'Deliberative journalism' takes root in Northern Colorado
Your week in the news behind the news in Colorado
‘That’s a scary thought’
A Northern Colorado newspaper will soon game out an experiment to reimagine community journalism in a time of disruption, misinformation, and a declining local print news scene.
And why not?
Northern Colorado is in Colorado after all — and Colorado in recent years has become ground zero for local news innovation from newsroom collaboration and philanthropic support systems to media ownership structures and more.
At the heart of this latest initiative is a partnership between the Gannett-owned Coloradoan newspaper and an academic program at Colorado State University called the Center for Public Deliberation. Together, the two Fort Collins institutions have created what they’re calling the Northern Colorado Deliberative Journalism Project. The American Press Institute, a national organization that seeks to help sustain local news, is backing the effort with grant support.
On Sunday, Coloradoan Editor Eric Larsen announced the plans in the paper.
From the column:
The concept of “deliberative journalism” focuses on a particular form of journalism focused on helping communities engage their shared problems more effectively. It will focus both on engaging local issues, as well as building civic capacity to address issues better through public lectures, workshops and learning exchanges.
The project will work to build a network of journalists, educators, researchers, and community leaders across Northern Colorado to re-imagine local journalism and co-create new innovations to improve how our local information ecosystem works.
Next Wednesday at 6 p.m., Martin Carcasson, who directs the Center for Public Deliberation at CSU, will introduce the project via Zoom along with his students “and facilitate discussion of the challenges and opportunities facing Northern Colorado’s information landscape,” the newspaper reported.
The CPD, which calls itself “an impartial resource” able to “assist local government, schools, and community organizations in problem-solving key issues,” outlines its mission as “dedicated to enhancing local democracy through improved public communication and community problem-solving.”
You can watch a 25-minute video introduction to the project led last month by Carcasson, whose work focuses on polarization and hyper-partisanship and how they complicate the way we have conversations.
There’s a growing solutions journalism movement, and there’s movement journalism, too. Peace journalism is a thing. There’s data journalism, accountability journalism, and more. Indeed, “there’s many journalisms, and that’s kind of liberating,” outgoing Columbia Journalism School Dean Steve Coll said recently.
Deliberative journalism is “a bit of a new term,” Carcasson said in an email, and it connects to his work at the Center for Public Deliberation. A 2019 article he wrote, titled “Imagining the Robust Deliberative City: Elevating the Conversations We Need to Support Democracy,” includes this passage:
Two institutions particularly important to a robust deliberative system, especially in terms of information management, are the media and educational institutions.
Now, those two institutions will actually work together in Northern Colorado to see what happens. (Jeff Dodge has a writeup about the project at CSU.)
On the journalism side, Larsen said via email that the Tennessean newspaper and other larger outlets across the USA Today Network, which is owned by Gannett, have been working to bring “real-time deliberation (in person or virtual) to the forefront of their opinion offerings” to focus their work around solutions to some of the toughest problems in their communities and to engage audiences who don’t traditionally work in, say, the traditional letter-to-the editor space. (The Coloradoan had to get rid of its opinion section in 2019 to save money.)
“The trick for a newsroom of our size has always been that these efforts take a heavy lift for a 14-person staff that’s stretching hard to cover the news,” Larsen said. “Planning and pulling off a facilitated discussion like this would consume our staff.”
That’s where the CDP comes in.
The editor said he’s been wanting to link up with Carcasson and his staff for years and the API grant gave the paper the opportunity to get it off the ground. In his Sunday newspaper column, Larsen laid out some reasons for the collapse in the local newspaper business model and what it has meant for journalism in the region.
“There are fewer trained journalists working in Northern Colorado's ‘print legacy’ newsrooms at the Coloradoan, Loveland Reporter-Herald, Greeley Tribune, North Forty News and Johnstown Breeze now than there were journalists at the Coloradoan alone when I arrived here in 2012,” he wrote. “With our neighbors facing an increasingly diffuse and complex information ecosystem filled with misinformation and hearsay, that’s a scary thought for those of us who value trustworthy, fact-based news.”
More from the column:
Northern Colorado needs new avenues in which to grapple with its most difficult problems as a community, to learn together, and to arrive at informed decisions about potential solutions. This is where the Center for Public Deliberation shines, and I’m excited to use our platform to bring its work into the journalistic realm.
To that end, the newspaper will synthesize the university program’s process for “facilitated discussion” with the newspaper’s reporting.
“The end products will ultimately be driven by the project’s participants more than its founders,” Larsen wrote. “But along the way, I see an opportunity for a broad coalition in Northern Colorado to convene around topics of trust, collaboration and building community as we learn from each other’s unique perspectives.”
This is certainly an effort to watch, and Northern Colorado makes for a compelling setting. Watch this space for how it plays out.
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A guide to our open records laws is now online
Remember the first time something you only used to consult in print finally wound up online? Like — I don’t even know — the card catalog or something.
No more paper cuts, hunting through files, or any of that. Just click on a search bar with that little magnifying glass to find what you need.
This week, the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, an invaluable Denver-based nonprofit that helps everyone in Colorado gain access to public material, basically digitized its version of the card catalog. From the CFOIC site:
For the first time, the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition’s sunshine laws guide is online — searchable and indexed by topic — with links to pertinent statutes and case law.
Find exactly what you’re looking for by scrolling the interactive table of contents. The guide is comprehensive, addressing the questions most frequently asked of CFOIC about the Colorado Open Records Act, the Colorado Criminal Justice Records Act, the Colorado Open Meetings Law and access to judicial branch records. You’ll also find information on the reporter’s shield law, cameras in the courtroom, juvenile records and proceedings, and some helpful resources for using the federal Freedom of Information Act.
For the uninitiated, the CFOIC’s slickly produced ‘Sunshine Guide’ booklet, last published in 2019, is a must-have for journalists and anyone who appreciates government transparency.
“Although I’ve distributed more than 3,000 copies of that paper guide, putting it all online gets the information to a lot more people, potentially, and you can quickly find what you’re looking for by just clicking on a topic,” says Jeff Roberts, who spent 23 years at The Denver Post until management eliminated his position in 2007. He has led the CFOIC since 2013. “It works pretty well on your phone’s browser and it links to the pertinent statutes or the case law,” he added, “if you want to read that.”
A digitized version also means CFOIC can update it easily if lawmakers change our laws or if courts issue new rulings about the way we’re able to access information.
Find the useful resource at the link above. It’s free, but consider making a donation to the nonprofit that relies on gifts, grants, and the support of its members so it can do what it does for journalists and the public every day.
‘My life was completely changed after I got fired’
A broadcast journalist in North Carolina is suing her former employer, KUSA 9News in Denver, for discrimination after the station fired her following a stroke.
From Elizabeth Hernandez in The Denver Post:
Kristen Aguirre, one of three Latina journalists who spoke to The Denver Post in April about alleged racial and disability-related discrimination she experienced at 9NEWS, filed the lawsuit Thursday in federal district court for the District of Colorado. Aguirre is represented by Iris Halpern at the Rathod Mohamedbhai law firm.
The lawsuit cites the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, alleging 9NEWS management participated in unlawful, discriminatory employment practices that harmed Aguirre by inflicting emotional pain, suffering, and inconvenience and depriving her of financial benefits.
9News general manager Mark Cornetta said in a statement to the Post that the station worked with Aguirre and her medical team “to do everything we could to support her in redeveloping her abilities following her stroke,” provided appropriate, reasonable accommodations, and wished her well.
The lawsuit also alleges the station “used her story to burnish its image as a good Samaritan in the community and spread awareness about strokes” while making life miserable for her behind the scenes, and eventually giving her the boot.
“What’s become abundantly clear is I can still do this job, but I needed the right team to support me,” Aguirre told Hernandez. “My life was completely changed after I got fired. I had to leave Denver and make a new life. I’m obligated to support the next person that this happens to because what we know is that every 40 seconds, someone has a stroke and I feel obligated to make sure they have better treatment than what I was faced with.”
Read the whole story at the link above. The court action is at least the second lawsuit in the past month or so against a Colorado TV station filed by a broadcaster who lost her job.
Update on the Loveland paper’s labor union
This week, New York Times media columnist Ben Smith reported on a resurgence of labor coverage in U.S. newspapers. “The shift was spurred, many journalists believe, by the growing labor movement inside American newsrooms,” he wrote.
Until recently, only two newsrooms in Colorado were union shops: The Denver Post and The Pueblo Chieftain.
But that changed when the Loveland Reporter-Herald newspaper, owned by a company controlled by the Alden Global Capital hedge fund, rallied a successful union drive in January. They called the union Heart of NoCo.
“We had concerns about the future of the paper if it continues to be cut and we wanted to figure out what we as employees, as reporters, could do about it,” Max Levy, a Reporter-Herald reporter in his mid-20s said at the time of the union drive. “During the course of researching it, we came to realize that organizing is still a really robust solution.”
While it’s been nearly a year since the successful campaign, the paper’s union hasn’t yet been able to hammer out a contract with Media News Group, though they’ve reached some tentative agreements in their bargaining talks. They started negotiations in May.
“How bad is the pay situation at the R-H? Journalists make $14.50 / hour,” the Heart of NoCo Twitter account stated this week. “That’s less than entry-level employees make at our local Walmart, Costco and Target. And it’s less than a living wage. Some of us have held multiple jobs or sold blood plasma just to afford to live here.” Meanwhile, about the newspaper’s healthcare plan that carries a high deductible, the union said: “How can we be expected to pay a multi-thousand-dollar deductible when we’re scraping by every month?”
Keep an eye on what the union is up to in the coming weeks and follow its Twitter account for updates here.
Spotlight: KGNU’s monthly show ‘Storytellers of Color’
Since June, KGNU community radio’s bilingual equity reporter, Rossana Longo-Better, has been interviewing Coloradans for a program called “Storytellers of Color.”
The program, which airs on the second Monday of each month, has a goal of providing a “safe space for communicators of color, through a series of conversations to elevate their voices and discuss issues of equality in the media.”
Some background about the genesis of the program:
The show is inspired by recent gatherings of various working groups, including Latinx Voices, organized by Diamond Hardiman from Free Press’ News Voices Colorado Project, and Journos of Color Network led by Tina Griego, reporter, editor, and coach from Colorado News Collaborative.
Since she began it, Longo-Better has interviewed journalist and media scholar Jennifer Mabry who talked about representation in newsrooms, and Denver filmmaker Davon Johnson who discussed his new documentary. Mar Matlak shared “local narratives that expose the lack of access to drinkable water, nutritious food, and exercise in our local immigrant community living in Boulder” on the show, and Chilean poet and songwriter Adolfo Romero talked about his art and Denver’s Chicano movement and community. The latest guest was Colorado Public Radio’s Vic Vela who spoke about his podcast “Back from Broken,” which focuses on stories of recovery, and his own comeback from drug addiction.
Find the entire catalog of “Storytellers of Color” interviews here, and check back each second Monday of the month for more.
Some newspaper editorial boards urge vaccination during latest COVID wave
COVID-19 cases surged within our borders this week, leaving Colorado with the third highest COVID case rate in the country on Tuesday, according to The New York Times.
At Colorado College, where I work, one email from the administration read “This past week has been a reminder that we are going to be living, working, and learning in COVID world for the foreseeable future.”
On Tuesday, Colorado Sun reporter Jesse Paul noted in a tweet that Dec. 17, 2020 “was the last time this many people were hospitalized with COVID in Colorado” and how during that time indoor dining was forbidden in parts of the state, personal gatherings were banned, and people were required to wear masks indoors.
Democratic Gov. Jared Polis responded to Paul, saying the “big difference” was that 62.1% of total population “is fully vaccinated” and 86.9% of those most vulnerable at age 65 or older are, too. “Sadly, even tragically, too many Coloradans haven’t yet chosen to get protected,” the governor said. “But for the large vaccinated majority, the risk is ten times or more less” than it was last December.
Across the state, some local news organizations used their opinion pages to urge members of their communities to get vaccinated and pressed government officials to use a heavier hand.
On Nov. 1, The Denver Post editorial board opined that it’s “time for Gov. Jared Polis to use his emergency powers to issue a statewide mandate that people wear masks into indoor public spaces.”
Sentinel Colorado’s editorial board took it further. “Stop coddling anti-vaxxers at the expense of the health care system and reasonable residents,” it wrote on Nov. 5, and suggested Polis and state officials “immediately restart mask mandates and determine where and how to ensure people in public places are either vaccinated and/or virus free.”
A day later, writing in his Montrose Daily Press newspaper on the Western Slope, Publisher Dennis Anderson, a long-haul COVID-19 survivor, said: “I just don’t understand the conspiracy theories or the reluctance to protect yourselves and others around you.” He likened the case surge to an enemy at the gate. “Go get vaccinated,” he wrote. “Protect yourself and those you care about, protect your community.”
On Nov. 9, in Mesa County where only 53% of the population has received at least one jab, The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel’s editorial board wrote to its readers: “It is up to you to help bring an end to this pandemic. It is up to you to protect the community from a deadly disease. It is up to you to get vaccinated.”
More Colorado media odds & ends
👀 “This is NOT a Misprint!” The Eastern Colorado Plainsman newspaper published a blank front page in support of the Local Journalism Sustainability Act.
🆕 Welcome Jezy J. Gray from Oklahoma to Colorado where he’ll become the managing editor of the Boulder Reporting Lab. “I’m ready to work together with you on building a reliable, robust digital news outlet,” he wrote in an introductory email.
🔗 Newsrooms in neighboring New Mexico have found “more ways to collaborate,” wrote Mark Glaser who serves as an innovation consultant for the New Mexico Local News Fund.
🗞 The Durango Herald lamented a potential loss of the Local Journalism Sustainability Act in the federal Building Back Better bill.
📼 NPR’s Tim Mak obtained a 22-year-old secret recording of NRA officials talking strategy following the 1999 Columbine school massacre when their annual meeting was scheduled to take place in Denver.
📱 “Social media and other internet platforms rely on algorithms to curate what users see based on information the companies collect as people scroll through their feeds,” reported Saja Hindi for The Denver Post. “U.S. Rep. Ken Buck has introduced … a bill in the U.S. House aimed at curbing that.”
💸 The Mountain Mail newspaper in Salida has a smart paywall that allows out-of-town readers to “throw them a few bucks to read a few articles.”
🏥 KDVR in Denver reported viewers “and some FOX31/Channel 2 staff members” said their appointments for COVID-19 and flu vaccines “have been canceled due to staffing shortages.” The station’s Problem Solvers stated they “went looking for why this is happening” and published statements that Walgreens and CVS sent the station.
🆕 Welcome Luke Zarzecki who will be covering Westminster, Thornton, and Northglenn for Colorado Community Media.
📩 A letter to the editor in the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent “both contained incorrect information and quoted someone who is not a public official without providing notice or asking for permission.”
🔥 Ben Markus and Veronica Penney at Colorado Public Radio produced an illuminating piece of journalism about wildfire response in Colorado.
📺 Denver Urban Spectrum interviewed Denver CBS4 TV anchors Mekialaya White and Justin Adams about life behind the news desk.
👻 “Terminated” for refusing a workplace vaccine requirement, a Colorado talk-radio host was a “no-show for his promised return as a guest on his former radio network,” Michael Lund reported for The Colorado Times Recorder.
📡 Colorado Public Radio this week announced it is “trading signals” with Pikes Peak Community College. “As part of the agreement, PPCC students will have the opportunity to intern with KRCC, the southern Colorado news station operated by CPR,” the station said.
I’m Corey Hutchins, interim director of 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, or e-mail me at CoreyHutchins [at] gmail [dot] com.