Boulder newspaper runs letter ripping its owner and urging staff to form 'new online paper'

This week's look at the news behind the news in Colorado

‘Fair commentary’: Behind the Boulder Daily Camera’s anti-Alden letter

In 2018, when former Boulder Daily Camera opinion page editor Dave Krieger published on his personal blog a bold commentary critical of his newspaper’s hedge-fund owner, Alden Global Capital, he was fired.

Not long after, when Denver Post editorial page editor Chuck Plunkett tried to publish a scathing commentary about the Krieger canning and what he called “outright censorship” at Alden-controlled papers, the powers that be shut it down.

Plunkett resigned.

His attempt to run an editorial slashing at the private equity firm that owns a dozen or so Colorado newspapers and hundreds of other publications around the country came, of course, after Plunkett’s surreptitious Denver Rebellion package that galvanized the media industry that spring.

Others that year left Alden Global-controlled newspapers in part because they did not like feeling they couldn’t publish newsworthy information about their owner, a company with a national reputation as a newsroom-gutting “vulture.”

With that not-so-distant history in mind, it was remarkable this week to see a letter to the editor in the pages of the Boulder Daily Camera that called out its hedge-fund overlords — by name — and more.

From the letter written by J.V. Rudd of Louisville in southeast Boulder County:

I just received notice of my latest price increase for the Daily Camera subscription I’ve held for about 15 years —  $41.17/month for a daily subscription, up 170% over the last 5 years. I know this is because Alden Global Capital has been slowly squeezing the life blood out of the Camera over the last decade, reducing staff, reducing content, and leaning heavily on other sources such as the AP, BizWest, the Denver Post (also owned by Alden), and sources from across the country.

The writer goes on to say the paper’s staff is doing the best they can but “the Wall Street buzzards have won this battle” and those who are left in a whittled-down newsroom can’t seem to keep up.

Then, there was this:

I would suggest to the entire staff of the Daily Camera that you leave this slowly dying institution and form a new online paper, a la the Colorado Sun. Even more viable, join the Colorado Sun and form a branch of that paper called the Boulder Sun. I will be an eager first subscriber. It’s time to let go and leave the buzzards the dried and useless husk they have created from the once-great Daily Camera. RIP.

Yowzer.

Julie Marshall, who took the reins as the Camera’s opinion page editor in March, offered a virtual shrug via email when I asked about her decision to run the letter given the paper’s history with commentary about its owner.

“So it’s a letter to the editor from a reader,” she said. “I made the choice to run it. The writer wasn’t happy with his new subscription price. That’s pretty much it. I didn’t see any reason not to run it as it fit our published guidelines. I feel like the paper belongs to our readers in many respects and it was a fair commentary from a loyal longtime reader.”

That’s good to hear. And even better was that as of Tuesday Marshall said she hadn’t gotten any grief from higher ups about her decision to publish it.

As for a “new online paper” in Boulder, Stacy Feldman of The Boulder Reporting Lab says Boulder’s “first nonprofit digital newsroom, 100% independent, locally run” is in the works with a launch date coming soon. “Stay tuned,” she says.

Such an outlet would augment what already exists: BoulderBeat, run by former Daily Camera reporter Shay Castle and previously highlighted in this newsletter for its work.


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Colorado journalists ghosted climate change in coverage of the heat wave

Last week’s newsletter noted some frustration by Colorado Newsline reporter Chase Woodruff with how journalists here were covering a recent heat wave.

That coverage was similar to last year’s initial local reporting on a scorching wildfire season in Colorado in which context about climate change got short shrift.

Woodruff, who has been producing climate reporting in Colorado for four years, compiled a spreadsheet of local Colorado news stories about the heat wave and analyzed them for mentions of climate change. He found that out of 149 stories, only six — or 4% of the heat-wave stories — mentioned climate change. (Outlets that did mention it included Axios Denver, Westword, Denver7, and CBS4.)

Responding to someone on social media who questioned why climate change hadn’t made a mention in a Steamboat Pilot heat-wave story, one Colorado reporter noted something similar to what some said during last year’s wildfires:

This week, climate journalist Emily Atkin, who writes the popular Heated newsletter on Substack, spotlighted Woodruff’s Colorado local news findings. From her post:

The systemic failure of news outlets to inform their readers about the climate crisis in real time is not new, nor exclusive to Colorado. During the deadly global heatwave of 2018, Media Matters analyzed 127 national cable news segments about it and found that only one explained its connection to climate change. National print and radio outlets did a bit better, but not much; NPR, for example, aired at least three stories in July 2018 mentioning the abnormal nature of extreme weather events across the country without explaining why.

Atkin pledged to reach out to Colorado journalists and inquire about their reasons for omitting climate change in their coverage for a subsequent paid version of her newsletter. “Hopefully we’ll get some bites,” she wrote. (As of Thursday, she told me she hadn’t gotten much back in response and said she’d update her post if anything significant came in.)

Also in the paid newsletter she interviewed Woodruff about his findings. That installment came out June 23 (join me in subscribing here to view it). Here’s an excerpt from their conversation:

EA: So taking the importance of the journalistic “why” into consideration, I feel like we also have to ask why. Why aren’t these connections being made? Because it’s really a wild spreadsheet. It shows a systemic problem among news outlets, not just an individual one. You've been reporting in Denver for a while and worked at some of these places. What do you think is the reason?

CW: I think a lot of it really just comes down to the fact that any mention of climate change is going to be interpreted as partisan and political. And these … outlets just want to avoid that like the plague. They're extremely sensitive about doing anything that is going to cause some of their viewers to get mad at them or turn off the television. I really do think that's what a lot of it comes down to.

As somebody who does this work, I also try to approach it from the perspective of the nuts and bolts of a reporter doing their job every day. I do think that, for a certain kind of journalist who is cautious and doesn't really want to go out on a limb with stuff, they get fixated on this idea of attribution. Can we really say this is caused by climate? If they want to mention climate at all, they feel like they have to get like a climate scientist on the phone saying, “This is because of climate change.”

But you can work climate into the discussion without having to do that every time. There are things we just accept as fact because they’re proven scientific fact. We don't need to get a scientist on the phone to say “smoking causes cancer” or “the sky is blue.”

So one thing I try to explain, to get reporters to think about this differently, is that you don't have to say this is “because” of climate change. You can report on the heat wave, and maybe in your fourth or fifth paragraph, you just say “hey, scientists say that these things are … more likely and they’re going to get worse.” And that’s it.

As for Colorado climate-change kudos, Woodruff gave a shoutout to Mike Nelson, the chief meteorologist for Denver7 KMGH-TV, as “a great example of a local meteorologist connecting the dots on this.”

If you’re a journalist who covered the heat wave and want to weigh in for next week’s newsletter about why you did or didn’t mention climate change in your coverage, drop me a line.

Denver TV journalist exodus

For years (decades?) Westword reporter Michael Roberts has been tracking the moves of local broadcast journalists in the Mile High City.

He’s noticed over the years how those who report the news on TV have hopped around from one station to another in Denver or elsewhere as they rose in their careers.

“But in 2021, an increasing number of local reporters and anchors are leaving TV to start over in an entirely new industry,” Roberts wrote recently. The occasion was his reporting on the departure of another broadcaster, Liz Kotalik of KUSA 9News, who recently left for a PR job at a local restaurant firm.

From the piece:

Kotalik is at least the sixth high-profile broadcast journalist to leave Denver television this year — and she was preceded out the door by former 9News colleague Ryan Haarer, who just happens to be her husband.

And then Roberts ran down the list of other recent departures:

Among those who've embarked on a similar trek over recent months are Fox31/Channel 2 personality Natalie Tysdal, who's launched her own branded network on YouTube and beyond; 9News weather pro Becky Ditchfield, now focusing on her family and related matters; Fox31 favorite (and former Denver Broncos cheerleader) Sam Boik, who jumped to Littleton's Pivot Lending Group, a major credit union mortgage origination company; Best of Denver winner and Channel 2 forecaster Matt Makens, the namesake behind a recently created consulting firm located online at MakensWeather.com; and Haarer, now a local real estate expert.

Although each had reasons of their own for leaving television news, their exits occurred during a challenging time for the industry. The pandemic has resulted in staff downsizing at outlets across the country, including in Denver, and salaries have been squeezed over recent years. Back in 2019, when he announced his own exit plan (one that was followed by a return to the airwaves and then a controversial dismissal over a pointed tweet), former 9News weathercaster Marty Coniglio told us, "There are a lot of schoolteachers who are making more money than some on-air people here. That's the reality of the business."

Last week, this newsletter noted some TV news shakeups in the Colorado Springs market, too.

Introducing the ‘Have Faith, Colorado’ newsletter

As traditional beats retrench at local newspapers around the country, expect to see a rise in niche newsletters at places like Substack, the platform where you’re reading this one.

An example of this might be found in a new weekly newsletter by Colorado journalists Liam Adams and Carina Julig. Last week, the pair launched Have Faith, Colorado, where they’ll tackle the religion beat in a state with some compelling theological currents.

From their introduction:

Colorado has a rich and varied religious landscape, from serving as an epicenter of the evangelical Christian right to springboarding the introduction of Buddhism to the west. But as local news organizations across the country shrink, it’s become less likely for publications to dedicate a full-time beat reporter to the subject, and the topic can get left by the wayside.

Each week, the newsletter will offer a curated roundup of Colorado religious news and “may also include original analysis about religious issues affecting the state and links to nationally reported religion articles with a Colorado angle.”

Their first installment covered a recent court ruling “over LGBTQ rights, religious liberty and cake” (you know that story), the re-opening of the Shambhala Mountain Center in Larimer County, and more.

Outside the newsletter, Adams this week published a major feature story in Christianity Today headlined “No More ‘Evangelical Vatican’: Christians Rebuild Relationship with Colorado Springs.”

Sign up for the Have Faith, Colorado newsletter here.

Colorado Public Radio has five new board members

The statewide public radio news organization with a growing newsroom this month elected five new board members to oversee its operation.

From CPR:

Colorado Public Radio has welcomed five new members to its board of directors. The new members are Linda Appel Lipsius, Ricardo Baca, Lori Bergen, Steve ErkenBrack and Sherisse Hawkins. Their term began at the end of the board’s annual meeting on June 16. 

One of those new board members, Baca, founded and owns the PR firm Grasslands that is a financial supporter of this newsletter. (Let me know if you want to become one, too.)

“We are happy to welcome these new members to the Board of Directors,” board Chair Philip Johnson said in a statement about the new members. “Each of them brings a passion for community and CPR’s mission, along with professional and personal experiences that will enrich and inform the Board’s efforts.” 

Meanwhile, CPR also added three new members to its Community Advisory Board. Vanessa Barcus, Clara Rivas, and Brynmore Williams will join the oversight entity that meets three to four times a year “to help ensure that Colorado Public Radio is meeting the educational and cultural needs of the communities served by the station.”

Also expanding? The news organization’s newsroom.

Colorado Public Radio’s newsroom, which had 28 news employees in 2017, now has 63, says CPR executive editor Kevin Dale.

More Colorado local media odds & ends

🤦 Gunnison County is not in the Roaring Fork Valley. I foolishly misstated that last week, and my inbox let me know it.

📡 Take a virtual tour of the new Southern Colorado Public Media Center with Paula Poundstone. The new building the Springs houses Colorado Public Radio, KRCC, Rocky Mountain PBS’s Regional Innovation Center, and the Colorado College Journalism Institute.

🎰 The sports betting affiliate company Leadstar Media announced it has “acquired a Vendor Minor sports betting license in Colorado,” becoming the sixth state where the company can operate.

💼 Mark Harden says he is “semi-retiring from the semi-retirement” and in July will be stepping in temporarily as editor of the Colorado Community Media newspapers and sites that are now co-owned by The Colorado Sun. The organization is still searching for a new publisher and permanent editor, he says.

✝️ Introducing himself to readers, the new editor of The Craig Daily Press says, “One of the first things you should know about me is I’m a devout Christian.”

💡 Read what Chalkbeat learned about source diversity auditing. “The vast majority of newsrooms interviewed used Google Forms to record survey data. … Most, like Colorado Public Radio, require reporters to collect sources’ demographic information during interviews then record it into the form.”

⚙️ Ballantine Communications, which publishes The Durango Herald and The Journal in Montezuma County, is looking for an editorial page editor again.

⚰️ Colorado Public Radio’s Ben Markus explained on social media how he reported his major COVID-19 investigation, “How Colorado Caught COVID: The Third Wave.” (CPR spent more than $1,000 on public records requests to reveal Colorado was double the national average in nursing home deaths in December and the No. 1 state “for deaths per bed between Thanksgiving and Christmas.”)

🗳️ Donald Trump’s former campaign legal advisor, the Colorado-connected Jenna Ellis, got hired by Newsmax to “comment on the 2022 and 2024 elections from a legal and faith-based standpoint,” The Hill reported.

💥 A longtime Colorado reporter said “I haven’t covered a mass shooting in the years since [Columbine],” which, unfortunately, might actually be newsworthy.

🆕 Welcome Daniel Ducassi, who is a new politics reporter for The Colorado Sun. Ducassi formerly worked for Politico and The Miami Herald.

🎙️ Colorado Mesa University mass communications professor Elaine Venter talked on a podcast about “everything from the political, economic and cultural impact of geo-blocking online content to violence and video games.”

I’m Corey Hutchins, instructor at Colorado College’s Journalism Institute, the Colorado-based contributor for Columbia Journalism Review’s United States Project, and a journalist for multiple news outlets. 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. (If you would like to join CMP and Grasslands in underwriting 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.