Colorado politicians battle Big Tech at the state and U.S. Capitol
... and more Colorado local news & media
‘Remedying the results’
Colorado might be the land of the Subaru Outback*, but a different kind of influence from the land down under popped up inside our borders this week.
“The battle between news publishers and Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Facebook Inc. that flared up in Australia recently is coming to the U.S.,” Bloomberg reported.
A Colorado connection is that Republican Congressman Ken Buck has added his support to the federal legislation at the heart of this debate. Buck and his colleagues are proposing new laws in the House and Senate called the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act of 2021. A House committee held a hearing on the issue today.
From Politico on Wednesday:
The top Democrats on the House and Senate Judiciary antitrust panels plan to reintroduce legislation today to let news publishers and broadcasters collectively bargain with Google and Facebook. The bill, sponsored by Reps. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) and Ken Buck (R-Colo.) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), would give news organizations a safe harbor from antitrust law to jointly discuss issues related to quality, accuracy, attribution branding, or interoperability with online platforms.
Buck is also chairman of the Colorado Republican Party. The northern Colorado politician put out a statement this week talking up the importance of journalism.
“One of the bedrock values of our country is a free press, but we have seen thousands of news organizations crushed by the monopolistic power of Big Tech,” he said. “This bipartisan bill is an important start to remedying the results of Google, Facebook, and other’s anticompetitive conduct toward local news outlets, conservative media, and other news organizations.”
Conservatives in Washington have been angling against large private digital companies, especially after several of them de-platformed former Republican President Donald Trump. They have also accused the private social media companies of censoring conservative views by downgrading them in algorithms.
In recent years, Big Tech platforms have siphoned advertising dollars away from news outlets nationwide. Facebook and Google particularly “have used monopoly to rob journalism of its revenue,” argued former USA Today editor Joanne Lipman in 2019. Meanwhile, both tech companies have instituted programs to help sustain the local news, including in Colorado. (But probably not enough.)
This federal bill isn’t new. National lawmakers filed one in 2019. Washington Post media writer Margaret Sullivan, author of the book Ghosting the News, said at the time it was “encouraging to see the newspaper publishers better organized and more aggressive than in the past.” Politico media writer Jack Shafer called it “misguided” and “wrong to pass a law that would prop up one media sector by selectively bestowing special competitive privileges on it.” (He specifically criticized the bill for excluding broadcasters; the latest version includes them.) “If consumers are deliberately spurning newspapers en masse and flocking elsewhere for news and advertising, it’s not the business of Congress to steer them back,” he added.
Backing this effort is News Media Alliance, which represents roughly 2,000 news organizations. Last summer, The Denver Post published on its website a guest column from the group’s president, David Chavern, in support of the bill. The Gazette in Colorado Springs published an updated one Thursday.
More from Politico about this latest rollout:
U.S. vs. Australia: The legislation doesn’t go as far as new rules in Australia, which require the tech giants to negotiate with local news publishers over payment deals for linking to content. The Australian legislation allows regulators to step in and arbitrate if Facebook and Google can’t reach agreements with news publishers. The U.S. bill would let any news publisher take advantage of deals reached by their counterparts.
During the fight in Australia, “Facebook blacked out Australian news pages for a week and only restored them once the government granted concessions,” Reuters reported. “It also promised a $1 billion investment in the news industry.”
Two weeks after Facebook struck a deal with the Australian government to pay publishers for displaying their news content the social network has failed to sign a single big media player – sparking fears of a second news feed ban.
“The reason that we’re brought to this moment is that they have an unfettered monopoly,” Klobuchar told The Guardian, adding, Google and Facebook “thought they had so much power they could literally exit a major country.”
Axios reported what’s notable about the U.S. legislation is that lawmakers are introducing it in a bipartisan way and in both chambers, which shows they’re “serious about making a news antitrust exemption part of their competition efforts this Congress.”
The U.S. House Judiciary Committee this morning held a hearing on the issue.
“My concerns about the decline in local outlets are not based on some nostalgia for a former era,” Colorado’s Buck said as part of his testimony. “The robust exchange of ideas has always been important in this country but it is now essential as conservatives seek to battle cancel culture and maintain a voice in the public square.” (As potential beneficiaries of his proposed new law, Buck name-checked The Greeley Tribune and the Fort Morgan Times in the same breath as Breitbart and The Federalist.)
Also during the hearing, Colorado Democratic Congressman Joe Neguse bemoaned the loss of hundreds of journalism jobs in Denver. In 2009, the Rocky Mountain News folded, leaving the Mile High City as a one-daily town.
“In Colorado, The Denver Post went through with massive layoffs and budget cuts once their parent company was acquired by a hedge fund, Alden Global Capital,” Neguse said. He asked Jon Schleuss, president of the NewsGuild-Communication Workers of America, what legislative proposals the committee should consider to help mitigate “some of these predatory practices by these companies.”
Schleuss told him one thing lawmakers could do is scrutinize merger plans of large news organizations and take into account how they would affect local news coverage. (Following a recent merger of the nation’s two largest newspaper chains, two Colorado newspapers that bookend the Front Range look drastically different.)
Also on the big-tech front, Buck had this to say:
Section 230 is the 25-year-old law that “protects any owner or user of an ‘interactive computer service’ — typically an app or website — from liability for content that someone else posted,” according to The Verge. The provision has “drawn the ire of conservative politicians who want to punish ‘Big Tech’ for banning users, but also lawmakers and activists who say it lets web services knowingly allow harassment, nonconsensual sexual imagery, and other illegal material.”
Last fall, Colorado Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet introduced his own legislation, along with Klobuchar, that, if passed, would examine ways in which the federal government might try to help fix our country’s bottomed-out local news business model. That bill, by the way, hasn’t actually been re-introduced in 2021, but I’m told it will happen.
Asked what Bennet’s office thinks of the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act of 2021, they said they’re looking into it.
Meanwhile … More on that Colorado ‘fake news’ bill
Local media followed up this week on a Democratic lawmaker’s bill at the Colorado capitol that’s also aimed at Big Tech.
One of the items came from the news and information site of the libertarian-leaning Independence Institute think tank. The libertarian magazine Reason earlier broke the news about this bill on its site in a blog post.
From Sherrie Peif at Complete Colorado:
One of Colorado’s foremost defenders of the First Amendment, says a recently introduced bill that would regulate and restrict the speech of Coloradans or anyone doing business electronically in Colorado, will likely end up in court before the ink from Gov. Jared Polis’ signature even has time to dry. “These people, these elected politicians, should at least read the Constitution,” said David Lane, a Denver-based attorney who specializes in First Amendment free speech law. “When they don’t understand what they are reading, they should go ask someone smarter than they are to read it for them.”
Lane’s reaction was in reference to Senate Bill 21-132, which is being sponsored solely by Senator Kerry Donovan, the western slope Democrat who has announced her intention to challenge Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Rifle for Congressional District 3.
That’s the bill you read about in last week’s newsletter that seeks to create government panels to regulate digital platforms in and outside Colorado.
“I’m sure it’s well intentioned,” Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition director Jeff Roberts told Complete Colorado. “Misinformation and disinformation are a huge problem. We have got to do something about that somehow, but we are concerned about any legislative act that were to impose government sanctions on First Amendment protected speech.”
Roberts said there are terms in the bill that are subjective and not defined, such as hate speech, intentional misinformation, conspiracy theories, and fake news.
Complete Colorado columnist Ari Armstrong dubbed the proposed new law “Donovan’s Ministry of Truth.”
CBS4’s Shaun Boyd spoke to the lawmaker on record about her bill. From that broadcast:
“Think of it much like our Public Utilities Commission, where it’s a board that’s the voice of the public to look out for the public good,” Donovan said. “When folks have a problem with a platform, instead of just filling out a customer service form or an automated chat line they can come to the Colorado Digital Communications Commission and trust them as partners and advocates in standing up to big tech.”
Donovan also told Boyd “What this independent, nonpartisan commission won’t do is decide what people can or can’t say online. It’s a venue for study, debate, and most importantly, support of Coloradans who get their news, share their lives, and connect with loved ones and strangers alike, online.”
This is from a portion of the bill, emphasis mine:
(b) THE COMMISSION, A MEMBER OF THE COMMISSION, OR AN ADMINISTRATIVE LAW JUDGE, AS APPLICABLE, SHALL COMMENCE A HEARING WITHIN ONE HUNDRED TWENTY DAYS AFTER SERVICE OF THE WRITTEN NOTICE AND COMPLAINT AND SHALL HOLD THE HEARING IN ACCORDANCE WITH SECTION 24-4-105.
(5) IF THE ADJUDICATOR AT THE HEARING DETERMINES THAT THE RESPONDENT ENGAGED IN AN UNFAIR OR DISCRIMINATORY DIGITAL COMMUNICATIONS PRACTICE, THE COMMISSION MAY ISSUE AND CAUSE TO BE SERVED ON THE RESPONDENT AN ORDER REQUIRING THE RESPONDENT TO CEASE AND DESIST FROM THE PRACTICE AND TO TAKE ACTION THAT THE COMMISSION ORDERS.
At least one close watcher of Colorado’s law-making process predicted the bill has no chance of passing. It’s possible its author seeks to spark a public debate about larger issues. To that end, former Denver Post editorial page editor Vince Carroll weighed in with a guest column in the paper this week that placed the legislation in a broader context.
It is tempting to dismiss Donovan’s bill as a fringe anomaly that will be killed thanks to the good sense of colleagues, but that would miss its larger context. Concern over false, misleading or hateful speech on social media has been growing for years, but spiked to near hysteria with the violent riot at the Capitol two months ago.
Now, everyone from leftists like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., to establishment figures like columnist and former Republican speechwriter Peggy Noonan has concluded something must be done. Ocasio-Cortez wants to “rein in the media environment so that you can’t just spew disinformation and misinformation” while Noonan waxes nostalgic for the days when government imposed the “Fairness Doctrine” on broadcasters. Many other opinion leaders voice similar desires.
Carroll wrote that in his 40 years as a journalist in Colorado he doesn’t recall ever seeing “such a bold, comprehensive attempt at government speech control as the project outlined in Senate Bill 132.” He also doesn’t believe there’s a “regulatory solution for misinformation and disinformation, which has always been rampant in society and too often fanned by the dominant media of the day.”
Quentin Young, who edits Colorado Newsline, a relatively new nonprofit news site that has produced multiple examples of accountability reporting about Lauren Boebert, ripped Donovan’s bill as “contemptible in its implications for the First Amendment.” He called the measure “one of the most alarming bills so far introduced during the current session of the Colorado General Assembly” and said lawmakers “should spend not a single minute more considering it.”
Back in Vail, where Donovan lives, a prominent local Republican this week published a letter in the local newspaper calling the bill an “attack on free speech.”
This might not be the last we’ll hear of it.
Feeling threatened for reporting, Wet Mountain Tribune owner bought a gun
In December, this newsletter (in its former incarnation) reported how the small Wet Mountain Tribune was watchdogging the public health director in little Custer County in southern Colorado. A Dec. 17 front-page item in the paper flat-out called the county’s head of public health, Clifford Brown, “not qualified” in a headline.
The story reached statewide prominence that month when Marianne Goodland of Colorado Politics took her own look.
Now, the Wet Mountain Tribune is getting more statewide attention. Denver’s KUSA 9News broadcast a recent story about the paper’s crusade, interviewing Jordan Hedberg, the paper’s publisher. (9News actually had two different recent stories out of Custer County; Hedberg appeared in both.)
Here’s what he said in one of them:
“I’ve always had guns in my life, but mostly on the ranch and in hunting and stuff like that, and this is the first time I went out and bought a self-defense weapon this last summer. It wasn’t because of the left or rioting in Denver it was from the more extreme elements in Custer County.”
Asked if he armed up specifically because he runs a local newspaper he said yes.
“COVID is a serious matter and we took it seriously and we tried to report on it as straightforward as we could but that’s not going to jive with some peoples’ national beliefs either way,” the publisher said. “And so unfortunately we were getting heckled pretty bad. It was never really full-out threats but enough for us to go ‘We could see how you could get carried away by reporting accurately on COVID and taking it seriously.’”
Custer County Sheriff Shannon Byerly said he investigated some of the harassment Hedberg received, but it never amounted to direct threats.
In a separate story, specifically about the Wet Mountain Tribune’s coverage of the pandemic in Custer County, 9News reported how the newspaper went beyond just covering the community.
“Hedberg filed a complaint against Dr. Brown with the State Ethics Commission at the end of 2020,” 9News reported. “According to state records most complaints are dismissed. But on February 19th, the commission decided to move forward and investigate this one.” (Read the complaint here.)
The Sopris Sun in Carbondale offers a Spanish-language section
Wanting to deepen its mission to “inform, inspire, and connect” in its community, the nonprofit weekly Sporis Sun newspaper in Carbondale has launched el Sol del Valle, a Spanish-language section.
“The section will often include other original columns by local leaders and thinkers, plus news bulletins, translated stories, and eventually stories written originally in Spanish or in both languages,” Sopris Sun editor Raleigh Burleigh told readers last week.
More from the paper:
I’d like to explain a choice that we’re making at the onset of this new project. In the interest of providing a space for intimate, relational dialogue, our plan is not to translate every piece of content into both languages, but to leave some content exclusively in Spanish. Likewise, we don’t have the space nor support to translate all of our English content into Spanish. Beyond practicalities, my personal hope is that this new section stimulates a desire — while providing a valuable tool — for language acquisition. You’ll find many things crossing over, particularly from “Scuttlebutt” into “Chisme del Pueblo,” as well as key articles. The rest will depend upon your engaged interest to understand, just as I hope that the majority-English paper is perused by readers of el Sol del Valle to discover useful words and a greater understanding of English in the context of local happenings.
Read more about it here.
More Colorado local media odds & ends
💸 Journalist-sued-over-open-records update: Ouray County will pay $7,500 “to settle a case involving a public records request from the Plaindealer, after filing suit against the newspaper’s co-publisher.”
*Subarus are made in Japan. And, from The Denver Post last year: “Colorado drivers have long had a love affair with Subaru, buying the brand at nearly twice the rate seen in other states. But the pandemic may have put a dent in that relationship.”
➡️ In last week’s emailed version of this newsletter, a journalist resource link about “How to report on Indigenous communities with tact and nuance” took readers to the wrong page. Here’s the correct link.
☀️ Register for the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition’s March 18 virtual Sunshine Week panel “Truth Be Told: The Proliferation of Online Misinformation and Disinformation — And What We Can Do About It.”
🏗️ A major developer in Colorado Springs wants to turn the old Gazette newspaper buildings into town homes, apartments, a hotel, and retail space.
⚔️ A news and information war in Montrose?
🎤 Morrissey, who briefly lived in Arvada in the ‘70s, once placed an ad in the Rocky Mountain News looking for fellow musicians.
⚖️ “Thankfully, for my clients and for our society, the bar that libel plaintiffs must meet to prevail on their claims remains exceedingly high, so the vast majority of cases get dismissed before they ever reach a jury,” said Colorado First Amendment attorney Steve Zansberg in a Q-and-A with Colorado Politics.
📽️ Colorado Public Radio reported how Amy Herdy’s time at The Denver Post “readied her for the difficulty” of HBO’s four-part docu-series “Allen v. Farrow” of which she is a producer and researcher.
⌛ The Colorado Sun was “granted hours of behind-the-scenes access” to get a sense of “what goes into each day of the state’s coronavirus response as Colorado approaches the one-year anniversary.”
🎙️ Vic Vela’s Colorado Public Radio podcast Back From Broken has been “nominated for an Ambie award in the Best Interview Podcast category through the @podcastacademy ’s worldwide Excellence in Audio competition.”
📱 The CU Denver Business School will host a virtual panel discussion with “three leading experts that are focused on improving the current state of social media and ensuring that it is aligned with the public interest.”
📺 KDVR in Denver looked at some of the ways the pandemic changed local TV news in Colorado.
🗞️ The Denver Post didn’t put its Sunday front page story about the Eisenhower Tunnel and infrastructure on its website until Monday, I’m told, to try and capture more online attention. (That’s also why you might see big stories online a few days earlier than when they appear on the Sunday front print page.)
💉 Responding to a column, a letter writer to Vail Daily bemoaned “smack journalism” that is “like heroin.”
📢 From the publisher of Yellow Scene in an open letter to the City of Boulder and CU after college kids ran remarkably amok: “The Daily Camera has it wrong, this may have begun as a party, but this turned into a RIOT.”
🎵 Colorado Public Radio host Ray White, who died at 69, “was most recently the afternoon host on CPR Classical.”
⛰️ When a national story by a coastal writer shook the Flatirons with Colorado eye rolls, a Colorado Public Radio reporter said “if you really want to hate-read a think piece about the difficulties of life as a Colorado transplant, there is only one true champion.”
👔 Trevor Reid is the new editor of The Greeley Tribune. “Reid first dove into journalism while studying at the University of Northern Colorado, writing about arts and culture for the UNC Mirror and also interning at the Greeley Tribune.”
🌎 A Summit County second-homer wants to see more non-local opinion in the local paper.
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.