Can a Colorado newspaper's 'NABUR' program compete with sites like Facebook and Nextdoor?

... and more Colorado local news & media

An ‘alternative social media platform’

Promising to bridge a gap “between local news and social media,” The Montrose Daily Press newspaper on the Western Slope became the first in Colorado to launch a NABUR program.

That stands for Neighborhood Alliance for Better Understanding and Respect (and also Neighborhood Assisted Bureau Reporting.) It’s an initiative by Arizona-based Wick Communications, a family-owned local media company with two papers in Colorado. The project won a grant in 2019 as part of the Google News Initiative Challenge fund.

The point of the platform, operated by the local newspaper, is to “help provide an alternative social media platform where the journalists can help facilitate dialogue,” according to Sean Fitzpatrick, Wick’s digital director based in Tucson.

The move is another example of the ways in which local news publishers seek to pull community members back from platforms like Facebook and other online networks when it comes to where people are engaging with each other online and sharing local information. (Local news sites have already lost plenty of their advertisers to the Big Tech platforms.)

Dennis Anderson, publisher of The Montrose Daily Press and Delta County Independent, calls NABUR “basically a safe place to have a conversation.” He described it in an interview as a combination of a Facebook group and Nextdoor. “If you look at the site,” he says, “it kind of feels a bit like Reddit.”

Other Wick papers have been running the NABUR program elsewhere, including in neighboring Arizona; the Montrose paper soft-launched its own earlier this month. Ironically, it came with an early hiccup, Anderson says, when moderators had to take down a post a user made alleging someone had assaulted a child.

Users can’t be anonymous, which might be a deterrent for some. The paper plans to have events and bring in local experts, like someone from a recreational center, a national park, or a specialist on a particular topic to keep the conversation going online.

“The whole idea is that they’re not dealing with rumors on Facebook, they’re actually going to go into this platform and talk about things, and we’ll actually have people who have knowledge of the project or the issue that you have interact with you,” Anderson says.

Here’s what the local newspaper’s NABUR project is up against: On Facebook, a group called The Montrose Message Board has racked up 21,500 members in its near-decade in existence. For context, Montrose had a population of just under 20,000, according to 2019 census data. Twenty-eight neighborhoods in Montrose are on the private social platform Nextdoor. Some news outlets are using Nextdoor to connect with their communities, and the platform has partnered with local newsrooms, too. (Nextdoor and other neighborhood social media have been accused of stoking fears of crime.)

What makes NABUR a different animal in the community social media space, Anderson says, is the incorporation of a newsroom staffer with the title of journalist product manager who will oversee the platform. In Montrose, that’s staff writer Josue Perez who has been there for about a year.

“It’s going to be an important task,” he told me. “It’s really a platform where we want people to go where they will get factual information. It’s going to be fact-checked by me and other journalists we have here at The Montrose Daily Press.”

Earlier this month, the newspaper held a virtual event where members of the staff unveiled the project.

“We think that this will be a really good way that we can fight misinformation within our community,” managing editor Justin Tubbs told the audience. “Not only will it be helpful for you as the users but it will be helpful for us as well as journalists. You’ll help give us ideas for what’s going on in our community. You’ll help us keep our finger to the pulse.”

During the event, Fitzpatrick, the Wick digital director, said newspapers using the platform don’t want to hinder debate on controversial topics — they encourage it — but they do want users to act civilly. “We are going to be very diligent about calling out facts and calling out fiction when those things come up and really trying to facilitate a better conversation,” he said.

Sing up here to see how NABUR is playing out so far in Montrose.

Axios launched this week in Denver

On Monday, Axios launched its daily newsletter in Denver as the successful national company tests out a local version of its “smart brevity” model in a handful of cities. Naturally, the Mile High City is one of those markets.

Over the course of its first week, the Axios Denver team, Alayna Alvarez and John Frank, broke news about the mayor’s new approach to busting up camps of the city’s unhoused (though it led to some confusion about the details and an update to the story), asked a company called Orbital Insight to analyze cell phone data to determine the pandemic’s “blow to malls” like the one in Cherry Creek, and reported how Colorado’s Republican Party is still flailing around with baseless “stolen election” claims. They also reported Denver Mayor Michael Hancock’s first tap of the day on his phone is The Denver Gazette. That was part of an interesting feature I hope they continue in which they ask prominent figures about their media consumption habits.

In addition, the duo held their first virtual event, a Feb. 25 discussion with U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and Denver Health’s chief medical officer, Dr. Connie Price.

In their first edition, Axios Denver sketched out their role, similar to what the pair said in an interview for this newsletter before the launch. “Denver is a hub of innovation for local news,” they wrote Monday, “but it’s fractured and difficult to keep pace with all the headlines.” Follow what they’re doing here.

Ex-Denver Post editor was on PBS

With the newsroom-gutting New York hedge fund Alden Global Capital poised to take over the Tribune Publishing chain, national media have been turning to Coloradans to talk about what’s at stake.

This week, former Denver Post Editor Greg Moore appeared on the PBS NewsHour. During part of it, host Judy Woodruff asked him about turnover in leadership at major news organizations and about a call for more diversity and inclusion in newsrooms.

“If you look at a lot of these digital verticals that have been created in the last 10 years, they’re almost exclusively white,” Moore said. “And that really affects the kinds of stories that get covered, who gets to tell the stories, who gets included as sources and things of that nature.”

More from Moore:

“And I would say, next to the financial stability of the media, the second most important thing is inclusion and a diversity of voices, not just on the reporting level, but on the editing level, on the producer level, and certainly in the chief executive office.”

Watch the 12-minute segment here.

Why you see that unseemly ‘sponsored content’ on local news sites

Here’s what I came up with for this week’s “Inside the News” column, bouncing off last week’s newsletter in which I solicited a defense of unseemly sponsored content on Colorado local news sites.

Unsurprisingly, it comes down to money. Too much of it to blow off.

“I think advertorials and these feeds ultimately harm trust in our brands in the search for supplemental revenue,” Eric Larsen, editor of the Coloradoan in Fort Collins, said for the piece. “But if you look at that revenue … and see that it’s supporting X number of local journalists’ salaries, there’s a concession there. Is the loss of that revenue, and potentially the associated local reporting manpower, the greater evil given the continued erosion of local journalism across the country?”

Larsen, who sometimes writes personal columns inviting his readers behind the scenes at the Gannett-owned paper, told me plenty more I couldn’t fit in the column. Here were some interesting notes:

  • He said he could only recall a “handful” of reader complaints about the sponsored content over the years “although I’ve felt that some were too racy to fit with our content mix and brand image.”

  • “I know that I’ve come to accept them as part of my digital news ecosystem, as they show up on the ESPN, Coloradoan.com and other Gannett websites that I frequent,” he said. “And embarrassingly enough, some even tease a click out of me from time to time, usually the sports listicles that I immediately regret.”

  • “I think there’s an important conversation here about journalistic integrity, brand integrity and how we pay to keep the doors open,” he said. “While I’d love to say that subscriber support and local advertising support is enough to sustain local news, that’s clearly not the case across the country. From a journalistic integrity standpoint, I’d prefer to operate in a world where reader revenue, be it subscriptions, donations, what have you, would allow us to ditch these attempts to monetize our reach outside of whatever we define as our mainstream advertising efforts.”

  • “I’m not going to call for the removal of all these feeds,” he said, “but I’d hope at the least that from an industry standpoint we could make clear to advertising partners that some of these items fall outside our ethical standards and should be discontinued.”

Read the column here.

KUVO is a jazz station

The jazz station KUVO in Denver has a devoted following. I know this because I spent the better part of last Friday fielding emails about how I’d mistakenly called it a “hip-hop” station in the links roundup of last week’s newsletter after misreading this headline.

My inbox swelled all week with readers pointing out the mistake. It even led to at least one snarky text message from a friend. In the course of managing incoming complaints, I learned a lot more about the significance of KUVO, another station called The Drop that appears on on KUVO HD2, and the Buell Public Media building.

Here’s what Rocky Mountain Public Media CEO Amanda Mountain has to say:

The station is actually called THE DROP and it didn’t move into the Buell Center, it’s part of Rocky Mountain Public Media and launched 18 months ago as a streaming-only station. This week, we announced that RMPM purchased a translator to take it over-the-air in Denver, Aurora, and surrounding communities on 104.7FM. It’s broadcasting over the air as KUVO HD2 stream, which is why there may be some confusion. KUVO Jazz still exists in all its glory.

Here are some other newsworthy aspects she noted:

  • Nikki Swarn is the first Black female General Manager of a Radio station in Colorado.”

  • “The Drop is one of the first in the country to broadcast an HD stream over the air in a major market.”

  • “The station is one of the first public media Hip Hop/R&B stations in the country.”

The Drop is “much more than a music format station, but really an authentic investment in creating media WITH the community we intend to serve rather than creating media FOR the audience we want to grow,” Mountain says. “Hip Hop is the point of entry, and community conversations about relevant topics/issues and reliable news and information will follow, ultimately creating a deeper public trust in local media and greater shared ownership in its future.”

Lisa Kennedy wrote an in-depth story about The Drop for The Know at The Denver Post this week. Check it out here.

CBS4 launched a project dedicated to elevating Black voices

“My colleagues, accustomed to reporting facts, now share their truth.”

So said Britt Moreno in a recent CBS4 Denver broadcast dedicated to highlighting the experiences of Black journalists at the local TV news station. All who appeared on the segment said they had experienced racism.

Reporter Mekialaya White said while she was in the field reporting a story a passerby once shouted, “I hate Black people.”

Morning newscast executive producer Gabrielle Cox said covering Black Lives Matter demonstrations this summer was harder than covering COVID because it was so personal. “I was so frustrated with so many other deaths and killings of Black men in particular,” she said. “It was exhausting. It was hard to watch and report and go home and sit in your reality and realize you’re not treated the same.”

Reporter Tori Mason said, “When you’re doing a story on Black Lives Matter and you’re Black, it’s pretty hard to hide how you feel about that.”

CBS4 news director Tim Weiland said the broadcast was part of a new editorial project at the station dedicated to elevating Black voices. The move comes during Black History Month, but also as newsrooms in Colorado and the nation grapple with their overwhelming whiteness and how that might affect coverage.

Battle continues over the fate of that brutalist Denver7 building in Denver

Last month, this newsletter kicked up a bit of a debate among journalists and others about a downtown Denver building that houses the KMGH Denver7 TV station. The item in that Jan. 8 edition asked whether a battle over brutalism might determine the “landmark” fate of a Denver journalism building.

Denver’s planning office concluded that because of its history and brutalist architecture, among other reasons, the structure on Speer Boulevard has the potential to become a historic Denver landmark. The owner, Scripps Media, wants to sell the property, though, and doesn’t think the city should designate the structure as a landmark. (A developer might not want the hassle to keep it.) A follow-up revealed three local residents had actually filed a letter that kicked of an official landmark designation process that could save the building from the wrecking ball.

Now, the battle is heating up. BusinessDen reported this week that those three residents “with the assistance of nonprofit Historic Denver” submitted a landmark application, “asking the city to give the structure a designation that would effectively prevent it from being demolished.”

The TV station’s general manager, Drew Littleton, told BusinessDen something similar to what he told me last month: The company wants to sell the building so they can move into a larger space with fewer floors.

More from BusinessDen:

Littleton said what Denver7 has that’s worth preserving is “tens of thousands of hours” of footage on Colorado’s history — not its current building. “Those records will be preserved for our community for generations,” he said. “That’s not going to change.”

Michael Henry, one of the residents who filed the landmark application, told me this week he expects a public hearing in April. “We were surprised at all of the history of broadcasting described in the application,” he said.

Here’s something else in the BusinessDen piece that jumped out at me:

Littleton’s news team has yet to cover the station’s planned move or the landmark discussions. He said it’s still being determined if and when the station will do so. “We don’t like being the center of attention,” Littleton said.

Welp, good luck with that!

More Colorado local media odds & ends

💻 Rocky Mountain PBS and KSUT Tribal Radio’s Native Lens is looking to hire a contractor who will work on social media and other digital outreach. The new hire, who should have “experience working with Native/Indigenous communities and customs,” will report to KSUT Tribal Radio.

📡 A young conservative Colorado radio host and newspaper columnist explained how he thinks Rush Limbaugh shaped Denver media and his own career.

💰 Colorado journalists daydreamed of a benevolent billionaire buying The Denver Post. (Matt Yglesias suggested Elon Musk should buy a “big city newspaper and run it.”)

🌴 TV journalist Jessica Barreto is leaving KOAA in the Springs for a station in Jacksonville, Florida.

⚖️ A Whispering Pines man is “challenging his metropolitan district’s rules regarding when he can fly his gay pride flag. The American Civil Liberties Union and the homeowners are calling [the rules] a violation of the First Amendment.”

📺 Westword reports “most Fox31 viewers didn’t realize that [one of its TV reporters] had been working with Pivot [Lending Group] for around six months before she decided to leave the station and focus on her career with the company.”

🎙️ Denver lawyer and columnist Craig Silverman interviewed journalist Carol McKinley on his Denver podcast. “Community journalism is the big thing right now,” she said. “Do you notice that?”

💨 Another Colorado newspaper wrote about the departure of three TV news personalities in Denver.

✈️ Journalists and sources debated whether to use DIA or DEN in local coverage after that plane’s engine fell apart over Broomfield.

💼 Michael Hicks will become “editor for The Broomfield Enterprise and Colorado Hometown Weekly as part of Prairie Mountain Publishing” on March 1. “I look forward to the next chapter of this 31-year journalism career,” he said.

✍️ Marty Coniglio, the 9News weather caster who lost his job last year following a tweet, is contributing to Westword.

🌱 The independent student newspaper, The Catalyst, at Colorado College is doing some in-depth issue coverage with context on the 21-candidate city council race in Colorado Springs.

👔 BusinessDen recently hired Cuyler Meade, currently the public money reporter of The Greeley Tribune. “He starts for us next week,” says BusinessDen editor Thomas Gounley.

☀️ The Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition reported a judge “ordered a Colorado Springs school board to disclose the recordings and transcripts of executive sessions used to whittle down a group of finalists for the district superintendent’s job.”

📢 Westword rounded up “Denver television’s best Twitter users.”

🤔 Colorado Newsline’s Chase Woodruff noticed something … interesting.

📧 The Ark Valley Voice newspaper has made “a new, daily news compilation delivered directly to your email inbox.”

🌬️ A Colorado Public Radio climate reporter says a Colorado congressman’s “commitment to lying” is remarkable.

👀 Boulder-based Pocket Outdoor Media announced this week it bought Outside Integrated Media, which owns Outside magazine, “for an undisclosed amount … after months of discussions.” Outside has a print audience “of 675,000 and an estimated readership of 3.75 million,” The Santa Fe New Mexican reported. The Denver Business Journal reported the Boulder company raised $150 million in equity funding “to fuel five acquisitions.”

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, too, would like to underwrite 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.