A Denver trial reporter is married to the prosecutor's spokesperson. How does that work?
This week's look at the news behind the news in Colorado
Among several reporters covering the unsettling STEM school shooting trial in Douglas County this month was David Migoya. The investigative reporter handled several days of courtroom coverage for The Denver Post from late last month until the trial’s end this week.
The trial wrapped up Tuesday when jurors found guilty a 20-year-old of murdering classmate Kendrick Castillo in a 2019 attack in which Castillo tried to subdue the shooter and stop him from killing others in a classroom.
Someone you won’t see quoted in Migoya’s stories, however, is another Migoya. That’s Vikki Migoya, the spokeswoman for the 18th Judicial District whose prosecutors argued the case.
The Migoyas — one a trial reporter and the other a judicial district spokeswoman — are a couple. On its face, the situation presents a potential sticky situation.
Journalists strive to avoid conflicts of interest real or perceived, which has gotten harder in our networked digital age. Marital relationships among journalists have made for case studies or discussion for years.
So how does this particular one work in practice for the Migoyas, both of whom once worked at The Denver Post and also competed as journalists in Denver’s Great Newspaper War — he at the Post and she at the Rocky?
“Is it uncomfortable or difficult? Not at all,” David Migoya said this week when I checked in with the couple. “We’ve been working together at the same or competing newspapers in Detroit and here in Colorado for many years. We understand how to keep the workplace apart from our life together. … We’ve learned how to make that work and we’ve done it very well.”
The two have both been in their respective jobs for years, and David Migoya has previously reported consequentially on the 18th Judicial District and its former high-profile district attorney. That politician, George Brauchler, is a star on Colorado’s thin Republican statewide political bench, and he led the prosecution during the recent trial.
Earlier this year, Brauchler, who is a columnist at The Denver Post, name-checked David Migoya’s investigative reporting for the paper in one of his columns. The recognition came in response to an impactful and illuminating accountability series David Migoya published, called “Shrouded Justice,” that exposed pervasive secrecy in Colorado’s notoriously buttoned-up court system. The series revealed the bulk of criminal cases kept secret were in Brauchler’s jurisdiction. All the while, Vikki Migoya was working as Brauchler’s spokeswoman. “Vikki knew nothing of the story findings until it was published,” David Migoya says.
Here’s how the process plays out, per Vikki Migoya, who has been a helpful press liaison to journalists in and outside Colorado:
“The procedure in my office is that I cannot correspond directly with David about any story he is working on involving my office; we want to be careful that there is no favoritism or possible conflict of interest. If he needs something from my office, someone else is assigned to work with him.”
Vikki Migoya says she sends editors at the Post the same trial updates she sends editors of other local media that have requested them. “Clearly,” she adds, “I do not have input with any editors about who to assign to any given story.”
The Denver Post newsroom isn’t as stacked with reporters as it was back in the Great Newspaper War days of yore, but you’d think the paper might have enough bodies to have assigned someone else if managers thought it was an issue. But they didn’t.
So how did David Migoya wind up covering a trial (from home via WebEx) where his wife, who was in attendance in the courtroom, could be a helpful source? He says he caught the coverage because the paper’s usual courts reporter was involved in an in-depth story and he was between projects. He said Post brass agreed that the paper’s managing editor would pose any questions regarding the trial that the Post needed answered.
“A trial is very self-evident,” he says, adding the paper’s extensive previous coverage provided all the background he needed to fill in any lack of knowledge on the case.
The Post’s decision to Migoya the trial (that’s a verb not a typo) raised eyebrows with at least a few journalists closely following coverage of the case, though none I talked to wished to say anything publicly about it. And no one pointed to anything specific in the coverage that bothered them.
“We have other reporters, but David was in the best position to cover the trial in terms of what else he had going on,” says Post editor Lee Ann Colacioppo. She adds that she had confidence the couple could navigate the personal and professional waters. “Had this been a story that would have relied heavily on the public relations arm of the DA’s office or created a conflict of interest, we would not have assigned David to the story,” she says, and echoed her reporter: “a trial is a much more straightforward story.”
This trial did turn out straightforward but anything could have happened. That’s the nature of news.
I read all of David Migoya’s coverage and found it compelling — with the caveat that it’s the only full coverage of the trial I read. I can take the relationship into account because I’m aware of it, and I’m still considering the extent to which I’m animated by it. If I were a competing reporter covering the trial I might be irked. Casual readers of the Post probably don’t care. They wouldn’t know about the relationship anyway since it wasn’t noted. I wondered how the lead defense attorney might have felt about the arrangement, but didn’t hear back.
As for the couple at the end of this trial that garnered national attention, “We’re both very good at what we do and I am equally as proud of Vikki's professionalism and accomplishments as I would believe she is of mine,” David Migoya says. “The best part is we respect each other enough never to put any of that in the way of our personal relationship or at the risk of our professional reputations.”
Conflict? Not for them.
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Denver’s Ms. Mayhem reports for, not about, communities
A self-funded Denver site called Ms. Mayhem “takes pride in reporting on the intersection of race, class, gender, ability, and sexual orientation.”
The news outlet, conceived three years ago by Madison Lauterbach, who was attending Metropolitan State University at the time, grew out of a desire to create “one place to go to discover stories about women in alternative industries, like skateboarding, graffiti and tattooing.”
This week, Ms. Mayhem earned a major write-up in the summer edition of Quill, the magazine produced by the Society of Professional Journalists.
Diversity has been “kind of a core foundation of Ms. Mayhem since the start,” Lauterbach told the magazine. “We really wanted a newsroom that was representative of the communities we were writing about,” she said. “Most of my staff identifies as queer. We’ve got a ton of writers of color. I mean, I’m disabled. We’ve also got a couple former or current sex workers.”
More from the Quill article, which isn’t yet online:
“We try to have as big a blend as possible on the news team. So that way, it allows us [to write] for communities instead of about them. One of the ways we do that is by having a person who belongs to that community write the story.”
“Indeed, a core part of journalism is developing sources, and the more a journalist knows about the inner workings of a community, the better equipped they are to know who to ask, what questions to ask, and how to frame those questions in a way that gets to the heart of the story,” Nicole A. Childers wrote for NiemanLab last November. “If a journalist is from a community they are reporting on, they’re more likely to know the history of that community and be able to put it into proper context for their audience.”
I feel like I’ve been hearing more and more instances of people talking about reporting “with” or “for” communities instead of about them.
Just this week, Laura Frank, who runs the Colorado News Collaborative, or COLab, tweeted “Such important points” in response to the Institute for Nonprofit News quoting American Documentary director Erika Dilday, who said, “I think this idea of reporting not in partnership with communities is a problem. If you’re going into communities, if you’re taking something from them, you owe them back.”
Frank says there’s a lot of nuance around this and “these are things we need to be talking about and figuring out. And we still are.”
As for what reporting for, not about, communities looks like in practice, Quill’s Zoë Berg points to Ms. Mayhem stories about how sex workers file taxes and how COVID-19 impacted their community. Those in the sex-worker community, she writes, might not typically trust journalists for fear of being put in danger.
“Sometimes people are told, ‘You can’t cover a story that is focusing on the issues of the Asian community if you, too, are a part of that community,’ because we’re too biased,” the publication’s co-founder Ali Mai told Quill. “At Ms. Mayhem, we see that as an asset, actually.”
Speaking of that…
Lori Lizarraga, Kristen Aguirre, and Sonia Gutierrez, three journalists referenced in a March column Lizarraga wrote for Westword headlined “LatinXed: 9News Got Rid of Three Latina Reporters This Past Year, Including Me,” this week earned Dale Awards from the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.
In that impactful column, Lizarraga wrote:
For two years, I lugged my diversity to 9News each day in the content of my journalism, wishing I could leave it at home without a clue as to when it became baggage. I was “too close” to the issues, too passionate, too emotional, too aggressive. I was the most effective community journalist I had ever been, and I knew I was going to lose my job.
The column led to a story by Elizabeth Hernandez in the Denver Post about how the three journalists were changing the journalism industry.
The Gunnison Country Times newspaper is staying in local hands
Chris Dickey, who has owned and run The Gunnison Country Times for more than a decade, has sold the weekly newspaper to a local couple.
From a recent column Dickey published about the sale:
A couple weeks ago I mentioned in a commentary how I believe that all leadership positions come with a pretty finite expiration date, that no one can be effective in that type of role forever and that it should come as no major surprise when someone moves on from a top post. Well, today is that day for me. After 28 years in community journalism, 15 years as owner, editor, publisher, chief cook and bottle washer of your hometown newspaper, I’m stepping back.
Alan Wartes and Issa Forrest, a couple known in the Gunnison arts and culture community, will now own the paper. “In addition to maintaining the journalistic integrity and excellence that Times readers expect and enjoy, Wartes and Forrest plan to introduce a range of digital media news and information productions in the coming weeks and months,” read a recent Times item about the sale.
The move marks the second notable development in recent weeks of newspapers in Colorado changing ownership but staying in local hands.
This is good news. In 2019, a Colorado Media Project analysis found owners of at least 44 primary sources of original local news in Colorado are nearing retirement age or could leave the business. So it’s worth watching what happens to these publications. (A third local-transition might be on its way: I’ve been keeping an eye on the attempted transfer of the monthly Crestone Eagle to a local nonprofit media group in the San Luis Valley.)
For his part, new Country Times owner Wartes, a writer and filmmaker, penned a column introducing himself to readers, and indicated he didn’t appreciate the word “purchased.” While that’s technically accurate, he wrote, “I think it’s also misleading. Sure, we now own some desks and computers and vending machines scattered around the valley. Those things are useful, but they do not comprise the business, and never could. The reason is simple: A newspaper consists of intangible things that will never be for sale.”
More from his column:
The burning question in our story — What will happen next? — has acquired new immediacy, now that we’ve emerged on the other side of 2020. The answers, and how we will respond, lie at the very heart of our mandate here at the Times to facilitate the conversation with maximum integrity, fairness and respect for all angles of a story. It’s an honor and a deep responsibility we did not “purchase” — we chose it, because this is our home, too, and because our future is intertwined with yours.
Speaking of the future, we are excited to begin rolling out a series of online digital media products that will greatly enhance the news and information you already enjoy with a subscription to the Times. These include podcasts, audio and video news features, live streaming of community events and more. Watch the paper for more information as we get ready to hit send later this summer.
George Sibley, who taught Dickey at Western State University, wrote a letter to the editor about the outgoing Country Times editor. In it, he talked about community journalism and “objectivity.” From the letter:
Chris came into the journalism emphasis in the college’s Communications program, where Professor Mark Todd and yours truly were developing a variation on standard journalism training with what we called “Community Journalism.” This was based on both realism and idealism: the reality being that most J-school graduates would begin their careers working for newspapers in small to medium-sized places where the alleged breadth of a liberal arts education would stand them in good stead.
The idealism stemmed from Mark’s and my shared belief that many of the small to medium-sized [places], especially in regions like Western Colorado, were not “sleepy little towns,” but were pretty dynamic communities working through a transition from “Old West” resource-extraction economies to “New West” recreation-amenity economies and cultures — cultural fronts of engagement rather than cultural backwaters. And as such, they required a journalist to try to parse out a way forward through areas of tension or outright conflict that wasn’t just a “middle way” but was a “better way” that got everyone to forget about their “non-negotiables” and move forward with some degree of acknowledgement at least, if not appreciation, for what everyone was bringing to the table. Rather than just a discipline of “objectivity,” it wanted a talent for “creative nonfiction.” Accuracy, factual base, and “telling the whole story” remained essential – but it was not just permissible but encouraged to … suss out and articulate a community vision, to more proactively help your community become what its people thought they wanted it to be.
Also writing in to the paper about its next chapter was Mike Ritchey, a former owner and publisher of newspapers in Gunnison, Crested Butte, and Telluride. He had this to say for context about newspaper life in the valley:
“And while you’re thinking, think about The Crested Butte News, run for so long now and so expertly by the indefatigable Mark Reamon—two fine newspapers in this one little valley. In this dark day and age of slash-and-burn media, that’s something that’s not supposed to happen.”
More Colorado media odds & ends
📍 Here’s an update on a team project I’m working on to help map Colorado’s local news future.
🆕 The Southern Colorado Public Media Center in the Springs, which will house Colorado Public Radio, KRCC, Rocky Mountain PBS’s Regional Innovation Center, and the Colorado College Journalism Institute, is coming along — and opening soon. Join me in helping “build the future of enriching and fact-based public media in Southern Colorado” by donating toward the effort here.
🏛️ The latest legislative session that just wrapped up in Colorado produced “a mixed bag of good and not-so-good developments for those concerned about government transparency.” (The Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition’s Jeff Roberts appeared on KVNF to talk about it.)
🌡️ Colorado Newsline’s Chase Woodruff says: “If you’re a Colorado journalist covering this week’s dangerous, record-shattering heat wave, there’s simply no excuse for you not to familiarize yourself with basic climate science and place the story within the vitally important context of man-made global warming.”
📺 Welcome Darius Johnson to KUSA 9News. “This was an unexpected blessing and I am so grateful for the opportunity to grow and work with exceptional journalists,” he said.
❌ In my last newsletter I mistakenly lumped Comcast in with another company when I mentioned “satellite companies.” Comcast is not a satellite company.
⛔ Colorado Parks and Wildlife directors prohibited a game warden “and other regional agency officials from talking with media before the 2020 election” about wolf reintroduction.
📡 The local broadcast TV landscape in Colorado Springs “is undergoing more changes,” The Gazette reported. “While Fox 21 is losing a general manager, local NBC affiliate KOAA-TV has gained one.” Meanwhile, in Denver…
😬 “In all the coverage, one thing was missing: Julia’s [Turing’s] own voice. Not until Westword reached the 59-year-old via a P.O. box listed on some court documents did any media outlet obtain her side of the story,” Westword reports.
📚 A new Tattered Cover bookstore opened in Denver “under new CEO Kwame Spearman and a team of investors.”
💯 When a social media user asked, “Hello Twitter world , where does @KyleClark live?” the 9News anchor replied, “Rent-free between the ears of the anonymous bros around here. Enjoy your morning bagels and doxx.”
⚙️ Boulder journalist Sharon Udasin is joining The Hill where she’ll co-author “a brand new newsletter on sustainability that will be starting later this month.”
🌵 Jonathan Romeo, former environmental reporter for The Durango Herald, joined The Durango Telegraph where he’s “Excited to get back to reporting on Southwest Colorado and the Four Corners.”
⚖️ Colorado Politics reported “Civil rights attorneys are cheering a federal court ruling that affirms, seemingly for the first time in Colorado, that filming police in public is a First Amendment right.” The site also reported that the First Amendment “does not protect a Colorado attorney from being disciplined for using an anti-gay slur to describe a judge, the state Supreme Court ruled.”
🏆 The co-publishers of the Ouray County Plaindealer have been “jointly honored with the 2021 Colorado Press Association Rising Star award.” Meanwhile, the Colorado chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists has honored “longtime journalist, professor and author Lee Anne Peck as Journalism Educator of the Year.”
🚼 Denver’s CBS4 Meteorologist Lauren Whitey announced “on social media, and during a news broadcast, that she and her husband are expecting their first child.”
☀️ The Colorado Sun earned a mention in Nonprofit Quarterly.
⚖️ Denver’s FOX31 investigative TV reporter Rob Low and his station’s owner, Nexstar Media Group, filed a lawsuit that “seeks the public disclosure of 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 reports.
💵 Boulder Daily Camera reporter Mitchell Byars said he’s been at the hedge-fund-controlled newspaper for about decade, “with increasing duties and responsibilities every year,” and he’s never made $45,000 annually. “Only once have I even made more than $40K,” he said.
🎙️ In celebration of Pride Month, Colorado State University’s KCSU has “kicked off celebrations with a brand-new podcast.”
📝 This newsletter took last week off and didn’t warn you. I let life get in the way and it might happen again soon.
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. 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.