November 02, 2016

Layoffs hit multiple Colorado newspapers, ex-journo leads Colorado's universal healthcare effort, Denver Post kills online polls, town loses Open Meetings lawsuit, and more Colorado local news & media

The corporate buzz saws are cutting through newsrooms this week— at two separate companies

This week layoffs hit the newsrooms of multiple newspapers in Colorado. On Oct. 25, Stephen Meyers, a reporter for The Coloradoan in Fort Collins, said he was part of the nationwide layoffs at Gannett. The company is reducing its staff by 2 percent as it abandons an effort to buy the newspaper publisher Tronc.

Meanwhile, spinning blades also sliced into the newsrooms of The Boulder Daily Camera, The Longmont Times-Call and the Loveland Reporter-Herald, newspapers that are not owned by Gannett but are properties of Digital First Media, which also owns The Denver Post

Daily Camera editor Matt Sebastian confirmed the layoffs on Twitter with some details. 

“What’s it like switching from journalist to advocate?”

You might have heard plenty about the ColoradoCare universal healthcare measure on the ballot this month. But there's a media angle to it you might not have followed. The public face of the group pushing for Amendment 69 is T.R. Reid, a 30-year veteran of The Washington Post and author of 11 books. My colleague Trudy Lieberman wrote about his transition from journalist to advocate this week for Columbia Journalism Review's United States Project. 

An excerpt from the piece:
The former journalist sees his move from reporter to advocate as fairly seamless—and logical. “What’s the difference,” he asks, “between a health reporter wanting everyone to get medical care, an education reporter believing every kid should have a good education, or a political reporter believing everyone has the right to vote? Does that make them advocates? … Reporters think it’s normal that 30 million people in the US have no health insurance. It’s wrong,” he told me. “Anyone who thinks America’s system is normal or right is incorrect.”
Owen Perkins, the spokesman for the ColoradoCare campaign, calls Reid a “superstar," and "the celebrity that has attracted activists and the media like nobody else has." Lieberman traces Reid's leap from journalism to universal healthcare advocacy to a sore shoulder. He traveled the world researching a book about how his treatment would look under different healthcare systems. This line in the piece jumped out at me: "But even if the campaign loses, it has softened the ground for another assault. Reid says for the next round—should they lose—he’d change the plan design." Find out how by reading the rest here

Why The Denver Post canceled its online opinion polls

This week, Denver Post editorial page editor Chuck Plunkett penned a column explaining why the paper is dropping the ax on its online opinion polls. Bottom line: They're meaningless. Plunkett notes running the polls, which the paper has done for years, always bothered him. They aren't scientific. They can be manipulated and gamed. "Overall, the problem that I see with the surveys is that the information they allow us to gather is such an untrustworthy representation of reality that any reporter who cited the results as credible in a story would, or at least should, be laughed out of the newsroom," he writes. So, now that Plunkett is in charge of the editorial page desk, poof. Online polls gone. Good riddance.  

A small town learns violating Colorado's Open Meeting Law can be costly

The town of Pagosa Springs will shell out $35,000 in attorneys fees after a judge found the town council held a meeting in violation of Colorado's Sunshine Laws. A motion by the plaintiff "seeking to compel the payment of fees and costs was based on specific authority contained in the Sunshine Law, which he argued was intended by the Colorado legislature to deter public bodies from violating the strict limits of the Open Meetings Law," The Pagosa Sun reported. The plaintiff argued public officials held a private meeting with developers. "I agree that the amount seems excessive," said one council member about the $35,000 smack down, "but think we need to move on.” Council then approved the settlement. 

Now, all eyes on Basalt, where an Open Meetings/open records battles rages on. 

Westword runs a must-read cover story on the battle behind the minimum wage ballot measure 

Cover stories like these are why alt-weeklies exist. This week, Westword's Kyle Harris published an important narrative feature and insider's view about the behind-the-scenes battle over a statewide ballot measure to raise the minimum wage to $12 an hour instead of $15. The story involves a local whistleblower who left the labor movement because of that battle, has been threatened with a lawsuit for talking about it, and lost a lot in the process. Read Westword's cover story "Minimum Rage: Inside the Fight for the $12-by-2020 Ballot Measure" here.

The best Colorado journalism of the 2016 election cycle from a progressive media critic

Over at his BigMedia blog, progressive consultant and media watcher Jason Salzman has compiled a list of his favorite reporting throughout the Colorado election season. His list ranges from TV coverage of the U.S. Senate GOP primary to important reporting on legislative races, exposing how dark money is used in elections, as well as moderated debates and fact-checking. Find the whole roundup here to see if your favorite story, reporter or news outlet made his list. 

The Pueblo Chieftain's robot Twitter feed experiment is not moderated 

Every once in a while I take a poke at The Pueblo Chieftain on Twitter when its @ChieftainWire account dumps a handful of headlines into my timeline all at once. "This is how not to do Twitter, local newspaper," I wrote the last time after its latest deluge of non-local headlines. It caught the attention of the newspaper's other Twitter account @ChieftainNews, which wrote, "That account is clearly marked as 'Automated news feed from The Pueblo Chieftain. This feed is not moderated.'" Later, replying to someone else, the house account tweeted "It's not our main account, just an experiment. Doesn't get much engagement, and was never really meant to." 

OK then. 

Notes from this week's political beat from The Colorado Independent, your nonprofit newsroom

For a piece headlined "In Colorado's Trump country, a Bernie revolutionary runs a real campaign," I profiled a down-ballot race for county commissioner in conservative Colorado Springs. The seemingly competitive race intrigued me because if Democrat Electra Johnson wins it will be a clear local impact of the "political revolution" Bernie Sanders promised during his unsuccessful presidential campaign. "If it wasn't for Bernie I wouldn't be running," Johnson, who got into the race while caucusing for Sanders, told me. My colleague Marianne Goodland did some digging on a proposed JeffCo charter school and found it is not "business as usual." She also looked into the big money behind the statewide ballot measures. Eliza Carter explained the minimum wage ballot measure. With a hilarious man-on-the-street video, Allen Tian asked voters to try and read some language on their ballots. Managing editor Tina Griego profiled Cary Ann Lucas, the face of the opposition to the aid-in-dying ballot measure. Editor Susan Greene penned a column about a "sad and surreal" criminal justice story likely getting lost in all the political news. I wrote about where you can find info on all those judges on your ballot, and took a deep dive into the at-large race for CU regent. Kelsey Ray and Dan Glick investigated how an oil and gas company ran afoul of Colorado regulators, and what that tells us about how the energy industry is— and isn’t— held to account. 

Last thing. Knowing my meme. 

In last week's newsletter I offered a "slow clap" for The Gazette based on its "Toxic Legacy" investigation into local water contamination in the Springs and how the newspaper's coverage is having impact. I used the term "slow clap" improperly as pointed out to me by one of the paper's reporters. I meant it out of respect, but it turns out I did not know my meme, and for that I am embarrassed. To rectify that, I was going to say the paper deserves a "round of applause"— until I double-checked that reference on Urban Dictionary and my god (you don't want to know). So I'll just say the paper deserves credit for its work, deserves your readership, and kudos. Not knowing my meme is my bad and I humbly apologize. 

I'm Corey Hutchins, the Colorado-based correspondent for Columbia Journalism Review's United States Project and a journalist for The Colorado Independent. I hope you enjoy the work CJR does to monitor and support local accountability journalism around the country. Follow me on Twitter, reply or subscribe to this weekly newsletter here, or e-mail me at CoreyHutchins [at] gmail [dot] com.