Inside the News: Rocky Mountain Media Review for October 2022

  • 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 is a special expanded edition of the “Inside the News in Colorado” newsletter. Occasionally, I’ll try to round up news from local media scenes outside Colorado to offer a more regional perspective. (This one checks in on a cluster of states from Idaho to New Mexico.)

🔎 We begin in Nevada where longtime journalist Jeff German, 69, of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, was stabbed to death outside of his suburban home early last month. His “fellow reporters knew they would have to investigate his death before they mourned it,” Sarah Ellison wrote for The Washington Post this week. Police arrested and jailed a county official who had been the subject of German’s recent critical reporting and had lashed out at the reporter on social media. Authorities haven’t said to what extent they had developed the politician as a suspect before journalists at the Review-Journal had already “zeroed in on him,” Ellison wrote. “The journalists, though, shared some of their own intel with police, from their list of German’s controversial story subjects to their identification of his car as a possible match for the suspect vehicle.” While journalists at the paper aren’t taking credit, an editor said, they put the suspect on police radar early.

🛡📱 The development of a slain investigative journalist and a story-subject suspect has caused press-freedom issues in Nevada. After police seized German’s digital devices, it created a “historic challenge to reporter shield laws.” Authorities want to review what is on the journalist’s phone and computer hard drives. But reporters often rely on confidential sources — and those sources might not expect their negotiated source-protection to die just because a journalist with whom they’ve made an agreement does and authorities or others wind up with access to the reporter’s private material. Last week, a judge temporarily blocked authorities from “immediately searching” the deceased journalist’s devices, and this week a different judge barred them from doing the same, saying she wants “both sides to work on language for the injunction that specifies what devices Las Vegas police seized.” Another hearing is scheduled for next week.

Now, onto the rest of the region

📺 Nebraska TV journalist Melanie Standiford lost her job after The Flatwater Free Press reported she was involved in collecting signatures for a local ballot initiative that would ban abortions and that the journalist had “extensively covered the very issue she helped petition for in her town.” Standiford,who was news director at the NBC affiliate KNOP in North Platte, told The Star Herald that she has “zero regrets” and was considering legal action. “I’m sad that we live in a world where we can’t have a personal life without it being questioned,” she told the paper. Furthermore, Standiford said, “I wasn’t a journalist that day” when she sat at a table in her church as people signed petitions. “I should at least be able to feel safe in my church and with my community without being thought of as Melanie Standiford, News 2.” KNOP’s general manager told the Star Herald the station “encourages civic involvement among our employees, so long as such activities do not give the appearance of interfering with journalistic impartiality.” This week, Standiford took a position as chairwoman of her county Republican Party.

🩺 In Oklahoma, viewers of KJRH in Tulsa watched as a local TV news anchor had the “beginnings of a stroke” while live on the air. “I’m glad to share that my tests have all come back great,” she said. “There are still lots of questions, and lots to follow up on, but the bottom line is I should be just fine.

⏭ In Kansas, The Journal, a civic issues magazine, told its readers why it has embraced the solutions journalism movement. “In my view, solutions journalism is fulfilling the promise that public journalism made decades ago to help journalism become more constructive and bolster democracy rather than weaken it,” wrote the magazine’s editor, Chris Green.

7️⃣ In Montana, for a project supported by the American Press Institute, journalists Nora MabieAntonio Ibarra and Larry Mayer “are reporting from all seven Montana tribal reservations on how voter outreach and registration efforts resonate in Indian Country.”

🏜 Across the American West, news deserts are spreadingreported Ruxandra Guidi for High Country News. The author found, however, that “civic engagement is taking other forms.” Guidi reported: “In my corner of the desert, I may be mourning the demise of a decades-old alternative weekly, but a new nonprofit startup, Arizona Luminaria, is delivering in-depth accountability reporting in English and Spanish — and stepping up its elections coverage.”

🛢 Meanwhile, “as the closures of newspapers leave Americans struggling for information, Chevron has swooped in to serve up a mixture of local news and propaganda,” Adam Gabbatt reported for The Guardian. “The banner at the top of Permian Proud does state that the site is ‘sponsored by Chevron.’ But at first glance, the sponsorship seems like a benevolent grant.” On a Wednesday in September, Permian Proud’s front page “included stories about an upcoming air show and a storytelling workshop — typical local newspaper fare,” Gabbatt reported. “But interspersed with news of livestock sales and processions is a series of stories lauding Chevron’s achievements in the Permian Basin, a sprawling area covering parts of west Texas and east New Mexico, where the company operates numerous oil fields.”

🕸 Elsewhere, “writers for a D.C.-based media operation run by prominent Democratic operatives are behind a sprawling network of ostensible local media outlets churning out Democrat-aligned news content in midterm battleground states,” Lachlan Markay and Thomas Wheatley reported for Axios. States include “ArizonaColorado, Georgia, Michigan, New Hampshire, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin.”

🤠 In Wyoming, after more than three years of remote work, the Cowboy State Daily digital site recently opened a “brick-and-mortar office” within walking distance of the statehouse in Cheyenne. Since its purchase earlier this year by wealthy businessman B. Wayne Hughes, Jr., the site has been on a hiring spree — and is currently looking to hire another reporter. (I’ve become intrigued by Wyoming’s media scene and the emergence of new players there, and I hope to have something more on it soon.)

🤺 Lawyers from five Utah law firms have agreed to “donate their time” to the nonprofit Salt Lake Tribune newspaper to “help reporters appeal records request denials — and get information that should be public under the law.”

🖊 The Nevada Independent’s 2022 election coverage mission statement reads, in part: “It doesn’t mean that we’re squarely in the middle of an ever-shifting partisan debate, or happy to sit on the sidelines in matters of grave importance to the civic community of Nevada.”

👋 The Lee Enterprises newspaper chain introduced readers to its public service team, including those here in the West. They include Marina Trahan Martinez and Emily Hamer in TexasCorey Jones in Kansas, and Ted McDermott in Washington.

⚖️ “An Arizona newspaper publisher who repeatedly claimed that his ex-wife poisoned him has dropped lawsuits against her ahead of a trial that was scheduled to start” last month, The Associated Press reported.

🔍 ProPublica has opened up five new opportunities with its Local Reporting Network “on local accountability projects for a year” — including in New Mexico. Deadline to apply is Nov. 1.

💯 👁 The Argus Leader, which told readers that “no other news organization in South Dakota has our level of reach, or the ability to let government officials know we’re paying attention,” is launching a “reader-driven investigative initiative” called 100 Eyes on South Dakota, which is “based on our namesake and the philosophy of the 100-eyed Greek giant, the Argus – keeping watch from all directions.”

📈 In Oklahoma, Better News examined how The Oklahoman newspaper “changed its newsroom’s mindset to focus on digital growth.”

➡️ The Kansas Defender publisheda letter from the editor saying it was exposing the Kansas City media’s “white supremacist hypocrisy” and ensuring the Black community that the news organization “will not back down.”

⚙️ Gannett is looking to hire “a data-minded digital expert who can connect newsrooms to key audiences by combining digital analytics with strategy and best practices” for their newsrooms in ColoradoOklahomaNew Mexico, and Texas.

✒️ In Montana, Crow Tribe high school journalism teacher Luella Brien “noticed the lack of news focusing on the Crow Indian Reservation” and is now seeking stories “no one tells.”

💰 A Nebraska family “that built its farmlands into a multi-million-dollar enterprise” has gifted the land “to support the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s College of Journalism and Mass Communications and its depth reporting program.”

🆕 The Park City Record’s new editor in Utah is “keen to the responsibility of helming a community newspaper.”

💻 Kansas Publishing Ventures is launching “a new, online learning platform geared toward small community newspapers called ‘Earn Your Press Pass,’” Editor & Publisher reported.

📞 The Salt Lake Tribune’s editorial board urged its readers to support a federal law, writing, “Utahns who care about their communities, their nation, democracy in general, should contact members of Congress and ask them to support the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act of 2021.”

👀 The editor of The Nevada Independent told readers she “knew a fair number of people would likely find one or more of my comments insensitive” after she asked in a newsletter: “Is it just me or does anyone else think the lionizing of reporter Jeff German [has] been a bit much?” while indicating she did not think he was a “hero.” Staff of the outlet publicly apologized. In addressing the matter, editor Elizabeth Thompson, said in part: “I did not foresee, though, that members of our newsroom would feel embarrassed or think my opinion on the matter could be a problem for our brand and/or was in conflict with our mission.”

⚰️ Don C. Woodward, a “gentleman” of journalism in Utahdied at 86.

↖↗ Writing in Idaho Press, Thomas L. Knapp, director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalismsaid that in journalism, “objectivity” and “neutrality” aren’t the same thing.

📰 A nonprofit newspaper revolution has hit Colorado as the third paper in the span of a month decided to switch its ownership model — this time a big-city alternative weekly.

I’m Corey Hutchins, co-director of Colorado College’s Journalism Institute in Colorado Springs. 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 my weekly newsletter “Inside the News in Colorado.” Follow me on Twitter, reply or subscribe to this monthly newsletter rounding up local news issues in the Rocky Mountain region here, or e-mail me at CoreyHutchins [at] gmail [dot] com.