Inside the News: Rocky Mountain Media Roundup for August 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. (What region is it? This one checks in on a cluster of states from Arizona to North Dakota, so maybe it’s unclassifiable.)

⛰ We begin with collective bargaining efforts at local newspapers where journalists in the Mountain West are “increasingly unionizing.” That’s according to Madelyn Beck at Boise State Public Radio News who reported recent union drives are especially prevalent among papers owned by larger corporations like Lee Enterprises, Gannett and McClatchy.” Newsrooms such as Wyoming’s Casper Star-Tribune, Montana’s Bozeman Daily Chronicle, and The Idaho Statesman “all voted to unionize over the past few years, with the Chronicle being the latest,” she wrote. I’d add to that how last year the hedge-fund controlled Loveland Reporter-Herald became the first newspaper to unionize in Colorado in decades. While union drives are surging in workplaces across the country, “it’s been pronounced in journalism,” Beck reported, adding, “the largest support comes from younger staff.”

📺 →🗳 Following Trump-backed Kari Lake’s transformation from a local TV news personality in Arizona to the Republican nominee for governor who “renounced her media past,” Columbia Journalism Review’s Jon Allsop created a rolling encyclopedia of local news anchors across the country who later ran for public office. It includes one from Montana, one from New Mexico, two from Nevada, two from Kansas, three from Oklahoma, and three from Arizona. If you know of someone not on the list, email Jon at jallsop [at] cjr [dot] org and he’ll add it.

🤦‍♂️ Administrators at a Nebraska school “shuttered the school’s award-winning student newspaper just days after its last edition that included articles and editorials on LGBTQ issues, leading press freedom advocates to call the move an act of censorship,” The Associated Press reported.

📱 The Nevada Independent engaged and informed readers about the state’s primary elections this season using SMS messaging “in a bid to strengthen the lines of communication between the newsroom and the site’s audience.”

😳 In Idaho, a former newspaper reporter, an ex-radio reporter, and the editor of Idaho Dispatch (founded in 2020 by a gun-rights activist who says he “felt that the mainstream media had lost its way in objective and fair reporting”) recently galvanized the local media scene. After they posted a video podcast titled “How to handle media malpractice,” Idaho Press reporter Betsy Z. Russell, who is the Boise bureau chief and president of the Idaho Press Club, took on the former newspaper reporter who hosted the podcast, writing in a column that what her former Press Club board member is doing now as the leader of a state freedom foundation “is so repugnant that it cries out for robust denunciation.” Longtime Idaho journalist Chuck Malloy also wrote a column that appeared in multiple papers headlined “Media bashing not new in Idaho politics.”

👀 The ejection of Source New Mexico reporter Shaun Griswold from a campaign event for Republican gubernatorial candidate Mark Ronchetti that included Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis “has injected into the gubernatorial campaign a fresh debate over press access and who should qualify for press credentials,” reported Dan McKay for The Albuquerque Journal. “The nonpartisan New Mexico Foundation for Open Government has weighed in, calling it ‘a dangerous precedent to let any public servant decide who is and is not a ‘legitimate’ reporter.”

🛑 The developments in Idaho and New Mexico track a national trend. “I’ve started to see more Republican candidates avoiding the press, blocking the press from events and taking advantage of the fact that there’s conservative media that will ask different questions and has a different audience,” Dave Weigel of The Washington Post told NPR recently. “And so I’m obviously not saying to the world, stop talking to the media. I’m saying just objectively, there is a media infrastructure built up so that you don’t need, if you’re a Republican candidate, to talk to us.”

📍 Bookmark this: “Reimagining the public square: What’s happening in Colorado’s information ecosystem right now.”

🦅 “In the short time I have lived here, I have been continually impressed by the lack of attempts at media manipulation I have faced locally,” wrote Jonathan Make who recently moved to Wyoming from Washington, D.C. to become the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s assistant managing editor. “This occurs when someone a journalist interviews, or some organization a reporter writes about, tries to shape news coverage, often through less-than-aboveboard means.”

🔗 The North Dakota News Cooperative has brought on Bismarck-based journalist Michael Standaert who soon “aims to publish weekly enterprise stories about issues affecting the state” in hopes they will be published in outlets across North Dakota. Standaert “already has a list of about 40 ideas, and he is weighing in with the board regularly to gain new sources, insight and direction” and will soon “have a content editor or two to look over his stories before they make their way to the newspapers,” the cooperative’s co-chair Jill Denning Gackle wrote.

🤑 Jake Seaton, a “fifth-generation member of a Kansas newspaper family with a computer science degree and experience in entrepreneurship,” has raised $30 million, led by Lux Capital, to launch a public benefit company “that provides software to streamline the placement of public notices for governments, newspapers, journalists and readers.”

🐦 See how Oklahoma Watch introduced its team to its audience on social media.

📺 Idaho Republicans approved a resolution “Backing privatizing Idaho Public Television” at their July party convention. The resolution passed 43 to 17, according to the Idaho GOP. Part of it read: “the Idaho Republican Party encourages the Idaho Legislature to divest the State of Idaho from Idaho Public Television in such a way that allows continued operation in the private sector AND does not hinder State-originated EAS service to the public.”

🔗 The Great Salt Lake Collaborative is a solutions journalism initiative in Utah made up of a “group of news, education and media organizations that have come together to better inform and engage the public about the crisis facing the Great Salt Lake — and what can be done to make a difference before it is too late.”

⚰️ Jim Angell, a former Associated Press Wyoming correspondent and Wyoming Press Association executive director, died this month at 64.

💨 Peggy Santoro, “a longtime leader in the Reno Gazette Journal newsroom,” is its new executive editor after Brian Duggan left to become general manager of KUNR and KNCJ at the University of Nevada. “I’ll think about the many others who left journalism amid the economic turmoil of the newspaper industry, many who weren’t ready to leave,” he said in his goodbye column. “Our newsroom has always strived to punch above its weight, acting as a watchdog of those in power, uncovering wrongdoing and advocating for the people of Nevada,” Santoro said in a report about her new position.

📰 An Arizona political action committee put out an eight-page print publication boosting a GOP candidate that looked like a newspaper and included a local sports section “with a preview of every high school football division.” The printing “had me fooled and i work in politics for a living lol,” said one reader.

➡️ The National Native Media Conferencehosted by the Native American Journalists Association, was in Phoenix, Arizona, this week.

🗞 Newspaper executives from the news director of the Gannett-owned Sioux Falls Argus Leader in South Dakota to the publisher of the billionaire-owned Gazette in Colorado are urging their readers to support a proposed federal law called The Journalism Competition and Preservation Act that would “provide a temporary safe harbor for publishers of online content to collectively negotiate with dominant online platforms regarding the terms on which content may be distributed.”

🎓 Jessica Retis took over as director of the University of Arizona’s School of Journalism this fall becoming “the first professor of color and third woman ever to hold the position.”

🛡 James Anderson reported for Harvard’s Nieman Lab on The Kansas City Defender, “a nonprofit news site for young Black audiences across the Midwest. The outlet “prides itself on doing more than just covering the community straddling the Kansas-Missouri state line.” Founded last year by Ryan Sorrell, 27, the news and culture platform is “consciously rooted in the tradition of both the Black and the abolitionist press.”

💨 Emma Kieth, editor of the Community Newspaper Holdings-owned Norman Transcript in Oklahoma, quit after a year and a half, saying while a better opportunity came her way, “journalism is becoming a less and less hospitable field.” Unlike some other editors who might drift off into the ether not telling their readers why their paper is getting thinner and thinner or delivered on fewer days, she wrote: “Understand what for-profit corporations and hedge funds are doing to the papers they own. Understand that papers like The Transcript and The Oklahoman will continue to be mined for profit until there’s nothing left. Understand that when we can no longer print on Mondays and Tuesdays, or we no longer have as many reporters as we did five years ago, it’s not our choice.”

⬆️ Pedro Andrade is now assistant news director at KULX Telemundo Utah.

⏳ The New Mexico Public Media Digitization Project “is preserving analog and digital media from the 1960s to the present.” The archive, which will be available to the public, “illustrates the state’s unique social, political, cultural, and artistic DNA while highlighting underheard voices, stories, and perspectives.”

💰 Axios, which has local teams in Denver, Colorado, Phoenix, Arizona, and Salt Lake City, Utah, sold to Cox Enterprises, putting the company’s growing local newsletter operation under scrutiny as well as the funding that fuels its business.

📺 CBS Colorado announced this week that the station is launching what it calls “a major community journalism initiative” that includes adding 10 hours of additional local news coverage each week beginning Sept. 12. Journalists at the station “will serve our communities with reporting that resonates with the audience,” News Director Kristine Strain said in a statement. “They’re not only taking on the most pressing topics, but also looking at what is working, what is not, and sharing solutions.” 

🚔 Deb Gruver, a longtime journalist who recently became a reporter for the Hillsboro Star-Journal in Kansaspenned a column about once being detained by law enforcement simply for asking questions. She didn’t identify herself as a reporter, she said, because she was involved in a project investigating how Kansas officials treat people who ask for public records.

🚫 In response to recent requests for public documents, Montana Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte “has maintained he is exempt from the state’s open records laws. According to a recent Montana Free Press report, he claims his office’s ‘deliberative process’ means documents he uses in the development of policy do not have to be shared with the public,” The Bozeman Chronicle wrote in an editorial.

🗞 Writing for Utah’s Salt Lake City Weekly, Katharine Biele reported that “the man who may have saved The Salt Lake Tribune doesn’t trust it.”

⚖️ A small weekly newspaper in rural Colorado is suing two county commissioners alleging retaliation was a “substantial motivating factor” when they voted to take away the Wet Mountain Tribune’s designation as the county’s “paper of record” and give it to a partisan conservative rival the county now pays to place legal notices.

🙄 A Kansas political coalition that used “anti-journalism rhetoric” and barred reporters from its watch party “held a series of off-the-record conference calls with reporters in an attempt to influence news stories without being accountable for their misleading statements,” wrote Eric Thomas, director of the Kansas Scholastic Press Association.

🦕 Colorado will increasingly become a hotspot for national reporters to pen politics dispatches in the lead-up to the Midterm elections. After one national scribe dropped in for a report on the U.S. Senate race, a Colorado Newsline reporter called its author “a parachuting dinosaur who’s not up to speed enough to know the candidate’s on-the-record positions and when to press him accordingly.”

🚓 In Arizona, 10 media organizations, along with the ACLU, have sued the state “over a law set to take effect next month that would make it illegal to film police officers within 8 feet of law enforcement activity.”

🦅 The Crestone Eagle newspaper in rural Colorado is transitioning into a nonprofit.

I’m Corey Hutchins, interim 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.