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A Colorado reporter got fired after tweets
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‘Nick took to Twitter’
A mini media scandal played out this week when The New York Times fired a freelance editor after she tweeted about having “chills” seeing President Joe Biden’s plane land, and that dismissal came around the time a journalist in Idaho lost her own job after tweets, too.
In that instance, the newspaper chain McClatchy fired a top editor at The Idaho Statesman after she “criticized the newspaper’s parent company” on Twitter “for withholding resources while encouraging people to support the daily newspaper.”
Here in Colorado this week, Nick Puckett, a 25-year-old reporter for Douglas County newspapers in the Colorado Community Media chain, said he was fired after two-and-a-half years after recent social media posts he made about the mayor of Parker. The newspaper company’s publisher confirmed the separation calling it a “very difficult decision” but also said there were “several other factors that we included in our decision.”
The development leaves a young reporter out of a job and it has left a newspaper company thinking about ways to craft a social media policy for its staff. Not that its publisher thinks this whole SNAFU is just about Twitter and how reporters use it; by all accounts it’s a complicated situation. Making this case even more sensitive is that since he was 17 Puckett has had a close relationship with the family who owns CCM.
The backstory to this is that some Douglas County residents and public officials have made headlines lately for their anti-masking, Biden-denying, Q-curious, militia-forming, conspiracy theory behavior. (If you want a taste, just watch this recent interview in which 9News anchor Kyle Clark makes Parker Mayor Jeff Toborg squirm for about 10 minutes over this kind of stuff.)
Puckett says he was trying to report on Toborg’s associations with fringe elements and about posts the mayor made on the controversial social media platform Parler. He said until he started that reporting he and the mayor had what he called a chummy relationship. Toborg started stonewalling him, Puckett says, and “I was getting frustrated.”
On Twitter, the reporter began detailing how many days had gone by without hearing back, and then he escalated it to posting screen shots that showed his attempts to reach Toborg and the office spokesperson’s responses to them, some of which he acknowledges might have been a “little unorthodox.” (He later deleted some of them at management’s request.)
When the mayor’s office at one point asked for questions in advance in response to an interview request, Puckett says he wrote back that he intended to inquire about the mayor’s favorite color. When the office responded saying they expected “professional interactions with you and if this is how you are going to approach this call, we may rethink the interview,” Puckett posted a screenshot of that, too, calling it a threat from the town.
“‘Threat’ might have been a strong word,” Puckett says now, “but it was frustrating … they were threatening to withhold a conversation with the mayor if I didn’t play ball with them. That’s how I saw it.” The mayor’s office, he says, was copying his bosses on their correspondence.
Puckett says the tweets did get the mayor’s attention and that Toborg called and asked him to delete them. In that conversation, Puckett says he was “pretty hostile” toward the mayor and raised his voice. He says his editor called him into a phone meeting along with publisher Jerry Healey.
Here’s where it gets sticky. According to Puckett himself, his bosses laid out past issues they’ve had with him including not meeting story expectations — CCM expected him to produce six stories a week — limiting errors in articles, and “things like limiting misspellings, grammar mistakes and other aspects I felt were my editor’s responsibility to check.”
According to a copy of a document Puckett showed me, he was told, among other things, that “reporters must never use social media as a way to denounce a source.” The document stated that he’d displayed poor judgement that reflected poorly on the newspaper company.
Puckett says his publisher, Healey, told him he could either sign the document or resign, and he recalls responding that he felt he had other options than those. In a subsequent call, he says, Healey fired him. “I presume,” he says, “it was because I refused to sign that document,” but he also feels the company executive wanted to preserve a relationship with the town. (Puckett has known CCM publisher Jerry Healey and his wife Anne for years; Anne was his high school teacher, he says, and has been a mentor to him.)
For his part, Jerry Healey says his family-owned company cares about its employees, won’t pull punches in the community, and noted his family has known Puckett since he was a teenager. “We think highly of him,” Healey told me. “This was a very difficult decision.”
Here’s Healey’s full statement:
“We regret that Nick took to Twitter to share some of this very personal experience, but that is ultimately his decision to make. I’ve heard from several of his followers and explained the best I could without violating his privacy. However, in our ‘cancel culture,’ several of his followers have cancelled their free delivery of the Parker Chronicle to their homes and questioned our credibility in holding government officials accountable. We don’t agree with this and are committed to and always have been to being a watchdog for local government.”
(Editor’s note: I’m not sure that’s the best example of cancel culture, but I digress…)
So far, other staffers in the CCM chain haven’t weighed in publicly about this incident. One of them, though, told me staff remains confident they can and will continue to hold powerful people accountable, that its reporters are talented, diligent and tenacious, and pointed to recent work as evidence. “We've got some great stories in the pipeline, too,” the journalist said. “Keep your eyes on us.”
The Loveland Reporter-Herald staff formed a labor union
The last time wolves roamed free in Colorado was around the 1940s before government-sanctioned exterminators wiped them out — and now wolves are coming back to Colorado.
The last time organizers say employees of a Colorado newspaper successfully formed a labor union was also around the 1940s — and now, a labor union has formed in Colorado.
That would be the Heart of NoCo News Guild, a union of journalists at The Loveland Reporter-Herald newspaper. That’s one of the roughly a dozen newspapers in Colorado controlled by the New York hedge fund Alden Global Capital, which is known for laying off workers and gutting newsrooms. Until this week, The Denver Post was the only newspaper in Colorado’s Alden-controlled cluster where employees worked under union protection.
The new union will bring workers at the Reporter-Herald in solidarity with their Denver Post brothers and sisters under the Denver Newspaper Guild and the larger Communication Workers of America.
Tony Mulligan, the administrative officer of the Denver Newspaper Guild, told this newsletter in December that the last successful union drive at a Colorado paper was at The Pueblo Chieftain around the 1940s. The last viable union campaign he could recall was about 15 years ago in Boulder, but he said it didn’t take hold.
So this new development is quite notable, and it will be interesting to see if any other small newspapers under the Alden umbrella follow suit. What’s happening here is also part of a broader trend nationwide of union organizing at newspapers and digital media companies.
Read more here about what union protection for newspapers can mean, and the backstory for how the Reporter-Herald union came together.
The Axios Denver duo speaks
The new daily newsletter should start hitting inboxes by late February.
In a pair of interviews this week, both of the well-sourced reporters with backgrounds in political journalism said they feel Denver’s news scene is too fragmented and they want to offer a one-stop-shop that ties it all together in a way that’s respectful of a reader’s time. And they both said while they expect to break news and report original material, they plan to elevate and promote local journalism.
For Alvarez, who moved to Denver from D.C. in 2019, it was the company’s “smart brevity” style that attracted her.
“I think it’s important to take a step back, make things shorter, more concise, more to the point,” she says. “Personally, as a news consumer, I’m so overwhelmed with all of the information out there. I think they’re leading in a very smart way.”
For his part, Franks says he still hopes to contribute to the Sun and asked Axios to change his contract so he could do so. (When he left The Denver Post to join the Sun in 2018, he told me he was getting a modest pay increase. This time he just called it an increase.)
As for what Axios could offer him that he wasn’t getting at the Sun, Frank says he couldn’t resist taking a job at a major outlet he’s long respected. “It’s my number one news source at the national level,” he says. “Axios is a national leading media company on par with New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post. But they’re at the forefront of innovation.” He says the company already has an established base of readers of its national product and he doesn’t have any kind of subscription targets to hit.
Frank envisions his job as “narrating” the news conversation in Denver, he says, “not competing necessarily with existing local news folks, but kind of taking the best of the best and putting it together.” He added that he would also seek to break plenty of news and produce scoops. He hopes to cover business, tech, beer, outdoors, real estate, education, politics, and more.
Earlier this month, Axios published a Bill of Rights that said it promised it won’t use “AI-written stories,” which some news outlets in Denver are doing to juice content. And it also said the company believes “high-quality journalism should not be an exclusive privilege” so it’ll “provide free access to the majority of our content.”
Both Alvarez and Frank come from outlets where the majority of their journalism was for subscribers. One thing I’ll be interested in seeing is how they’ll handle surfacing paywalled and exclusive material in their own daily free newsletter. (I’ve struggled sometimes with how to do it in this newsletter.)
At this point, it shouldn’t be a surprise the national media company chose Denver as one of its handful of cities to roll out a local version of its successful newsletter product. The others, so far, are Charlotte, Des Moines, the Twin Cities, and Tampa.
“I think of all the markets Denver is probably the toughest,” Frank says. “Because — as you’ve written plenty of times — we have every media test or innovation trying to take place at once.”
The Colorado Sun is growing
I almost wrote “glowing” in the headline. Woulda been a Sun pun. I’ll let myself out.
But seriously, the public benefit corporation formed two years ago by 10 journalists from The Denver Post who resigned in protest of their hedge-fund owner, is on a hiring spree.
From the Sun this week:
Michael Booth, whose stories you’ve seen in The Sun as a contributor, will join us as a full-time health and environment reporter next week. … Thy Vo will be joining Jesse Paul to cover politics and government at the state Legislature. Thy began contributing to The Sun in December, writing The Sunriser, our daily morning newsletter, and managing social media and web content. …
The Sun will also be adding a number of new positions to our team. We are currently hiring a full-time social and presentation editor and a staff photographer, a two-year-position funded through Report for America. Applications for the photographer position are due Jan. 31. We also soon will be posting job openings for a news editor, a breaking news reporter, a politics reporter and a reporter focusing on the economic recovery of the state with special attention to rural issues.
Read more about it here.
It’s ‘News Literacy Week’ at Denver7
How should kids be able to tell what’s legit news or not? It’s harder these days with much more onus on the reader.
Bad actors, of course, muddy the waters, but credible news organizations also blur the lines by running sponsored content meant to trick readers or by publishing government PR as if it’s written by a reporter.
So kudos to Denver7 for trying to do something about it — at least for a week.
From the TV station:
All this week, Denver7 and our parent company, Scripps, are working with the National News Literacy Project to highlight how students are becoming better, more-informed news consumers and next-generation journalists.
In a recent piece for the series, the station takes viewers into Michelle Pearson’s classroom at Century Middle School in Thornton where “a big part of the curriculum is teaching students how to digest news from different sources.” In the classroom, Pearson says she gets them to ask: “What do I need to analyze? Who’s writing it? What’s the bias? What’s the opinion?”
Dana Plewka, who helps lead a program in Colorado called Newspapers In Education, told the station, “We want them asking the good questions: ‘Who’s telling me this? What are their sources? How did it come to me?’”
Here’s more from the story:
NIE provides free online access to several newspapers for teachers and students. Those newspapers include the Denver Post, Boulder Daily Camera, Longmont Times-Call, Loveland Reporter-Herald and the Greeley Tribune. “Over 230,000 students in Colorado have access to that information,” Plewka said.
I do hope the lessons are going beyond just newspapers and looking at a whole host of digital sites and online information.
Keep up with Denver7’s media literacy week here.
More Colorado local media odds & ends
📱 Two Democratic lawmakers have introduced legislation that would implement recommendations from a previously passed media literacy bill. (Read this write-up on it from KOAA-TV’s Mayo Davison, and a guest column in The Denver Post from the lawmakers.)
🗞️ “I decided I wanted to make a newspaper,” said a 9-year-old Coloradan. “I was also inspired by it because I wanted to help feed the hungry people during this pandemic—so I decided to raise money for the food bank.”
🎉 Boulder Weekly is celebrating 27 years of independent local alt-weekly journalism.
🔎 Multiple Colorado media organizations have “signed onto a letter sent this week to House and Senate majority and minority leaders calling on legislators to be more transparent during the upcoming legislative session, and to stop using the reaction to COVID-19 as a reason to violate both the intent and spirit of Colorado’s open meetings laws.”
🔥 A Boston University journalism master’s student examined Colorado wildfire coverage and climate change.
📡 Tammy Terwelp, who left as general manager of KRCC in the Springs to lead Aspen Public Radio a couple years ago, is now headed to KUNC where she’ll replace Neil Best who had been there for nearly 50 years.
📺 Denver7 offered viewers a “behind the scenes look” at the TV station’s “editorial & news gathering process.”
📢 The Colorado Press Association spotlighted Colorado Politics this week in its newsletter. Here’s what managing editor Linda Shapley said about what sets it apart: “There’s a need among our readers to deeply understand the why behind what’s happening, so it’s critical that our readership is getting context along with the news. We veer into ‘wonk’ territory more often than you might see in other publications. We couple some great institutional knowledge with an insatiable desire to dig deep on the decisions that are made in places of political power and try our best to explain what the effects might be.”
📰 Check out what journalism students at Rock Canyon High School in Highlands Ranch are up to.
⚖️ Colorado-based Dominion Voting Systems has filed a defamation suit “against former President Donald Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani over his baseless claims that Dominion was at the center of a scheme to perpetuate widespread election fraud.”
🐦 A Colorado State University researcher read every tweet former President Donald Trump sent, and recognized a pattern.
📷 A biennial Denver festival, “which celebrates photography in all of its forms, will start in March.”
💉 A Colorado Public Radio reporter got her finger caught in a blender and wrote about her experience getting dosed with Ketamine at the hospital.
🌐 Our neighbor Oklahoma is getting in on the newsroom collaboration movement. “An overarching goal of the Oklahoma Media Center is to help sustain and shape the future of Oklahoma’s media ecosystem.”
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. I this week finalized an agreement with the Colorado Media Project about them underwriting this newsletter, and I’m working on a collaborative higher-ed project with COLab, both of which I sometimes write about here. Follow me on Twitter, reply or subscribe to this weekly newsletter here, or e-mail me at CoreyHutchins [at] gmail [dot] com.