🎌 Colorado’s new free speech law could come to your neighborhood soon

The news about the news this week in Colorado

Come this fall … let the flags fly

For the next two months, Coloradans living in a neighborhood with a no-nonsense homeowners association will have to control themselves.

But after Sept. 7, it could be on.

A new law signed by Democratic Gov. Jared Polis this week allows people who live in HOAs to let their freak flags fly — or whatever kind of flags for that matter.

From Saja Hindi of The Denver Post:

The new law, which had broad bipartisan support in the legislature, comes after complaints and lawsuits by homeowners for what they believed was a restriction of their First Amendment rights, particularly following a heated election season when residents wanted to display Trump flags or support for movements like Black Lives Matter. Lawmakers acknowledged that removing content restrictions may open the floodgates for signs and flags that may be considered offensive, but more important was the principle of allowing people to express their opinions.

In Colorado, homeowners associations have lots of leverage over residents who belong to them and whose properties, while independently owned, are subject to HOA rules. Covenants, controls, and restrictions about weeds, parking, and when trash cans can remain on curbs, abound.

But, “I just feel strongly if you have a principle, there’s no buts and ands and ifs,” Lisa Cutter, a Jefferson County Democratic member of the Colorado House, told the Post earlier this year about the legislation she sponsored. “And free speech is an important and enshrined right for Americans.”

More from Hindi’s earlier reporting about Colorado HOAs and their ability to stifle some freedom of expression:

Unlike in metro districts, special districts or other government agencies, home owners don’t have much recourse when it comes to advocating for their individual First Amendment rights except by appealing to their HOA board. In 2018, more than 60% of Coloradans lived under HOA governance, according to the Colorado HOA Forum.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado told local media they heard more than 50 complaints last year about how HOAs were clamping down on what people could display outside their homes.

In April, a Colorado man made the lead of a New York Times story about the nation’s nearly 400,000 HOAs and the kinds of flags they restrict across the country. But because of a federal law, there’s one kind of flag that’s been immune.

From the Times:

The 2005 federal Freedom to Fly the American Flag Act makes it illegal for any homeowners association or property management company to restrict a resident from flying the American flag, although many associations do place limits on the size and height of the Stars and Stripes. But when it comes to other pennants, a homeowner’s right to free speech is often irrelevant if they live in a community with a homeowners association.

Last month, Stanley Hrincevich, president of the Colorado HOA Forum, penned a guest column in The Gazette in Colorado Springs where he railed against the prospect of the new law and what he feared it might portend. People who live in HOAs, he wrote, voluntarily sacrifice some rights “to gain the advantages of living in a planned, orderly, amenity-oriented and improved-home-value community.” HOAs “are about conformance,” he added, “not doing your own thing and not standing out.”

More from Colorado’s HOA king:

Effective and fair HOA flag restrictions will come to an end with the Facebook-Twitter-identity politics mentality and mandates in [the new law]. Specifically, the social media practice of assigning self-importance to one’s [identity], thoughts and social and political views, and a need to announce them to the world, will now be allowed and completed through flag messaging in your HOA neighborhood.

The HOA flag bill allows a flag to contain any message or picture to be posted nearly anywhere and year around regardless of the repercussions of spreading hate and divisiveness. You’ll be able to display a Ku Klux Klan or Nazi flag, a ‘White Power’ flag or a picture of serial killer Ted Bundy on a flag, or graphic abortion displays.

Writing in Complete Colorado, the news and commentary arm of the libertarian Independence Institute, Ari Armstrong said he once lived under the rules of an HOA and then specifically bought a house “not governed” by one. But he defended the rights of HOAs to make rules to “recognize the legitimacy of collective ownership” and property rights.

Armstrong calls the new law an “anti-free speech law” and believes “the proper solution is for government to remain totally silent here.”

On Facebook, the governor posted a link to Hindi’s story about the new law he signed before the Fourth of July weekend, and added his own commentary.

“Reasonable rules about size, number and location of signs and flags are fine, but not restrictions on free speech,” Polis wrote. “Free speech is a 365 day/year right that all Americans enjoy, and you don’t leave it behind just because you live in an HOA.”

In one of the nearly 500 comments on the governor’s post, a woman told her own silly HOA sign story.

“Our HOA threatened us with legal action if we didn't take down our garden flag that says ‘be a good human,’” she wrote. “[I’m] laughing so hard right now that now all the signs they tantrumed over for so long are going to go right back up.”

Look out for flags and signs to start blooming across the lawns of Colorado in early September unless voters petition to put a question on a ballot that would overturn it.

“Watch,” another commenter wrote. “It’s going to get obnoxious in a hurry.”

🌿 This week’s newsletter is proudly supported in part by Grasslands, Denver’s Indigenous-owned PR, marketing, and ad agency that is thankful for the tireless work reporters do to bring our communities the stories that matter. Founded by veteran Denver Post journalist Ricardo Baca, Grasslands — the recipient of a 2020 Denver Business Journal Small Business Award — is a Journalism-Minded Agency™ working with brands in highly regulated industries, including cannabis, technology, and real estate. Operating from its new offices in Denver’s Art District on Santa Fe, the firm’s 20-person team of communications professionals is focused on a single mission: “We tell stories, build brands and amplify value.” Email hello@mygrasslands.com to see how Grasslands can supercharge your brand’s marketing program (and read some of our cannabis journalist Q&As here).  🌿

Final roar of a West Slope dinosaur printing press

In April, this newsletter reported the “heartbreaking” announcement that an ailing printing press was going extinct in Grand Junction. (Thanks to The News Station for picking it up.)

Last Sunday, the final issue of the Daily Sentinel rolled off its aging cylinders.

“I never get tired of watching that,” Lonnie Vincent, who has worked in the paper’s pressroom for 34 years, told the paper in a piece about the retirement of the 180-ton beast known as a Goss Headliner that came to town by railcar in multiple pieces nearly four decades ago.

From Bob Silbernagel in The Daily Sentinel:

Among several reasons for the retirement is the fact that obtaining replacement parts for the Goss has become extremely difficult. Several times in recent years, Vincent and his pressroom colleagues have had to turn to machinist friends to manufacture replacement parts when a piece on the Goss has broken. Or they have tracked down parts overseas.

The Montrose Daily Press will now print the Sentinel.

Elsewhere in the evocative story about a Western city’s obsolete printing press was this:

George Orbanek, editorial page editor of The Sentinel in 1984 and later Sentinel publisher for more than two decades, recalled that then-County Commissioner Maxine Albers broke a bottle of champagne against one of the press towers to christen it.

“Who can imagine something like that occurring today? No one,” Orbanek said. But, he added, “It was a different era, before all the evanescent bits and bytes of the digital revolution have all but made conventional printing presses obsolete.”

As for some more history, can you guess what news event led the Sentinel to print the most copies of papers ever? According to Orbanek, it was Sunday, Aug. 31, 1997 — the day Princess Diana died in a car wreck and the news came too late to make the Denver papers.

Read more Goodbyes-to-the-Goss here.

Colorado-owned Outside magazine is making plays

Colorado resident Robin Thurston was in the national news this week. The “outdoorsy fitness technology entrepreneur” is on a “magazine-buying binge,” The Washington Post reported.

From Murray Carpenter at WaPo:

At a moment when the print magazine industry is crumbling, the entrepreneur who made millions developing the workout-tracking app MapMyFitness, has purchased dozens of active lifestyle publications, including Backpacker, Climbing, Ski, Trail Runner, Triathlete, VeloNews, Women’s Running and Yoga Journal. In February, he made his biggest purchase yet — Outside Magazine, a general-interest outdoors publication with over half a million subscribers. With the acquisition, Thurston became an active lifestyle media mogul, and made it official by rebranding his Colorado company with the Outside name. “I do not believe print is dead, I just believe it’s changing,” Thurston, who is based in Boulder, said in a Zoom interview. “And for the companies that don’t evolve, I believe they’re going to be in trouble.”

The story, headlined “Outside magazine thrived on adventure stories. Now it’s in its own fight for survival,” outlines the brand’s $99-a-year “Amazon Prime-like membership.”

Some nuggets from the piece:

  • “Launched in 1977 by Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner, who sold it … a year later, Outside has become celebrated for deeply reported features that spawned best-selling nonfiction books like ‘Into Thin Air’ and ‘The Perfect Storm’ and films like ‘Blue Crush.’ It also features a steady mix of gear guides, fitness tips and where-to/how-to stories.”

  • “Outside still has a loyal base of 530,000 print subscribers, and the other magazines have a combined print circulation of 680,000.”

  • “Women make up about 52 percent of Outside’s audience, and among all of the titles the audience is split evenly among men and women. But six of the company’s seven board members are men.”

This stat appeared in a Digiday piece by Sara Guaglione a few days later:

In addition to 500,000 digital-only subscribers, Outside has 1 million paying print subscribers who Thurston hopes will convert to print-and-digital subscriptions by the end of the year as they renew or upgrade to an Outside+ subscription, he said.

The company’s sites “received more than 3.2 million unique visitors in May 2021, according to Comscore’s data on Outside’s digital properties,” the outlet reported.

New Craig Daily Press editor is trying to build local trust

Local news outlets strive for accuracy, but of course they don’t always succeed.

In a downscaling business or scrappy startup, copy editors and fact-checkers are hard to come by. We see more typos and headline howlers when newspaper layout and design functions are outsourced to far-flung cities.

But owning up to and correcting errors and flubs is what can set serious journalism apart from other forms of communication. This week, Cuyler Meade, the new editor of the Craig Daily Press, devoted an entire column to that principle after publishing an error in a previous piece.

From his July 7 column:

So OK, personal self-flagellating aside, why is this the whole column this week and not just a little note at the bottom of it? Because I think it is a valuable lesson for me and for you, the Craig Press readers. Sometimes, we will get things wrong. We won’t look closely at a fact, or we won’t check deeply enough into a statement, or we will just flat out mix things up and print something that isn’t right. Boy do we hate it when that happens. Boy oh boy oh boy. It drives us absolutely nuts. And you need to know that. We are not in the business of spreading falsehoods, half-truths, misinformation, or anything resembling lies. But sometimes, we’ll make a mistake, and, unfortunately, that’s simply not acceptable in our line of work.

I hope you’ll hold us accountable, but I also hope you’ll offer us a little bit of grace and forgiveness. A mistake … can shake a reader’s faith in a publication. I want you to know, from the bottom of my heart as your editor, that our mistakes are not something we take lightly, and that we’ll do our absolute darndest to make things right whenever they — hopefully rarely — occur.

Find the whole thing at the link above.

Colorado Broadcasters blister the FCC over fees

The Colorado Broadcasters Association, which represents TV and radio stations, joined its counterparts in Florida and Puerto Rico in opposing new FCC regulatory fees.

Their joint filing with the FCC last month also shed light on the lingering economic disruptions from COVID-19 on our state’s broadcast industry.

From the filing:

As the Commission is aware, the coronavirus pandemic and associated lockdowns have had a substantial and continuing impact on broadcasters generally, and Colorado, Florida, and Puerto Rico broadcasters in particular.

From the beginning of the pandemic to the present time, advertising revenues have been drastically decreased, as the costs of continuing to operate stations have increased due to the need to find new and creative ways of operating from locations outside the main studio.

Such mainstay advertisers as restaurants, auto dealers, and even home contractors have been among the hardest hit by lockdowns, limitations on customers, and supply chain issues. Even as lockdowns and restrictions have gradually eased of late, advertisers have been slow to return to purchases of large or lengthy advertising contracts due not only to simple lack of available funds but also to nervousness about how quickly customers will return, difficulties in re-hiring sufficient employees, and fears of future lockdowns or restriction.

Making matters worse, the broadcaster-sponsored community concerts, expos, festivals and the like, which were necessarily cancelled last year, are returning only slowly, and often with new restrictions and/or diminished capacity, thereby diminishing any hope that such events can be relied upon to help resuscitate still-flagging quarterly revenues.

The filing goes on to suggest it’s not fair that Big Tech companies that compete with broadcasters pay no regulatory fees.

“We’re simply aghast that the regulatory fees would be increased two years in a row, while the nation was in the depths of a business crippling pandemic shutdown,” said Justin Sasso, president and CEO of the Colorado Broadcasters Association, in a statement.

Broadcasters during the pandemic, he added, weren’t just going to shut the lights off and go home.

“Our duty to serve our communities came first and it was evidenced, through the amazing accomplishments that Colorado’s radio and television stations successfully achieved,” Sasso said. “Broadcasters kept their communities informed and safe through 15 months of harrowing protests, riots and COVID-19 coverage. Many of them did it with severely reduced revenue, relying on the hope that the economy would rebound once the worst of the pandemic was over. To have a government regulatory agency put their hand out for more, when broadcasters have already given so much, is inconceivable.”

In support of being vague

The state Supreme Court has removed what the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition described as a “frustrating barrier” to the public's right to inspect police internal affairs records.

The move toward more government transparency means criminal justice agencies “may not withhold completed [internal affairs] files from the public simply because the requester has not referenced a ‘specific, identifiable incident’ of alleged misconduct by an officer,” the CFOIC reports.

From the open- government advocacy organization:

The 5-2 decision upheld a district court ruling against the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office for refusing to provide a criminal defendant, Regina Sprinkle, with internal investigation files about two deputies who were witnesses in her case. The sheriff’s office had interpreted House Bill 19-1119, enacted in 2019, as allowing it to deny requests for IA files for being too “vague.”

It’s hardly the only Colorado law enforcement agency to have done so. As the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition pointed out in a 2020 article, several other police and sheriff’s offices have denied requests for IA records from news organizations, noting that the statute applies to investigations examining the in-uniform or on-duty conduct of a peace officer “related to a specific, identifiable incident of alleged misconduct involving a member of the public.” The Larimer County Sheriff’s Office and the Fort Collins and Loveland police departments also have told journalists their requests were too “vague” or did not “meet the specificity” required by the law.

Read more here about how the ruling might help citizens and journalists in Colorado obtain important information from law enforcement agencies about their officers.

On burn out…

The editor of the Colorado Springs Indy, the alternative weekly that has served the state’s second-largest city for a quarter century, wrote a recent column explaining why there wouldn’t be a print newspaper on racks around town this week.

Workers at the paper have been revving in overdrive during the pandemic, publishing daily online. From the column by Bryan Grossman:

And while we’re not quite churning out news like we were at the start of the pandemic, the pace at 235 S. Nevada Ave. has hardly slowed. We have a small but mighty staff here at the Indy, but even the mighty grow weary.

As such, we’re taking next week off (some of it, anyway) — to barbecue, to watch fireworks, to sleep in, to spend time with family, to not write or read news for a little bit. Yep, we’ve gone fishin’. 

The Indy offers a local example of others saying it’s OK to take a break.

In a recent newsletter, The Objective wrote “we intend to lead by example; when we need to take a break, we’ll take a break.” Nonprofit AF’s author said “I know that taking a break here and there won’t solve the systemic issues in our sector, which include funding instability; lack of decent pay and benefits for frontline staff; racial and gender wage gaps; and so on. I know we also feel guilty about resting when so many in the world are suffering. But we cannot do our best work if we are not at our best.” The folks at The Local Fix called this a “good idea” and followed suit.

Meanwhile, on July 22, COLab and The Denver Press Club are hosting a “candid conversation about newsroom burnout, what it looks like — and what we can do about [it].” Sign up for the in-person event here.

More Colorado media odds & ends

🛡️ “Although we don’t face such extreme threats here in Central Colorado, that doesn’t mean we haven’t been threatened,” writes Jan Wondra of The Ark Valley Voice. “We have.”

💨 Lance Benzel, aka “court-reporter Superman,” is leaving The Gazette in Colorado Springs after more than a dozen years.

⚰️ Bob Cox, who published the Jefferson Sentinel Newspapers, died in Santa Fe. A friend described him as someone who “managed to combine the cynicism of a grizzled UPI wire reporter with the entrepreneurial fire of small business ownership and the ethics of a lone cowboy.”

🆕 Welcome Silvana Effio who is joining Telemundo Denver.

🕸️ The Douglas County sheriffs department is using an artificial intelligence tool it paid $72,000 for this year to monitor social media. Wired magazine asked if it goes “too far.” 9News in Denver has a local story on it.

⚔️ In a public Facebook thread, it’s the managing editor vs. the publisher over a recent Yellow Scene Magazine story.

🆔 Journalist Jeremy Jojola has a follow-up to last week’s item about Lakewood police asking for an ID to process an open records request.

☠️ Boulder’s Preston Padden, a former executive at FOX News, published a column in The Daily Beast saying the Rupert Murdoch he worked for “was brilliant, courageous, optimistic, and a gentleman. Which makes his bile-filled network all the more confounding.”

🏥 A medical debt collector zapped a Colorado local journalism couple’s bank account.

🕯️ “Journalists are like the Night’s Watch in Game of Thrones,” wrote The Colorado Springs Indy’s Heidi Beedle. “We’re separate and removed from the affairs of the realm, but still connected and serving a vital function. When you ‘take the black,’ so to speak, you commit yourself to a specific code of professionalism and ethics that is often at odds with the values and ethos of the insular world of activist politics.”

🔊 Is the pandemic over? Well, the police scanners are back in an office and out of the bedroom of one local newspaper reporter who often tweets about scanner traffic.

💻 The CPR reporter who called a crisis hotline for a source recently spent a day in a library helping a story subject bridge the digital divide to gain his unemployment benefits.

📡 The Colorado Broadcasters Association elected its board of directors. “CBA members were also invited to elect a new metro market television board director. Starting July 1st, the CBA welcomes Telemundo Denver President and GM, Tatiana Arguello.”

🍼 The digital director for the Colorado Springs Indy alt-weekly says the paper’s “leadership has graciously agreed to provide me months of paid maternity leave. It makes me so sad that some parents don’t have the same support from their families or employers.”

❓ A reporter for The Aspen Times wonders: “Is optimism a bias, or a necessary balance in journalism?” (Meanwhile, a KRDO reporter takes a principled stand where it really counts.)

🌴 Programming note: Starting later this month, this newsletter will be hitting your inbox with less frequency. You might not see it at all until late August.

I’m Corey Hutchins, interim director of 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.