Inside the News: Rocky Mountain Media Roundup for July 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 North Dakota to Nevada, so maybe it’s unclassifiable.)

⛰ We begin in Montana where Jeff Welsch, the regional editor for the Lee newspaper chain, published a recent column acknowledging how the “past 15 years or so” have been fraught with the “pain” of laid-off colleagues, and demolished or sold newspaper buildings. But Welsch says he sees a “resurgence” at the Lee papers in the Big Sky state. To make his case, he talked up how the papers have a “new vice president of local news in Jason Adrians” and how the chain separated its “77 newspapers across 26 states into three regions.” Along with “filling local newsroom vacancies, we have added new statewide positions in recognition that while the five communities remain our anchors, Montana truly is a small town with long streets,” Welsch wrote. (Contrast that with how Columbia Journalism Review found the Lee newspaper scene in Montana seven years ago.) Welsch outlines plenty more in his column. I’m curious about any feedback from Montana about this if you have it.

🆕 In Arizona, The Washington Post has created a position of “democracy reporter” and hired Yvonne Wingett Sanchez for the state-based job. Her reporting will focus on “how state and local officials navigate pressures on the administration of elections, while tracking legislative and legal battles over voting rules and access to the polls. She will also be responsible for telling the stories of people and communities who have lost faith in the ability of the government to hold free and fair elections. Her reporting will center on Arizona and the West.”

🗣 The reformed Oath Keepers militia spokesman with face tattoos who testified at Tuesday’s Jan. 6 Committee hearing in a jean jacket and Descendents band T-shirt runs a local news Substack newsletter and podcast in Estes Park, Colorado. “In a small town in any given week, half the town hates you for what you’ve written and the other half loves you,” he told me in an interview about his Colorado Switchblade site and its role in the community. Since defecting from the right-wing organization he’s been speaking out against extremism.

🎒 In Nebraska, “more than half of the reporters covering the state capitol are student journalists, thanks in part to the Nebraska News Service from the University of Nebraska’s journalism school,” according to Barbara Allen at the Poynter Institute.

🗞 In provo, Utah, the Daily Universe at Brigham Young University reported on “drastic changes” at the Provo Daily Herald. The university outlet wrote how those changes “mirror challenges for hometown newspapers nationwide.” The Universe, which interviewed staff at the Herald, went on to write that the “grim backdrop” also “serves to highlight the efforts of Daily Herald employees to inform Utah County motivated by their love for community and an abiding faith in the value of local journalism.”

👀 The Aspen Times in Colorado has been “making news for all the wrong reasons.”

📬 In Wyoming, the Tribune Eagle has found it hard to find reliable newspaper carriers (rising fuel costs is one reason) so it’s shifting its business model to deliver the paper through the mail. “With this change comes a very real fact: the USPS does not deliver mail on Sunday,” wrote Bill Albrecht, the regional president of APG of the Rockies in a column that asks the community to “rally with” the paper and not “rail against” it.

🤦‍♂️ In North Dakota, “the plight of the newspaper industry, especially that of the smaller publications serving the rural parts of our state, has been depressing,” wrote Rob Port for the Forum News Service. “But the news that a Trump-aligned talk radio company — one that traffics in election conspiracy theories, among other bizarre catechisms of the QAnon crowd — is buying a 114-year-old rural newspaper ought to alarm right-thinking North Dakotans.”

➡️ In Tulsa, Oklahoma, former journalist Ashli Sims is “creating a mecca for Black entrepreneurs.” The recent Black Owned Media Weekend in Tulsa was “another opportunity to further these goals,” Marcom Weekly reported.

⏎ Journalists at The Idaho Statesman are returning to a new newsroom since they left their old building two years ago at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. “A good chunk of our staff had never even worked together in an office before this,” wrote Editor Chadd Cripe. “Consider: Of the 25 full-time members of our newsroom (we’re hiring for two more spots), a dozen joined us while we were working remotely,” he wrote.


🧐 In Arizona, the state’s PBS station removed Stacey Barchenger,a reporter for The Arizona Republic, the state’s largest newspaper, from moderating a recent gubernatorial debate after a Republican campaign complained she’d developed a “fairly adversarial relationship” with a candidate. “Arizona PBS did not respond to a request for additional information,” the Republic wrote in its coverage. Arizona Republic columnist Laurie Roberts asked: “Why is Kari Lake so afraid of a Republic reporter asking questions at a debate?” Lake, now running for governor, was previously a longtime TV anchor on FOX 10 in Phoenix. (As a reminder, it’s OK — beneficial, even! — for a journalist to have an adversarial relationship with a candidate for public office.)

➡️ One of the 53 Pulitzer Center fellows this year is South Dakota State University student Jordan Rusche who co-edits The Collegian and plans to “report on Native American education in South Dakota during her fellowship.”

📈 In Kansas, when Jay Senter and Julia Westhoff founded the Shawnee Mission Post in 2010, “few would have bet on the husband-and-wife team turning their local news website for Johnson County, Kansas, into a sustainable business,” reported the U.K-based future-of-media publication Press Gazette. But the site now has 6,000 paying subscribers and “they expect the Shawnee Mission Post and its new sister title, the Blue Valley Post, to generate revenues of $650-700,000 from subscriptions and advertising.” It used to “feel like the Wild West,” Senter told the Press Gazette about the U.S. local news startup scene of a decade ago. “There were corpses all along the side of the road, and you felt like you had no idea what you were doing. You kept moving forward – but you had no idea what you were doing. That is not the case anymore. There is a model out there that works.”

🇺🇦 Sarah Ashton-Cirillo of Las Vegas, Nevada, a journalist covering the war in Ukraine, ran into a problem that “a lot of American trans people can identify with, especially those living on the margins,” Dawn Ennis reported for Forbes. “Her identification was inconsistent with how she was living, and how she now looked.”

🗣 “The pressure to not voice one’s opinion through protest and political action can … impact a reporter’s mental health,” reported The Daily Lobo, published by the students of the University of New Mexico.

🤺 David Mastio, a former deputy editorial page editor of USA Today who is based in Omaha, Nebraska, wrote in a column for The New York Post: “In a closely divided America, Gannett has a grand total of one local conservative staff columnist. There’s one conservative editorial page left in the network. In recent years, I’ve watched good conservative editorial pages in Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Oklahoma City wink out to be replaced with bland corporate liberalism. There are zero conservative editorial cartoonists left in the network.”

🗞 →📻 Brian Duggan, a news veteran in Reno, Nevadais the new general manager of KUNR and KNCJ Public Media in that state. He comes from the newspaper world where he’s been executive editor of the Reno Gazette Journal since 2019.

🥤Some of this year’s nearly 60 Poynter – Koch Media Fellows hail from the Rocky Mountain and adjacent states region. They include Nicole Blanchard, an investigative reporter for The Idaho StatesmanJ.M. Banks and Alison Booth, culture & identity reporter and audience growth producer, for The Kansas City Star, respectively; Jannelle Calderon and Sean Golonka, reporters for The Nevada IndependentMegan Cardona, a service journalism reporter for the Fort Worth Star-TelegramPalak Jayswal, a culture reporter for The Salt Lake TribuneEvan L’Roy, William Melhado, and Reese Oxner, a staff photographer and reporters for The Texas Tribune, respectively; Josephine Peterson and Liesbeth Powers, a reporter and visual journalist for the Dallas Morning News, respectively. The fellows will “They will receive cross-disciplinary training and spark innovation at their news organizations throughout the intensive, yearlong program.”

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

🏆 Sharon Bramlett-Solomon who teaches at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, earned the 2022 Lionel C. Barrow Jr. Award for Distinguished Achievement in Diversity Research and Education. She has “focused on representation in journalism since the outset of her academic career and has produced scholarship that has helped set a precedent for teaching diversity and inclusion in journalism education,” ASU reported.

🔏 Utah’s Adult Probation and Parole, which is under the umbrella of the Utah Department of Corrections was “among five finalists selected for the 2022 Golden Padlock Award honoring the most secretive government agency or public official in America.” IRE, the Investigative Reporters & Editors organization, gives out the award. IRE held its annual conference in the Denver area June 23-26.

🔎 Data reporter Geoff Hing has left The Arizona Republic for The Marshall Project where he will “use reporting, data and code to find important stories and insights” about the U.S. criminal justice system.

🔗 Editor Andy Raun at the Hastings Tribune in Nebraska penned a column explaining to readers how the local newspaper is benefiting from being able to re-publish work from the nonprofit Flatwater Free Press. “Flatwater doesn’t work for the Tribune, and the Tribune doesn’t work for Flatwater. At the same time, Flatwater already has become an important partner to the Tribune and many other Nebraska news organizations in connecting news consumers with good journalism,” he wrote, illustrating the importance of nonprofit mission-driven media and local news partnerships.

🗣 “The news media — even the opinionated and outspoken parts of it like this opinion section — won’t save Kansas or the United States,” wrote Clay Wirestone for The Kansas Reflector. “I wish more people understood this, because if you want our nation to see a revival in civic participation and progressive values, you have to act.”

💨 Monica Garcia, the weekend morning anchor at Arizona’s Family and a reporter for Good Morning Arizona, has left the Phoenix TV stations,” The Arizona Republic reported. Garcia is “the latest in a string of departures for Arizona’s Family, comprised of Channels 3 and 5, both owned by Atlanta-based Gray Television. Javier Soto, the popular co-anchor of ‘Good Morning Arizona,’ announced his departure in May. Other changes include the firing of Kris Pickel in April and the departure of popular anchor Brandon Lee in 2021 after he had returned to the stations following a previous exit, among others.”

📰 CherryRoad Media, a New Jersey-based technology-forward company, has been snapping up local newspapers in the heartland. The CEO is on a “meet-and-greet tour of company holdings” and was in Kansas this week.

🥇 The Mountain West News Bureau, in collaboration with NPR, won a national award for its investigation of deaths at tribal jails. “Reporter Nate Hegyi highlighted neglect and mismanagement in the tribal jail system, where at least 19 people have died since 2016. The jails are overseen by the federal government,” Wyoming Public Radio reported.

😬 A new Medill Local News Initiative report documents the state of U.S. local news post-pandemic “focusing on the health of both local newspapers and digital sites. Newspapers continue to vanish quickly. “An average of more than two a week are disappearing,” the report found. “Even though the pandemic was not the catastrophic ‘extinction-level event’ some feared, the country lost more than 360 newspapers between the waning pre-pandemic months of late 2019 and the end of May 2022. All but 24 of those papers were weeklies, serving communities ranging in size from a few hundred people to tens of thousands. Most communities that lose a newspaper do not get a digital or print replacement.”

🚨 From that Medill report: “Over the past three years, entrepreneurs have managed to establish new newspapers in three dozen markets and eight states—including Florida, Kentucky, Iowa, Minnesota and Colorado—and five dozen digital outlets in more than six states, including California, Georgia, Oregon and Massachusetts. The largest states—California, Illinois, New Jersey, New York and Texas— have the most digital news outlets focused on covering either local or statewide issues. More sparsely settled Midwestern states—such as North Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska—have the most community newspapers per capita.”

🆕 In the Centennial State, Colorado College, University of Denver, Colorado Media Project, COLab, and others are currently mapping news and information sources with hopes to have a public interactive map soon(ish) as a starting point.

🙈 A new law in Arizona makes it illegal to record the actions of police from closer than 8 feet away. “Various news organizations, including Gannett, the company that owns The Arizona Republic … signed letters from the National Press Photographers Association opposing the bill,” the newspaper reported.  

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.