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What the National Association of Black Journalists heard in Denver
The news behind the news in Colorado this week
‘Eager to further diversify their newsrooms’
Last weekend, representatives from the National Association of Black Journalists spent some time in Denver where they spoke with multiple newsrooms.
The organization chose the Mile High City as this year’s setting for its quarterly board meeting.
Richard Prince, who covers diversity issues in the news business, published a write-up of the weekend for his Journal-isms site. “The news managers in Denver say they are eager to further diversify their newsrooms, but that their low numbers have turned off potential applicants, who would prefer to go places where more diversity already exists,” he wrote.
Elsewhere in his recap of the weekend, he said, “Some of the news managers were more candid than they are when they speak through corporate spokespeople.” Prince’s piece, which carried a headline questioning whether Denver can “attract Black journalists,” offers details from inside several Denver-area newsrooms.
Some nuggets from the piece:
“KUSA executives told the NABJ group that they are ‘trying to elevate minority voices in the newsroom,’ looking for executive producers, and now conduct a weekly audit of how many people of color appear in news reports and whether they are shown portraying negative stereotypes.”
“The NABJ reps were told that KMGH had a goal of making one-third of its contracts with minority business owners. Having more account executives of color would help minority businesses in the city, the station execs said. KMGH is also looking for a Black meteorologist. NABJ said it wanted ‘Black anchors on the desk in prime time, and challenged them with Black managers at the top,’ the board members said.”
Colorado Sun editor Dana Coffield “told the group it aimed to be ‘less white and less 50,’ according to the NABJ board members. The Sun’s staff of 20 includes four Asian Americans, one Cuban American and one whose first language is American Sign Language, in addition to Tatiana Flowers, its inequality and general assignment beat reporter. In addition, multi-dimensional artist R. Alan Brooks, son of veteran business journalist Rodney Brooks, draws a comic strip.” (Flowers and Brooks are Black. The Sun also has a Mexican-American advertising executive and two LGBTQ staff members.)
The report also includes more details about how Colorado’s syndicated “Writers on the Range” column lost subscribers after publishing items about race.
Read Prince’s whole rundown of the weekend here including what NABJ reps heard from other newsrooms. (There’s a part in the piece that includes stats from The Denver Post about newsroom size and makeup, citing the paper’s editor, Lee Ann Colacioppo, but they are not precise, she told me. She says she plans to make a Post newsroom census public and update it as they “make strides toward the important goal of a newsroom that better reflects our community.”)
Several NABJ members from around the country tweeted about their experiences in Denver.
Sandra Dillard, a founder of the NABJ, and who CNN’s Amir Vera identified as the first Black female reporter at The Denver Post, said during one event: “We’ve been discussing the same issues for 50-60 years … Now, instead of trying to get Blacks in the newsroom, we’re trying to get Blacks in management.”
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Alamosa Citizen: ‘No out-of-town shareholders or billionaire owners’
Followers of Colorado local news startups in recent years might be used to hearing a certain kind of refrain: Collaboration over competition.
Columbia Journalism Review published a whole story I wrote about that last year. Since then a collaborative spirit has grown. Just last month, when reporting on a nascent nonprofit news startup in Pueblo, this newsletter quoted someone involved saying: “We’re very committed to not being competition. It’s community over competition.”
Stronger together — you might have heard that one, too.
This week, though, a founder of The Alamosa Citizen, a digital news publication in the San Luis Valley, had a decidedly different message about the for-profit startup that launched over the summer.
The San Luis Valley, a place roughly triple the size of Delaware, doesn’t have a particularly robust local news scene. The Citizen doesn’t see itself as a complement to, say, The Valley Courier in Alamosa. Rather, it sees its mission as one of a competitor.
“I remember newspaper wars, I remember, like, fighting for scoops and dominance,” says MaryAnne Talbott, a founder of The Almosa Citizen who edits the outlet and handles its digital design. “It’s part of the motivator. It’s not like a mean competition. I think it makes everyone do a better job if you’re competing.”
Since August, the Citizen has reported on the goings on in the SLV with a small staff of freelancers. Their goal is to cover news in a way that makes things relevant to people, Talbott says. The outlet’s other founder is Chris Lopez, a former journalist for The Pueblo Chieftain, Denver Post, and editor of the El Paso Times in Texas. On its website, the Alamosa Citizen calls itself a “member-supported, nonpartisan daily online newspaper that works to provide information and build civic involvement in the San Luis Valley.”
The outlet starts the week with a Monday Briefing, and offers a Daily Report between news stories. Since its inception, the site has interviewed Alamosa’s new school superintendent, covered city council, published an item from Adams State University, and reported on local school mask mandates. The outlet reported on a local “soon-to-be-televised competition” event called “Gutted, and produced a photo essay headlined “A Day in the Life of the San Luis Valley,” among other coverage. Former Denver Post journalist Mark Obmascik wrote a multi-part feature about threats facing the Upper Rio Grande basin. Not every item carries a byline, though.
“Unlike many other sites, the Citizen makes its journalism available to everyone to read, regardless of what they can afford to pay,” part of the site reads. “We do this because we [believe] informed citizens create better communities … We have no out-of-town shareholders or billionaire owners. Your membership makes our reporting possible, and keeps it free for all to access.” Memberships are $8.34 a month and come with a weekly newsletter and advanced notice of upcoming events as perks. (Members won’t have to pay if it’s a paid event.) The outlet plans to start its first membership drive next week.
“We do sell advertising,” Talbott says, “it’s just we know that looking around at our ad base there’s just not enough to support what we want to do.”
While the Citizen is for-profit, the outlet has a partnership with a nonprofit called The Rural Journalism Institute of the San Luis Valley, which “trains early-career and aspiring journalists to work and perform their craft in rural communities with populations under 20,000.”
The hope, Talbott says, is to raise money from the community and through grants for internships. The dual outfit hasn’t yet pursued getting plugged in with Colorado’s broader collaborative-journalism-industrial-complex, but is open to it.
Says Talbott: “We’re still figuring out day-to-day what we’re doing.”
Latinx working group will suggest how to help improve local news coverage
In September, News Voices: Colorado, a project of Free Press in collaboration with Colorado Media Project and COLab and managed by Diamond Hardiman, issued some bold reform ideas.
The organization released five recommendations from a working group called Black Voices: Colorado that had been “focused on how to improve access to trustworthy news and information for Black residents throughout the state.”
Now, after conducting similar work across the state, Latinx Voices: Colorado is ready to offer some recommendations of its own during a listening session at The Denver Press Club.
The event is Nov. 11 at 6:30 p.m.
“Please join us as we mark the release of four recommendations by a Latinx community-led working group to deepen coverage of and improve relationships with local media,” the group said this week.
From its announcement.
Please join us as we mark the release of four recommendations by a Latinx community-led working group to deepen coverage of and improve relationships with local media. We’ll zero in on the pitfall of framing coverage as “negative” versus “positive,” and what it looks like to fill in the spectrum between these two extremes.
Joining us will be Debora Ortega, director of the Latino Center for Community Engagement and Scholarship at the University of Denver; Jesús Luis Sánchez Meleán, editor at El Comercio de Colorado; Erika Martinez, director of Communications and Community Engagement at Denver Public Library; and KGNU's Bilingual Equity Reporter, Rossana Longo-Better. The event will also feature a recorded interview with community advocate Betty Aragon-Mitotes and a special presentation of a snippet of her documentary, “Hispanic Community Voices: The Impact of Covid-19.”
The event will be live and in person, but it won’t stream online, and the organizers don’t plan to record it. Space is limited, so you’ll need to sign up quickly if you want to make it. You can do so here.
Davis: ‘Committing nearly a million dollars’
Melissa Davis, whose Colorado Media Project underwrites this newsletter, has a theory.
After “more than 18 months of isolation and exile in our digital meeting rooms, there seems to be a deep longing among so many of us to connect,” she wrote in a recent column in The Colorado Sun. “Not just with our loved ones or our friends, but with our communities. Not just online, but in real life. Not just with people who look like us, but with our fellow Coloradans — with whom we share a common future, for better or worse.”
What does that have to do with local media? More from the column:
As a person who has worked in and adjacent to the field of journalism for over two decades, I am the first to acknowledge its limitations. But professional reporters who work at the local level — covering city government, school boards, high school sports teams — these folks are our neighbors whom we depend on to do a job that is bound by a code of ethics to seek the truth and independently report it, to minimize harm, and to be transparent and accountable to the public they serve.
In fact, even in a time of extreme political polarization, 84% of Coloradans are “somewhat confident” or “very confident” that their local news media will give them full, fair and accurate information, according to a 2019 statewide survey by Corona Insights. That’s far higher confidence than for national media, so it’s a good place to start.
In Colorado, we are lucky to have many mission-driven journalists and local newsrooms who are stepping up to play new and different roles for the communities that rely on them.
Davis wrote that she wants to recognize journalists for “the important jobs they do for our democracy” and more, and explained how CMP is “committing nearly a million dollars from a collaborative of local and national funders who recognize the important role that local journalism plays in ensuring that Coloradans are well-informed and civically engaged.”
Read about how here.
A Denver official asked a TV station to destroy a document and ‘refrain from reporting’
KUSA 9News journalist Jeremy Jojola knows his way around our state’s open records laws. Being adept at filing public information requests can help uncover stories that otherwise might go unreported.
Sometimes governments will try to block release of public records. Sometimes their reasons are legit, and sometimes they might not be.
This week, after obtaining a particular document for a story about how city officials are granting vaccine exemptions for public employees, Jojola heard from the Denver city attorney’s office. The document in question was a letter written by an unidentified Department of Safety (DOS) employee who obtained an exemption based on religious convictions. The reporter wanted to see more exemptions, but the city denied his request.
From the story:
DOS provided the one exemption example before denying the rest of the exemptions based on employee privacy. The example does not contain the employee's name or job title. The city requested 9NEWS destroy the example, but 9NEWS has chosen to show the letter, because it gives a window into how the city has been granting most of the requests based on religious claims.
And later, from the same report:
In a letter sent to 9NEWS late Sunday evening, the city attorney’s office demanded that 9NEWS refrain from reporting on the exemption letter obtained through an open records request. The city first agreed to release each request letter, and accepted payment to fill the request, on Sept. 23. The same records custodian with the Department of Safety sent a denial letter for the remaining letters on Oct. 12, citing privacy concerns.
So … that didn’t work. Read the whole story at the link above.
More Colorado media odds & ends
💰 Colorado Media Project applications are open for newsrooms wishing to apply for grants “with a special emphasis on better service to communities of color, linguistically diverse communities, low-income rural communities, and others not adequately served, reached or represented.”
❤️ The Heart of NoCo News Guild at The Loveland Reporter-Herald, which became the latest Colorado newsroom to unionize, resumed bargaining talks with Media News Group this week.
❗“This. Would. SUCK.” Denver-based podcast incubator House of Pod needs your help.
💬 The Denver Post made an exception for its named sources policy in an important Sunday front-page story about sex workers so those impacted by laws “could candidly speak without fear of facing criminal, professional or social consequences.” Meanwhile, “Colorado’s top law enforcement official, Democratic Attorney General Phil Weiser, declined to be interviewed about sex work ... The Post contacted all 22 elected district attorneys in the state. Three agreed to comment.”
🤐 A reader is glad to know The Aspen Times knows where to draw the line on offensive language in the paper.
🌶️ “Statewide outlets don’t have dedicated reporters in southern Colorado,” said journalist and Pueblo enthusiast Kara Mason. “So when available reporting is incomplete it hurts the entire region.”
🙏 “[A]s I marked the one-year anniversary of my husband Mike’s plane crash, the right words finally came to me, and I want to say ‘thank you’ to this community for wrapping its collective arms around me during the past year,” wrote Steamboat Pilot editor Lisa Schlichtman.
⛰️ Outside Inc. announced its “acquisition of two new Colorado media companies, ROAM Media and Inkwell Media, both based in Boulder,” Outside Business Journal reported.
🤑 Throughout the week, I added more pay scales for open editor and reporter jobs across Colorado to last week’s lead newsletter item. At least one journalism job at The Denver Post (business reporter) listed on the Media News Group’s site now comes with a pay scale. But a new posting for an editor position at the MNG-owned Estes Park Trail Gazette didn’t list a pay scale as of Nov. 5.
🏆 The Colorado Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists named The Denver Business Journal’s Ed Sealover as Journalist Of The Year.
⛔ The Denver Post’s editorial board to Colorado judges: “Don’t close civil or criminal court records from public view without a written explanation to justify the full or partial suppression.”
❓ Why can it be so hard to find out who runs some small local news outlets in rural parts of the state?
🤢 During a public forum in neighboring Kansas, an anti-mask speaker “profanely attacked” the editor of the Kansas Reflector, which is a sister site to Colorado Newsline.
⚖️ You might have missed it, but in a footnote to its ruling on the congressional redistricting plan this week, the Colorado Supreme Court made a sweeping determination that settled a onetime debate among some journalists in Colorado. The state’s highest court deemed The Colorado Independent a “blog.” Asked if someone can speak to how the justices came to that determination, a spokesperson for the Colorado Judicial Department said: “The Court’s opinion, including the footnote, stands on its own.”
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.