Colorado news editors offer a 'right to be forgotten' to people they've written about
...and more Colorado local news & media
‘To make us stop and think’
Some Colorado news editors are re-thinking the way they report on criminal justice in Colorado and implementing systems that allow subjects of past coverage to have their names removed.
It’s a local example of a broader “Right to be Forgotten” movement and similar efforts in U.S. journalism. And while not all editors are implementing programs the same way, it shows an appetite for reform in some newsrooms. (A couple weeks ago, The Boston Globe launched what it’s calling a “Fresh Start” initiative that will “allow people to ask the newspaper to update or anonymize past coverage of them online.”)
I wrote about this development in a recent column that’s part of a new series about Colorado journalism I plan to publish. It’s not available yet, but look out for it in some publications soon. The column idea came after a Jan. 22 webinar I attended with dozens of other Colorado journalists about a history of media harm in the United States and efforts to repair it. From the forthcoming column:
This past fall, the Los Angeles Times examined its failures on race and explained its “path forward.” Closer to home, in late December, The Kansas City Star published a six-part package revealing how in its early history “through sins of both commission and omission — it disenfranchised, ignored and scorned generations of Black Kansas Citians.”
During the local webinar, led by News Voices: Colorado and supported by COLab and the Colorado Media Project, some participants wondered what similar acknowledgments might look like here — if and should they emerge.
The Rocky, which folded in 2009, isn't around to examine its archives for past harm, but its former rival, the 150-year-old Denver Post, is. I asked Editor Lee Ann Colacioppo if such a thing was on her paper’s radar. She said she found the Star’s project compelling, and while the newsroom hasn’t discussed exploring the Post’s past coverage, journalists are working to ensure current practices don’t reinforce racism. The Post doesn’t publish mugshot slide shows and is pursuing a “coherent policy” around mug shots in general, for instance, and it is working on a system to help people who want a story updated or changed — a policy that is already in force in a way at some other papers like The Aspen Times.
“Both of these last two items are meant to address the disproportionate impact of the criminal justice system on people of color, which over the years has been reflected in our paper and our website,” Colacioppo says.
Colacioppo also told me the paper is going through its style guide to update its use of language. “We have increased moderation on our commenting platform in response to concerns that it can become a den of racist and demeaning remarks,” she added. (It wouldn’t be the first time.)
Elsewhere in the column I mention a six-part series at The Steamboat Pilot & Today about diversity, equity, and inclusivity in Routt County. The paper’s editor, Lisa Schlichtman, believes the series changed how the paper will forever cover its community. In a conversation, she also told me about a movement among editors in her Nevada-based Swift Communications chain to re-imagine crime coverage spearheaded by David Krause at The Aspen Times.
Krause, who was at The Denver Post in different roles for more than 15 years and moved to Aspen to lead the Times in 2017, last year begun heading up a group of editors in the Swift chain where they talked about how they could help each other. A consistent issue for them, he learned, was not really knowing how to deal with sources who request an update to an old story. Typically it’s someone looking for a job whose first Google result is a local news item about a misdemeanor crime.
“We did some research, we looked at the European Union model,” he says of overseas methods. “And basically we came down to the guiding principal of: At what point does the harm to the person who committed the crime outweigh the public good by having their story still online?”
Each editor might handle their own paper’s policy differently, but this is from a guidelines document Krause shared with me:
We should not consider requests involving violent or sexual crimes, though it would be worth having a conversation about whether that should be a blanket policy. Additionally, we should not erase coverage of crimes committed by elected officials or other people in positions of influence, given the public’s right to know.
Krause says he might not delete stories — he doesn’t want to second-guess the news judgement of previous editors — but the paper will remove a name of someone who can prove they had a court record sealed, charges expunged, case dismissed, or another factor. An editor’s note will say the story was updated.
In Aspen, Krause says he gets one or two such requests a month; he’s fulfilled five out of six requests so far. Story subjects can fill out a form. (Here’s one online at the Swift-owned Summit Daily News.)
The reform is also changing how The Aspen Times reports criminal justice stories in real time, Krause says. This also comes from the document he showed me:
Questions to ask before writing any crime story:
Is the crime a threat to public safety? Is the crime a threat to children? Does the reader need to take action as a result? Will it have significant community impact? Does the story lend itself to a crime-reduction or prevention effort?
Other guidelines include only noting race when law enforcement asks for help identifying a suspect and only naming arrested suspects “in cases of serious crimes.” And then there’s this — a big one: “if the accused’s name is published, commit to following a case through to its disposition” and publishing a story about the outcome.
“These are all things to make us stop and think for a minute before we hit publish,” Krause says.
I’m always interested in movements surrounding news judgement and a local outlet’s relationship with its audience. Is your Colorado news organization doing anything similar or different? Are you an editor in Colorado who disagrees with these kinds of initiatives? Let me know.
A COVID-19 outbreak ripped through KRDO’s TV studio in the Springs
Weeks after the local ABC affiliate in Colorado’s second-largest city came off the state’s COVID-19 outbreak list, its journalists told viewers what went down behind the cameras.
From KRDO’s Lauren Barnas:
A COVID-19 outbreak hit the KRDO NewsChannel 13 studio in early November; one news anchor after another tested positive for the virus before it spread to reporters and producers.
Evening news anchors Heather Skold and Bart Bedsole were diagnosed with COVID-19, along with Sports Director Rob Namnoum and anchor and reporter Lauren Barnas.
Sheesh. (And it’s actually quite worse than that.)
Barnas interviewed her colleagues about their personal experiences with the virus.
“I was more angry that I got it because I took all the safety precautions,” Bedsole told her. “I rarely went to the grocery store and when I did I went at like 6:30 or 7 in the morning. I wore a mask all the time and I still got it.”
Skold talked about another side effect of catching the novel coronavirus, saying, “It almost does come with a stigma, though. Gosh did I not wash my hands, did I not mask up, what did I do wrong to catch this?”
Bedsole said catching the virus gave him a new perspective as a journalist.
“The biggest difference for me now is when I hear about restrictions on businesses, I think to myself, 'Well I had it and it wasn’t that bad. Most people I know [who] had it, it wasn’t that bad. Do we really need to do all these restrictions?’” he said. “But at the same time, I also know from our reporting, the hospitals have filled up at times. It’s a dangerous situation and a lot of people have died. So maybe those restrictions are warranted. That’s a tough balance for our elected leaders to figure out.”
Now here’s an eerie statistic: According to Colorado’s outbreak map, how many lab-confirmed COVID cases did NewsChannel 13 have? Thirteen.
A Canadian media company will ‘take over’ The Longmont Leader
Last Spring, the nonprofit Longmont Observer sold its assets to the McClatchy newspaper chain’s Compass Project, a Google-backed local news publisher that had already launched a site in Ohio.
Thus emerged The Longmont Leader in a growing Front Range city where the local Longmont Times Call, an Alden Global Capital hedge fund paper, is in retrenchment. At the time, I wrote in this newsletter that the Compass Project expected Google to fund the site until March 2022 with hopes the outlet would be self-sufficient by then.
Nine months later, McClatchy and Google are handing off the site to a Canadian company. In a post on Medium, Compass Project manager Mandy Jenkins wrote that she and the project’s central team are going their separate ways in the weeks to come.
“One of the hardest lessons we have learned so far is how difficult it is to efficiently operate local news sites without the benefits of a network,” she wrote.
From the post about what this means for the Leader:
Our partners at Village Media will take over The Longmont Leader, which will become part of its network of owned and operated local news websites. Since the very beginning, we’ve been working closely with Jeff Elgie, Village Media’s CEO, and David Turkstra, its Chief Strategy Officer, and the rest of their staff as we launched and operated our sites. I have no doubt they will be excellent stewards for this team and community, particularly as they eye their own expansion into the U.S.
Village Media is headquartered in Ontario, Canada. The Longmont Leader is currently one of only two U.S. outlets listed on the company’s site.
In a recent newsletter, I’d pointed to some sort of potential Village Media play in Loveland, Colorado after a job posting popped up for a publisher position there. Watch this space for more on how all this plays out. Here’s how the offloading entities are framing the deal.
City Cast hired its host for Denver
After searching for the perfect host, David Plotz, formerly of Slate, settled on a podcast host for Denver. Bree Davies, who describes herself as a “very Denver person,” got the job.
From the soft launch page:
Bree Davies is so Denver. Born and raised here, she’s made her name as a journalist, arts advocate, and organizer—always focused in one way or another on making her hometown better. Speaking of which, you may know Davies from her work co-founding and producing some of Denver’s most beloved music and arts festivals— or her long-running column for Westword. Or perhaps you’re a listener to her podcast “Hello? Denver? Are You Still There?”—which blurs the lines between art, urban planning, and politics. She’s excited for City Cast Denver to be a platform for making Denver a more vibrant, inclusive, and delightful city. And while she’s from here, she says Denver’s for everybody who calls it home.
The show launches in March, and Davies is already developing stories and trying to shape how the podcast will look. Producer Paul Karolyi is on the team, and they’re still looking for a daily newsletter writer. Davies says she expects to report everything from “human interest stories about cool people and places and things to do in Denver,” to everyday items like what city council is up to.
The daily podcast won’t be dictated by what’s going on in Denver, she says, but will be informed by it. “I really want to tell the story of Denver that’s not always told” in national media, she says. And, as a longtime DIY independent creator — “I started my podcast in an anarchist bookstore” — she’s looking forward to working with a team. Expect local stories about social activism, music, and art.
City Cast Denver, she hopes, will strike a chord with people who have lived in Denver six months, 60 years, or six generations. “Denver is more than just the surface stories that have been told about us, whether it’s weed or outdoors or these really basic things that make us seem one-dimensional,” she says. “But we’re not.”
The now-closed case of the once-secret mushroom source for Denver media
At least one journalist in the West said she was relieved this week to hear a 29-year-old Denver man won’t go to prison for slinging ‘shrooms. And, she suspects, so perhaps is “every other reporter whose work was used in a DEA investigation to convict a small-time mushroom grower.”
What’s that about?
It’s a case Denver’s psilocybin community might have been watching closely as the federal vise grips closed around an accused magic mushroom dealer in a city where voters in 2019 approved of effectively decriminalizing the substance.
The local media angle to this is how the authorities zeroed in on their suspect. From Westword’s Conor McCormick-Cavanagh, who spends a lot of time on the mushroom beat:
In arguing for the imposition of a prison sentence, Conor Flanigan, who prosecuted the case for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Colorado, noted that [the man] "bragged" about his mushroom dealing to local and national media outlets. In fact, [his] interviews with reporters and the articles that resulted, in outlets such as Westword and the Denver Post, created a trail of breadcrumbs for Drug Enforcement Administration agents, who were able to identify [him] through the pieces. In September 2019, DEA agents raided [his] south Denver apartment and walked out with 906 live psychedelic mushrooms and 291.6 grams of dried psychedelic mushrooms.
In October 2019, after McCormick-Cavanagh read a federal affidavit that led to the suspect’s arrest, he wrote a story for Westword all about how the DEA had relied on news articles — including his own — to track down their perp.
This week, following the judge’s decision to keep McCormick-Cavanagh’s onetime anonymous source out of prison, the reporter told me he wasn’t thinking at the time that what he wrote could have tipped off investigators.
“It’s just kind of a lesson in how to report on something that could get someone in legal trouble,” McCormick-Cavanagh says, noting that he believes individual reporters handled their stories responsibly, but collectively the body of work made it easy for the DEA to narrow down their search for the anonymous dealer giving quotes to reporters.
“At the end of the day he was just really, really sloppy,” the reporter says. “I thought he was being careful enough. It turned out he was being the opposite of careful.”
I should note here that I haven’t heard of any journalist getting a federal subpoena in this case. Perhaps it was easy enough for the feds without the headache of trying to get a reporter to testify. But unlike in state courts, there is no federal shield law reporters could try and use to block law enforcement officials from asking for their cooperation, though they can try to make a big enough public stink that authorities back off. So conceivably it could have happened.
Still, the latest development can be a reminder that journalists should indeed be thinking through their negotiations for anonymity with sources who brazenly talk to them about ways in which they might be breaking the law.
Three departures on Denver local TV news
In late December I highlighted in this newsletter how three TV news broadcasters were bolting the Colorado Springs market. This week, Westword reports three TV news personalities in Denver are signing off — “and in each case, they jumped.”
From alt-weekly reporter Michael Roberts:
Natalie Tysdal gave up her co-host seat on KWGN's popular Daybreak morning program to essentially start a personal digital network, while weathercaster Becky Ditchfield bid adieu to 9News for personal reasons that have everything to do with her family.
As for the third? That’s Ryan Haarer a “high-profile 9News reporter/anchor” who “left the post he’s held on and off for around six years to dive into the booming world of Denver real estate.” More from the piece:
Viewers may assume that reporters and anchors on TV are making a king's ransom, but that's not the case for most local talent. …
"If you're asking if I want to increase my pay, I think every journalist would say they do. There are few people who work in the newsroom who are paid sky-high salaries. That's no secret. I was well-paid at 9News; I had no issues with my pay. But these are lean and tough times for a lot of journalism outlets, and TV is no exception as the industry looks to redefine itself and determine what the future will be."
Read the whole thing here. Interestingly, Ditchfield, too, said she might try to capitalize on the housing boom. “I’d like to work for myself, but I don't know what that looks like just yet. I’m looking into things like video coaching, specifically with real estate agents,” she said.
More Colorado local news odds & ends
📺 Denver TV anchor Natalie Tysdal is leaving FOX31, saying she’s “building out a plan for a weekly podcast and interview format show on YouTube where I can continue my passion for journalism by focusing on issues around health, education, relationships and families.”
📉 The Durango Herald’s sports editor says there’s “no doubt, much like the oil and gas industry, the print journalism world has seen its share of adversity over the last 20-plus years.”
🌴 Denver’s CBS4 news director Tim Wieland will fill in as CBS Miami’s interim news director as the station searches for a permanent position. “I’m not leaving – just adding some new responsibilities for a little while,” he said.
📡 Read how “ratings king” Colorado Public Radio is a “rousing success” and “surviving the pandemic.”
🚵♀️ When the pandemic cobbled Bike magazine, a Boulder-based publisher “invited the editorial staff of the now-idle publication to join his company and reimagine what a mountain biking magazine could—and should—be.”
🎙️ Westword looks at how right-wing talk radio listeners who gorged themselves on conspiracy theories don’t like to hear Colorado hosts say Biden won the election.
✅ Denver7 says everyone should fact check — and “this is how easy and quick it can be done.”
📢 Boulder-based public-meeting transparency group People Speak announced “the launch of an Open.Media integration where cities can automatically stream public meetings from Open.Media into a rich and interactive meeting experience.”
❓ How do we feel about the way this newspaper reported this local COVID-19 event story? Is it enough to just have the folks at the end playing the “others say…” role?
🔎📰 Here’s a recap of the News Voices: Colorado webinar about media harm and repair.
⚖️ Quite a wild Denver Post story here about an alleged coverup at the top of Colorado’s judicial branch.
💉 Check out how Colorado College students are covering the pandemic.
📻 Westword sends off longtime Denver DJ Rick Candrall of KEZW-AM 1430 and I can’t read it without this Harry Chapin song in my head.
🏆 The Craig Press won this year’s Small Market Newspaper Media Award from the American Legion Department of Colorado for its coverage of local veterans.
🌧️ Denver’s brown cloud had some local journalists this week remembering a time in the 1980s when Denver officials called the wahmbulance after a national newscaster’s joke about the city. It turned into “a front-page Denver Post story, caused Federico Pena to write a letter to the president of CBS and forced a two-minute-long on-air apology on a subsequent Evening News broadcast.”
💸 Denver’s KUSA 9News reporter Marc Sallinger got a ticket for an expired temporary license tag. He had questions. “Now 2,933 people who also got tickets like mine over the past 3 days will have their fines void,” he said.
🆕 Meet The Pueblo Chieftain’s new education reporter, Joe McQueen, who comes from New York. Sara Wilson also just joined the Chieftain after moving from D.C.
🍻 The Denver Press Club says it’s back to allowing people inside for booze. “Mask up, come down, and let us know how much you've missed us - and we promise to do the same for you.” Cheers to that.
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 I’m working on a collaborative higher-ed project with 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.