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Newspaper launched by Denver mayor's aide to ‘tell our story and foster Black journalism’
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Enter the Five Points Atlas
In 1827, the first Black-run newspaper in the United States, Freedom’s Journal, launched with editors Samuel Cornish and John Russwurm publishing this statement: “We wish to plead our own cause. Too long have others spoken for us.”
“The narratives about Five Points and the Black community of Colorado have been detrimental to their success and the need for unity. This publication will tell our story and foster Black journalism in a predominately white state, which is what Five Points is all about.”
Atlas, 26, has an unusual background for a newspaper publisher. He’s a communication and policy analyst in the office of Denver Mayor Michael Hancock.
In his new journalism endeavor he’s leaned on help from David Sabados, who launched The Denver North Star in 2019, a solid community newspaper that focuses on North Denver and has found success with hyperlocal print journalism, even during a pandemic.
This summer, Atlas was in a meeting with someone from the Five Points Development Corporation, he says, when he learned a handful of new businesses had opened in the area in the span of a month and it seemed like no one knew about it. “That was the lightbulb,” Atlas says.
The paper will be free and mailed to residents. “Obviously we want to serve the folks who are here,” Atlas says, “but we also want to serve the Black community.”
The Five Points area, a historic neighborhood that was a once-predominantly Black part of the city known as the Harlem of the West, isn’t a news desert. There are some publications, even Black-run, Atlas says, that serve the community. (Elsewhere in Denver, the Urban Spectrum, a monthly magazine, is dedicated to “spreading the news about people of color.”)
“We want to help define the area in a positive light and highlight the amazing things that African Americans are doing throughout Colorado, but particularly within Denver,” Atlas says of his mission.
About seventeen-thousand copies of the first issue went out the door this Wednesday. Atlas says he helped finance the launch with local partners Benzel Jimmerson and Major Morgan.
Two Atlas-authored items led the inaugural front page. One story was about a new Black-owned beauty bar and the other carried a headline “Groundbreaking Development to Tackle Homelessness.” Elsewhere was news about Black-run businesses and opinion columns by Black writers. (Most of the writers other than Atlas are women of color, he says.) The paper had an events calendar, job listings, and a local services page. Advertisers included the Metro Denver Economic Equity Project, a recording studio, a minority-owned solar company, a new Black-owned local social media network, and the Urban League, among others.
A full-time mayoral appointee launching a newspaper in the city is sure to invite questions about potential conflicts of interest real or perceived.
In 2019, when the Regional Transportation District’s new public relations boss announced an “RTD newsroom” to “put out their own stories,” it led to a mini-debate among journalists and PR folks about propaganda versus government agencies providing their own information in a diminished local news landscape.
Atlas says he’ll stay away from political topics and as editor will let his writers write what they want. (An easy thing to say, of course.) He says he wouldn’t allow influence from the mayor’s office to affect coverage, but he will utilize his access to information, something he sees as a win-win for the city and the community. On its website Wednesday, a post leading the homepage about a new Hancock judicial appointment read at the bottom: “This article was created by a press release from the Mayor’s Office.” Atlas says he isn’t taking any money or advertising from the city.
“For the most part our paper isn’t really trying to do that sort of hard-hitting journalism,” Atlas told me in an interview. “We want to talk about the businesses, the art, and spotlight the people. We feel like that’s more interesting. What’s the discount? What’s going on in my neighborhood? If you want to get the political information, The Denver Post is going to do that all day. But if you want more community-based information that’s where we’re going to be.”
Atlas, who grew up on the northeast side of Denver, graduated from CSU with an economics degree, and is currently getting his masters in urban policy and public affairs from the University of San Fransisco, doesn’t see the newspaper one day turning into a full-time career for him. He has plenty of other interests. (He ran for mayor of Fort Collins four years ago when he was 22.)
“I would actually love to elevate someone — maybe one of the writers or someone else who’s really passionate — to sort of take it on and keep the legacy of it going,” he says. He’s also interested in seeing if the model can work in other Black neighborhoods elsewhere.
Says Atlas: “That could potentially be done in other states and cities as well.”
Three’s a trend: Another Colorado TV newscaster leaves for a real estate job
An item in last week’s newsletter reported how two Denver news personalities were leaving the local TV business to pursue careers in the real estate realm.
Welp, now I’m calling it a trend.
This week, Dianne Derby, a well-known TV news anchor at KKTV who left the Colorado Springs CBS affiliate after nearly a decade in October, announced her latest plans. From Terry Terrones in The Gazette:
Sunday night, on her Facebook page, Derby announced the next phase of her career and it has nothing to do with TV broadcasting.
“Big life changes," states Derby. "I will soon be a Realtor with Penkhus Properties - Chad Penkhus at RE/MAX Real Estate Group. I can’t wait to help the people in southern Colorado I have loved for so many years buy or sell their homes. Stay tuned.”
Both Denver and Colorado Springs have some pretty hot real estate markets. You can bet the next time you hear these former journalists talking about “good leads,” they won’t be referring to these.
West Slope paper defends itself in court for filing an open-records request
You might have seen some national news this week about Louisiana’s attorney general suing a reporter over an open-records request. These types of tactics should get plenty of attention when they arise, but this isn’t a one-off.
In recent years, governments large and small across the country have been “turning the tables” by suing news organizations simply for filing open-records requests. It can be a stonewalling tactic in which a government can punt to the judicial branch when it doesn’t want to turn over documents, or it can be some CYA to protect against lawsuits about private information.
I first saw it happen in Billings, Montana five years ago. The Billings Gazette won that one. In 2018, the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition reported how a “reverse CORA” lawsuit backfired in the town of Paonia.
This week, the small Ouray County Plaindealer on Colorado’s Western Slope is having to contend with a court action from one of its local governments after the newspaper filed an open-records request. From the paper on Feb. 10:
A district court judge will decide whether the public has access to disciplinary records for two Ouray County employees who have been at the helm of the COVID-19 pandemic response.
In response to notice the Plaindealer intended to file a complaint in court for the records, the county instead filed suit against co-publisher Erin McIntyre, the requester of the records.
The county’s civil filing against McIntyre refers to actions she took “in her capacity as a citizen, and as a reporter.”
The journalist this week published a first-person column about the development. “In this business we ask a lot of questions,” she wrote. “It’s kind of our job.”
Watch this space for how it plays out.
Sirota’s Daily Poster expands
Readers of this newsletter might remember when the husband of Denver Democratic Rep. Emily Sirota backed out of running the left’s “answer to Breitbart” because he wanted to run a media outlet “rooted in a value system — and without regard to political party.” At the time he was writing for the International Business Times. Further back, you might recall when he took on some local Colorado newspaper executives for their political activity in a 2014 piece for Pando Daily.
The former Bernie Sanders aide who became a journalist, then went back to speechifying for Sanders, is now back working in the media world. After the Democratic presidential primary, he started The Daily Poster, “a grassroots-funded investigative journalism project that covers politics, business and corporate power.”
Now it’s growing. From a Feb. 8 announcement:
… as of today, The Daily Poster is bringing on Joel Warner as our new managing editor. He will be working with me; senior editor and reporter Andrew Perez; and reporters Julia Rock and Walker Bragman.
This is a big moment for this project — in less than a year, we have been able to break big stories and find an audience of subscribers whose support has helped us build out a team dedicated to accountability journalism. We are not able to do this work without our supporting subscribers — so thank you for being one.
Warner’s Twitter bio describes him as a “Denver journalist and all-around reasonable guy.” He previously was managing editor of Boulder Weekly and a staff writer at Westword who has written for publications from Esquire to Popular Science.
This week, The Daily Poster took on some big national media organizations, writing about how “elite news outlets are working overtime to try to block families from getting the $2,000 survival check they were promised.”
The ‘official’ city newspaper
Do you ever wonder how some newspapers get those lucrative government contracts to print public notices in their pages?
Members of the Colorado Springs City Council discussed such an issue last month during a work session. A city clerk presented a resolution “designating The Colorado Springs Gazette as the official newspaper for the publication of City Ordinances, notices, and other legal advertisements,” according to minutes from the meeting.
More from those minutes:
She explained City Code requires the City from time to time initiate a competitive bid for the publication of Ordinances, notices, and other legal advertisements and through the proper procurement process and evaluation committee, The Colorado Springs Gazette was chosen. Ms. Johnson stated the procurement process has been completed, the contract has been signed for a one-year term, with four to five one-year renewals, performance measures will be assessed every quarter, and there is a state statute which caps the price an entity is authorized to pay.
One council member asked what criteria the city used to choose The Gazette and was told readership levels and availability were factors. Other Springs newspapers mentioned were The Colorado Springs Business Journal and The Colorado Springs Independent alt-weekly, both of which are owned by the same company.
Former Colorado GOP Secretary of State and current Councilman Wayne Williams said the city needs a paper that’s daily, according to the minutes.
(h/t to Colorado College student Frances Thyer for noticing this City Council discussion while she was digging through minutes for a recent project.)
Each year it seems, newspaper publishers and their advocacy groups lobby governments, including in Colorado, to keep these laws on the books as some people push for governments to amend the rules and allow online publishers to dip their cups into the public money stream.
Colorado’s Democratic governor, Jared Polis, is on record saying he would sign a bill to scrap a print requirement. “In the long run, you know, I’m a free-market guy, I think that’s silly because you can do it online,” he said at a news conference last year. While he added he wouldn’t do such a thing during a pandemic since newspapers need the money so much, he said, “Talk to me about it in three or four years and I’ll get rid of that requirement.” (Every time I re-print that quote I picture an alarm going off at The Colorado Press Association office and harried staffers manning the battle stations.)
One can only hope that’s the only thing Colorado’s print newspapers will have to worry about once this pandemic is over.
More Colorado local news odds & ends
📻 Obed Manuel is joining Colorado Public Radio as an audience editor. “I’ll be working with the newsroom and focus on making the news more accessible to communities of color and other under-served populations,” he said. He comes from Dallas.
⚖️ Here’s how some Colorado newspapers are rethinking criminal justice coverage.
🎒 In Colorado, schools “could soon teach kids how to differentiate between fake news & credible media,” reports CBS4 Denver.
🇨🇦 BizWest reports Jeff Elgie, CEO of Village Media, said the company has an interest in Colorado. (That’s the Canadian company taking over The Longmont Leader.) “We want to open at least one other city in Colorado and possibly more,” he said. “We had our best year ever in 2020. We added 30 staff members last year and didn’t have to lay anyone off during the pandemic.”
🔎 A Colorado journalist explained how “a price hike for searching criminal records will have a chilling effect on the ability of small news organizations to conduct investigative work.”
📺 Why does it so often seem to take local media attention for medical providers to act like human beings?
🌱 This is not what I was expecting from the headline, Wet Mountain Tribune.
🇶 No A on Q: One of The Parker Chronicle’s reporters said, “Three days after saying he would ‘provide clear & concise answers’ for journalists asking ‘tough questions’ Parker Mayor Jeff Toborg declined to answer several questions” from Colorado Community Media.
⭐ The Colorado Authors Hall of Fame is taking nominations through Feb. 28.
👀 A Colorado newspaper posted a job listing for a “Journalist product manager.” According to a listing at The Montrose Daily Press, “No, the job title is not a typo.” (So what is that? “NABUR, or Neighborhood Assisted Bureau Reporting, offers aspects of investigative reporting/feel-good local news combined on a site similar to Nextdoor or Facebook Groups This project is funded in part by the Google News Initiative.”)
🎙️ Colorado Public Radio explained “How And Why We Cover Colorado’s Congressional Delegation.”
📡 Westword reports that everywhere Vic Lombardi goes, “the Altitude TV host and multiple winner of Westword's Best TV Sportscaster award runs into fans upset about not being [able] to see most Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche games on Comcast because of a fight over broadcasting rights that began in the summer of 2019 and shows no sign of being resolved. Moreover, the overwhelming majority of those fans blame Altitude TV for the deadlock.” (Here’s a Denver PR pro’s take.)
🌩️ Here are answers to six “simple” questions for a Colorado Springs weathercaster.
📢 “There aren’t very many Black and brown people in newsrooms across America,” Colorado State University journalism professor Tori Arthur told the campus newspaper. “And so these events are being essentially narrated by predominantly white journalists who are not necessarily versed in issues related to race and identity and the ways in which stereotyping can come in.”
⛰️ The rural-urban divide in Colorado media law is real.
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.