Two's a trend: Nonprofit news outlets launch in Pueblo and Boulder
Plus, fallout from a front-page newspaper retraction and more
‘Community over competition’
Calling itself the city’s “first community-owned, not-for-profit news publication” and “not your grandma’s evening newspaper,” The Pueblo Star Journal has announced plans to launch in southern Colorado.
From its Oct. 6 announcement:
We are fueled by our commitment to our four core values: community, connection, accountability and curiosity. Our award-winning team of journalists, graphic designers and account representatives will serve as a watchdog over our local governments, herald the successes of our students and artists, and create a marketplace of thoughts, services and items. We will tell the stories that get overlooked, speak truth to power and champion the rights of the afflicted.
That’s all aspirational at this point, though, as its three-member volunteer board seeks to build a staff and raise money for an official launch in 2022, says Gregory Howell who is leading the effort. A self-described creative economy consultant who worked for the Japanese Foreign Ministry, Howell sits on the city’s Historic Preservation Commission and has lived in Pueblo for a decade. He’s hoping that in January every Pueblo County resident will start getting a monthly copy in the mail for free. “We’d love to go weekly,” he said over the phone Friday.
Pueblo certainly could use a jolt to its local news scene.
The Gannett-owned Chieftain has shed staff, turnover is high, and because of its diminished resources it might not be up to the task of effectively covering a city of Pueblo’s size. Meanwhile, the independent PULP news magazine shuttered. Last year, The New York Times magazine chronicled the city’s local news decline. That galvanized conversations in Pueblo about the idea of a new news organization.
“We won’t shy away from the tough or controversial stories because they’re challenging,” the yet-to-launch newspaper promises on its site. “Instead, we’ll push back on roadblocks and tear down stonewalling efforts to cast a spotlight on the issues.” The nascent paper talks a big game about championing accountability and how it will curate “communities of conversation and engagement among the county’s 168,424 residents.”
While the idea for a new paper in Pueblo has percolated among some in the community for years, the nuts and bolts didn’t start coming together until January, says Regan Foster, a media professor at CSU Pueblo who is on the board of Rational Media, the entity overseeing the Star Journal project. Paula McPheeters, who handles budgets and grant compliance at Pueblo Community College, is also involved.
The Star Journal’s rollout on the web this week hit an early snag when it launched without initially stating who was behind it. That’s not particularly ideal in our fast-paced social media age when those paying close attention to the emergence of local news startups, yours truly included, couldn’t understand why anyone would want to keep such a bold effort anonymous. It took several hours before a drop-down menu on the site’s FAQ section appeared and listed the names behind the ambitious endeavor. Foster says that was merely an oversight, and I do believe it was an unfortunate glitch. The site is a prototype.
The Pueblo Star-Journal was the name of a newspaper that published in the area from 1901 to 1984, according to the Library of Congress, and merged with the Chieftain in 1933, according to the Pueblo City-County Library. “We’re an old brand that’s kind of reimagining itself,” Howell says.
Support for the latest iteration of the paper, its backers say, “will come from PSJ members” and they’ll model their plans “on organizations such as PBS, National Public Radio and, in the newspaper realm, The Colorado Sun.” The backers say they want to make sure their publication suits the budget “of anyone who wishes to join, no matter the donation amount.”
As for its relationship with the Chieftain, “We’re very committed to not being competition,” Foster says. “It’s community over competition.”
It sounds like we might have to wait a bit to see what all this looks like if and when it comes together as planned. So watch this space.
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Meanwhile, the Boulder Reporting Lab is live
About two hours north, and promising “to fill a gap in Boulder-local, public interest, modern daily journalism,” is the Boulder Reporting Lab, which also launched Thursday.
“We’re among the only independent, nonprofit, digitally native news organizations in our city and county,” the site, founded by Stacy Feldman, stated in an announcement. (Feldman previously co-launched the Pulitzer Prize-winning nonprofit Inside Climate News.) Like another recently launched Colorado news outlet backed by national funders, the BRL says its work will be “solutions-focused.”
More from the Boulder Reporting Lab:
The Google News Initiative’s Local Experiments Project, which seeks to support innovative new models for journalism, provided our initial funding and is providing technical and product expertise. This support will last up to two years. GNI has zero involvement or influence in any of our editorial decisions. Neither will any of our funders. (Read more about our editorial and transparency policies.) We’re also part of Village Media’s Publisher Services Program, which will provide revenue and audience growth services.
Coverage verticals on the site include climate, economy, food and culture, health, housing, and schools.
“We’re building a new home for quality, non-partisan, independent journalism for our community,” the site reads. “Over the next few weeks, we’ll be hiring our team. Join our newsletter to get the latest on our launch.”
Other than Feldman, who was a 2020-21 Ted Scripps Fellow in Environmental Journalism at the University of Colorado Boulder where she “developed the concept for BRL,” the team also includes John Herrick who will report on housing, climate, health, and local government, and intern Anthony Albidrez who is focused on photojournalism.
More from the launch:
We’ll be publishing in-depth stories and news coverage, along with an a.m. newsletter that will seek to keep you informed and connected on issues you care most about. (Learn about our priority coverage areas.) All you have to do is:
Bookmark our website. Our original reporting and storytelling will be published here first once we launch. You’ll find exclusive stories and news briefs.
Sign up for our newsletter to get updates about our launch, and to get:
The project promises to bring “quality, non-partisan reporting that digs beneath the surface on issues of public importance and uncovers effective solutions to problems,” curate local community information, and offer “a living laboratory for public service hyperlocal journalism.”
‘I will come out on my own and at least say this’
Last week, this newsletter reported how the Boulder Daily Camera and Longmont Times-Call were poised to drop a bombshell on readers over the weekend.
What kind? An explanation of why the papers pulled offline a front-page 9/11 remembrance story about local residents and replaced it with a vague editor’s note. The note said only that the paper was investigating the story’s accuracy.
Now we know why.
Three hours after the newsletter hit inboxes last Friday, editors at the Front Range papers put their item online. The following day it appeared on the Daily Camera’s front page. Boy, was it a doozie.
From the remarkable nearly 1,000-word note to readers by editors John Vahlenkamp and Julie Vossler-Henderson:
The Camera is retracting an article that appeared in its Sept. 11 edition, headlined “Reflections on finding peace.” The newspaper has concluded the article substantially misrepresented the stories of its primary subjects — Mark Pfundstein, John Maynard and Danna Hirsch.
The Camera has determined that multiple statements attributed to these sources, including purported direct quotations, were fabricated.
The rest of the item, which editors decided “after a discussion” to place outside the paper’s paywall, ran down specific issues editors found with the story in detail — including “the location of the Pentagon.” (It’s in Virginia, not Maryland; that could be the least of the story’s issues, though, according to the paper.) Elsewhere in the item, “The Camera acknowledges the possibility that there might be additional inaccuracies in quotations” attributed to sources. “Reliable transcripts of these interviews do not exist,” editors wrote.
And, if that weren’t enough, there was this:
This list does not necessarily constitute every error in the article. While the Camera published this article in good faith, we regret that quotations attributed to interview subjects were materially inaccurate. In addition to retracting this article, editors have taken internal steps to prevent similar incidents from happening again.
It would be nice to know what those steps are. The retraction comes a year after a major front-page correction to a story by a different reporter who is no longer there. Last Friday, I reached out to the author of the paper’s retracted 9/11 story, April Morganroth, whom the paper did not name in its retraction, but she declined to comment on the record.
On Saturday evening, a reporter at the paper, Mitchell Byars, used his Twitter account to exercise his personal conscience and go beyond what his editors were willing to do in their explanation to readers.
“I believe we should be just as transparent as the institutions we cover,” he wrote. “And so since I would not accept ‘editors have taken internal steps’ from a source, I will come out on my own and at least say this: The reporter is no longer employed here. We were informed Thursday.” He also had some ideas of his own for what should happen moving forward.
“I feel the first step is more due diligence in hiring,” he said. “I feel there were some frankly easily identifiable red flags that I brought up with editors after her hire. I’m sure we’ll put in whatever steps we can on the proofing side with the staffing we have.” (Other journalists have pointed to her social media activity as potential red flags; her Twitter account has since disappeared.)
Those who remain at the paper, Byars went on, “will have to do our job while being doubted and questioned at every turn. It will be exhausting and soul-crushing, and if you think I didn't almost quit on the spot when I thought about that, well you're wrong. Oh yeah, and now we're shorthanded.”
So what now? My prediction is this scandal will be a blip and likely won’t have too many lasting effects on the institution, such as it is. The few dozen media-junkie types who paid close attention have moved on. It happened at a fading local newspaper in the witching hour of the local newspaper end times. Readers of a certain age might cringe and whisper that’s so bad. Readers a generation or two younger probably haven’t even noticed. Quick reaction:
People like me who spend our time thinking about what larger lessons we might draw from situations like these will try to do that, despite other daily pressing problems within our industry. So here goes.
Following the retraction, commentary about it cleaved somewhat into two camps: Some who weighted blame more squarely on the individual and her actions and less on editors and ownership, and those who thought it underscored problems in the larger institutional systems inside which this scandal occurred. I’m more or less in the latter. I’d like to believe with more resources and a non-hedge-fund owner that has left this paper a stretched-too-thin shell of itself, there would have been more quality control. If Byars is right, that control might have caught issues early enough to save the paper such embarrassment.
On his Dynamics of Writing blog, journalism educator Vincent Filak had a few “teachable moments” from the Camera SNAFU. They ranged from more transparency in the paper’s explanation — “The Daily Camera was about half right in its actions related to this mess” — to checking previous stories, and offering a warning to young journalists to never start cutting corners.
From journalism educator Dan Kennedy’s Media Nation blog:
[I]t’s hard not to notice that the Camera is owned by the hedge fund Alden Global Capital. Staffing, no doubt, is minimal, and Morganroth’s story may have been published with little or no editing. It’s possible that a diligent editor would have spotted problems, though maybe not.
“Local papers run by hedge funds have been gutted,” said New York Times reporter and Boulder resident Jack Healy, “but this debacle makes a decent argument for investing in enough editing staff to help avoid brand-destroying retractions.”
And if that’s the best thing to come out of it all, great. We’ll make sure to hold our breath.
PEN event: ‘A community-driven rescue mission for local journalism’
As PEN America launches a series of town hall gatherings that bring together local journalists, elected officials, and the public “to discuss the landscape of local news in 2021,” Colorado will be host to one of them.
On Wednesday, Oct. 13, at 5 p.m. at the Buell Public Media Center in Denver, the group will host a discussion titled “Keeping it local: Representation in Colorado journalism.” From the announcement:
After years ravaged by press layoffs, newsroom shutterings, and attacks on the media, the need for a community-driven rescue mission for local journalism has never been more evident. But first, we must understand the problem and collectively reaffirm how integral local news coverage is to the health of a community, both literally and figuratively. In order to begin this conversation and foster public awareness and grassroots advocacy for local news media, PEN America is launching a series of town hall convenings …
This discussion will illuminate the importance of having a diversity of reporters covering state level and federal activity as a way to foster trust, transparency, and government accountability. We’ll also discuss legislative solutions to disappearing news deserts and ways to increase circulation and accessibility to credible news sources.
Read more about the event at the link above and see who will be on the panel. Facebook and YouTube channels will also live stream the event, so look out for those.
‘Philanthropy alone is not enough’
This week, former Denver Post editor Greg Moore and Colorado Press Association CEO Tim Regan-Porter penned a guest column for local news outlets calling for the government to help our battered local news business.
Together, they ran down a shit list of bad news about the industry and touted how much the Colorado Media Project, which underwrites this newsletter, has done to help by raising “millions of dollars from private foundations since 2018 to help stimulate innovation in the local news ecosystem.” But, they wrote, “philanthropy alone is not enough.”
From the column:
Community news organizations are vital, local businesses that also need and deserve some (smart) public support — and Colorado’s U.S. Senator Michael [Bennet] is in a unique position to make it happen. Public support, you might ask? How on Earth can newsrooms take money from the government?
Isn’t that like the muckrakers taking money from the muckmakers? Fortunately, there is a shrewd way to help save local news businesses without the government gaining influence over journalists or their coverage. It’s called the Local Journalism Sustainability Act. This clever, bipartisan bill would provide more help for local news than at any time in about a century – and it’s done in a very First-Amendment-friendly way.
The authors, both of whom, like me, are connected to the Colorado Media Project, go on to explain what the bill does and why they like it, particularly because of the way it would offer tax credits to subscribers and business owners for supporting local news organizations.
“It is supported by groups representing more than 3,000 medium and small newsrooms around the country, and many of their countless supporters,” they write.
Of course, not everyone thinks it’s some silver bullet. About a month ago, Lauren Harris at Columbia Journalism Review asked whether “existing—as it does—within a system that fails marginalized groups time and again, does this new legislation address the deep inequities inherent in local journalism?”
The Gazette yanks out a tooth from the Denver Post’s watchdog beat
After 22 years at The Denver Post where he became the paper’s highest profile investigative reporter, David Migoya announced this week he’s jumping over to the rival Gazette.
“Migoya will team up with Christopher Osher and Evan Wyloge on the Colorado Watch investigative team,” The Gazette reported, “focusing on investigative projects and accountability journalism.”
The move is a blow to the Post as The Gazette, whose flagship newspaper is headquartered in Colorado Springs, has aggressively moved in on the Denver market with a digital product called The Denver Gazette. Billboards touting The Denver Gazette as “better” and “balanced” have popped up around the Mile High City.
As the Alden Global Capital hedge fund has sucked resources from The Denver Post and shriveled its newsroom staff, conservative Denver billionaire Phil Anschutz seems to have made a bet that beefing up his Gazette news brand will pay off. Recently, the Denver Gazette dropped some of the paywall from its cluttered and ad-heavy site.
Two months after The Denver Gazette launched in August 2020 with a promise to “publish more hard-hitting news, investigative journalism and thought-provoking local opinions than any other publication in the city,” Migoya offered some competitive social media snark. On Twitter, he’d spotlighted that quote, tagged Osher in it, and posted the word “Ummm” along with a GIF of former President Barack Obama with his hands out, palms up, and looking from side to side as though he was impatiently waiting for something.
The two watchdog reporters once worked together at The Denver Post before Osher left for a very short stint at The Colorado Sun covering education prior to joining The Gazette. “I know having worked with David in the past what a fierce and dedicated reporter he is,” Osher said in a statement. “I could not be more proud to join forces with him again.”
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More Colorado media odds & ends
💰 Meet the 2021 #newsCOneeds Matching Challenge Grantees, newsrooms that will participate in a unique-in-the-nation program.
🌡️ Colorado First Amendment attorney Steve Zansberg has a suggestion for newspaper editors: “The Earth’s dangerously warming temperature would seem to be a front-page story.”
🆕 I’m officially calling David Sabados a newspaper tycoon. Following the success of his hyperlocal Denver North Star, the budding media magnate is launching his second newspaper. The G.E.S. Gazette will serve the Globeville, Elyria, and Swansea neighborhoods as well as the RiNo Art District in Denver. The best part? “The publication will be fully bilingual,” he says. Look for the first issue next week.
🎙️ KUNC’s Tess Novotny spoke to food editor Patricia Kaowthumrong of Denver’s 5280 magazine “to learn more about the role of identity in food journalism.”
⚖️ A judge this week “ordered the release of police camera footage of an incident in which a Greeley officer is accused of using a chokehold during an arrest, siding with news media that argued a new Colorado law requires disclosure of video upon request involving alleged police misconduct,” the AP reported.
✂️ Here’s how The Pueblo Chieftain is changing its prep sports coverage with limited staff.
💵 Colorado newspaper salary checkup: $30k to $35k for a full-time reporter job at the newspaper serving the largest city between Denver and Salt Lake City. $70k-$90k for an editor role at the paper in Steamboat Springs. $15 to $17 an hour for a full-time position at the Colorado Community Media-owned Golden Transcript after being taken over by The Colorado News Conservancy and The Colorado Sun.
🤡 An anti-clown bias in the local press is real.
👻 The Atlantic magazine published a major feature story titled “What we lost when Gannett came to town.” (We know what happened when Gannett gobbled up two newspapers in Colorado that bookend the Front Range.)
❓ Kyle Harris at Denverite asked whether the Five Points Media Center might “become a hub for Denver’s next Black cultural renaissance.”
⚰️ Longtime Denver Post features writer Barbara Haddad Ryan died at 83. Former editor Fred Brown recalled her as “one of the smartest, wittiest people ever to work at The Denver Post.”
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 here, or e-mail me at CoreyHutchins [at] gmail [dot] com.