What Colorado journalists think about Colorado journalism
...and more Colorado local news & media
Behind the bylines
Last summer, more than 150 journalists responded to a pair of surveys from academics and journalism groups to determine how they felt about their coverage, their own news outlets, and also about the state of the “broader news ecosystem” in Colorado.
It’s worth noting that data for these two surveys were collected at a particularly historic moment: the U.S. was in the midst of both a contentious presidential election and a global pandemic, and many Americans and Coloradans were participating in protests for social justice and against systemic racism.
As for what some of the journalists said, here’s a sampling:
Update your rolodex: “Those who identify as journalists of color are more likely to say that ‘diversifying sources’ and ‘building relationships with the community’ are tools that can strengthen accountability journalism, compared to journalists who identify as white.”
Under-covered: “Only about 40% of Colorado journalists think that newsrooms adequately address the needs of diverse communities. Journalists identify specific ethnic and racial groups — African-American, Latino/Hispanic, Native American — and immigrant communities that are underrepresented in media coverage in both rural and urban areas.”
Under-covered Vol. II: “Journalists say that people from lower socio-economic backgrounds are seldom the focus of media coverage in the state and, according to some journalists, they rarely receive positive coverage.”
More with less: “Almost 60% of journalists say that ‘lack of staff’ is a barrier that has made it difficult for them to pursue important news stories.”
More of this, please: “Journalists identify the environment as one topic that newsrooms don’t pay enough attention to. … Another area where journalists don’t see enough media coverage is the ‘transportation system,’ particularly in more remote communities. ‘Injustice and inequality’ is also often mentioned by journalists as one area where more media coverage is necessary. For example, one journalist mentions the lack of coverage of ‘stories of marginalized communities, who are frequently the first, and often most severely, impacted by injustice and wrongdoing.’”
Politics, politics everywhere: “Journalists indicate education, politics, and emergencies are the topics most likely to be covered at the local level by their organizations, while topics that require more specialization, such as health care, transportation and environment, are the least likely to be covered at the local level.”
AP filling the print news hole: “Statewide outlets self-report they are most likely to use their own staff to produce ‘just about all’ of their coverage. Meanwhile, outlets located in northeast Colorado and the Western Slope self-reported that just over half of their content is original, local reporting produced by their staff.”
Rural-urban divide: “Colorado journalists believe that local newsrooms place too much focus on the Denver metro region in their coverage, while entire areas of the state, especially rural areas, do not have strong news infrastructure and receive scant reporting.”
Under-covered Vol. III: “Specific counties and regions that journalists mention as receiving scant media coverage are: Baca, Kiowa, Conejos, Costilla, Rio Blanco counties, the Pueblo area and the San Luis Valley.”
A “significant number” of journalists who responded to the survey said they do not believe their newsrooms are representative of the communities they cover. From the report:
The top strategies Colorado journalists recommend to increase diversity in their workplace are: “funding to diversify newsrooms,” “diversifying leadership positions,” and improving recruitment and retention of journalists. “Funding for content in languages other than English”, “training” and “networking” also appeal to at least one-third of journalists surveyed.
One journalist said: “We need reporters and assignment editors to develop more diverse contacts to help break news in these communities and to be able to reach out for reaction on big stories.”
Another said: “I feel local newsrooms only cover these issues within diverse communities when there is a (news) peg. Sadly, these issues exist for marginalized populations 365 days a year, so the coverage needs to better encompass these issues year-round — not only when they shut down downtown Denver for days-on-end because people are pissed about racial disparities being ignored.”
University of Denver professors David Coppini and Kareem El Damanhoury conducted one of the surveys along with student Ethan Lovell. They sent out inquiries last summer to 1,837 journalists; 153 of them responded. The Colorado Press Association and COLab handled another survey to the 130 members of the Colorado Press Association and to journalists at another 330 news organizations across the state; 84 responded on behalf of their news org.
Here was the demographic breakdown of the 153 journalists who responded to DU’s outreach: Of those who answered: 79% White, 8% Hispanic or Latino, 1% Black or African American, 2% Asian, 1% Middle Eastern or North African, 1% American Indian or Alaskan Native, 4% other, and 4% did not disclose. 83% said they were straight, 7% identified as part of the LGBT community, 4% other, and 6% didn’t say. The average age of respondents was 44.5 with an average of 18 years in the news business. 70% have a 4-year college degree, and 21% have a master’s. 90.5% said they didn’t have a long-term disability. Asked about their political identity, 46% said liberal, 41% moderate, and 13% conservative. Of the respondents, 40% work at a print newspaper, 19% in radio, 16% in TV, 14% for an online only outlet and 11% for a print magazine. (Again, those stats are just from 153 who completed the DU survey.)
The Colorado Trust and Colorado Media Project provided funding for the data collection and analysis. (I’m currently working on a higher-ed project with the researchers, along with COLab. I also write case studies for the Colorado Media Project, which underwrites this newsletter.)
Dig into the whole 12-page report yourself here. Also keep an eye on the Colorado Media Project site for information about an upcoming panel discussion with the researchers and others about these findings.
On the accountability front, ‘a clear need’
Alongside a media landscape study for The Colorado Trust, the researchers proposed some solutions. This comes from their separate report that also includes findings from Stephanie Snyder of Hearken and others following a community listening and design component that included 42 community stakeholders across four counties:
There is a clear need for increased capacity and collaboration to reinforce accountability journalism and shift narratives around marginalized communities. Core needs include additional support to:
Address gaps in coverage of rural areas (Eastern Plains, Western Slope and southern Colorado), certain communities (African American, Latino-Hispanic and Native American), and specific issues (social justice, government policy, politics, environmental issues and transportation).
Generate more local, original content that tackles community issues to provide residents with the critical information they need to evaluate local politicians’ performances, better grasp policy issues and operate in a democracy.
Bolster collaborations between bigger news outlets with more resources and experience in investigative reporting and smaller outlets with stronger community ties to strengthen journalism organizations’ focus on issues that matter to local communities.
Foster collaborations between traditional news organizations and nontraditional sources (e.g., NGOs and government bodies) to catalyze thematic framing to further contextualize issues.
Increase newsroom diversity (through both hiring and retention) to change the type of stories that are told about marginalized communities to shift societal narratives. Improve access to records and diversification of sources.
Develop training workshops and fellowships to help journalists, as well as communication specialists in nontraditional news outlets, identify ways to contextualize issues.
One finding from the community engagement part: “People trust people, not institutions.” Read more about that here, and learn what more could be done in Colorado to increase trust “between institutional information-providers and marginalized residents.” DU students Brittany Johnson, Ethan Lovell, and Geneva Rodriguez contributed to the report, as did Meredith Turk of Hearken.
Reporters & editors: When would you not mention a politician’s political party?
Shifting gears here, a letter to the editor this week in The Summit Daily News caught my attention. This is the letter in full:
After reading the article Sunday by Denver Post reporter Jon Murray on the Eisenhower Tunnel repairs, I have just one word of advice for you:
If we are ever going to try and repair this huge political split we have in our country, you cannot be calling our governor “the Democrat.” There was absolutely no need for that in the article, and it had nothing to do with repairing the Eisenhower Tunnel. The media is a huge part of the problem here, and you just proved it.
Please consider leaving politics out of articles that have nothing to do with it.
In case you’re wondering, here’s how the descriptor appeared in the fifth paragraph of the Denver Post story in question:
The growing and costly repair list is now at $150 million and has caught the attention of state lawmakers and Gov. Jared Polis. The Democrat is pushing for an uptick in investment in arguably the single component of the state’s highway system that’s too big to fail — and would wreak havoc if it did.
The governor is indeed a member of the Democratic Party.
That’s a correct statement of fact. And because of that, my first reaction to the letter was to roll my eyes. (In my head, I heard a narrator’s voice: Meanwhile, Republicans are trying to stall a media literacy bill.) But maybe that’s the problem. For journalists, noting the partisan ID of a politician you’re writing about is just rote. Like noting the age of a candidate for office, what sources for coverage do for a living or where they live, etc. It’s adding context. Readers need to know, we think.
But for reader Donna Clark of Silverthorne, this was problematic. The early descriptor of the governor as “The Democrat” appeared to color from the start her perception of an in-depth story about state infrastructure.
We hear a lot about our divided nation and about a polarized electorate where people seek out news and information that affirms their beliefs. For some, you can imagine just hearing that someone is a Democrat or a Republican might establish how they feel about whatever it is that politician might have said or done regardless of its merits.
I’ve often thought of a news-research experiment: What if a news organization omitted partisan identifiers of politicians in its policy coverage for a set period of time? I’d certainly read a study of what doing so might or might not show about reader response — if it could even be meaningfully determined.
Some folks weighed in on this when I mentioned it on social media, which kicked up some interesting discussion.
Plenty of journalists and news editors subscribe to this newsletter, so I’d love to hear your thoughts about when you believe party ID is necessary, or if there are instances when you think it might not be. I wonder if you’ve ever even had that discussion before. Shoot me an email; it might make for an interesting “Inside the News” column.
GOP filibuster of a media literacy bill
A bipartisan media literacy bill hit a snag last week with some GOP lawmakers.
From Colorado Politics (published with partner 9News):
The bill is the successor to House Bill 19-1110, which required the Colorado Department of Education to convene a committee that would come up with recommendations on a media literacy curriculum that would become part of civics education the next time those standards are updated. That just happens to be taking place this year, under a bill (SB 21-067) now headed to the House.
KUSA 9News anchor Kyle Clark, who hosts the show “Next,” noted a Republican representative filibustered, reading a bill out loud “to slow down the process that Republicans may not have the votes to stop altogether.”
Two years ago, Clark said, he served on a citizen advisory committee made up of parents, teachers, librarians, journalists, and others that offered suggestions to lawmakers. “I don’t have a position on the bill,” he told viewers this week. “I do have a position and an idea about media literacy. Media literacy is not partisan or ideological. It’s a basic life skill.”
And he had a message for some who might be “one of those people that thinks that there are real problems with the media today”: Encouraging young people to understand media literacy will train a “whole new generation to identify those issues with the media and hold us accountable.”
The problem, he said, is that media literacy and critical thinking begin with what has become a controversial premise: “that reality and facts exist.”
COLab investigated another small-town police killing
Journalist Susan Greene is back with another hard look at another small-town police killing in Colorado. This time, the COLab editor partnered with The Kiowa County Independent newspaper and its former editor Priscilla Waggoner.
The in-depth story, headlined “Three Bullets to the Back: How a KCSO Traffic Stop Ended in the Fatal Shooting of Zach Gifford,” is another example of the power of collaboration between a statewide nonprofit and a small local newspaper. (Readers of this newsletter might recall the powerful 2019 “Through the Cracks” investigation of a police killing in northwestern Colorado. That one involved COLab and The Rio Blanco Herald Times.)
From the latest story:
Some locals … express discomfort about speaking out in a small community or pointing the finger at a sheriff who is also a neighbor, the father with a child in school and a nephew who bags groceries at the market, the guy who hunts and rides motorcycles with some of your friends or delights your kids by driving his squad car down Maine Street with the lights on and the siren going, leading the bus carrying the football team to state.
“There’s a mentality to people on the Eastern Plains. We’re the kind of people who want to wait and watch,” says Joe Shields, Eads’ mayor. “If someone makes a mistake or does something wrong, we don’t call them out for what they’ve done.”
There has been one persistent exception in town to this unspoken rule: Jeff Campbell, a prolific writer of letters to the editor who single-handedly has tried to keep Gifford’s death in the public spotlight.
Read the whole story in the links above.
Captain vs. Colorado National Guard in First Amendment suit
A captain is suing the Colorado National Guard’s top commanders and generals over a First Amendment right to protest. Alan Kennedy, 36 and a judge advocate, “said he was punished for marching for Black Lives Matter,” reported Colorado Newsline.
The nonprofit news site added his lawsuit “could set a precedent for the First Amendment rights of the approximately 440,000 active and reserve members in the Army and Air National Guard.”
More from Colorado Newsline:
Kennedy first learned he was being investigated after he wrote an op-ed in The Denver Post about getting tear-gassed. Frustrated by the investigation and his chain of command’s refusal to answer his questions regarding his constitutional rights, he penned an op-ed in Newsline dubbing the Colorado National Guard’s investigation as “constitutionally appalling.” …
On June 18, Lt. Col. Christopher Lowman, an investigating officer, cleared Kennedy of any policy violations related to the protest and Denver Post op-ed except for the “minor violation” of an insufficient disclaimer in his Denver Post op-ed. Kennedy’s op-ed included a disclaimer that “the views expressed are his own.”
But on July 12, … Kennedy’s commander … overruled Lowman’s recommendations and reprimanded him for participating in the protest and writing the op-ed. Kennedy appealed the reprimand without success.
“You don’t lose all of your constitutional rights simply because you join the military. That’s a myth,” Kennedy told Colorado Newsline. “This (lawsuit) raises constitutional questions that the courts have never addressed.”
More Colorado local media odds & ends
☀️ TODAY at 6:30 is the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition’s Sunshine Week panel: “Truth Be Told: The Proliferation of Online Misinformation and Disinformation — And What We Can Do About It.”
📢 The Denver Gazette has erected 12 billboards around the Mile High City that read “Better. Balanced. Denver.” Editor Vince Bzdek says, “I’m thinking reports of the death of local journalism are greatly exaggerated.”
👂 Read why a Mountain West editor is “addicted” to community engagement after hosting listening sessions.
🎙️ City Cast Denver is launching March 25 with a daily podcast and newsletter. “City Cast’s podcasts are going to be short—15 minutes, 20 minutes tops. They’ll start with a quick hit of news, then dig deep into one story—and make you care about it,” says David Plotz.
🛡️ A University of Colorado feminist law professor is part of a group to “defend academics with unpopular views.”
🎉 Looks like the governor is doing Cameo-like birthday videos for politics reporters.
📻 Register for this March 24 History Colorado event in which “KGNU Public Radio's Maeve Conran and audio archivist and journalist David Barsamian give their take on the state of our various media, and what we can do about making it more about people and less about profit.”
🐘 Three candidates seeking to helm Colorado’s Republican Party had some choice words for the Fourth Estate this week. The Colorado Sun reported one of them said “the media in this country is our enemy.”
⚖️ Colorado Public Radio reports the “latest strategy against viral election misinformation” is the courtroom.
✌️ Denver’s alternative weekly Westword reported a victory for “an attorney threatened with jail for talking to Westword.”
🍻 Meanwhile, read how a Westword journalist started Denver’s two-hour prohibition.
⚙️ Journalism Funding Partners is looking for an executive director.
⛰️ For ham-radio enthusiasts, “it helps to live in a place like Colorado, a veritable SOTA (Summits on the Air) paradise home to some 1,800 qualifying summits … the kind perfect for radio broadcasting.”
☀️ National fact-checkers have caught up with Colorado’s local news.
💵 Journalists in western states, including Colorado, can apply for this Hechinger Report grant. “Preference will be given to stories based in areas designated as a news desert.”
📞 The Colorado Press Association is hosting a March 25 virtual meeting at 3 p.m. with CPA lobbyists on advice about lawmakers. “When legislation is proposed that undermines a free press or threatens the economic sustainability of your organization, you don’t want to start from scratch in building relationships with your legislators and educating them on your importance to the community and the everyday challenges of running a newsroom,” the CPA says.
📱 The Denver Post explored how “Colorado’s congressional odd couple, Buck and Neguse, is taking on Big Tech.”
🎤 KGNU's TRENDS Podcast and equity reporting initiative in collaboration with the Community Foundation Boulder County was “highlighted as a case study in a new national report on local media, titled Healthy Local News & Information Ecosystems: A Diagnostic Framework.”
🌆 Modern In Denver magazine is hiring a part-time assistant to the managing editor.
🔘 Covering a Lauren Boebert event in Montrose, KVNF public radio reported the congresswoman as “careening from one Fox News talking point to the next” and “often difficult to follow.” The Delta County Independent quoted her talking up The Epoch Times.
👻 Read how a non-Colorado newspaper plans to ignore inaccurate statements “that they consider to be ploys for attention” from a particular politician.
📡 Mile High Sports Radio has “returned to Denver’s terrestrial airwaves after their previous signal was sold last fall.”
🚔 “The Colorado Springs Police Department credits KRDO’s ongoing investigation for changing the way they investigate the more than two dozen illicit massage parlors operating in the city,” the TV station reports.
⏳ A radio trade publication reported earlier this month some Colorado stations were on a “list you don’t want to be on.”
🌤️ Colorado First Amendment lawyer Steve Zansberg explains why “elected officials, other public servants, and especially government lawyers, [need] to become better educated about our state’s open records and open meetings laws.”
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.