Inside the News: Rocky Mountain Media Review

  • 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 take a look at the local media scene outside Colorado to offer a more regional perspective. (Are these the Rocky Mountain states? Is it the Mountain West? Beats me. In this one we’ll check in from Idaho to Oklahoma, so maybe the region is unclassifiable.)

Digital media startups shoot up in Nebraska

Earlier this year, States Newsroom announced it was launching Nebraska Examiner, marking the national nonprofit news network’s entree into its 26th state.

In other, words: more than half the country now has a States Newsroom digital news site. Here in the Rocky Mountain region and adjacent states, those sister sites are Colorado Newsline, Kansas Reflector, Source New Mexico, Arizona Mirror, Nevada Current, Idaho Capital Sun, and Daily Montanan. Nevada’s was the network’s first new newsroom to launch, and States Newsroom has an agreement with WyoFile in Wyoming to feature that independent site’s work on the national site.

The States Newsroom received its first big national story about what it’s doing with all these sites when The Washington Post wrote about the network at the end of last year. “The troubling new void in local journalism — and the nonprofits trying to fill it,” was the headline.

About four months prior to the Nebraska Examiner coming on the scene, though, The FlatWater Free Press launched, calling itself “the first independent, nonprofit, collaborative, purely investigative and enterprise news outlet serving the entire state of Nebraska.”

That two nonprofit news sites launched in the Cornhusker State within six months is notable.

“I view it as a national trend that reached Nebraska as all trends do…a couple years after Colorado & the coasts,” Flatwater Free Press Editor Matthew Hansen said on social media. “We’re excited to be able to bolster the good local journalism that does still take place round Nebraska even as the number of reporters here does go down.”

This week, Tim McMahan at The Reader, which calls itself Nebraska’s “only nationally-recognized alternative newsmonthly,” relied on the development to say a “newsroom war” might be brewing in Nebraska.

McMahan also added the digital news site Nebraska Sunrise News into the mix, a site he noted “doesn’t have a traditional staff box (the first sign something’s wrong here).” Sunrise News, the Nebraska Examiner reports, “employs a number of conservative reporters and editors” and, according to the Omaha World Herald, counts a Republican state senator as part of its leadership. (A professional photographer said she photographed the staff at the Omaha Press Club in January.) When the Sunrise site launched it described its editorial content as center-right and positioned itself as an alternative to other political news sources while taking advantage of a Trump-era you-just-can’t-believe-the-news-anymore mentality.

All three of these new Nebraska sites seem to have grafted onto the state’s established news and information ecosystem, either by partnering directly with legacy outlets, sharing content, or citing each other as first to report something.

Conservative investors bought New Mexico’s Rio Grande Sun

Some of those who are interested in the way people get news and information in a certain part of New Mexico were surprised earlier this month when the Trapp family sold their storied newspaper.

The Rio Grande Sun, featured in the 2012 documentary The Sun Never Sets: The Story of a Small Town Newspaper, will now be owned by investors that include two former chairmen of the state Republican Party.

The paper is located in Rio Arriba County, one of the most Democratic counties in New Mexico; voters there went for Biden over Trump by roughly two to one in 2020.

From Daniel J. Chacón in the Santa Fe New Mexican:

The sale was front-page news in the weekly publication, for years considered a staple in and near Española, a place where news and controversies are constant and hard-edged. The Sun has long been known for investigative journalism, often publishing stories and series that enlightened community members and enraged politicians. …

Richard L. Connor, the new editor and publisher, said the owners have agreed to be “hands off” in news coverage and that he would be in charge of day-to-day operations.

“They do not have any newspaper experience, and they were looking for someone to help them get started,” said Connor, who has been in the newspaper business for more than 50 years and owns a company that buys and sells newspapers.

Publisher Robert Trapp penned a sunset column headlined “We’re done afflicting the comfortable.” It came with this nice splash of piss and vinegar:

I sincerely wish them good luck and good fortune. The newspaper business has become a brutal place to inform people who don’t want to be informed, tell a community’s story, give readers what they want (and don’t want, but need) and hire competent people whom you cannot afford to pay a living wage.

Read the entire thing here.

Some Salt Lake Tribune journalists are ‘concerned’ about their chairman

Not long ago, close media watchers were looking at The Salt Lake Tribune as a potential success story in a crisis facing the future and sustainability of local news.

The IRS in 2019 approved the newspaper for nonprofit status. The paper itself called it a “historic” shift. “The move from a for-profit model was spurred by Tribune owner Paul Huntsman, who, in agreeing to turn Utah’s largest paper into a nonprofit, is giving up his sole ownership,” the paper wrote.

Two years later, the paper is getting national attention for a different reason.

According to The Washington Post, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Huntsman started a company and worked with lawyers to investigate “how tens of millions of dollars’ worth of contracts were awarded under Utah’s then-lieutenant governor and now-governor, Spencer Cox.”

From the WaPo story, under the headline “Paul Huntsman saved a newspaper — then launched an investigation of his brother’s rival”:

As it happened, Huntsman’s brother — prominent politician and businessman Jon Huntsman — had unsuccessfully challenged Cox the previous year for the Republican nomination for governor.

Paul Huntsman’s continuing efforts to investigate the man who defeated his brother have unsettled many in the Tribune’s newsroom. Several journalists — who asked not to be named, to avoid running afoul of Huntsman — are concerned the chairman’s actions are an outgrowth of a purported rivalry between Cox and Huntsman’s family, one of the wealthiest and most prominent in the state. Some believe the newsroom’s independence is compromised by the very existence of Huntsman’s investigative company, which he named Jittai, using a Japanese word that can mean “true state” or “actual condition.”

“Just imagining the good this ‘several hundred thousand dollars’ could have done for Utah if Paul Huntsman had chosen to invest the money back into the newsroom he trashes in this piece,” said former Salt Lake Tribune reporter Taylor Stevens who is now in Arizona.

Bethany Rodgers, a former Trib reporter, mentioned the situation this week in her departure announcement on social media:

Nevada journalist highlighted as a military vet

Despite “saturation-coverage” of war in Ukraine and some citizens looking to “journalists with military backgrounds for context grounded in experience,” the ranks of military vets in the U.S. media “are thin.”

That’s from a recent feature in Editor & Publisher that spotlights the careers of military vet journalists from around the country. One of them works in Nevada.

From E&P:

Lucretia Cunningham is among those who long dreamt of a journalism career. Cunningham was an Air Force medic for 10 years and trained as an allergy and immunology technician. But she found it hard to make rank in that specialty, heavily reliant on the flu season as the “big show.” In 2016 she got an ultimatum from the Air Force: either get out or train for flight medicine. She got out of active duty and went into the Air National Guard, lingering in the medical field. “I figured ‘I’ll go to nursing school,’ even though I didn’t even want to work in a hospital. I think I was watching a documentary or something about a reporter. And I was like, what would it take for me to just do that?” …

On Facebook, she found Military Veterans in Journalism and the group connected her with mentor Alex Sanz, deputy director of newsgathering at The Associated Press. They trained remotely, with phone calls once or twice a month. “To talk about what I was doing, what I was working on. How I could make my stories better or the goals that I had.”

After being featured in an MVJ event, “Cunningham landed a job in 2021 as a reporter with KUNR public radio in Reno, Nevada,” E&P reports. “She’s also working as a public affairs specialist for the 926th Wing, an Air Force Reserve unit.”

Learn more about Cunningham and her reporting for KUNR here.

Wyoming bucks a trend in a new Pew reporter survey

The Pew Research Center’s latest report shows how the press corps are faring in statehouses across the country. In most states they have grown in recent years.

Colorado, for instance, saw an increase, as Axios Denver pointed out. (Thanks for quoting me!) Wyoming? Not so much. From the Pew report, emphasis mine:

Trends in the number of statehouse reporters vary from state to state. In more than half of states – 31 – the number of statehouse reporters increased between 2014 and 2022, following the national pattern of growth in the total number of reporters covering statehouses. But about one-third of states – 16 in total – experienced decreases in their total numbers of statehouse reporters, including highly populous states such as Florida and Texas and less populated states like Wyoming and Alaska. Three states – Connecticut, South Carolina and South Dakota – retained the same overall numbers of statehouse reporters.

See how your own state’s capitol press corps shaped up in the survey here. Also, a question:

Montana newspapers change hands

Four Montana newspapers are under new ownership.

According to the newspaper brokerage firm Dirks, Van Essen & April, Brian and LeAnne Kavanagh sold four newspapers to Ponderosa Publications, which it says is affiliated with Mullen Newspaper Company in Montana. The papers are the Shelby Promoter, Cut Bank Pioneer Press, Browning Glacier Reporter, and The Valierian.

The move tracks with an ownership-change trend this year.

“After a quiet start to 2022, more than 75 newspapers have changed hands so far this year,” Dirks, Van Essen & April says. “Continuing the theme from last year, the majority of deals completed included smaller newspapers and local buyers.”

Arizona’s Cronkite School will study ‘journalistic objectivity’

Good on them.

The Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State snagged a $150,000 grant “to study the evolving concept of journalistic objectivity in the country’s newsrooms.” The Stanton Foundation is providing the grant money.

From Media Post:

The project will examine how the concept of objectivity has evolved and how to reconcile the core principles of fact-based journalism with the values of younger journalists and modern newsrooms. It will produce a research paper to serve as a resource for print, digital and broadcast news organizations, along with a series of workshops tailored to support individual news organizations.

Researchers will handle the work in phases, beginning with a historical analysis and including “new insights from news practitioners and thought leaders, representing a broad spectrum of views.”

More from Media Post:

Such a study is timely. Debate is raging among journalistic thinkers about how the traditional, third-party, disinterested style is no longer sufficient, and what role the horse-race approach to political coverage and the emphasis on giving equal voice to both sides should play. But there’s disagreement on how to proceed. When one side engages in lying, or propagandizing, or misinformation, then journalism’s role can’t be to present both sides equally — if it does, it’s doing a disservice to its readers and to society.

Could be useful to learn what they find.

As Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel write in their latest edition of The Elements of Journalism, the original meaning of objectivity “is now thoroughly misunderstood” — and close to being lost. “Objectivity as a method of gathering, weighing, and understanding evidence does not mean both-sidesism, political stenography, false equivalency, or the denial of self,” they write. “Nor does it mean that the journalist, after conducting sufficient reporting, has no point of view.”

More Rocky Mountain media odds & ends

🦊 A former Idaho Statesman reporter was bit by a rabid fox while covering the U.S Capitol. “She swung her backpack at the fox to get it to go away,” her former paper reported. “But she viewed what came next as a bigger challenge.”

⚖️ Denver KUSA 9News anchor Kyle Clark and the company that owns the local NBC affiliate are suing a county school district’s records custodian “for refusing to disclose a Colorado Open Records Act request that sought the names of teachers who called in sick Feb. 3 to protest actions by majority members of the school board,” the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition reported.

🏆 These journalists with Arizona ties were “inducted into the Hall of Fame at the University of Arizona School of Journalism.”

📡 Last week’s newsletter said a managing editor job for 18 Rocky Mountain Community Radio stations would be based in Aspen, but should have said it could also be remote “within the region served by RMCR stations.”

🔦 Editor & Publisher spotlighted two Nevada journalists for how they are covering homelessness.

📻 Here are the Top 10 radio stations in Arizona, “based on public voting for the 2022 edition of Ranking Arizona, the state’s biggest and most comprehensive business opinion poll.”

➡️ The application window is now open “for a new internship that aims to ensure Latino students have a place in Idaho newsrooms.” (Deadline April 24)

📺 Arizona PBS General Manager Adrienne Fairwell has been “elected to serve on the board of the National Educational Telecommunications Association.”

💨 After seven years, Kris Pickel, the award-winning anchor and reporter for Arizona’s Family TV news stations in Phoenix, is out of the company. “It was called a business decision,” she told The Arizona Republic. “They let me go.” (The Republic has more context about changes at the TV company.)

🗳 Voters in a Colorado town seem to have sided with their local government over their local newspaper.

🚔 Police nabbed a Phoenix, Arizona writer for the Gateway Pundit, “an alt-right fake news website based in St. Louis,” on “charges of assault and criminal damage,” the Phoenix New Times alt-weekly reported.

👀 The Utah Statesman published a guest column that accused it of “biased journalism” along with an editor’s note stating the news organization “stands behind the reporter of the original article and their adherence to the SPJ Code of Ethics.”

🎓 KOCO 5 President and General Manager Brent Hensley in Oklahoma congratulated OU’s Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication “on a recent honor and highlight the impact local universities are making on journalism.”

📱 The California-based national local news app NewsBreak is expanding its contributor network to focus on news deserts, starting in Colorado and Arizona, among other states.

🛡 The Idaho News Guild wants the CEO of the McClatchy newspaper chain and its VP of news to attend local contract bargaining talks. (A union member sent postcards from Idaho to the company honchos, inviting them to the guild’s April 21 bargaining session.)

🔎 ProPublica has announced the addition of three new partner newsrooms and local reporters to its Local Reporting Network. “The selected journalists are Margaret Coker of The Current, Marcus Baram for Documented and Madison Hopkins of The Kansas City Beacon.”

🗞 “In January it was announced that CherryRoad Media added to the stable of 40 titles it acquired in 2021 with the purchase of 17 more newspapers in Texas and Oklahoma from Gannett Co., Inc,” reported media broker firm Dirks, Van Essen & April in its April report.

🆕 Joan von Kampen, managing editor of the North Platte Telegraph, is now the western Nebraska editor for the Lee newspaper chain.

🆕 A new newspaper, The Queen Creek Tribune, will launch April 24 “featuring a local focus on current events in the town of about 68,500 residents,” per a news release this week that came with this subhed: “Newspaper Group Continues to Expand While Industry Shrinks; Will Offer Local Community Coverage of One of State’s Fastest-Growing Towns.

🔗 The William Allen White School of Journalism & Mass Communications at the University of Kansas is “matching its students with community partners to deliver news via “Good Morning Indian Country,” a morning talk show and information program for Indigenous audiences.”

📕 In IdahoHouse Bill 666, introduced in early March, “would criminally charge librarians if a minor obtained a book that is considered to be harmful,” Idaho Press reported. The outlet obtained a “secret folder” it reported was “full of materials deemed ‘harmful’ that provided context to a controversial bill.”

📡 Nevada Public Radio marked 42 years on the airwaves. (It “started in a janitor’s closet in the Las Vegas Silver Bowl.”)

I’m Corey Hutchins, interim 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.