💸 Here's what Colorado newsrooms are paying journalists (those willing to say, anyway)
The news behind the news in Colorado this week
‘Must post the pay’
There’s a saying you might have heard about local journalism: You don’t do it for the money.
And while many journalists probably don’t — it’s a public service, it’s a passion, you have to love it — the sentiment is more about a stubborn reputation the industry has for limited pay for a job that’s never really a nine-to-five endeavor.
How much money local journalists earn in Colorado can differ quite a bit depending on the news organization, position, and location. Before this year, newsroom pay might have been more of a black box, but that’s changing — to a degree.
Following a law called the Equal Pay for Equal Work Act that took effect this January after Colorado Gov. Jared Polis signed it in 2019, I’ve noticed more newsrooms seem to be posting salary ranges in their job listings.
And they should be, since it’s now the law.
“If we’re talking about a journalist in Colorado who could be employed by a Colorado publication or a national publication, the pay has to be posted for a job in Colorado,” says Scott Moss, the director of Colorado’s Division of Labor Standards & Statistics. (Not all newsroom job listings here show salary ranges, though, and we’ll get to that later.)
The new transparency spotlights varying pay scales in journalism jobs in Colorado. Below is an idea of current local newsroom wage offerings across the state based on recent job listings from the site JournalismJobs and elsewhere.
Denver’s alternative weekly Westword, which is owned by Voice Media Group, will pay $55,000 to $75,000 for a news editor. Meanwhile, an editor for the Steamboat Pilot newspaper, owned by the Nevada-based Swift Communications, can make $70,000 to $90,000. The new Boulder Reporting Lab, backed by a Google News initiative, was offering an approximate range of $65,000 to $75,000 “with opportunity for growth” for an editor position. The billionaire-owned Denver Gazette is looking for a managing editor it will pay $60,000 to $85,000. The Pueblo Chieftain, a union paper owned by Gannett, the nation’s largest newspaper chain, will pay an editor $70,000 to $80,000. The soon-to-launch Broomfield Leader, owned by the Canadian Village Media company, is hiring an editor it will pay $52,000 to $55,000.
As for reporters, the union contract for The Denver Post shows a starting salary for a reporter with no experience can’t be less than $761 per week, or around $39,500 per year. The top reporter scale for someone with at least six years of experience is $1,331 per week, or around $69,200 a year. (The contract provides for employees being able to bargain for pay above these amounts, or the employer can offer higher pay.) Meanwhile, a reporter at The Boulder Daily Camera, a non-union paper, which has the same owner as the Post, has said that while he’s been at the paper for about a decade “with increasing duties and responsibilities every year,” he only once made more than $40,000 in a year. Colorado Community Media will pay an editor $65,000 to $70,000 to oversee its 26 publications.
The family-owned Grand Junction Daily Sentinel newspaper on the Western Slope was offering to pay a full-time reporter $30,000 to $35,000 a year. That’s close to what The Pueblo Chieftain, a union paper, Gannett, will pay, offering $30,000 to $40,000 for a reporter. Swift-owned Vail Daily will pay $35,000 to $40,000 for a reporter. A water reporter for The Colorado Sun, a 3-year-old public benefit corporation, can earn more than twice as much, making $60,000 to $80,000. The Boulder Reporting lab was offering an approximate range of $45,000 to $50,000 for a reporter “with opportunity for growth.” The Broomfield Leader will pay a reporter $44,500 to $47,500.
Colorado Community Media, which runs a string of two dozen or so suburban Denver-area newspapers, is offering to pay reporters $15 to $17 per hour. (Once a family-run business, CCM recently sold to a unique partnership involving the National Trust for Local News and Colorado Sun to keep the papers in local hands.)
In radio land, Colorado Public Radio says it’s willing to pay a podcast editor and producer $75,000 to $85,000. It’ll pay $45,000 to $60,000 for a reporter at KRCC in the Springs. A CPR justice reporter could earn $55,000 to $65,000.
On TV, Denver7 is offering $80,000 to $90,000 for an anchor and multimedia journalist, while KOAA in the Springs would pay a multimedia journalist $36,000 to $47,000. (Both are owned by Scripps.) Rocky Mountain PBS will pay a Denver-based multimedia journalist $50,000 to $65,000 and a senior multimedia journalist $70,000 to $80,000. The public media outlet will pay a part-time Durango-based multimedia journalist $26.44 to $31.25 per hour or $27,498 to $32,500 annually. Viacom-owned CBS will pay a Denver-based multimedia reporter $60,000 to $70,000 “depending on experience.” Fox 21 in the Springs will pay a reporter $33,500 and up, “commensurate with experience.”
Notably, The Denver Post and other newspapers in its company, Media News Group, which is controlled by a New York hedge fund, is not listing salary ranges in some job listings.
As of Oct. 29, a senior editor position posted on the Media News Group’s site didn’t list a salary range. Nor did one for a business reporter there, or for a reporter position at the company’s Cañon City Daily Record. The listings for the same positions at JournalismJobs list the salaries as “Not Specified.” (A senior editor at the Denver Post would be considered management and therefore a non-union job, so the paper’s public union contract wouldn’t illuminate a potential pay scale for that position.)
From a Denver Post story by reporter Aldo Svaldi about an aspect of the Equal Pay for Equal Work Act (emphasis mine):
The changes include a requirement to post any job openings to all Colorado workers in a given workplace, including salary ranges; …
Effectively, every time a position opens up that is based in the state or that could be done in the state, all other Colorado workers at a place of employment must be notified. That notification must include the range of pay available, the benefits attached and any job requirements.
A Twitter account calling itself The Labor Snitch posted about the paper’s job listings that lack salary information and tagged the Colorado Department of Labor. Others have pointed it out, too. Joe Rubino, a Denver Post reporter and secretary of the newsroom guild unit, wrote on social media he’d look into the issue.
“As of January first, any employer with any staff in Colorado must post the pay they will offer or at least a reasonable range of what they genuinely might offer for any job they have unless it’s a job tied to an out-of-state work site,” says Moss of the state Labor Department.
According to the law, third-party sites that post job openings, like, say, this newsletter, wouldn’t have to post salary ranges, but a news organization posting its own job listing would, Moss says. He adds that if an employer sends a posting to a third-party site, it still has to list a salary range.
In the first year of a new law, it’s not uncommon for sophisticated companies to mess up, Moss says, and while fines can be $10,000 per posting and additional financial penalties can incur for noncompliance if an employer doesn’t shape up, the agency has been working with companies because the law is so new. Sometimes, he says, the agency finds out not posting pay ranges is a misunderstanding or mistake and they’ll hear a company out.
“We want there to be an incentive to fix it,” he says, adding that nearly 100% of companies so far have fixed their postings when notified.
Media News Group’s corporate human relations director didn’t respond to multiple emails and a voicemail. The Denver Post’s general manager didn’t respond to emails. I’ll post an update to the published version of this newsletter if I hear anything.
🌿 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 firstname.lastname@example.org to see how Grasslands can supercharge your brand’s marketing program (and read some of our cannabis journalist Q&As here). 🌿
ProPublica is on the hunt for a blockbuster in Colorado
Following the opening of its Southwest office, the powerhouse investigative nonprofit news outlet ProPublica is on the hunt for stories — including in Colorado.
In 2022, the nonprofit news organization will augment its coverage of this growing and vital region by hiring freelance journalists to produce three ambitious accountability projects in Colorado.
Here’s what journalists submitting proposals should know.
We’re looking for investigations that have the potential to be revelatory, not ones that merely build on work that’s already being done. The investigation should have the potential to trigger needed reforms by identifying a problem, who’s responsible and what should change. The investigation should also have a clear connection to Colorado, while illuminating an issue of broader relevance. Be prepared to explain why this investigation is best done in Colorado.
ProPublica wants to know what such an investigative undertaking would require, so applicants should be specific. “We will accept applications on a rolling basis,” the outlet says. Learn more here.
How local news outlets can ‘(re)build trust with Black community members’
The Denver Press Club last week hosted what it called a diversity mixer along with 9News, The Denver Post, the Colorado News Collaborative (COLab), and Colorado Public Radio, in an effort to work on community engagement together.
About 50 people attended, and one of them was Tina Griego, who is a journalist and coach at COLab.
“Late word of the gathering provoked a mix of curiosity, consternation and criticism among some Black community members,” she wrote in a column about it afterwards. In it, she quoted one prominent Black businesswoman saying, “After watching horrible journalism divide the Black community, I find it interesting that the press is having a diversity mixer.”
Griego’s column, headlined “What it will take for local news outlets to (re)build trust with Black community members,” offers some advice on that front for local newsrooms. Here’s an excerpt from the column:
What will signal real change, I asked several community members and journalists.
“A level of atonement” Maryam said. “I think a lot of times we are so eager to do that we forget how important it is to say, ‘We have failed. We apologize.’”
The next step is action, she said. “Changed behavior is the best apology. When we see folks actually showing up to our events … I don’t even know that it means that you actually publish as much as it means just showing up.”
The need for consistent demonstrations of good faith was echoed by Ryan Ross, CEO of the Urban Leadership Foundation of Colorado, who also helped guide the conversation. Here’s what happens all too often, he said: A community member asks for coverage of something. Have you called other newsrooms, the reporter replies. Well. yes, says the community member. And then it’s: “Oh. Well, we don’t really have the resources to be there.”
But Ross went on, “if there is a driveby shooting that happens in the community, suddenly resources aren’t a problem. Everyone is covering it. And that speaks volumes to community members.”
Read the whole thing here.
Axios Denver is starting a membership program
If you’re not yet membered out from local news providers, Axios Denver wants you to member up with them.
Sometimes memberships cost money, and sometimes they don’t. Memberships can help a local news organization develop a more intimate relationship with its audience.
In its membership-attracting material, the addictive daily morning newsletter that launched in February throws a little shade at paywalls and subscriptions, saying, “We believe high-quality journalism should not be an exclusive privilege.”
What will readers get if they become members of Axios Denver?
Axios Members will receive quarterly exclusive newsletters from our reporters. Additionally, we may host members-only events and give birthday shout-outs in the newsletter. But these benefits are not why you should join. You should join because you want to support the work.
Trying to condition readers to reward good local journalism with financial support is commendable.
“Membership revenue helps fund our local newsroom,” Axios Denver says. A solid number of memberships could also likely help illuminate for the national Axios mothership the extent to which the Mile High City is a worthy location to continue as a lucrative local news endeavor.
How news becomes ‘news’ in our networked digital age
The way a recent story played out on the Western Slope shows the way social media can pressure a local newspaper to publish something its editors had initially determined wasn’t of news value.
Earlier this week, The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel obtained court records showing a candidate for school board had been involved in criminal cases some years ago. The newspaper, however, decided to pass on publishing a story about it.
In our social media age, when local news organizations decline to publish certain information from tipsters, they can bet that information will wind up “out there” somehow. Once it is — in this case circulated by a political group on Facebook — the newspaper will feel forced to report on it. Typically, a paper might approach its story by reporting on the response: “Candidate X responds” or “Politician X denies,” feeling that what the news outlet might have once considered not newsworthy is now newsworthy because the subject of it has publicly addressed it.
That’s what happened in Grand Junction, leading to this headline in the Daily Sentinel: “Will Jones responds to posts about criminal history.”
Here’s the lede:
A Mesa County Valley School District 51 School Board candidate whose criminal history has been circulated on the Internet says the information posted on social media has been overblown.
And then, about 20 paragraphs later:
The document posted online Wednesday was shared with The Daily Sentinel earlier in the week. After obtaining records and looking further into the cases, The Daily Sentinel declined to publish a story given the age of the incidents, the proximity to the election, and that further investigation of the matters suggested the arrests and charges listed were not as serious as appeared.
Catch that? For the newspaper, it wasn’t news until it was news — so now it’s news.
The Elements of Journalism, published in 2014, addressed this new landscape in the network-connected age, writing:
“Certainly, the notion of the press as gatekeeper — deciding what information the public should know and what it should not — no longer defines journalism’s role. If the New York Times decides not to publish something, one of countless other websites, talk radio hosts, social media networks, blogs, or partisans, will. The rise of Facebook and Twitter, not to mention organizations such as WikiLeaks, has transformed the essential equation of news — how information becomes public — from “one to many” to “many to many.”
So how might local news organizations be thinking about this?
Some newspapers have pre-written obituaries of newsmakers so they can quickly get a contextualized news story up on the web once a newsmaker dies. I’m curious if newsrooms are having any sort of conversations about how to proactively handle stories like this one they initially pass on in the event they feel they might have to weigh in eventually because another outlet forces their hand.
More Colorado media odds & ends
⛰️ Actual email I got this week: “By some weird chance, do you have a student or someone who would love to own and operate a small paper in the mountains?” (Who’s in?)
🗞️ Andy Smith, who is leaving The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel for Albuquerque, wrote in his goodbye column: “small newspapers covering hometown news are more important to their readers than any Capitol Hill correspondent could ever be.”
💋 In Colorado Springs, the First Amendment got an update.
🗳️ A candidate for Cañon City Council says her “background is in journalism and management in the commercial printing industry.”
🇰🇭 The Washington Post reported that the Cambodian government learned about a major decision by the Denver museum from The Colorado Sun.
⚰️Former Denver TV anchor Linda Benzel has died. “She walked into a male-dominated newsroom and held her own,” reported 9News.
🙄 Come for the clicks, stay for the compassion: “Although CBS4 has obtained a copy of the video, the station is choosing not to broadcast it because authorities reported the woman was believed to be experiencing a medical issue.”
🔀 A Westword reporter realized Facebook’s algorithm might have noticed he switched coverage beats.
🙏 Columbia Journalism Review’s Jon Allsop spotlighted Colorado in a piece about two-newspaper cities and towns and gave this newsletter plenty of love.
📺 Talya Cunningham is moving from Richmond, Virginia, to join the FOX 31 team in Denver at the beginning of the year. “Cunningham has covered stories ranging from the deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville to focused reporting on underserved communities,” The Denver Post reported.
🚵♀️ Santa Fe media outlet The Radavist “has merged with Colorado-based bike reseller The Pro’s Closet,” New Mexico Inno reported.
🎊 The Colorado Springs Indy named Fox21’s chief meteorologist, Matt Meister, as the Best Media Personality of Colorado Springs this year, and the station is so exited it used an exclamation point in the lede.
📖 Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Dave Philipps spoke at Colorado College about his new book Alpha.
🏆 Congrats to Laura Frank, John Ferrugia, Brittany Freeman, Phil Maravilla, and Josh Burleson on a national Edward R. Murrow award for their “Insight with John Ferrugia” documentary “Breakdown.”
💨 Katie Klann, a multimedia editor at The Gazette in Colorado Springs, is moving on to join a new media company called Players Tribune where she’ll be a video editor based in Denver.
🎙️ Colorado Springs Indy reporter Heidi Beedle appeared on Craig Silverman’s podcast where she spoke at length about covering extremism in Colorado, trans issues, being an affiant in a big Colorado election-denying civil case, and more.
🆕 Welcome Chris Abdelmalek, The Pueblo Chieftain’s new sports reporter who comes from California. “I am honored to be working with the Chieftain and I look forward to serving the community to the best of my abilities,” he wrote in an introductory column.
👊 A Colorado College graduate, now at Duke, is taking on the man who runs the hedge fund that’s gutting newspapers at the university level.
❓ A local Colorado journalist wanted to know whether people thought local journalists should vote in local elections for topics they cover.
💉 KUSA 9News anchor Kyle Clark explained why he got a vaccine booster shot.
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.