🔥 'Emotional topic': Colorado journalists navigate 'newsroom burnout'
The news behind the news in Colorado this week
Last week, journalists in Colorado gathered at The Denver Press Club for a frank discussion about burnout in the news business.
“I’ve been a reporter for 30 years and I think there are two crises in our industry,” said Noelle Phillips of The Denver Post who helped organize the discussion. “One is how to pay for the news, and the other is the burnout facing the journalists who work in our industry.”
The panel, moderated by COLab’s Tina Griego, included Denver Post reporter Elizabeth Hernandez, Colorado Politics Managing Editor Linda Shapley, Selyn Hong, NPR’s director of Employee & Labor Relations and Investigations, and Marc Moss, a Denver medical doctor who works on burnout issues.
“This is a sprawling, complicated, emotional topic,” Griego said at the outset, and added she wanted to acknowledge that people are hurting. She said she hoped those who attended the panel or watched online left thinking about “what we can change rather than what we can’t.”
Toward the end, there was an indication burnout is something newsroom leaders, and journalism educators, should increasingly be thinking about if they aren’t already. During the question-and-answer portion, an editor of a student newspaper said she sees burnout already taking place “in the place where the passion for journalism normally starts.” She wondered if there’s a way to ingrain better practices in classrooms at journalism schools.
Hernandez responded that for her there was little talk about mental health in J-school. She stressed the importance of talking about it early and better preparing students for how to deal with it on the job. “Definitely needed,” she said.
There was plenty, plenty more in the hourlong discussion. Watch a video recording of it here or below:
🌿 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 email@example.com to see how Grasslands can supercharge your brand’s marketing program (and read some of our cannabis journalist Q&As here). 🌿
Linda Shapley leaves Colorado Politics for CCM
The former Denver Post senior news executive and Colorado Politics managing editor today announced she’ll be the publisher of Colorado Community Media.
That’s the string of newspapers in the Denver suburbs recently purchased by the Colorado News Conservancy and The Colorado Sun. The move in May made national news as a first-in-the-nation effort to keep newspapers in local hands in a unique way.
“I am excited and honored to be assuming this role, especially during such a critical time in our industry,” Shapley said in a statement. “Anyone who knows me knows I am an ardent supporter of local news, and my main goal is to tirelessly work at building a team that strengthens the bond a community has with its newspaper.”
More from the announcement at CCM:
Elizabeth Hansen Shapiro, CEO of the National Trust for Local News and a Colorado News Conservancy board member, said CCM’s owners “conducted an extensive, thorough search, and a number of highly qualified applicants expressed interest in the position. In Linda we found an experienced leader with a combination of strong newsroom chops, organizational skills and budgeting acumen. She’s a great listener, has boundless energy and is passionate about community news. On top of all that, she is a lifelong Coloradan with deep roots in Weld County.”
Shapley is the second former Colorado Politics managing editor to leave and join CCM. Last year, Mark Harden oversaw the editorial department of the newspaper chain after leaving the same job Shapley had. At the time, the Healey family owned CCM.
Shapley will begin the new role Aug. 23. Read more about CCM’s first publisher under the new ownership structure here.
The Colorado Sun @ColoradoSunIn exciting news, we have a new publisher for @coloradonewsccm. Say hello to @LindaShapley 👋 https://t.co/PkmQ3lr5qZ
‘Just one side of a story’
Fallout from a bungled arrest of a Hispanic man in Westminster earlier this summer offers “an opportunity for news organizations to reconsider the ways they typically report incidents publicized by police.”
That was the message of an “Inside the News” column for COLab I wrote last week following new and illuminating reporting about the June case of a “Yard sale robbery that wasn’t,” covered in this newsletter last month.
From the COLab column:
Now, new reporting this week by Liam Adams in the local Window newspaper in Westminster has revealed troubling details beyond the man’s name and likeness being splashed across the evening news as a violent criminal. While Valdez Gonzalez was in jail for a crime he didn’t commit, his attorney says his cellmate tried to kill himself. His wife told police the ordeal left him shaken. And now that he’s out, the incident has cost Valdez Gonzalez $11,000 in legal costs.
The new reporting also showed that Valdez Gonzalez, who speaks limited English, also called to report that he was the victim of an altercation over money at the yard sale that day. He told police a woman who thought he stole her money bag scratched him on the arm; the couple later told police they had merely misplaced the bag. But, according to police records of a conversation he had with them, Valdez Gonzalez didn’t know the address for the yard sale, so authorities told him they couldn’t respond. When he got in touch later, after seeing his truck on the news as a wanted criminal, police asked him to come down to the station — where they arrested him and released a statement about it.
“The initial coverage presents the perils of reporting based on police accounts and how they can offer a warped view of what might have really happened,” the column continues. “Local TV, which relies heavily on police statements to fill broadcasts, is still where most Americans get their news.”
The Colorado Sun @ColoradoSun“We have to ask ourselves, ‘Why do cops and DA offices issue press releases?’ It’s to toot their own horn. Why don’t you wait to release a press release until somebody is convicted, then splatter their name all over the internet?” https://t.co/0zJab3V6DZ
Here’s something that didn’t make the column that’s also worth pointing out:
In Colorado, The Coloradoan in Fort Collins and The Chieftain in Pueblo, both owned by Gannett, which runs the USA Today network, insert a boilerplate paragraph into news stories about local arrests. This is what it says:
All suspects are innocent until proven guilty in court. Arrests and charges are merely accusations by law enforcement until, and unless, a suspect is convicted of a crime.
Jennifer Hefty, a Colorado-based content strategist at the USA Today network, has explained to readers how the Coloradoan reports on crime. “Now it’s time to be honest,” she wrote. “We have limited resources and choose to focus our reporting on major crimes. These crimes usually carry felony charges (first-degree assault, kidnapping and murder, for example).”
More from Hefty:
Even if every single person on our staff did nothing but cover crime, we would not be able to write about every minor citation or arrest, so we must weigh each case and decide if it’s of the greater public interest to publish. A few factors play into this decision: Is the crime high profile? Did it occur in a public place? Did it involve a prominent member of our community or an ongoing threat to public safety?
Read more about the newspaper network’s reasoning here.
At least one newspaper in the state, the Wet Mountain Tribune, has recently stopped running a crime blotter from the local sheriff’s office. “We redacted the names of those arrested for years, but still, cops are just one side of a story,” says publisher Jordan Hedberg.
Does your local newspaper or TV station seem to have a well-thought-out rationale for how it covers local crime? If its coverage makes you wonder, reach out to an editor or news director and ask, flagging as examples any particular stories that seem egregious.
On Wednesday, July 28, from noon to 1 p.m. MT, journalists talked about ways they’re re-thinking crime coverage in Colorado during a Zoom brown bag lunch.
COLab’s Susan Greene, who moderated the panel, said an informal survey she conducted among Colorado newsrooms leads her to believe that while “many” news outlets in the state have unpublished people’s names by amending online stories “most don’t have written policies on when they’ll do so and very few have sort of indicated publicly what those policies are.”
Watch the discussion below:
‘I was assaulted … because I am a journalist’
Last Tuesday, Colorado Politics reporter Pat Poblete said he was attacked while in the press room at the Capitol in Denver.
He went on to say the woman who did it “was set off when she found out she was in the press room and echoed the rhetoric the former president directed at journalists.” (Poblete’s Twitter account now appears inactive.)
Westword’s Michael Roberts caught up with Poblete for more details.
“This wasn’t the sort of hyper-online, hyper-partisan, QAnon, deep-dive type of person who’s ingrained in this stuff,” the reporter told the paper. “This was just a woman who’d heard what the former president said about journalists and took that to heart. Even at that level of information and intake, it’s still penetrating the public psyche.”
More from Westword:
“The event happened around ten, and I was writing up a short story. I was the only person there,” he recaps. “I heard a voice behind me, and there was a woman kind of poking around the press room. I imagine she just wandered in because it was hot outside. I asked what she did, and she said she was unemployed and living on the streets. Then she asked what I did and where we were, and I said we were in one of the CPA [Capitol Press Association] press rooms, and that set her off. She did the whole Trumpy, nine yards thing about fake news and how you guys are making up lies and journalism is poisoning the community.”
At that point, Poblete continues, “I thought, I don’t need to be subjected to this at work, so I asked, 'Can you leave?' and tried to usher her out. And she shoved me, hit me, took a couple of items off Marianne Goodland's desk and stormed out.”
More Colorado media odds & ends
🌴 Programming note: This newsletter is on vacation mode, meaning it might hit your inbox with less frequency or with lighter content for a while.
🆕 Geoff Van Dyke, editorial director of Denver’s 5280 magazine, recently was elected to the board of directors for the American Society of Magazine Editors, making him the only board member representing a city or regional magazine.
🗞️ Behold the “ever so glamorous” life of local newspaper ownership in Colorado.
🐐 When a moose or a goose is loose, the Colorado headline puns are fun.
🕔 Ever wonder about 9News anchor Kyle Clark’s grooming habits?
🤦 A Michigan communications professional who shares the name of a Denver TV journalist seems sick of “PR people pitching me.”
🚰 Here are the 10 Colorado Media Project fellows who will “advance water journalism in Colorado.”
📹 The Ouray County Plaindealer is calling for local police to release body camera footage following the death of a Montrose man after a traffic stop.
💉 The state of Colorado “is paying more than 120 influencers on Instagram, TikTok and other social media platforms up to $1,000 a month to tell people to get vaccinated against COVID-19,” Axios Denver reported.
📺 Ashley Ryan will join KDVR FOX31 as a weekday morning co-anchor.
⚙️ The Durango Herald is looking to fill two reporter positions.
❌ A judge this week “rejected a Denver news organization’s argument for publicly disclosing photos showing the tourniquet and plastic bed sheets allegedly used to kill an inmate at the federal Supermax prison in Florence last year,” the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition reported.
❓”Recovering journalist” Victoria Camron had a question about what it means that a sports column in The Denver Post is “presented by” Blake Street Tavern.
💻 Even for those who have never been “sticker on the laptop” types, this just “felt right.”
✝️ A Washington Post story notes the Colorado-based Catholic News Agency is owned by “a multimillion dollar nonprofit Catholic media company.”
📢 The Colorado Times Recorder details how two Republican members of Congress in Colorado are “promoting misinformation” from the Epoch Times.
⚖️ A man convicted “after sending more than 1 million Facebook messages to a Denver musician isn’t protected by the First Amendment’s free speech provisions, and was instead making threats, the state Court of Appeals ruled … rejecting a constitutional challenge to Colorado’s stalking law,” Colorado Politics reports.
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.