taking place in the downtown area.”
Reporters for Boulder Reporting Lab and the CU Independent told their readers what they knew and what they didn’t and noted what they did to try and close that gap.
Boulder Reporting Lab and the CU Independent have been unable to verify whether the alleged victim received treatment at the hospital. Furthermore, neither news organization could confirm details regarding the alleged altercation, the nature of the injury, the use of any weapon or the number of people involved.
They also explained the stakes of the incident, which included how it played out in local media and who or what might stand to gain from the way initial coverage framed it.
The details of this case matter for several reasons, including the role such incidents might play in shaping a narrative in the lead-up to the city election in November. Four seats on the Boulder City Council and the position of mayor are up for election. Political organizers have said they’re seeking to drive voter turnout around the issues of public safety and homeless encampments.
The response to Saturday’s alleged incident illustrates how public perception and discussions around safety are already becoming central themes ahead of Nov. 7. A post on Nextdoor referred to the suspect as a “transient” and urged readers to “vote in November for candidates that make public safety their top priority!” Separately, a reporter with FOX31 KDVR in Denver who covered the incident quoted a supporter of the Safe Zones 4 Kids campaign — a campaign seeking to pass a ballot measure that would require the city to prioritize the removal of tents and propane tanks used by homeless people.
And then there was this:
The response also shows how Nextdoor and Reddit have become de facto hubs for posting details surrounding alleged crimes in Boulder, often with people providing information on incidents without confirming their veracity.
Boulder Reporting Lab and the CU Independent, which as a student-led publication was well-positioned to provide such context, noted that “there has been little conversation about the incident on campus.”
Writing a story in such a way — one that synthesized limitations in its own reporting with broader context about city politics along with some local media criticism — “seemed to offend some readers,” BRL founder Feldman said days later. “But that’s OK — because we have to be willing to tell the truth no matter what. Even when the truth is: We don’t know the answers yet.”
Over the phone this week, Feldman acknowledged that it very well might turn out that a college student wound up on the business end of a knife crime in downtown Boulder. And if that’s the case, that is, of course, alarming, she said. But the point is that her reporters didn’t know that at the time, and she isn’t sure if any others did, either. She was surprised to see the word “stabbing” in headlines with such authority given what her own outlet was able to report.
Feldman said she feels it is the job of journalists to understand what’s out there on social media, acknowledge their audience might be getting information from places that might not be verifying what they are publishing, and play a more rigorous role in sorting out what’s true, what isn’t, and what questions still exist.
“Our job is to set the story straight,” she said, pledging to follow it to its end.
A yet-to-be-named donor gave *$8.3M to Colorado Public Radio for a new home
Calling a donation perhaps “the largest gift in Colorado public media history,” CPR President and CEO Stewart Vanderwilt said the news organization has received $8.3 million for new digs.
The station bought a six-story 72,000-square-foot building in Denver’s Capitol Hill where it will “consolidate its metro offices and provide space for community events.”
“Democracy is only as strong as its informed citizens. At the center of our commitment to serve all Coloradans and support democracy is a new home for CPR,” Vanderwilt said in a statement. “With our new facility, we will create a home institution for all Coloradans to experience news, entertainment and thought-provoking content.”
The CPR honcho said the news outlet is “not announcing the donors at this time” but will “make that announcement in coordination with them when we have further details to share on the transformation.”
In 2019, CPR moved its reporting unit from a location in Centennial into a 9,000-square-foot building in downtown Denver. “Together with Denverite, we are now the largest Colorado-owned daily news organization headquartered within blocks of the seats of power,” Vanderwilt said at the time.
In recent years, the news organization has grown to rival the local newsroom staff size of any other news outlet in the state.
*In the emailed version of this newsletter item, I mistakenly transposed the donation figure from $8.3 million to $3.8 million in the headline.
O’Rourke Media Group of Arizona snaps up local Pagosa Springs SUN
The Arizona-based O’Rourke Media Group, which bought a string of newspapers in the Central Mountains region this April, has added another to its fleet.
Terri House, who has owned the Pagosa Springs SUN located in Archuleta County, is turning over the keys of the southwestern Colorado newspaper after 21 years.
“This is an outstanding weekly newspaper with impressive niche publications, great reputation, and a very strong team,” O’Rourke Media Group owner Jim O’Rourke said in a statement in the SUN. “It’s been great getting to know Terri House and her team through the process, and I just have such respect and admiration for the work they’ve done serving this community.”
All current employees are being hired, according to O’Rourke, and The SUN will continue to be published each Thursday. The company plans to continue the high-quality journalism expected by its readers. O’Rourke Media Group has a strong commitment to local journalism and print media.
“We’re proud to be the owner of the last operating printing press in this region of Colorado,” he added.
Why you should see better elections coverage in Colorado this campaign season
Have you ever read a politics story or news about an election that just didn’t feel like it was written with you in mind? Maybe it started out something like this:
District 47 candidate Jane Smith, a sponsor of last year’s controversial HB217 who spoke out against the unsuccessful passage of the special session’s SB350, released a new TV ad this week. The ad, paid for by a 527 group that a previously dismissed complaint argued should be a 501(c)3, takes aim at her opponent who recently moved into District 47. Smith says the ad is accurate. Her opponent says it isn’t. Sparks have flown in this race that is said to be tight. Voting begins tomorrow.
Hopefully you won’t see anything even close to that this year — at least from 13 Colorado newsrooms that were accepted into a program geared toward better elections coverage.
The newsrooms are Ark Valley Voice, Aspen Public Radio, Colorado Newsline, Colorado Sun, Durango Herald, Glenwood Springs Post-Independent, Greeley Tribune, KGNU, KOTO, KUNC, Pueblo Star Journal, Sentinel Colorado, and El Sol de Valle. (El Commercio de Colorado is taking part in a similar national program.)
This is from the announcement by Colorado Media Project, which underwrites this newsletter:
These newsrooms were selected by Hearken from a competitive pool, for their demonstrated dedication to providing accurate, insightful, and impactful coverage of electoral processes and helping citizens make informed decisions about their communities’ future.
Hearken’s Engaged Elections training has been tested and refined by newsrooms across the U.S. to help journalists move away from polarizing or horse-race coverage of elections and strengthen their strategies for focusing on issues that matter most to local residents.
We should look forward to seeing their coverage. And I hope it rubs off on other Colorado politics outlets that are not part of the program, too.
Gov. Jared Polis talks free speech on CNN
Partly because he is the kind of modern Democratic Colorado governor who progressives criticize for being too conservative and conservatives criticize for being too liberal, national pundits are quick to invite Jared Polis for an interview about the news of the day and ask if he’s looking at the presidency.
The pretext for this week’s cable news face time involved a local story out of Colorado Springs. The story involved a 12-year-old who school district officials removed from class because of patches on his backpack they said depicted “guns/weapons,” one “referencing alcohol,” and a “Don’t Tread On Me” flag. (A video of a school meeting posted on social media by the child’s mother focused on the Gadsden Flag patch.)
The story blew up nationally, and in various forums Polis took up for the Gadsden Flag as an “iconic American flag,” and more broadly for freedom of expression in schools.
On Wednesday, appearing on CNN for an interview with Abby D. Phillip, the governor said this: “Let’s just let kids have their free expression in school and if they want to advocate for their political beliefs I think that’s something that should be encouraged. It’s all about free speech.”
Here’s more from Polis in the interview:
“If we want the moral high ground, Abby, to say that schools shouldn’t be banning rainbow flags on kids’ binders or backpacks to celebrate pride, we have to also say they shouldn’t be banning free-speech on the other side. This is a country that treasures free speech and frankly I hope it leads to a frank discussion in that school and others around the country about how free speech means that we support the speech even when we don’t agree with it.”
Phillip later asked Polis about his “political future,” saying that such issues are “animating this year’s presidential cycle” and adding, “you kind of sound a little bit like a candidate.”
Polis said he was working on a public message around civility and how to “disagree better” through his role as vice chair of the National Governors Association along with the Republican governor of Utah who chairs the NGA.
More Colorado media odds & ends
🎙 Listen to Sam Adams, “the first African American sports journalist ever inducted into the prestigious Denver Press Club’s Hall of Fame,” talk about his journey from reporter to stand-up comedian.
🪦 Longtime Denver Post reporter Joseph Sebastian Sinisi “died suddenly [last] Monday in his Denver home” at 80, the Denver Post reported. “Initially hired by The Denver Post as a features writer, including covering fashion, Sinisi during his career interviewed many of his favorite writers and authors, including Tom Wolfe, George Plimpton, Leon Uris, William Burroughs, Jimmy Breslin, Pete Hamill, Herb Caen, Carlos Fuentes, Hunter Thompson, Joseph Heller, Ken Kesey, rodeo champion Larry Mahan and ‘beat’ poets Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsberg. … Ginsberg died in April 1997. Sinisi wrote an obituary that ran on Page One in The Denver Post.”
🏐 Sports reporter Kevin Lytle laid out “what to expect from Coloradoan coverage of Colorado State athletics this fall.”
💪 Writing for Complete Colorado, the news and commentary arm of the libertarian-leaning Independence Institute, Ari Armstrong explained why he believes local coverage of a “Marx-spouting legislator” showed media bias.
🏥 Colorado Public Radio’s Vic Vela, who hosts the “Back from Broken” podcast, live-posted an unexpected hospital stay this week. (He’s fine.)
💨 Journalist Alex Rose is leaving FOX31 KDVR in Denver. “I found an incredible opportunity outside of news that allows me to keep my community informed,” he said. “More on what’s next, as we like to say in the biz, after a short break.”
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.