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Colorado journalists literally learned how to dodge bullets
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A Sign of the times (let’s hope are over)
Former Washington Post politics editor Vince Bzdek, who now edits The Gazette in Colorado Springs, wrote a personal column this week about members of his staff as he sought to explode the myth of “The Media” as a monolith.
The piece came in response to someone scrawling “Murder the Media” on a door during the Jan. 6 right-wing attack on the U.S. Capitol, and after a Trumpy mob threatened journalists and trashed their equipment. This line from Bzdek’s pre-inauguration column is quite a statement, and a terrible sign of the times:
We’ve held meetings this week at The Gazette to train our journalists on the best way to dodge bullets if violence comes to state Capitols this week.
Thankfully, violence did not come. And, under a new presidency, we can only hope that such signs of the times are over.
💨 Axios Denver names reporters from Colorado Politics and The Sun
[The following is a humorous parody of the Axios style]
Happy morning: Today’s newsletter is about 3,000 words, a who-knows-how-long read.
1 MILE HIGH THING: The Axios Denver names are out.
The inside-the-Beltway political news site named two established Denver reporters, Alayna Alvarez and John Frank, to run its newsletter as it tests out a local model in a handful of cities starting next month.
By the numbers: Two. (2)
Zoom out: The two reporters would jump from Colorado Politics and The Colorado Sun, both local digitally-native outlets, to a national brand, perhaps with higher salaries. Frank has recent experience building a subscription-based audience with The Unaffiliated at the Sun.
“Local reporters will deliver scoops, offer sharp insights and curate the best local reporting in our proven ‘Smart Brevity’ style,” Axios has reported.
Look for Axios Denver to do a media rollout about its plans next week.
Expect “early morning newsletters to help readers get smarter, faster about their hometowns.”
Quotable: “It’s all amicable,” Sun editor Larry Ryckman says about Frank moving on, adding they’re sorry to see him go, and they wish him well.
FIRST HERE: The Sun, Ryckman says, will be hiring for Frank’s job — plus posting three or four new journalism positions soon.
Why it matters: Maybe we’ll learn whether a national brand can swoop in and attract and monetize a local audience in a way some in the past haven’t been able. And if they can — how come? Better technology? Better salespeople? Better journalism? (Alternative take: That might not be why it matters.)
Beyond the headlines: Did Axios fumble its rollout? An email from the company went out Thursday morning announcing the two names, but publicly, neither Alvarez nor Frank acted much like it had. Neither tweeted about their new job, and they both waved away requests to discuss it mentioning timing as an issue.
What they're saying: Nothing yet. I just said that. ☝️
What that means: They’re driving the narrative.
Does it really mean that? No. The opposite.
The bottom line: They probably won’t fulfill that interview request after this.
Journalists and vaccines: Shots taken, shots fired
Last week’s lead item in this newsletter about some journalists getting early access to vaccines in Colorado caused a bit of a debate among those in the profession.
“This is a good idea,” said Joshua McKerrow, adding photojournalists like him at The Capital Gazette in Maryland have been out since Day One and “need to be protected.”
Closer to home, at least one journalist disagreed with Colorado’s policy to offer early vaccines for nearly two dozen “frontline journalists” who cover the state Capitol on a daily basis.
“As a matter of public policy, journalists should not be vaccinated before teachers,” said David Milstead, former president of The Denver Press Club and an ex-Rocky Mountain News reporter. “As a matter of ethics, journalists should not be accepting vaccines set aside for them by Jared Polis.”
Denver Post politics reporter Alex Burness, who got vaccinated Monday as part of the early cohort, said it felt “strange – flat-out wrong, even – accepting this golden ticket when there are so many people who need a vaccine” more than he does. And he wrote in his newspaper’s newsletter The Spot that he “spent some time pondering” what Milstead had said. From Burness’s item:
I tend to agree. If the state of Colorado was suffering from famine instead of a virus, and the governor's office offered steak dinners to the core Capitol reporting crew, there would be an obvious ethical problem. This one is not so cut and dry, of course: declining the vaccine wouldn't help anyone. And there's zero evidence that if I'd passed, the dose would have been set aside for someone who needs it more. Still, I can't shake the icky feeling, and I know some of my colleagues in the press corps feel the same.
In her own first-person column, Marianne Goodland of Colorado Politics wrote about how she made her own decision:
In talking to some of my colleagues in the media, some have said they don’t want to get vaccinated until their loved ones have theirs first. That was a consideration for me, too. Was I taking a vaccine that could go to someone who’s older? A healthcare worker? A friend? In the end, however, I am a front-line journalist and, like many, I take risks in engaging with the public. I’m writing this from the state Capitol on the last day of the three-day session before lawmakers recess until mid-February, and where some don’t wear masks as a political statement.
The reporter who has been reporting alongside her perhaps the longest at the Capitol, Charles Ashby of The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (his Twitter handle is OldNewsman), brushed off his own offer of a vaccine, saying he didn’t want to deprive someone more at risk.
On the transparency front, the Colorado Broadcasters Association this week published a “timeline of conversations surrounding vaccinations for journalists.” From that item:
January 10th, 2021: A last-minute meeting was called by the Governor’s office to work out details on providing an optional, early vaccination to credentialed members of the Colorado Capitol Press Association (CCPA). The purpose was to allow the press to cover the start of the state legislative session, while offering protection to both the legislators and the media. Bente Birkeland, representing the CCPA, handled outreach to those with existing credentials, while the CBA reached out to members that did not currently have credentials. Names were submitted to the Governor’s office and those journalists were offered early vaccinations.
For his part, Colorado Sun reporter Jesse Paul, who got his first vaccine shot last week, offered an update a few days later. “I have really only experienced a sore arm since being vaccinated on Friday,” he said. “Maybe a touch of fatigue, but, you know, it's been a long 12 months.”
CS Indy: Vegan food writer quits Gazette over its opinion page
Last week on Denver lawyer Craig Silverman’s podcast, the conversation turned to a tension that can sometimes arise at a newspaper between its news reporters and those who write for its opinion page. At one point he asked me if someone, presumably a reporter, was working at a place like Fox News or The Blaze, and “You’ve got a job — they want you to write it a certain way — are you ethically required to quit? Or is it just everybody’s personal conscience?”
I don’t know if Silverman has future-reading powers, but this week we saw his hypothetical scenario play out — in a way. JL Fields, a local chef and vegan dining critic for The Gazette in Colorado Springs, resigned from the newspaper’s freelance roster, citing the paper’s editorial board as a reason. A Jan. 12 editorial, she said, was the last straw.
From Mathew Schniper at The Colorado Springs Indy alt-weekly who interviewed Fields about her decision:
"This was so hypocritical, somehow making it look like the other side was dividing the country after four years of [Republicans'/conservatives'] complete divisiveness," she says. "It was tone-deaf. Them trying to act like the divisiveness had nothing to do with Trump. That the new administration was somehow responsible for mending what was clearly done by someone else. "So I sent an email to my editor," she continues, "basically saying 'I'm a raging leftie liberal and for the last six years I've been writing for the paper I saw past the editorial page ... I knew what I was doing, but now I'm done.'"
Fields told Schniper she had been “compartmentalizing” the editorial board's work from her own journalism and that of the paper’s other editors and writers (something I’ve heard reporters talk about before).
“I always knew philosophically that I wasn't someone their board was talking to when I read the editorials,” she told The Indy. “And honestly, I didn't always pay attention to them. But I felt like writing for the larger paper was doing the greater good.” In the end, though, she says she “just couldn't do it anymore.”
Read the whole interview here.
The NY Post’s Boebert story leaned on new media for local news
As someone interested in where locals get their news, I’m also interested in where national outlets are looking when a Colorado subject grabs their attention.
A case in point this week was Lauren (ain’t-no-ignorin’) Boebert, who as the Western Slope’s headline grabber of a congresswoman is pretty much the antithesis of Scott Tipton, the five-term incumbent she surprisingly toppled in a GOP primary. Since landing in D.C., her flashy, media-hacking behavior has earned her more attention than many in the incoming U.S. House freshman class.
This week, The New York Post, a Murdoch-owned tabloid, zeroed in on the pre-Congress criminal records of Boebert and her husband. For its primary sourcing, the paper relied on two of Colorado’s newest new media outlets, Colorado Newsline and The Colorado Times Recorder, whose roles within the state’s media ecosystem I’ve written about previously in this newsletter.
But the paper also cited material from a different source I haven’t highlighted here before, and which hadn’t yet been on my radar. From The NY Post:
The busts were first unearthed by Colorado blogger Anne Landman.
That would be the writer behind Annelandmanblog.com, a lo-fi site that promises to tell you “What's really going on in western Colorado.”
So what is this blog? It’s the outlet of local activist Anne Landman of Grand Junction, a former respiratory therapist who fought Big Tobacco as a document researcher for the American Lung Association and served as the managing editor of PRWatch and SourceWatch at the progressive group Center for Media and Democracy.
She mixes her blogging with activism. She is behind a group called Western Slope Atheists and Freethinkers, she put up billboards that linked the GOP to the Soviet Union, and paid for for an airplane to fly an “Impeachment Now” banner around the Western Slope. She was also a plaintiff in a settled ACLU lawsuit against her Republican state senator who had blocked her on social media.
Landman started her blog in 2012 to fill what she saw as a void in a largely conservative part of Colorado that is changing as more people move in, and that doesn’t have as robust a local media scene as, say, the Front Range. “There’s nothing really consistently giving a left-wing perspective on things around here,” she told me over the phone this week. “So I just started doing that. … I see things differently and I just want to say something about the way I see it.”
Lately, more people have been seeing what she’s been saying. About two weeks ago, as Boebert’s profile grew in national media, Landman says she was getting 750 hits an hour on her site, racking up tens of thousands of views. Her web hosting platform told her she might have to pay more for the bandwidth. Her site buckled for an evening under the traffic, and now she’s looking for a more robust service to host it. (Others in Colorado media have also recognized a Boebert bump. “I can tell you by the traffic we’ve seen on our site people are fascinated and horrified by what she’s said,” Westword editor Patty Calhoun said on this week’s “Colorado Inside Out” public affairs TV show. Jason Salzman of The Colorado Times Recorder told me his site has received half a million hits since Jan. 1 mostly thanks to Boebert posts.)
For Landman, tips come from all over, and she has become something of a clearing house to get information into broader media. She says when acquaintances pulled public court records about Boebert and her husband but couldn’t find traction in other media they gave a stack of documents to her. (The Colorado Times Recorder, for instance, passed on writing about some of the documents, though the site was aware of them, Salzman says.) Blog post tags on Landman’s site include “Embarrassing Republicans,” “Racism,” “Fake Patriotism,” and “Weird Western Slope Stuff.” She documents hate symbols she finds around the city like swastikas scrawled in parks.
With more attention on her blog from her Boebert items, she’s wondering if she might try and monetize it, though she doesn’t like ads. Maybe she’ll use Patreon if people want to pony up.
Her liberal commentary and activism in a more conservative area has earned her blowback, she says. Someone put a sign in her yard that called Democrats “America’s Cancer.” Still, she publishes a photo of herself and lists her cell-phone number on her website, though she screens her calls. “Absolutely I get threats,” she told me. “In Mesa County if you’re not getting death threats you’re not making a difference.” She says some grisly ones have come her way.
While Landman chuckles that her husband calls her a journalist, she says she’s never claimed “to do straight-up journalism.” She has a perspective and a point of view and she shares it. She sees herself like other community members who spotlight certain local issues, sometimes just on a Facebook page they created, and make hay about them, relying on primary source material. “People will send me stuff,” she says. “I’m there to just kind of pick it up.”
Having been a tobacco document researcher who testified about her research, she says, “I know you’ve got to really know your stuff. You really have to know your documents are real.”
More Colorado local news odds & ends
⚖️ Steve Zansberg, “widely-recognized as the preeminent First Amendment and media law lawyer in the Rocky Mountain region,” announced this week he has “left Ballard Spahr to open his own firm, the Law Office of Steven D. Zansberg, LLC.” He’ll continue “handling civil litigation, including defamation, other publication torts, intellectual property, and access matters, for newspapers, broadcasters, web-based publishers and others, from his newly formed solo practice,” Law Week Colorado reported.
📻 Writing for The Colorado Sun, Joanne Ostrow reported how some of Colorado’s conservative talk radio stations were “turning down the volume on ‘rigged election’ claims.”
❌ Diane Mitsch Bush “blames her loss to Lauren Boebert on the media,” The Colorado Sun reported in its subscription newsletter, The Unaffiliated, this week. “Mitsch Bush said reporters often portrayed Boebert as young and fresh while she was cast as ‘an old, white-haired college professor,’” for instance. “Of course,” the Sun reports, “there’s more to the story.” (I’d say.)
📰 Colorado Gov. Jared Polis wonders if a writer for The Onion might live in Colorado.
⛰️ High Country News has a fascinating story about queerness and rural Colorado that also makes some mentions of the weekly Sangre de Cristo Sentinel, a print publication whose “articles and columns — one called “Patriot Alert!” — editorialize on gun culture, patriotism and the history of ‘the Old West.’”
🎙️ Speaking of, KVNF's Gavin Dahl had two High Country News reporters on his “Local Motion” show, including Nick Bowlin who wrote that great story out of Gunnison County I highlighted here a couple weeks ago.
☀️ The Colorado Sun got a new website.
🔎 Denver’s Nancy Watzman of First Draft News writes: “We need to have a substantive conversation about accountability, transparency, and regulation of social media platforms.”
🆕 Philip Clapham, former project manager at the Colorado Media Project, is now senior editor of Denver’s 5280 magazine.
🏫 The Ted Scripps Fellowships in Environmental Journalism at Colorado University in Boulder is taking applications for fellowships. ($71k stipend, covers tuition and fees.)
⚖️ A judge ruled El Paso County did not violate the state’s open meetings law after a group called Springs Taxpayers sued.
🤐 Come on, Weld County.
🚰 The best coverage of water is local, writes the director of the Hutchins Water Center at Colorado Mesa University. (No relation as far as I know.) Speaking of water coverage, I am aware of the Waltons/water column issues thing and I’m looking into it.
⌛ As predicted last week, Lauren Boebert caught a First Amendment lawsuit after blocking a constituent on Twitter. The court action accuses the young Republican Congresswoman of “following the lead of her authoritarian hero – Donald Trump.”
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’m finalizing 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.