On a Sunday in March of 2009, a crane company pulled up to 101 W. Colfax Ave. in downtown Denver. There, workers began removing the letters “Rocky Mountain News” from the building’s facade. Onto a flatbed truck they went, and that was that.
The Rocky had closed, leaving the Denver Post with the remaining nameplate on the curvaceous white and green-glass cruise-ship-looking building the two rival newspapers had shared as part of a joint operating agreement.
Now, 14 years later, it isn’t a stretch to wonder if history might repeat itself, this time with the letters of “The Denver Post” coming down.
On Thursday, Thomas Gounley of BusinessDen reported that the City of Denver would buy for $89 million the iconic 11-story building near the Capitol and City Hall that still bears the Post’s name.
“The building is leased to the Post through October 2029, according to a city spokeswoman,” he reported. “The newspaper and its parent company moved out years ago and have been subleasing the space, largely to the city, which has 145,000 square feet across five floors. The Post lease will remain in place as the building sells. The Post will pay about $7.8 million in rent the first year.”
Indeed, in 2017, shortly before laying off a third of the Denver Post newsroom, the cost-cutting hedge fund that owns the paper marched its remaining journalists out of the downtown Denver building and into a printing plant in a polluted industrial zone in Adams County.
In recent years, city office workers have been roaming the same space where reporters used to make calls to sniff out what those workers were up to.
Earlier in the week, the Post’s Joe Rubino had hinted at the possibility of a city takeover of the Post building in a broader story about a massive overhaul of a downtown municipal office building.
Notably, if the sale goes through, the city will be paying less than what the building’s owners, American Properties, paid for it in 2006 when they dropped $93.4 million on the structure.
“The difference likely reflects, in part, the impact of high vacancy rates in downtown office buildings after the pandemic changed commuting and remote-work habits,” Rubino wrote for the Post. Denver City Council’s Finance and Governance Committee could take up the proposal as early as next week.
The development is a cruel reminder of just how much has changed in the past 17 years since the building opened to support two thriving rival newspapers in Denver. A recent report predicted one third of newspapers by next year will have disappeared since around the time of the 2006 ribbon cutting ceremony opening the Rocky and Post building.
Add to it the irony that even more city bureaucrats, once the subject of the reporters’ scrutiny, will now occupy these former workspaces.
UPDATE, Dec. 5, 2023: A spokesperson for the city’s finance department said: “The city expects that the Denver Post signage will remain in place while the DP Media Network maintains its master lease to the building,” which would be 2029. “There have not been any discussions on future signage at this point.”
Colorado newsrooms are having to fight opaque sites that rip off their work
As artificial intelligence technology becomes cheaper and easier to use, credible local news organizations are increasingly having to combat a proliferation of sites that steal their work.
This spring, the Colorado Sun’s chief technology officer, Eric Lubbers, had to request that a site called “Denverwire” stop copying the Sun’s journalism and publishing it nearly verbatim with some minor tweaks to words. The Sun wasn’t the only Colorado news outlet the site was ripping off, and the word-tweaks in headlines and other copy were often comically obvious: Colorado Sun became “Colorado Solar.” A Sonic corn dog became a “corn canine.” The Denver Post became “The Denver Put Up” or “The Denver Submit” (get it?).
The site didn’t carry author bylines, it had an opaque About Us section, and stated it was run by “an AI Powered PR Service” that was created by “a successful entrepreneur in the cosmetic industry.”
Lubbers eventually got the site to remove some of the posts cribbed from the Sun, and the site is currently a shell of its former self these days, pretty much just running headlines that lead to 404 errors if you click. But dealing with it led Lubbers to dig into how these new kinds of copycat tech might work.
He found a company called a “spinner” that claimed it could “Turn YOUR Article Into Dozens of New Articles With The Instant Spin Feature using the Worlds Largest Synonym Thesaurus!” (I won’t link to the company; you can find it on your own.)
“Is this particular site a threat to local news? Hardly, as its lack of coherence made it nearly unreadable and its motivation to scavenge the lowliest of Google search traffic meant that the only content available was just a funhouse mirror of things posted by other news sites,” Lubbers told me about his saga dealing with Denverwire.
“But,” he went on, “the relative ease with which this site was spun up — especially as AI gets more connected and evolves — does not bode well for what someone who was dedicated to misinformation (and, frankly, smarter than this crew) could do to create a legitimate-looking site, full of real local news, and peppered with posts pushing disinformation.”
Lately, there’s a new site on the block tying up the time of Colorado journalists who are having to write take-down request letters. Meet “The Lobby,” a site with a P.O box in Highlands Ranch that is publishing — without individual author bylines — content that is noticeably similar to scoops from legit Colorado news outlets.
Goodland said she spent hours listening to committee hearings and did shoe-leather reporting to produce her story, and while The Lobby didn’t copy her syntax verbatim, she doesn’t believe whoever “wrote” the story did any actual reporting.
What’s worse, a tagline atop The Lobby story reads “original content” but “the only original content is mine,” an outraged Goodland said over the phone this week. “They may have rewritten bits and pieces in it and inserted their own take on the story from a conservative standpoint, but damn, that content is right out of my story.”
What also worries Goodland, a veteran reporter who is president of The Denver Press Club and dean of the Capitol Press Corps, is accountability. How would anyone at The Lobby be able to back up what they published? Goodland has sourcing and documentation; The Lobby didn’t attribute the information to anything.
“It’s completely unacceptable that they would use information that can only be found in the story that I wrote on Monday,” Goodland said.
As I’ve written in this newsletter before, we’d probably better start thinking more about how we deal with these kinds of things as advancements in technology make them cheaper and easier to do.
Kim Becker becomes ‘first woman to be a public address announcer for the Broncos’
Last Sunday, there was “a new voice in the stadium” at Empower Field at Mile High when Kim Becker became what the Denver Bronco’s NFL team said is the “first woman to be a public address announcer” for the team.
“I’m very excited. My voice will be loud and proud out there in the stadium. So everyone coming to the game get ready, you will hear a female voice,” she told Denver7.
Here’s more from Denver7’s Jason Gruenauer:
As a Colorado native, the Broncos have always been a big deal to Becker. She moved away, then moved back, and finds herself in brand new territory under the lights.
“I think it’s just the first moment, the first, you know, line that I say, the first read that I do. That’s what I’m most excited for.”
And in regards to the “first-ever” accomplishment?
“I’m able to show others that it really is just anything that you put your mind to. You can … make it happen for yourself,” she said.
Earlier this year, CBS News Colorado named Romi Bean as the station’s lead sports anchor making her “the first woman in Denver television history to fill that prime-time role.”
🎧More Colorado-based podcasts added to the list
Many of you reached out with thanks for last week’s roundup of Colorado-based podcasts, and a few of you had some some suggestions for more to add.
The growing list now counts around 60. New additions this week include:
- IJN Cast, produced by Intermountain Jewish News staff writer Steve Mark, “takes you into the pages of the newest issue … plus bonus content. Dropping weekly on Thursday evenings.”
- How Art is Born, hosted by R. Alan Brooks at the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, “uncovers each creative’s artistic practice through engaging and authentic conversation.”
- Bucket List Community Cafe Podcast focuses on issues facing North Denver, and is produced by Mimi Herrick from the University of Colorado.
- Smokin Poetry Podcast, hosted by Mike Harris, focuses on artists from Colorado Springs and beyond.
- Devil’s Advocate with Jon Caldara is a current affairs podcast where the host, who runs the libertarian-leaning Independence Institute think tank, is “not afraid to express his ‘free-market’ views, and his guests are not afraid to take on those opinions.”
- OnStage Colorado podcast hosted by Alex Miller is about “Colorado theatre from the creators of OnStage Colorado.”
- Architect-ing, hosted by Adam Wagoner, helps bring together Colorado architects and helps listeners “discover the stories of architects, to introduce the outside world and other architects to the personal experiences of our profession.”
- In The NoCo at KUNC in Northern Colorado offers a “daily window to the communities along the Colorado Rocky Mountains. The show unravels the big issues of the day and the untold stories of the moment, bringing you context and clarity about what’s happening in your backyard and beyond. We also find plenty of reasons to celebrate and highlight what makes Northern Colorado such an incredible place to live.”
- Off the Walls is a podcast “about the people and the stories behind Denver’s street art.”
Keep ‘em coming. And if I missed one here that you sent me last week, just give me a nudge.
Rocky vs. Post newspaper war chronicled in new book
Pittsburg State University professor Ken Ward is out with a book called “Last Paper Standing: A Century of Competition Between the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News.”
Writing in Quill, the magazine for the Society of Professional Journalists, Sam Stall interviewed Ward, who grew up in Colorado, about the project, which became his doctoral dissertation.
Here’s an excerpt from the Q-and-A:
Places like New York City and the West Coast were always hotbeds of newspaper competition in the 19th and 20th centuries. Was the flavor of the competition in Colorado different?
When it comes to journalism history, the coasts are where everybody looks first. But that story has been told very well very many times. People need to pay more attention to cities like Denver, in the center of the country. Because you can actually learn a lot about what was going on in places like New York by looking at Denver first. A lot of the techniques of what came to be known as yellow journalism, which was popularized in New York and San Francisco, were in fact done in Denver in the 1890s. And we can look at Denver to try to understand the history of the development of newspaper competition. Not as a story based solely on the coasts, but as an organic story in which what happened in the country’s interior also influenced the coasts, and vice versa.
As someone who missed this late great newspaper war, I’ve often wondered what defining characteristics set the papers apart beyond the print format. Here’s what Stall had to say about that:
The News was defined by its tabloid format and style. It became a tabloid during the 1940s, because newsprint became extremely expensive due to war rationing. The News exploited this format with a very visual, in-your-face style, and they went after a more conservative, working class readership. Whereas the Post remained a traditional broadsheet. It was staid and stodgy, claimed to be the voice of the Rocky Mountain empire, and wanted to be the paper of record. It went for a more elite, very business-oriented readership. There was a very purposeful differentiation between the two products, and because different groups of people were hungry for both of these very different papers, they could both survive even when they both weren’t necessarily thriving.
In the interview, Ward describes previous biographies of the newspaper war as “simplistic” and accuses historians of treating former Denver Post owner Fred Bonfils with “kid gloves.” He also recounts a literal beatdown Bonfils gave Rocky owner Thomas Patterson, a former Democratic U.S. senator, on the street one morning after Christmas.
Two longtime newscasters retire from KOAA in the Springs (will one run for mayor of Pueblo?)
KOAA lead forecaster Mike Daniels and reporter-anchor Rob Quirk are “relinquishing their press passes,” Jennifer Mulson wrote this week for the Gazette in Colorado Springs.
Here’s what that will mean for the local NBC affiliate, with a joke about a potential mayoral run in Pueblo:
Losing three quarters of a century of institutional knowledge between the two men is no small thing. KOAA News5 news director Ryan Hazelwood notes the award-winning Daniels’ never-ending popularity in places like the Colorado State Fair in Pueblo, where Daniels was born and raised.
“We joke that when he retires he should run for mayor because he’s so popular down there,” Hazelwood said. “If you’ve ever been at the State Fair with him, you cannot take more than three steps without someone stopping to talk with him. They love him down there.”
“I’m a bit apprehensive,” Quirck told Mulson. “This is all I’ve done my adult life. I know no other way, and when you’ve done something consistently for 40 years, what’s next? It’s going to be a very sharp transition.”
More Colorado media odds & ends
🐪 John Frank of Axios Denver reported on a new study that shows “Colorado’s news deserts are growing” at an “increasing rate.” While the study stated Colorado lost 12 newspapers in the past five years, he pointed out that a “separate report from the Colorado Media Project issued in September casts an even more dire picture, finding 19 newspapers in Colorado shuttered in the last five years.” (I helped with the CMP research.)
❌ The emailed version of this newsletter misstated the timeline of events surrounding Denver Post layoffs and moving out of the building.
🏆 The board of Journalism Funding Partners honored renowned Colorado media attorney Ashley Kissinger with the group’s inaugural First Amendment Award “for her exceptional legal work on the Las Vegas Review-Journal case, as well as her unwavering dedication to First Amendment issues.”
🏔 Jeanne Souldern, writing in the Sopris Sun, profiled 38-year-old Mike Rogge, who resurrected the Mountain Gazette in 2020. The magazine just published its 200th issue.
🔀 O’Rourke Media Group, the Arizona-based company that bought up a string of weeklies in the Central Mountains region earlier this year, is “beginning a process to reestablish and redefine the Publisher role,” it announced, saying its “recent acquisition in Pagosa Springs this past September has been a game-changer … in terms of the impact of the Publisher role.”
📸 On the 60th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination, Gary Shapiro of 9NEWS reported how Manitou Springs photographer Bob Jackson “captured the killing of Lee Harvey Oswald.”
🆕 Meteorologist Caitlin Connell has moved to Colorado where she made her on-air debut at Weather Nation this week.
⛰ “Silverton’s always struggled with community tensions; it probably always will,” a source told Jonathan Weisman of the New York Times who published a fascinating story this week about healing political divisiveness in the small Colorado town. “But the tenor of our leadership at the national level and the voices we listen to on the news, on the radio, online, they have tremendous influence, more than they used to.”
📖 “I ended up finding in fiction a way to critique things about the tech scene that I [couldn’t in journalism],” Fort Collins–based author Vauhini Vara told Nicholas Hunt and the staff of Denver’s 5280 magazine.
🔎 The Colorado Times Recorder, “a nonprofit news outlet that describes itself as progressive and doesn’t disclose its donors, reported on its 2022 Form 990 that it raised $320,000 last fiscal year and spent $114,000,” the Colorado Sun reported in its Unaffiliated newsletter. “None of its employees made more than $100,000. In previous years, the nonprofit, operating under a different name, reported raising less than $50,000 annually. Democratic strategist and communications consultant Katie Reinisch was listed as the group’s vice president.”
🤖 This week, the Associated Press reported how Sports Illustrated became “the latest media company to see its reputation damaged by being less than forthcoming — if not outright dishonest — about who or what is writing its stories at the dawn of the artificial intelligence age.” Here in Colorado, Denver Gazette arts journalist John Moore might have sniffed it out early.
🗳 Presidential candidate Dave Gardner of Colorado Springs said at The Indy’s “Best Of” party this week that he would be open to more public funding for local news.
👮📚 “Republican leaders are calling for a prosecutor to enforce obscenity laws to remove hundreds of books from schools in the Colorado Springs area,” reported Kyle Clark of Denver’s 9NEWS. “The conservative advocacy group Take Back District 20 called the inclusion of the books in school libraries “clear criminal activity.” For context, Clark reported that a “call for a criminal investigation and possible charges marks a turn in the culture war issue championed by Republicans.”
🤖 You might recall when this newsletter turned a spotlight on the proliferation of creepy fake news sites that publish “obituaries” of people who haven’t actually died. It seems Colorado-based USA Today journalist Trevor Hughes just can’t escape the bots. (He’s still not dead.)
I’m Corey Hutchins, co-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. Colorado Media Project is underwriting this newsletter, and my “Inside the News” column appears at COLab, both of which I sometimes write about here. (If you’d like to underwrite or sponsor this newsletter hit me up.) Follow me on Twitter, reply or subscribe to this weekly newsletter here, or e-mail me at CoreyHutchins [at] gmail [dot] com.