💸 Several Colorado newspapers SELL to a West Virginia company
Your news behind the news in Colorado
‘It’s not a hedge fund’
A string of Colorado ski-town newspapers and others owned by the Nevada-based Swift Communications sold this week to Ogden Newspapers of West Virginia.
The company, family owned, isn’t the kind we’ve seen in recent headlines about local news acquisitions. It’s not a hedge fund like Alden Global Capital, but it does feature a wealthy baseball team owner similar to the billionaire who owns the Red Sox and The Boston Globe.
From The Summit Daily News, the first paper in Colorado to publish Tuesday’s announcement:
Ogden Newspapers is a fifth generation, family-owned and operated newspaper company, founded in 1890 by H.C. Ogden. In his announcement, Robert Nutting, CEO of Ogden Newspapers and The Nutting Co., reiterated his family’s commitment to the industry and the critical role of community newspapers. The deal is scheduled to close Dec. 31, and with the acquisition Ogden Newspapers will publish 54 daily newspapers and a number of weekly newspapers and magazines in 18 states.
Nutting owns the Pittsburgh Pirates ball team where he earned the nickname “Bottom-Line Bob,” according to The Los Angeles Times. His bio on the company website calls him a “passionate conservationist” who serves as vice chairman of the Nature Conservancy of West Virginia. Company VP Bill Nutting, the site states, sits on the board of The Associated Press.
In 2018, Ogden dropped a bid to buy the Gazette-Mail in Charleston, West Virginia that was known for taking on the coal industry in a state dominated by coal interests. At the time, when it looked like Ogden would be the one to buy the paper, Nutting told The Washington Post “No coal industry lawyer or anyone else will make decisions for us in the hiring of newsroom staff.”
As part of this latest newspaper deal, “Ogden will acquire the name Swift Communications,” Swift CEO Bill Waters wrote to staff in a Nov. 30 email. “After the deal closes, our company will be renamed to Questor Corp.”
In Colorado, the sale affects newspapers and communities from Steamboat Springs to Greeley, including The Craig Press, Eagle Valley Enterprise, Glenwood Springs Post-Independent, Snowmass Sun, Sky-Hi News, Steamboat Pilot, Summit Daily News, Aspen Times, Citizen Telegram, The Fence Post, and Vail Daily.
In 2008, the blog of the Institute for Rural Journalism reported on a controversy involving a pair of Ogden-owned newspapers in Upstate New York publishing an endorsement of John McCain for president that “bore the byline of Ogden Newspapers Inc. of Wheeling, W.Va” and “triggered angry reactions from some local readers.” At the time, a non-Ogden newspaper in the area made hay about it in its own editorial.
Why is that relevant now? It might not be, except that one of the new Ogden papers is in Aspen — one of the few cities left with two daily newspapers in direct competition. On his Real Vail site, journalist David O. Williams this week wrote in part about what this new ownership might portend for Aspen if there’s any kind of noticeable ideological shift in coverage. (The Aspen Daily News couldn’t get ahold of anyone from Ogden for its story about the purchase of its rival.)
As news of the sale rippled through Colorado newsrooms this week, at least one journalist acknowledged the immediate disorientation that comes with such an abrupt announcement — but also how it didn’t put a bump in that newsroom’s stride.
“After sitting in hours of meetings yesterday about our newspaper being sold and the uncertainty that comes with that, today’s edition has — eight — locally written stories in it,” Steamboat Pilot reporter Dylan Anderson wrote on social media Wednesday.
Cuyler Meade, editor of the smaller Craig Press, said his paper is “not anticipating staff changes right off the bat,” while adding that anything’s possible. It “sounds more promising than some other acquisitions I’ve been a part of,” he said, noting how this is now the third ownership change in his journalism career.
In his email to Swift staff, Waters said Ogden reps will be in various offices to explain benefits plans to employees. “Concurrent with that, we will reach out to those who are staying with us and go over the changes and enrollment,” he added.
In a statement, Ogden CEO Nutting said the company’s goal is to be a “positive force” in the communities they serve and to celebrate each market’s “unique strengths” while also “working to provide realistic solutions” to areas of concern. “We believe,” he added, “that strong, responsible and connected local newspapers are critically important to building and supporting strong communities now more than ever.” (I didn’t hear back from emails sent to an address for Nutting, but I also can’t be sure he got them as we’ve not corresponded before.)
Sara April, from Dirks, Van Essen & April, a New Mexico company that handles newspaper deals, says her firm wasn’t involved in the sale, but knows the Nutting family well. She called Ogden a “great company with a very long history” and noted they have an “active fifth generation family member moving up in the leadership ranks” — Cameron Nutting Williams — “who is the company’s Chief Revenue Officer.”
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It’s Lisa. Colorado Community Media has hired an editor
Six months after Colorado Community Media sold its roughly two-dozen newspapers in the Denver suburbs to The Colorado Sun in a unique ownership deal it now has a permanent editor.
Lisa Schlichtman will take the reigns in January after recently leaving The Steamboat Pilot where she served eight years as editor. Linda Shapley, who recently came on as CCM’s publisher from Colorado Politics, announced the hire this week. From CCM:
“I’ve been familiar with Lisa’s award-winning leadership for a number of years, and to have someone with her passion and talent guiding our journalists at Colorado Community Media will mean great things as we look to grow our brand,” she said. Schlichtman, until recently the editor of the Steamboat Pilot & Today newspaper, joins CCM on Jan. 3.
“I am thrilled to join Colorado Community Media and take on the new role of editor-in-chief,” Schlichtman said. “I look forward to sharing my years of experience in the newspaper industry with CCM’s talented team of reporters and editors with the goal of connecting the communities we serve through engaging, locally-focused content and impactful journalism.”
Schlichtman takes over for Mark Harden who was CCM’s interim editor as the organization searched for a permanent chief. In a sayonara column for the Pilot, Schlichtman called the move bittersweet.
“Goodbyes are hard, especially when you’re leaving a place you’ve grown to love and consider home,” she wrote. “As many readers know, this past year has been a difficult one for me personally, and two months ago, I decided it was time for me to explore a move to Denver to be closer to my family, including my first grandchild, an adorable grandson named Mica.”
Kyle Clark’s national media tour
Denver’s KUSA 9News anchor Kyle Clark made the national cable TV rounds this week when multiple hosts invited him on their shows to discuss how local journalists should handle Lauren Boebert.
She’s the congresswoman who represents the largely rural third district of Colorado and a figure who Clark said “traffics in cruel, false, and bigoted comments” that “pays off in terms of attention and fundraising.”
That particular dynamic creates a question for local journalists, Clark said on the Michael Smerconish show on Sirius XM radio: “Do we increase the harm done — specifically by the disinformation and by the bigotry — if we re-amplify it through coverage, or do we create a separate problem if we intentionally don’t cover it therefore depriving Coloradans who live on the Western Slope of a true picture of what their representative does for the money they pay her?”
In addition to the Smerconish interview, Clark in roughly the past week also snagged segments on MSNBC’s “Rachel Maddow Show” and on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” with Brian Stelter.
In all of them, Clark acknowledged he doesn’t have an answer to his own question.
“But that can no longer stop us from talking about the problem publicly,” he said on SiriusXM, adding that national journalists have certainly grappled with the issue in the Trump era. “I think this time around,” he said, “local journalists across the country must be more involved in figuring out a solution and a workable way to cover these politicians, and we need to do it publicly. We need to tell our communities ‘We’re struggling with this. This is what your elected representative does. How should we together figure out how to handle this?’”
On the same radio show, Clark also talked about the particular challenge for local newsrooms that are often under-resourced and staffed with journalists who aren’t covering politics full time.
“What happens is, is there’s a tendency to either ignore the things that these elected officials say or to fall in the predictable kind of both sides coverage — you know, here’s what Representative Boebert said and then here’s what somebody else says about it — as opposed to stating clearly, like, ‘This is bigotry … this is bigotry against people who live in our community’ or in other instances, like, ‘This is a lie. This is disinformation, which serves a purpose to mislead people.’ And I think a lot of local journalists are very uncomfortable calling that out in the same way that we saw national journalists challenged by this question five years ago. And it’s time for us in the backwaters — Denver’s no backwater — it’s time for us in the backwaters to step up and take responsibility for how our journalism can have an impact.”
On Wednesday, I showed the Clark clips to students in an introductory journalism class and asked what they as young people would like to see from journalists who are trying to reach and inform them as readers, listeners, and viewers. Some things that emerged from the discussions was using each new controversial comment as an opportunity to center coverage around those impacted by it, deeper reporting on what a politician is or isn’t doing for their district as a representative, and illuminating ways in which the audience might be able to take action, perhaps by reporting when the next election is, who might be running, and how to learn more about them.
Having these conversations on liberal-leaning cable and radio shows or on the campus of a liberal arts college is one thing, but what about the extent to which Clark’s commentary might have sparked discussion in a TV newsroom actually in Boebert’s district?
Bernie Lange, assistant news director at KKCO 11News and KJCT in Grand Junction where he’s also an anchor, said speaking only for himself and not his editorial team he believes covering “‘flame throwing’ petulance” that only seeks to divide (and rally the Trump base) is “counterintuitive to the greater good.” But the stations he said, haven’t talked about how they should cover their representative. He called it both an interesting topic as well as a “confounding” one.
I pinged several other Western Slope TV personalities this week and will update this newsletter online if anything interesting comes in.
Departing Colorado journalist: ‘Exhaustion’
Reporter Quincey Snowdon was keeping an eye on his word count.
Typically for a journalist this means watching the number rise toward a mandated maximum limit for a story, usually set by an editor, with a kind of dread because you can always write more.
For Snowdon that number was something else. He was wondering if he could write a million words for the Sentinel Colorado over his multi-year career there. He thinks he recently did it. And now he’s leaving the paper — and perhaps journalism altogether.
From his goodbye column:
One only has so much emotional cord that can only be tied into so many lassos a day. That the knots are then summarily steamrolled by a saturated market wagging the same dog constitutes a murder of morale — over and over and over again. Watching a story get reported faster, better and then pumped to a larger audience is exhausting.
Ultimately, that’s what would be emblazoned on the proverbial passport stamp smacked down at this point of disembarkation: “Exhaustion. Stay: forever.” I’ve grown perpetually weary from the constant cock and bull about “once things settle down,” and “once that new round of funding comes in” or “once we’re able to make another hire.”
It’s a mirage. There is no cavalry. There is no wizard on an eastern slope at the dawn of the fifth day. No one is coming. The fantasies of bustling newsrooms are permanently fossilized in an era that I’ve only known from a certain Michael Keaton film. But the barrage of news interminably marches on. And right now, my cup is full. So I’m out, for the time being.
I wonder how reflective that sentiment might be in other small newsrooms.
The Steamboat Pilot got a new editor
With Lisa Schlichtman moving across the continental divide to run Colorado Community Media, the Steamboat Pilot needed a new editor. The paper, formerly a Swift Communications property and now an Ogden title, found one in Eli Pace.
He comes over as editor of Sky-Hi News, also now an Ogden paper.
“I have always just kind of been on a singular track for journalism, and I’ve never really wanted to do anything else,” Pace said in a Sky-Hi News piece introducing him. “To me, it’s the closest thing that I can get to (being) a career student. I like to learn, I like to be doing different things every day, and I’ve found it incredibly challenging.”
Read more about him here.
New publisher in La Junta: The first step is admitting you have a problem
“This week marks the beginning of a new era for the La Junta Tribune-Democrat,” the paper’s new publisher, Jeremy Gulban, wrote to readers in an introductory column this week. “Effective the 1st of December, CherryRoad Media will take over the ownership of your local publication.”
The announcement offered “abundant praise” for the paper’s staff and their dedication and commitment, but it also came with some honesty that isn’t typical of newspaper management. From the column:
We all know the current state of this newspaper is not ideal. We are not providing enough coverage of the local topics you want to read about. We are not reliably delivering the paper to your home. Our subscription pricing models are confusing. In short, the newspaper is not all that it should be.
The new publisher promised to take on those issues in the coming weeks, acknowledging it “will not be an easy task and there will be bumps along the way.” Gannett, the nation’s largest newspaper chain, was the paper’s previous owner.
More Colorado media odds & ends
👀 Interesting First Amendment and defamation ruling from the Colorado Court of Appeals yesterday: “A division of the court of appeals concludes that, under the facts of this case, neither the litigation privilege nor the Noerr-Pennington doctrine applies to shield attorneys from certain allegedly defamatory statements made during a press conference and in a press release.” (Here’s what Colorado media lawyer Steve Zansberg says about it.)
😬 Sentinel Colorado currently has only one full-time reporter that reporter said when urging readers to support the newspaper. A Denver Post reporter noted how this is what a “local news crisis” looks like: “The paper of record for the country’s 51st biggest city being down to one full-time reporter after a couple staff departures.”
❌ Last week’s newsletter incorrectly reported Katie Langford would be “the editor” of The Broomfield Leader after leaving The Boulder Daily Camera. She’ll be an assistant editor.
✉️ A newsroom labor union has sent a letter to the board of Lee Enterprises as the “vulture” hedge fund Alden Global Capital circles the newspaper chain that has papers in the West (though none in Colorado.)
💨 Susan Gonzalez of Chalkbeat Colorado is moving to New Mexico. “Excited and thankful for a new home and for what comes next,” she said. Diamond Hardiman, manager of News Voices: Colorado, has moved to Chicago.
🚀 Longtime Gazette reporter and editor Tom Roeder, who covered the military, has left the paper for a job as an analyst for The Space Foundation.
📰 Writing in the Delta County Independent in Lauren Boebert’s district, publisher Dennis Anderson called the congresswoman a “national embarrassment,” adding, “if you’re surprised by her comments, then I’m surprised you’re surprised.”
❤️ The Heart of NoCo newsroom labor union said it is “grateful for the support of so many elected leaders” who have signed its letter to management of the Alden Global Capital-controlled Loveland Reporter-Herald.
✒️ The Denver Post’s 2014 endorsement of Republican Cory Gardner for U.S. Senate, which predicted his election would “pose no threat to abortion rights,” is making the rounds again in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s review of abortion laws. (The paper rescinded its endorsement in 2019 after new people took over the editorial board, and called its prior endorsement a “mistake.”)
🔪 Wanted for murder or wanted to murder are quite different things.
⚙️ Brooklyn Dance is leaving the Alden Global Capital-controlled Broomfield Enterprise newspaper for Canada’s Village Media-owned Broomfield Leader startup. “I’m eager to be a part of a new outlet in Broomfield, a community that deserves more coverage,” she said on social media. (“[A]s it turns out, overworking and underpaying your employees is not a good strategy,” said a reporter at the Enterprise’s sister paper The Boulder Daily Camera.)
⚖️ The U.S. Department of Justice is “urging the federal appeals court based in Denver to establish that the First Amendment protects the public’s right to record police in the performance of their duties,” Colorado Politics reported.
🗞 Found at a strip mall antique store in Aurora for $12 (before a 25% discount): Copies of The Rocky Mountain News and The Denver Post published on the day the Rocky folded.
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.