Inside the News: Sentinel Newspaper Changes Hands in ‘Unique Model of Local Ownership’

  • 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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Another Colorado newspaper is changing hands, and how it happened once again underscores the ways people involved in Colorado journalism are thinking about the future of local news.

From a Thursday story by the weekly Sentinel Colorado’s Kara Mason and Max Levy about their own newspaper:

In an effort to move The Sentinel  toward a unique model of local ownership, a consortium of journalism preservationists have created a temporary holding company to take control of the Aurora-focused media company.

“Local journalism needs to be rooted in the community, made by and for people who live there. As someone who was raised in a place that lost its hometown newspaper, I’m committed to providing a bridge for others to stand up for protecting access to a free press,” said ​​Joaquin Alvarado, founder of the consultancy Studiotobe, who is helping shepherd The Sentinel’s transition.

Alvarado, whose LinkedIn page states he is based in Oakland, California, told the Sentinel he plans to “preserve local control and ownership for future generations.” The Sentinel reports he has been “involved in several projects aimed at keeping local news as close to the community as possible.” Alvarado also previously ran The Center for Investigative Reporting.

This latest newspaper ownership development in Colorado’s third-largest city has echoes of last year’s big industry news about a family selling their string of Colorado Community Media newspapers in the Denver suburbs to a newly formed entity called the Colorado News Conservancy in a unique arrangement that involved the National Trust for Local News and the Denver-based Colorado Sun. 

Like last year’s deal, this one in Aurora involves the Colorado News Collaborative, known as COLab, and similarly offers a welcome twist on the typical (read: bad) newspaper takeover. Across the country, and in Colorado, newspaper consolidation has resulted in journalist layoffs and newsrooms zapped of their institutional knowledge. Cost-cutting private equity “vultures” circle newspapers in cities around the nation. When a hedge fund gets its claws in a newspaper, it can eviscerate staff. Fewer reporters means less local news, which can lead to unchecked accountability on institutions and more. 

This time around, Alvarado has founded an entity called the Colorado Journalism Investment Group essentially as a caretaker so Sentinel Colorado can figure out a sustainable long-term succession plan. (In 2018, the newspaper changed its name from the Aurora Sentinel to Sentinel Colorado.)

COLab is helping Alvarado with this new ownership undertaking.

“Journalism leaders and community members in Colorado are finding ways to change the narrative and the trajectory of failing news outlets,” said COLab director Laura Frank in a statement. “Together, we are making journalism stronger, which makes democracy stronger. I’m thrilled to help support that work.”

More from Sentinel Colorado:

Now-former Sentinel owner James Gold, who bought the publication in 2011, has launched BlueLena, a national business focused on news operation sustainability. Gold said he wanted to work with COLab to transfer ownership of The Sentinel so that it could be both locally controlled and serve as a “laboratory for best practices” for other Colorado newsrooms.

Sentinel Colorado Editor and Publisher Dave Perry, who will stay on as the newsroom leader, called the move “an inspiring change” in the paper’s news story about the sale. And in a column of his own, he wrote about what Sentinel Colorado has meant for the community over the years with its important local coverage. “But,” he added, “like so many newspapers, the internet and social media have disrupted the way we fund our critical role in Aurora.”

From Perry’s column:

Paid advertisement, the lifeblood of journalistic media, has been drained away by companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter, Apple, cable and streaming TV, Yahoo and many, many more. Those ad dollars now support a fraction of the news and journalism newspapers used to create.

That kind of economic pounding has decimated newsrooms across the region and the country, including ours. All this, compounded by the pandemic, pushed The Sentinel, and so many papers like it, to the brink.

What an eventual plan for the paper “will look like in the end is being mapped out even as I write this,” Perry wrote, adding, “There will be much more news on this process as it unfolds during the next few months.”

People who want to support the evolution of the Sentinel can reach out to Alvarado at joaquin [at] studiotobe [dot] com.

🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 This column is in out-of-the-office mode, meaning content might be lighter than usual.

⚖️ The Aspen Times “has reached a settlement agreement to end a defamation lawsuit brought in April by a Swedish billionaire who alleged the mountain newspaper had wrongly portrayed him as a corrupt Russian oligarch in several articles and columns,” Sam Tabachnik reported for The Denver Post. Aspen Daily News Editor Megan Tackett had the story June 1. “From the outset, the thought was that this dispute could be resolved fairly and quickly, without going to court,” Aspen Times Publisher Allison Pattillo wrote in a column. “This was done out of good business sense, and most certainly not out of fear or intimidation. Reporting on the lawsuit could have unnecessarily disrupted or delayed resolution.” Here’s video of Aspen’s mayor, who goes by the single name Torre, accusing new ownership of The Aspen Times of meddling in the newspaper’s coverage. (We’ll see if this is the last of this saga.)

📰 The Scribe student newspaper at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs “will no longer have a print publication” beginning this fall, according to an item in a May issue. “The paper in your hands is the last print publication of The Scribe,” the paper told readers. The item didn’t offer a reason. (Writing for The Poynter Institute this February, Taylor Blatchford suggested “student media need to use data and strategy to meet audiences where they are … and that may not be print.”)

🔬 Media scholars at the University of Denver are out with a new academic paper in the journal of Journalism Practice titled “Local News in Colorado: Comparing Journalism Quality Across Four Counties.” Authors Kareem El DamanhouryDavid CoppiniBrittany Johnson, and Geneva Rodriguez examined the Colorado media ecology “by comparing local news sources across four different counties during Summer 2020 and exploring the factors behind similarities and differences in coverage.” Their findings “reveal that the Colorado journalism ecosystem post-Covid outpaces U.S. local news in quality in the pre-Covid era yet aligns with disturbing trends pointing to inequities and disparities. In other words, rural, poorer, and more racially and ethnically diverse Colorado communities tend to have weaker news ecosystems and are more likely to become news deserts.” Their study also discusses “several approaches to salvage local news.”

👀 Colorado is “known for its vibrant Mexican food scene — but the culinary pros behind the fare haven’t been as widely recognized by media and awards committees as their white counterparts,” wrote Allyson Reedy this week in Denver’s 5280 magazine.

🆕 Colorado this summer will become “the first state in the nation” to pilot the Journalism Trust Initiative on a statewide scale. The JTI, a project of Reporters Without Borders, is “an international effort to identify news sources that adhere to professional, industry standards for independent journalism reporting and transparency in a way that is more clearly distinguishable — by humans and by algorithms — as separate and apart from opaque or partisan news sources, community-created content, and other types of information,” according to the Colorado chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Colorado will once again become a local news innovator and testing ground by “starting with a pilot cohort of up to 12 local newsrooms that will receive technical support to complete the JTI self-assessment and strengthen or develop editorial guidelines that help build community trust.” Learn more about the unique-in-the-nation project by registering for this June 15 event about it here.

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

📺 KUSA Denver 9News Meteorologist Kathy Sabine will “no longer be at the center of the station’s signature 10 p.m. weeknight newscast” and instead will now “deliver the weather on the 4 and 5 p.m. newscasts,” wrote Michael Roberts in Westword. Sabine posted a video saying she was “feeling a little emotional and a little nostalgic.” KUSA Meteorologist Danielle Grant said she will be “heading to weekday nights.”

🔎 Don’t forget to register for IRE22, the Investigative Reporters & Editors conference taking place in Denver June 23-25.

🤯 Denver journalist David Sirota, whose mere name tends to cause spontaneous mouthis foamitis among some in Colorado’s established media and political scene, is getting back to his roots with a broadcast call-in talk show. The AM-radio-host-and-journalist-turned-Bernie-Sanders-speech-writer-turned-journalist-again, who recently won accolades for his work on the Netflix movie “Don’t Look Up” is the founder of the political news and commentary site The Lever. Now, he’s launching Lever Live. “AM radio has been completely taken over by the right,” Sirota told Westword. “But I think there’s more of an opportunity online. Terrestrial radio still has some built-in advantages, but less of a built-in advantage based on the prevalence of the smartphone. It used to be that to succeed, shows had to be heard in people’s cars. But now everyone has a little radio in their pocket — their phone.”

🚔 More than two months after a journalist at Denver’s CBS4 and the station’s general manager said someone assaulted a camera operator (whom they declined to name) during coverage of violence around Union Station, a Denver police spokesperson said “No arrests have been made.”

✂️ The FCC has questions about the sale of the national TV broadcaster Tegna, which owns KUSA 9News in Denver, to a pair of hedge funds. In a letter this week, the agency said it wanted to know, among other things, “an accurate and detailed accounting of the impact the Transaction is expected to have in terms of anticipated staffing reductions.” New Street Research policy analyst Blair Levin toldstreaming video industry publication Fierce Videothata “number of policy makers have expressed concerns about financial buyers acquiring broadcast stations for the purpose of earning returns through reducing local news investments. Here too, we could see some at the FCC wanting to limit such moves.”

📙 Former Wall Street Journal reporter Vauhini Vara, who lives in Fort Collins, has a “terrifying new novel” that “imagines what happens when tech lords take over the government,” writes Maddie Oatman for Mother Jones.

☀️ Colorado Sun co-founder Larry Ryckman published a column this week for the syndicated Writers on the Range series headlined “I’m a journalist and somehow still an optimist.” In it he writes, “it isn’t journalism that’s failing. It’s the old business model that funded news outlets for more than a century by relying too heavily on paid advertising.” He says the Sun, a public-benefit corporation founded in 2018, currently has “200,000 subscribers, nearly 17,000 paying members, and a full-time staff of 25.”

⬆️ Sensi Media Group LLC, publisher of Sensi magazinehas “named Jen Bernstein as the new Executive Editor of the award-winning Denver-based publishing house.”

📸 While some journalists “argue that sharing crime-scene photos from mass shootings could help spark a successful movement for new gun laws,” former Rocky Mountain News Editor John Temple, who led the newsroom through its Columbine coveragewrote this week in The Atlantic magazine that he has “a different answer.”

⬆️ Chris Reen, chairman of Colorado Politics, has “been named president and CEO of Clarity Media Group,” which is owned by Denver billionaire Philip Anschutz. He’ll start Jan. 1 and will succeed Ryan McKibben “who has held the position since 2004 and who will become Clarity Media’s company chairman,” The Gazette in Colorado Springs reported.

💬 KUSA 9News anchor Kyle Clark cited on air a Colorado Sun report stating that Heidi Ganahl, a Republican candidate for governor, “has not done an in-depth interview with any non-partisan media outlet.” (That Sun report was from a May 31 subscription newsletter that stated “she probably can’t stay on this path in the general election if she wants to have any shot at unseating Democratic Gov. Jared Polis.”) Ganahl “recently complained on conservative talk radio that mainstream media aren’t covering her preferred issues ‘correctly,’” Clark added, “But her campaign has carefully avoided challenging questions about those issues.”

🎥 Michael Karlik of Colorado Politics reported in a cover story this week on a case that three judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit heard last month that “could serve as the case that establishes for Colorado and five of its neighboring states that the First Amendment protects bystanders’ right to record police officers who perform their duties in public.”

🗳 Steve Skinner, a producer for KFFR 88.3 FM, what he describes as “Colorado’s newest non-commercial radio station,” is running as a Democratic candidate for Grand County Commission. “After years of working in journalism and radio, he is now turning towards a role in public service,” wrote Meg Soyars for Sky-Hi News in a Q-and-A with the candidate.

🎞“The world is getting a view of Colorado through two documentaries now touring the film festival circuit,” Elaine Tassy reported for Colorado Public Radio.

📞 “Of note to national and local media with SCOTUS Decision Day on Roe coming up; if you’re looking for a woman of color reproductive rights attorney, Colorado’s Kiki Council (yes, that’s her real name 🙂 is excellent,” says Laura Chapin. “She was key to CO passing the Reproductive Health Equity Act.”

🚀 Radio journalist Anya Steinberg, whograduated from Colorado College last year, got a shout out this week for her work on the Throughline podcast at NPR that won a prestigious Peabody award. Also this week, conservative writer Nate Hochman, who also graduated last year from CC, had a major essay in Sunday’s New York Times.

📺 Sara Fischer of Axios reported this week that CNN’s new boss, Chris Licht “is evaluating whether personalities and programming that grew polarizing during the Trump era can adapt to the network’s new priority to be less partisan.” In the piece, she writes that Licht and Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav “haven’t been shy about their goal of dialing back on partisan and alarmist programming in favor of traditional journalism” and that “Zaslav and mentor and investor John Malone have been public about their wish to pull CNN away from progressive commentary.” (Malone is one of the wealthiest people in Colorado.)

🗣 COLab, the Institute for Science and Policy at the Denver Museum of Nature, and Science and Colorado State University’s Center for Public Deliberation “will host a two-part in-person event to discuss what can be done about misinformation.” A key goal is “to tap into the wisdom and creativity of leaders of communities of color to help develop and refine ideas for communities across Colorado to better address this critical issue,” COLab’s Laura Frank wrote in an email publicizing the event. The events take place June 14 and June 28. Register here.

🐝 Vikram Raju, a student at Aurora Quest K-8 who was “sponsored by The Denver Post,” almost won this year’s recent Scripps National Spelling Bee.

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 column, 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 my weekly newsletter here, or e-mail me at CoreyHutchins [at] gmail [dot] com