Diversity concerns rock two of Colorado's largest newsrooms
More on that 'fake news' bill, the Rocky's ex-editor on the 'limits of journalism,' and more
‘No punches pulled’
Issues involving diversity and inclusion roiled two of Colorado’s largest newsrooms this week culminating in a potential meeting with leadership at one and a public letter at another.
On Sunday, a personal column in Westword by Lori Lizarraga, a Latina reporter, accused her ex-employer, KUSA 9News, of a host of harmful things including one former journalist not being able to “cover immigration unless she disclosed her own immigration status on TV first” and being instructed herself “not to wear my hair in a bun with a middle part anymore — a style I have seen and worn as a Mexican and Ecuadorian woman all my life” because it was “Not a good look.”
More from her March 28 column:
After two years and hundreds of community stories, my contract was not renewed, and I am no longer a reporter at 9News. Like several Latinas before me, leaving was not my choice. In fact, I am the third on-air Latina reporter at 9News to be let go in less than a year — a first-time experience in this industry for each of us, and unique, too, for the station, which has renewed every other reporter since 2018.
Last summer, I received written warnings for interacting on Twitter with several Black community leaders who are also my friends and mentors. “It suggests support for their positions on public policy issues,” the warning said, though none of my stories supported that suggestion. … For two years, I lugged my diversity to 9News each day in the content of my journalism, wishing I could leave it at home without a clue as to when it became baggage. I was “too close” to the issues, too passionate, too emotional, too aggressive.
Lizarraga’s column about a TV affiliate with one of the largest audiences in the state picked up momentum online among local and national journalists and public figures. Almost immediately, a group of Denver-area state and local public officials asked for a meeting with station management at the NBC affiliate in their city.
The following day, Councilwoman Torres said the group had a meeting on the books. She thanked those who thad “reached out affirming a diverse newsroom matters in Denver,” and added, “This isn't the first newsroom to face these questions and concerns.”
UPDATE, APRIL 3:
Meanwhile, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists asked to meet with KUSA’s parent company, saying the NAHJ is “deeply troubled by the treatment” that Lizarraga and her colleagues described.
9News president and general manager Mark Cornetta responded to the column, saying his newsroom is “striving to do better,” Axios Denver’s Alayna Alvarez reported.
“As we continue our diversity, equity and inclusion focus, our content team and news leadership will take part in an inclusive journalism program and training that begins this April,” Cornetta told the daily newsletter. “44% of new hires on the 9News content team have been people of color since the start of 2020, with 24% of its content team hires comprised of Hispanic/Latino employees, Cornetta said,” Axios Denver also reported.
I’d expect the column and its reaction to come up April 9 during this panel discussion:
COLab, the Colorado News Collaborative @colabnewscoJoin us for this needed, timely conversation about how #localnews has covered (and not covered) #Colorado's Latina/o community. We'll talk about the harm of caricature, demonization and erasure, resistance to that harm, and what still needs to change. https://t.co/8so6bG00PC
‘It’s past time we sent you this letter’
Journalists at The Denver Post had some news for readers this week. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the first time they weren’t able to share it in the pages of their newspaper, which is controlled by a New York hedge fund.
Instead, the journalists shared their news through their labor union, the Denver Newspaper Guild. “Dear Denver Post readers,” they wrote. “It’s past time we sent you this letter.”
What followed was a description of internal efforts to “examine the newspaper’s role in perpetuating systems of racism and inequality and to seek solutions.” Those efforts have been taking place since this past summer’s racial reckoning following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. By the fall the journalists had presented management with ideas.
From the letter:
For months, we worked with local management to craft a letter, which management then sent to corporate lawyers and human resources personnel. But the board of Alden Global Capital, the hedge fund that owns this newspaper, earlier this month rejected the release of the letter. They did not approve of language admitting the harms The Denver Post — like many other local newspapers — has caused marginalized communities. … Alden Global Capital’s decision is shameful and cowardly. It is impossible to implement change without acknowledging past wrongdoing.
We won’t let them stop us. We are committed to reversing the inherent structures in journalism that have excluded marginalized communities for generations. If Alden Global Capital won’t let us use The Denver Post’s platform to tell you this, the union will use its own.
And so it did.
The journalists outlined what they’ve been working on with managers, initiatives that include an audit of who the paper features, strengthening relationships with certain organizations, updating house style to make sure they’re “using the most accurate language possible when reporting on underrepresented communities,” and regularly meeting with community members.
We’re calling on our company and owners to:
Actively ensure recruitment practices reach candidates in underrepresented communities so our candidate pools for jobs and internships include those groups.
Make its own commitments to improving diversity, equity and inclusion.
Provide professional diversity and anti-racism training for our staff and managers on an ongoing basis.
Improve the quality and tenor of The Post’s online comment section by removing it completely or by employing a moderation service so that every comment is read and approved before appearing on the website.
Read the full letter here.
Here’s what some of the individual journalists had to say on social media the day the letter came out:
Reporter Elizabeth Hernandez, a Latina journalist and first-generation college student, gave a “huge shoutout to local management who care about these goals, too, and have been working with us to implement change,” not only because “it’s the right thing to do,” but because “it matters for the longevity of sustaining local journalism.”
“Here's the thing about local journalists,” said reporter Elise Schmelzer. “We live here. We work in a passion-driven job because we care about getting information to our neighbors. We see where the institution we work for has failed. And we will do better. We have the power to make change.”
“We journalists at The Denver Post want a newsroom that reflects the communities we cover,” said digital strategist Tamara Dunn, who is Black. “As one of the newest members of the team, I’d like to be in a work environment where I’m not the only (fill in the blank), but I am.”
‘Strike everything’: That social media/‘fake news’ bill got quite a makeover
What started as legislation with several rows of shark teeth now looks more like the Marshmallow Man.
This newsletter has chronicled criticism of a bill by Vail Democratic Sen. Kerry Donovan that came with some First Amendment concerns. The legislation came in for criticism ever since a national blog first threw a spotlight on it.
The bill would have created state panels to regulate social media, fine platforms that fail to register in the state, and allow a commission to order a platform to stop doing something. The bill appeared aimed at curbing “practices that promote hate speech; undermine election integrity; disseminate intentional disinformation, conspiracy theories, or fake news” without defining what those terms mean.
Now the bill looks a lot different. Essentially, it’s a whole new bill. And it recently passed a committee. So what would it do?
From Marianne Goodland at Colorado Politics:
Donovan went back to the drawing board and scrapped the original bill, replacing it with a strike-below amendment that turned the whole thing into a study, to be handled by the legislature's Joint Technology Committee. The committee would examine whether — and how — the General Assembly could address through legislation consumer protection concerns related to social media platforms.
The committee would bring in state agencies or other experts to assist, although the Colorado Press Association advocated for an amendment that would also bring in First Amendment advocacy groups or media organizations. That's an amendment that could show up when the bill is debated in the full Senate.
Follow this little back-and-forth I had with bill supporter Scott Yates about how to interpret this move.
“The level of vitriol I’ve experienced on this bill has been out of this world, astronomical if you will,” Donovan said in a public hearing, according to Sherrie Peif of Complete Colorado. “I have never been called quite so many names and had quite so many threats fall into my email account and ironically my social media feeds.”
Ex-Rocky editor on the ‘limits of journalism’
Another mass shooting in Colorado, another conversation about the changing ways we cover them — or should.
Someone who often speaks on such issues is John Temple, former editor of The Rocky Mountain News, who recalls the paper’s epic coverage of Columbine. In 2019, after another mass shooting, he wrote a story for The Atlantic headlined “I’ve Seen the Limits of Journalism.” Last week he appeared on Brian Stelter’s CNN Reliable Sources podcast and talked more about that.
Here were some highlights:
On an invading army: He said he wonders what would happen if an army invaded the United States. Would all journalists do be merely “report what is happening?” he asked. “That is not what the only role of journalism would be. I do believe there would be a form of resistance...”
Calling out bullshit: “I think journalists should be more in-your-face about the truth,” he said.
Advice for emerging journalists: “They don't have to do everything the way it's always been done. ... Don’t be restrained by the conventions or this feeling that you have to follow the path.”
Listen to the whole thing here.
Three Colorado newspapers re-evaluate their online comment sections
Feed the trolls. Don’t feed the trolls. Feed the trolls poison. Maybe only feed certain trolls? But they’re not all trolls!
For editors of local news organizations, dealing with online comment sections has become a headache in the digital age. Not that comments are necessarily a product of that age. The nation’s (arguably) first newspaper, Publick Occurrences, kept pages blank at the end so readers could jot down thoughts before passing the paper along to others.
But, seriously, when was the last time you enjoyed a thoughtful discussion on a newspaper’s online comment section, particularly if it was a story about immigration, climate change, or guns. Good luck with that. For whatever reason, this week was a boiling point for three Colorado newspapers.
Four years ago, The Denver Post was a testing ground for how to civilize the comment section. This week, members of the newspaper’s union called on their hedge-fund owner to “improve the quality and tenor” of their comment section “by removing it completely or by employing a moderation service so that every comment is read and approved before appearing on the website.” (The Post’s Civil Comments experiment apparently did not work out.)
An hour south at The Gazette in Colorado Springs, editor Vince Bzdek wrote this week that “the privilege” of posting comments at the bottom of the billionaire-owned newspaper’s online stories will now be reserved only for subscribers. “This change is in direct response to requests from those same subscribers,” he said, “many of whom have complained to us about the level of conversation they sometimes must endure.”
Elsewhere in Colorado, editor Lisa Schlichtman at the Steamboat Pilot wrote that her Swift Communications-owned paper would be getting rid of online comments altogether. “This is a decision we’ve been weighing for several months as we’ve seen the quality of comments evolve, becoming more and more toxic and divisive,” she told readers.
She went on to say how the newspaper’s digital engagement editor spends a lot of his time playing Whack-a-Mole with fake accounts he has to delete only to find them pop up again later. The paper tried adopting a platform aimed at fostering better comments, but, Schlichtman said, “that software has not cured those challenges, and the quality of our online comments has gotten worse rather than better.”
Ultimately, Schlichtman wrote, “we came to the conclusion that online comments do not align with the mission of the Steamboat Pilot & Today, which is to connect our communities. Instead, comments are undermining that goal, diminishing constructive engagement with our readers and taking away from the journalism we produce.”
Boulder’s police account apologized for tweet-scolding ‘media’
Last week’s special edition of this newsletter reported how the Twitter account for Boulder’s police department directed pointed statements at media during a mass shooting event.
In the days that followed, the account had more to say. The account deleted a tweet (though it posted a screen grab of it later for transparency) that read, “ATTENTION MEDIA: We can’t believe we have to say this AGAIN. LEAVE grieving family members alone. IF they want to speak with you media liaisons will let you know. Repeatedly calling & messaging them via social media is despicable. They are mourning. Have a heart.”
Here’s what the account posted later:
More Colorado local media odds & ends
📰 The Denver Post’s editor spoke to CNN about the paper’s coverage of another mass shooting. “Crushing is the right word. It was crushing.”
🔄 The Poynter institute recapped how Colorado media covered the tragedy. “Unfortunately, journalists have gotten proficient at covering these awful tragedies because they happen far too often.”
🎙️ NPR’s Kirk Seigler and I talked about media coverage of the shooting on KUNC.
✍️ The daughter of a Colorado newspaper editor was in Boulder during the shooting. The editor wrote about processing it through a parent’s lens.
⏭️ Danika Worthington left The Denver Post to become social & presentation editor at The Colorado Sun.
⛔ The Ark Valley Voice newspaper says: “We don’t have to give the cult fantasy that is QAnon a voice. We don’t have to justify District 3 Lauren [Boebert’s] ridiculous claims that God is on the side of Trump and right-wing militias.”
📺 Meet KKTV’s new anchor Lindsey Boetsch and learn about Bill Murray’s PBR shorts.
🇷🇺 The head of a major Colorado media company hired now-admitted “Russian spy Maria Butina to help him create a television show starring Vladimir Putin as a conservation-minded outdoorsman,” The Colorado Times Recorder reports.
❌ A Boulder Daily Camera reporter got “doxxed for covering a mass shooting amid a pandemic in the place he calls home. This is not OK.”
🆕 Jennifer Sahn is the new editor of High Country News.
⚖️ Denver-based Dominion Voting Systems has filed “a $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against Fox News … arguing the cable news giant, in an effort to boost faltering ratings, falsely claimed that the voting company had rigged the 2020 election.”
📝 CORRECTIONS: In last week’s special edition of this newsletter, I wrote a video was unavailable on YouTube. Users just had to click on a button to proceed to view it. I also called Murphy Robinson Colorado’s public safety director; he’s Denver’s public safety director. “Wednesday” should have been “Monday” in one reference.
🎈COLab had its one-year anniversary March 31.
📢 Zoom panel discussion, April 6: “The News About Local News: Takeaways from Colorado Journalists and Residents.” (Featuring research from DU’s David Coppini and Kareem El Damanhoury, and Stephanie Snyder of Hearken.)
🤦♂️ The chairman of Colorado’s inaugural Independent Congressional Redistricting Commission “spread untrue theories about the 2020 election, urged people not to believe prevailing information about COVID-19 and accused the media of duplicity and violence,” The Gazette reports. (Disclosure: and I once reported Colorado’s redistricting efforts could be a “model for the nation.”)
🤐 Manitou Springs “refused to release details” regarding the police chief’s departure “and denied The Gazette’s request for related public records.”
📱 Colorado’s media literacy bill now “heads to the Colorado Senate, where it has at least one GOP supporter, Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose, who is one of its sponsors.”
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.