Springs alt-weekly is getting ‘threats for our reporting’
The week's news behind the news in Colorado
‘Not going to take it’
Colorado is once again a microcosm for another national drama. This time? Fever-dream delusions about the 2020 election.
Ground Zero is Mesa County where the local election office, overseen by a Trump-aligned Republican named Tina Peters, is a mess. There, our state’s Democratic Secretary of State has filed a lawsuit to stop the West Slope Republican clerk from overseeing the next election as a swarm of investigators scour her office for misconduct.
Here’s a recap from The Colorado Sun:
Peters has been incommunicado with the media and away from her office since … she was a featured speaker at a Sioux Falls, South Dakota, cyber symposium hosted by MyPillow CEO, Trump supporter and election fraud conspiracist Mike Lindell. Lindell had promised that he would disclose evidence at that symposium that the 2020 election was rigged. No such evidence was presented by Peters or any other speakers.
The political saga that has enveloped Mesa County in the past week ramped up while Peters was at the symposium. Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold sent inspectors to Peters office to investigate a possible breach in election security. That visit came after Peters failed to respond to Griswold’s demands for information about the suspected breach that included the leaking of passwords to voting equipment and copies of voting equipment hard drives.
Since then, a cascade of events has embroiled the Mesa County clerk’s office in legal and criminal investigations, and left a local elections office in disarray prior to Nov. 2 elections. The imbroglio has put Peters in a national spotlight and made the Republican clerk in the Western Slope’s most populated county a darling of far-right conservatives.
Mesa County’s newspaper of record, The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, has been on the story since breaking it last month, and the satirical news site The Onion has nothing on the Daily Sentinel’s entire Thursday front page.
Behind the headlines is something darker. Halfway across the state, at least one Colorado print news organization is getting threats for its reporting on election conspiracists. That’s according to a column this week by Amy Gillentine Sweet, the publisher of the Springs alt-weekly Indy.
Here’s an excerpt from the Indy column:
[Joe] Oltmann, who runs a podcast and a digital company in Denver, also is taking his lies on the road to expound on his baseless allegations. In addition to false claims about Dominion personnel, he’s added vicious attacks on Indy staff. While we appreciate a good debate and informed differences of opinion, we draw the line at the disgusting, ridiculous, defamatory lies he’s spreading about our reporter. We’re not going to give them credence or attention by repeating those lies here, but rest assured, we are taking action. …
We are letting our readers know that we have received threats for our reporting on Oltmann and his harebrained fantasies, and we’ve asked the police to investigate the credibility of those threats. We’re also exploring legal options based on the defamation and slander that one of our reporters is facing — online harassment that no one should have to deal with just because her job involves rooting out lies from the crazy side of the conservative right.
While there’s always room for disagreement, Oltmann’s repulsive statements go far beyond disagreement — they are libelous and slanderous. And we’re not going to take it.
The column, linked above, goes on to list another “online harasser and misguided Oltmann acolyte,” and what the paper has to say about her, too.
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Colorado’s Gannett papers say what they’ve done for newsroom diversity
Two Colorado broadsheets bookending the Front Range that are owned by the nation’s largest newspaper chain told their readers this week about the extent to which they’re walking the walk when it comes to making sure their newsrooms better reflect their communities.
On Thursday, the editors of the Coloradoan in Fort Collins and The Pueblo Chieftain each published separate columns under a headline saying they “pledged last year to better reflect” their city’s diversity and “Here’s what we’re doing.”
The Coloradoan’s Eric Larsen told readers about two new hires at the paper and said “there’s much more we can do to reflect the increasing diversity of our community” and added that the paper has “improved coverage of the Northern Colorado Pride march” and coverage of the city’s “growing diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.”
More from Larsen:
We're also excited to announce that the Coloradoan is a recipient of a $10,000 American Press Institute Ideas-to-Action grant that will allow us to collaborate with CSU's Center for Public Deliberation, departments of Journalism & Media Communication and Political Science and other Northern Colorado news sources to improve the local information ecosystem by engaging a broader, more inclusive range of voices; expanding fact-checking and quality control mechanisms; and developing the skills to frame local issues using deliberative methods that help people engage those issues more productively.
In Pueblo, Chieftain news director Luke Lyons wrote that he made “every effort to interview a diverse group of candidates with various backgrounds” and “offered jobs to talented applicants who came from diverse backgrounds.” However, he said, “all of them decided to take other opportunities.”
More from Lyons:
The newsroom is largely white, however I have made an effort to create more equity in terms of gender representation here at the Chieftain’s newsroom.For the Chieftain to succeed, we must have an inclusive and diverse workplace where employees are valued and feel empowered.
The papers each provided census data of their newsrooms in charts and graphs you can see in the articles.
Opinion page pot-stirring in Boulder
The last time this newsletter delved into the opinion pages of the Boulder Daily Camera it was to commend it for running a letter to the editor that attacked the newspaper’s hedge-fund overlord.
This week, the paper’s perspective section came in for some criticism after its opinion page editor, Julie Marshall, published a stream-of-consciousness broadside to a member of the local city council. The column was in response to the politician’s request for a retraction or “robust correction” to a recent editorial.
Here’s an excerpt from the Marshall column:
The absolute worst thing of all, wait for it … we absolutely crossed the line when we thought for ourselves and issued an opinion!
If we had only just gotten in line like good people and promoted what you desperately wanted, what CU wanted, and said hip, hip, hooray, well, that would have been so much better for us, and especially for you, because what you want is our priority. In fact, I think we could work out a deal and save the city a ton of money if we just combine this editorial page with the city newsletter, and then we don’t need to double our efforts! Won’t our readers be thrilled?
I mean, how dare we. How dare I, listen to any other ideas floating around out there, it’s not like the city wants to hear them, right? Like an easement so Boulder can take the time to plan development around a sensitive riparian zone? What a bunch of liberal environmental hooey. That expert and independent easement attorney we consulted, who said it was unusual, but could be done fast if all parties were willing, is a weasel. Not to disparage weasels, I like them.
You might have to know some recent backstory in Boulder to understand much of the column, but the above passages should give you an idea of the tone. Maybe this kicker will help, too, from the very end of the piece: “And I can send you what I ate for breakfast, too.”
The column didn’t land particularly well with some. One local reader, Jonathan Carroll, sent an email to the paper’s publisher canceling his subscription because of what he called “childish attacks” among other descriptions of a column he felt was out of bounds.
“It was a joke and her column [is] not the opinion of the newspaper,” publisher Al Manzi replied, according to an email Carroll shared with me. “She was just writing it as a satyrical piece not in any way a serious one. I hope you realize that she was just being silly.”
The column bounced around among journalists in public on social media and in private via direct messages. “The ‘rap air horn at a sick diss’ sound played in my head multiple times while reading this,” one said. “Ouch. that’s a heck of a response,” said another.
“Apropos of absolutely nothing, here are Boulder Beat’s guidelines for op-ed submissions,” wrote Shay Castle, a former Camera reporter who now runs her own local news site. “Bottom line: Attack ideas, not people,” replied former Camera editorial page editor Quentin Young who now runs Colorado Newsline. (For the uninitiated, those are called sub-tweets.)
Rachel Friend, the city councilwoman on the receiving end of the column, posted on Twitter her entire email to the paper that generated the controversial response. “A good joke makes people laugh, not cry, and silliness isn’t mean-spirited,” she added.
For her part, Marshall, who was on a scheduled vacation when I reached out to her, said she heard from “dozens” of people who agreed with an earlier editorial that led to the council member’s critique and her subsequent column. But, Marshall says, some of them are afraid to say so publicly in fear of a social media backlash by the councilor and her allies — including one who “fears for his livelihood.”
Marshall said she believes the issue is larger than one newspaper opinion editor.
“For a government leader to call out in public for a retraction of an entire opinion, because she did not personally agree with it, should concern everyone who values a free press, the cornerstone of a healthy democracy,” she said. “It should not matter if that government leader is a staunch conservative, Trump, or a progressive liberal. Censorship is censorship. Suppression of ideas is suppression of ideas.”
Despite the reaction from some, the opinion page editor says she’s “proud to support free speech principles that any elected official ought to know and practice.”
Elsewhere in Colorado news outlet opinion land…
The Colorado Sun, a journalist-owned public benefit corporation, irked some of its supporters recently when it published a guest column headlined “It’s too hard to think for myself. Just give me the vaccination already” with a subtitle “I’m taking the easy road over the edge of the cliff.”
To see the response from some of those who pay for the outlet’s journalism, peruse these replies to the Sun’s Twitter post of the column, which were overwhelmingly negative — sample: “As a subscriber @ColoradoSun , I’m extremely disappointed. You do great work, but this is disgusting. Do better” — and the quote tweets of it don’t fare much better. Some questioned the author’s professional background and thought it should be disclosed.
Sun editor Larry Ryckman says he responded to some complaints by passing along a link to a 2019 item he penned explaining why the Sun publishes certain opinion pieces. From that column:
At this point in our nation’s history, as much or more than any other, we need to develop thicker skin and take a moment to consider points of view that diverge from our own. And though it’s difficult to see readers occasionally walk away from us in anger over an opinion column, there’s a more important dynamic at work: We view the Sun as a proving ground for the uniquely American notion that we thrive amid a fully-stocked marketplace of ideas.
Over the phone this week, Ryckman acknowledged the tricky nature of having an opinion section. He says the outlet rejects more guest columns than it runs.
“We spend a great deal of time looking at every opinion column before it publishes,” he said, and added the outlet fact-checks them.
My guess is some of the irked Sun supporters know they can can find unhelpful-anything-goes-just-asking-questions opinion content elsewhere in Colorado’s news scene and were perhaps surprised to see a new innovative outlet that pledges to do things differently playing along for whatever reason.
“We haven’t seen any big exodus of readers,” Ryckman said about the column, and he added that he doesn’t dismiss the concerns of those who objected to it.
‘A shock to so many’: Colorado agricultural newscaster dies
Brian Allmer, who managed a family farm and worked in the agriculture broadcasting business running BARN radio since 2005, died unexpectedly at 55 this week.
His passing left a “hole in Colorado ag media,” according to The Fence Post newspaper in Greeley. Rachel Gabel reported this in a tribute:
When the Brian Allmer Radio Network would come on one of his many stations, I would always turn it up and listen. And more importantly, unlike our major media outlets that only present one side, Brian did interviews and posted news on his website from people that he blatantly disagreed with. When people wanted to reach those in agriculture and in rural Colorado, they sought out Brian.
“I am so deeply saddened to hear the news of Brian Allmer’s passing. It is a shock to so many and an immense loss for Colorado’s agricultural community,” Colorado’s agricultural commissioner, Kate Greenberg, told the paper. Gabel rounded up several more quotes from sources on Allmer’s beat in her piece.
An obituary called the Briggsdale resident a “trailblazer in ag radio” and noted he founded the Brian Allmer Radio Network, FarmCast Radio, and Colorado Ag News Network.
Should the public be able to see video of the King Soopers shooting?
When a gunman opened fire in the Boulder King Soopers in March, camera footage inside caught some of the massacre, and prosecutors in the case have created an eight-minute tape of the terror that left 10 dead.
But for now, following a judge’s ruling, that video won’t be available to the public, confounding at least one open-government advocate.
From Shelly Bradbury at The Denver Post:
District Attorney Michael Dougherty cited the need to protect victims’ privacy and the defendant’s right to a fair trial in his July request that the video be made secret and not played in open court, but some experts say the move clashes with a cornerstone of the court system and violates a new state rule that governs when and how court records can be sealed.
“It‘s really a foundational principle of our country that we have open trials and open criminal proceedings in order to keep all of the parties involved honest,” said attorney Steve Zansberg, president of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition.
20th Judicial District Chief Judge Ingrid Bakke allowed the video to remain secret.
More from the Post about that:
That order, Zansberg said, is in “clear violation” of a new rule put in place by the Colorado Supreme Court this year that governs when judges can suppress court records from public review. The rule requires that judges explain in writing why public access is being restricted.
Read more about the First Amendment implications at the link above. The Boulder Daily Camera had a follow-up this week, reporting prosecutors have indicated “the video will be viewable to the public either at trial or a possible sentencing, and that this step was taken to ensure a fair trial and reduce unnecessary trauma to the victims and their families.”
More Colorado media odds & ends
💨 Broadcasters “have been leaving Denver television station jobs at an unprecedented pace this year,” Westword reported. “But none has made a more unusual exit than former Channel 2 anchor Keagan Harsha, whose possessions were swiped just before he could hit the road. And while the rental truck that contained his stuff has been found, not all of his belongings were recovered.”
⚙️ The Coloradoan newspaper in Fort Collins won’t print on Labor Day.
🔎 9News reporter Jeremy Jojola found something that made his “heart race” when he was “going through government databases.” Read his tweet thread to find out what happened next.
📸 Writing for The Gazette, Terry Terrones had seven questions for the newspaper’s photographer Chancey Bush.
⚙️ Aspen Journalism Editor Curtis Wackerle “was named the nonprofit news agency’s executive director following the departure of Brent Gardner-Smith, who was hired as news director at Aspen Public Radio,” the Sopris Sun reported.
💵 A Colorado Public Radio reporter got a $1 donation from a listener — at a gas station.
🎥 “Nothing ever happened until Channel 5 came along,” a story subject told KOAA in the Springs about a dispute with his insurance company and the impact of a TV reporter.
🎊 Colorado Press Women celebrated “80 years as an organization this year with a two-day excursion to Cañon City and Alamosa to honor newspapers that employed or were owned by CPW charter members.”
💰Colorado billionaire newspaper owner Phil Anschutz appealed a judge’s dismissal of a tax lawsuit he and his wife filed against the state. (Check for where you won’t find coverage of it.)
🎉 Some Colorado journalist anniversaries this week: Tamara D. Dunn recently celebrated one year at The Denver Post, and Austin Fleskes one year at The Loveland Reporter-Herald; Jessica Gibbs had a five-year anniversary at Colorado Community Media; Amy Golden celebrates two years at Sky-Hi News.
🏫 Moe Clark is leaving Colorado Newsline to take “a last minute teaching gig at CU this semester.”
🆙 Tim Wieland has been “named vice president and general manager of CBS News and Television Stations’ local businesses in Denver, including KCNC, CBSN Denver and CBSDenver.com.” He has been the station’s news director since Bush and Kerry signs dotted Colorado.
🗞️ A 35-year-old Air Force veteran who lives in Colorado and “has attracted 2 million followers on TikTok with his brand of internet trolling and comedy” will “often pose as a journalist from a newspaper in Colorado that doesn’t exist.”
💻 9NEWS announced “that it has named Jesse Ogas (he/him) executive director of social responsibility and community affairs, effective October 1, 2021.”
🆕 High Country News welcomed its newest batch of interns and fellows.
🌬️ “That I even got to have these words published in a newspaper is just amazing and I shall remember this day forever,” wrote The Denver Post’s cannabis reporter.
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.