🇨🇦 Oh, Canada: Village Media eyes another Colorado news site
Your weekly reporting on Colorado local news & media
‘It’ll be near Longmont’
Village Media, a digital local news company that has found success in its home country of Canada, is eyeing a second location for a Colorado news site.
“I would expect within the next couple months we’ll launch,” CEO Jeff Elgie said recently. “We are considering some license partners in Colorado as well.”
Village Media runs its own sites, but it also runs a platform for local news publishers in its network, which it bills as “one of the fastest, most responsive, and stable platforms in the industry.” Elgie said he was already in talks with some Colorado news organizations about potential participation.
If and when the company that operates more than a dozen sites in Canada (and one in Nigeria) sets up another local news site here, the move would mark its second in the United States within a few months — both of them in Colorado.
“Colorado will be our focus for now because we’re now there,” Elgie told a class of Colorado College students via Zoom on April 8 where I’d invited him as a guest speaker. (He told me I could write about what he said for this newsletter.)
Village Media in February acquired a presence in Longmont when the for-profit Ontario-based company announced it was taking over the Longmont Leader from McClatchy and Google’s Compass Experiment. (That’s the experiment with a “uncertain future.”)
Last summer, tech and media journalist Simon Owens spotlighted how Village Media’s sites had “succeeded where so many legacy newspapers have struggled or failed.” In a recent case study, the Google News Initiative wrote how “even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, where many local publishers have closed or furloughed workers and digital ad spend has taken hits of 15%+, Village Media increased revenue.”
During his visit with students earlier this month, Elgie said part of the secret is a notion that the company is nimble and “born” digital. “Everything we do is focused on the digital operation. We’re not trying to save a hemorrhaging legacy newspaper, for example, where it’s directing a tremendous amount of resources,” he said. When COVID-19 hit, the company did lose business, but quickly pivoted to creating custom products that helped local restaurants focus on their takeout products and built custom widgets for hospitals to help them communicate to the public.
“We watched newspapers — who we compete with all the time — just scramble to save their business and took a bunch of money from government … and really were just kind of sitting ducks,” he said. “They weren’t able to move fast enough. Whereas we just took off because we were able to shift and be focused on digital communications so clearly. Didn’t hurt that our platform allows for that. So because we built all the tech from scratch if we need to do something quick we can do it quickly … and we can do it centrally, too.”
As for what makes Colorado’s local news scene — and the nation’s in general — different from Canada’s, Elgie said one of the biggest differences is the amount of philanthropic support available here. Interestingly, he said he didn’t plan to pursue it too seriously, instead relying on the company’s for-profit business model to make or break its own success.
So where will the next Colorado site be? The Village Media CEO declined to say, but mentioned some cities, including Loveland, are in the running.
“It’ll be near Longmont,” he said. “Let’s say that.”
Spotlight on community public radio collaborations in Colorado
This week, Harvard’s NiemanLab published a story about public radio collaborations in the Mountain West. Here was the lede:
Last summer, I drove cross country. I found that in parts of the Mountain West — Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, Montana, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, and Wyoming — you can go for miles and miles and pick up just one or two radio stations. (If you’re one of the many people planning a road trip outside a metropolitan area in the next few months, you’ll likely notice this, too.)
I raised an eyebrow at the Colorado part. There might not be one or two major signals that cover the whole state, but Colorado has a pretty robust local public radio scene. I feel like you have a fairly good chance of dialing in a different community signal from small town to small town unless you’re in a canyon or up against some other natural barrier.
The national story offers an opportunity to spotlight Colorado’s history of community radio collaboration and some current projects not mentioned in the piece. For decades, several small local stations have been working together via the Rocky Mountain Community Radio coalition, which counts roughly 16 stations across Colorado and four in separate neighboring states. And that doesn’t include all the local public radio stations in Colorado.
“In that group of RMCR stations, we’ve sustained collaborative efforts for well over 20 years,” says Tim Russo, station manager for KGNU in Boulder and Denver.
Currently, about half of them share into an initiative called Capitol Coverage, and a different recent collaboration among the stations, The Fossil Fuels Reporting Project, produced 18 stories aired by nine stations. Meanwhile, look out soon for some upcoming collaborative radio coverage of affordable housing across Colorado from 11 different community radio stations. Support for that effort comes as part of a Solutions Journalism Network grant geared toward economic mobility.
In 1988, KGNU helped spearhead a stitching together of non-commercial local radio stations across our state with what was then called the High Country Community Radio Coalition, a movement that encouraged sharing resources.
These days, efforts that are getting attention, including in the NiemanLab piece, are large public radio stations buying up local news sites or smaller stations. Think Colorado Public Radio purchasing Denverite, or, more recently, absorbing KRCC.
As Russo noted to me over the phone this week, that’s an … interesting way to look at collaboration. “But it’s not indicative of the longstanding collaborations that small newsrooms continue to spearhead,” he says.
Speaking of public radio, community stations, including in Colorado, are getting a much-needed financial boost as part of the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package Congress passed last month. The legislation includes $175 million for public broadcasting stations across the country, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting “will prioritize $100 million of the funds for smaller stations,” Current reported. (That includes 17 public radio stations in Colorado, and two TV stations, according to this list.)
Many small rural stations “got hit pretty hard by the COVID year,” Russo says. “That said, they’re being very creative in looking at mutual aid between stations and how, through collaboration, we do survive.”
Local community members have also stepped up with donations, he adds, showing a recognition of just how important these stations have been throughout the pandemic. Says Russo: “They have been the anchor for so many communities.”
Crestone Eagle hopes for ‘innovative model’ for nonprofit news
Early last year, I wrote how the small monthly Crestone Eagle newspaper in rural Saguache County was looking to convert to a nonprofit. (If you’ve never been to Crestone, Colorado, you should really consider visiting.)
“It’s still going on,” says Marge Hoglin, a former journalist and entrepreneur, who is helping lead the effort on behalf of the Crestone Eagle Community Media nonprofit. The group formed to purchase and sustain the newspaper that has served the northern San Luis Valley for three decades.
“Beyond purchasing and sustaining the Eagle, I believe that CECM needs to hire and/or train reporters who can hold public officials accountable, challenge readers toward a deeper understanding of complex issues, and encourage public participation in addressing them,” Hoglin told me.
This week, the nonprofit launched a website. An excerpt:
Why we need nonprofit ownership
Like most newspapers in Colorado and around the country, the Eagle generates its revenue through advertising, subscriptions and single-copy sales. Changing technology, however, has affected how people get their news, and the proliferation of social media has threatened the stability of local news outlets, including the Eagle.
Nonprofit news organizations, therefore, are being developed with a mission to serve communities’ information needs and benefit the public rather than generate private wealth. This journalism is fundamental to a healthy, democratic society.
The Crestone Eagle, under CECM ownership, will diversify its revenue sources and provide access to individual and corporate donations, sustaining memberships and grants from multiple sources, particularly for its work to serve those whose voices have been ignored historically or misrepresented in the media.
“Our long-term goal is to evolve an innovative model for nonprofit community journalism,” the site also reads.
Newspapers converting to nonprofit ownership has become an option for sustainability during a disrupted time for print publications. Two years ago, the Salt Lake Tribune became the first large legacy newspaper to do so. Earlier this year, the Baltimore Sun announced it would be “acquired by a nonprofit.”
Hoglin says there’s been a lot of change in Crestone, which is down the road from the Great Sand Dunes National Park, and area economic development projects are in the works. Money is coming into this region with a diverse population, and growth is going to happen, she adds, but the area could use some more robust news coverage.
If you’re interested in supporting the Crestone Eagle Community Media nonprofit in its goals, or know of someone who might be, you can do so here.
Speaking of Crestone, have you seen this recent documentary? “This movie is a love letter,” the filmmaker says in the trailer. “This movie is about the end of the world.”
Multiple Latina public officials said they aren’t talking to 9News
During a recent Facebook Live Zoom panel that Denver Democratic Sen. Julie Gonzales described as a “Friday afternoon happy hour conversation” about media, politics, corporate accountability, inclusivity, and more, a handful of those present said they were boycotting Denver’s NBC affiliate, the TEGNA-owned KUSA 9News.
The panel included Nora Lopez, president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, Denver City Councilwomen Jamie Torres, Candi CdeBaca, and Amanda Sandoval, Democratic Rep. Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez, Denver Education Board member Angela Cobián, Standard General investor Amit Thakrar, and former 9News journalist Lori Lizarraga.
Multiple panelists said they were no longer speaking with the dominant local TV station in Denver. “We’re no longer minorities,” CdeBaca said at one point. “We have to start thinking about ourselves as the new American majority. And the way to take control of that power is to make conscious choices about where we invest our time, our labor, our energy.”
There was plenty more in last Friday’s discussion, which you can view at the link above. And “there’s going to be a lot more happening,” Gonzales said.
Since Lizarraga’s column, TEGNA has made changes to the way journalists describe people when reporting on immigration. 9News told The Denver Post about a diversity, equity, and inclusion committee at the station, and how it’s holding “listening sessions with journalists of color, training on inclusive journalism practices and an upcoming diversity audit by a third-party researcher.”
How one Colorado newspaper’s editorial board works
As the influence of newspaper editorial boards wanes in our networked digital age, some have sought to integrate members of the community into them to try and perhaps get a better pulse of the communities they serve.
There might have been a day when a large swath of a city (or at least a city’s leaders) turned to the newspaper’s opinion pages as some sort of North Star, and what was said on those pages really mattered. Now opinions are everywhere — and often more easily accessible to readers, even among those who have newspaper subscriptions and keep getting logged out of their digital accounts.
It’s worth noting that even in the Great Newspaper Times, editorial boards didn’t always move people. In 1995, both the Rocky Mountain News and Denver Post endorsed Mayor Wellington Webb’s opponent, and Webb won handily.
These days, one way to make a newspaper’s editorial pages (and ideas) more inclusive and share more unique perspectives, is to broaden its board to include local residents. (If you want to learn how to form your own community advisory board at your newspaper, here you go.)
For the past few years, Ben Herman has represented the community as a member of The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel’s editorial board. This week, he wrote about his experience as he departs the board because his son is running for city council. From the Sentinel:
I came into this position without much knowledge about how newspapers decide what is published on their editorial pages. I generally understood the distinction between the news and the opinion sections of the paper, but I didn’t understand how the process works, and I’ve come to learn that many of the newspaper’s readers don’t either. So here’s how it goes.
Herman explained how the board met at least once a week, hashed over topics, and met with politicians. “I never once saw a predetermined outcome for an editorial,” he wrote. Another excerpt:
Local focus — At the end of the day, the editorial board’s focus was always on what’s best for the local community. Social media and the web provide almost limitless sources of “news” (although many are of dubious value), and the inside view is that the greatest value for the Sentinel is on focusing on local topics. I gained a newfound respect for the role that the paper plays in keeping us all informed on local, regional, and statewide issues and their implications for the community.
Read the whole thing here.
A tale of two Gilberts. Too close to home edition
I share a name with a famous tap dancer. And also someone who was shot and killed last year. (If my mom got a Google alert, she never mentioned it.)
But imagine if you shared a name with someone in your own profession.
David Gilbert has to deal with that plenty. He sometimes gets angry emails after another Vice story drops under the byline of David Gilbert. Not David Gilbert the reporter who covers the Denver suburbs for Colorado Community Media. David Gilbert the reporter who writes for Vice News and has been lately covering the mass QAnon delusion.
On Facebook, Colorado’s David Gilbert actually includes this disclaimer in his bio: “Journalist. Photographer. I am NOT the David Gilbert from Vice News.”
This week, Vice’s Q-covering Gilbert hit too close to home.
His latest Vice piece was about “one of the most prominent voices in the QAnon community” who lives in — (drumroll, please) — Douglas County,* Colorado, smack in the middle of Colorado Community Media’s coverage zone.
More Colorado media odds & ends
🎬 Castle Rock filmmaker Brian Malone’s documentary, News Matters: Inside the Rebellion to Save America’s Newspapers, debuted this week on Rocky Mountain PBS. (Someone in every city with a newspaper under threat of hedge fund ownership should screen it as a warning: “Could Denver come to you?”)
🥊 Two Douglas County Commissioners are “trying to oust the Chair of the Board after a fight over whose turn it was to do a media interview.”
🏆 The Top of the Rockies journalism awards are out. View the honors here.
📢 The Colorado Press Association says “Stand against sealing records. Speak out about House Bill 21-1214.”
🔎 “The Colorado General Assembly is getting mighty casual about honoring the public’s right to know,” writes The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel’s editorial board.
⚾ Noah Yingling wrote about how “Phillies TV broadcast’s mistakes and snafus were aplenty” last weekend.
⚙️ Sensi Media Group LLC, which publishes Sensi magazine, has named Stephanie Graziano the new CEO of “the award-winning Denver-based publishing house.”
📺 Denver morning anchor Britt Moreno is leaving CBS4, moving back to Texas “to be closer to my family.”
💨 Reporter Grant Stringer is leaving Sentinel Colorado, moving back to the Pacific Northwest “to be closer to my family.”
⛸️ KRDO-TV anchor Brynn Carman in the Springs answered seven questions from The Gazette’s Terry Terrones.
🎙️ Colorado College senior Anya Steinberg appeared on Colorado Matters at Colorado Public Radio to talk about winning NPR’s national collegiate podcast challenge.
⛰️ Colorado Newsline reporter Chase Woodruff has started “an occasional newsletter about the literature and history of the American West.”
✍🏼 Poynter’s director of training and diversity, Doris Truong, writes that “growing up Chinese American in Western Colorado in the ’80s meant being The Only.”
🆕 Sarah Ferguson has joined FOX21-TV in Colorado Springs as a reporter and producer. She was previously a social media coordinator at the Broadmoor.
🏟️ Score Media, which has a “sports news and stats platform along with its sports betting app Mobile Sportsbook,” is now active in Colorado.
📻 “Despite the banner year for the KVNF, [Gavin] Dahl isn’t content to rest on awards won and plaques hanging on the walls,” reports the Montrose Daily Press. “The ambitious news director is looking ahead to expanding the award-winning news department.”
☀️ Olivia Sun will join The Colorado Sun in June as a photojournalist through the Report for America Program. “Sun will be based in metro Denver and will travel around the state to help tell impactful stories.” Liz Teitz at The Ouray County Plaindealer, is staying on for a second year as part of RFA program.
💥 Upon being selected to join The Denver Press Club’s board, CBS4’s Tori Mason said “This is the whitest board I’ve ever seen.” She said it sparked a conversation.
📖 You might have heard History Colorado made public two voluminous ledgers with the names of 30,000 Coloradans connected in the 1920s to the KKK. But did you know it was a Rocky Mountain News reporter who gave the ledgers to the state historical society in 1940?
*CORRECTION: A previous version of this newsletter misstated the area where the individual is from.
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.