In Colorado, 2022 was a year for better understanding our local news landscape.
A unique-in-the-nation Colorado News Mapping Project, unveiled this fall, illuminated for the first time where Coloradans say they are getting relevant news and information in each of our 64 counties. The map shows the location of these sources — both traditional outlets and nontraditional or emerging media on various platforms — as well as background and context about who owns and runs them.
Meanwhile, a statewide research survey of 1,800 Colorado adults, conducted over the summer, revealed the attitudes our residents have about their local news, where they get it (spoiler: on their phones), and why they pay for it (because they trust it). Here was one finding, though: “While most Coloradans said they trusted local news organizations to report the news fully, accurately, and fairly, fewer residents said this in 2022 than in 2018.”
One theme of last year’s Colorado media year-in-review column was that new startups and ownership changes could reshape our local news ecosystem. That certainly continued into 2022.
In July, the small monthly Crestone Eagle in rural Saguache County announced it would switch from a for-profit to a tax-exempt entity that can take donations like a charity. Then, the weekly Sentinel newspaper in Aurora told its readers it was making a major change: converting to a community-ownership nonprofit model — one inspired by the Green Bay Packers football team in Wisconsin, no less. Finally, the Indy alternative weekly in Colorado Springs, approaching its 30th birthday, dropped a big one: it would consolidate several of its sister publications into one weekly nonprofit magazine and change its name to Sixty35 Media, a nod to the elevation in the Springs. (The digital Ark Valley Voice, which launched as a for-profit site in 2018, morphed into a nonprofit newsroom this year, too.)
The moves were another indication that the traditional advertising model for some print newspapers isn’t sustainable as reader habits continue to change and ad dollars flow to online tech companies.
Each week, I write an emailed newsletter about Colorado’s media scene that reports on, comments on, and analyzes the goings on here, connecting local developments to what’s happening nationally and exploring what makes the state’s local news ecosystem unique. (To keep up with it in 2023, sign up here.)
What I’ve noticed over the years is that plenty of the challenges facing the local news industry nationwide are exacerbated in Colorado while many of the potential solutions are taking root here as well. For a primer on our state’s local news innovation, read “Reimagining the Public Square: What’s happening in Colorado’s information ecosystem right now.” The state remains a place where media thinkers across the country look to assess what’s working, what’s not, and why, and to test out experiments.
Below is a roundup of the news behind the news in Colorado across the calendar in 2022. It’s certainly not comprehensive, but here were some high-and-lowlights:
January proved that impacts from the pandemic were not yet over when a Denver Post journalist shared that a “large chunk” of the paper’s staff was “struggling with positive COVID or symptoms.” On TV, Denver’s KUSA 9News “Next” anchor Kyle Clark found himself unexpectedly back in his basement, once again broadcasting the news from his in-home studio after a close contact with someone who had tested positive. Pandemic effects on the journalism business side, or just general print newspaper decline, rippled into 2022; the Coloradoan in Fort Collins and Pueblo Chieftain, both owned by the beleaguered mega-company Gannett, cut their Saturday print deliveries. The Florence Citizen newspaper in southern Colorado made what it called a “bittersweet change” to go online only, citing unsustainable subscription and newsstand sales. (Later in the year, it would simply fold up shop.) At the same time, a new online newspaper emerged in the area called The Cañon City Tribune, operated by Jordan Hedberg, the young publisher of The Wet Mountain Tribune. That publication would later hit the pause button after Hedberg filed a federal First Amendment lawsuit against the Board of Custer County Commissioners that argued his local politicians had retaliated against the Wet Mountain Tribune when they voted to make its rival, the conservative Sangre de Cristo Sentinel, the county’s “paper of record.” In Denver, journalist and author Helen Thorpe served as editor of the alt-weekly Westword for fewer than five days, calling it the “shortest amount of time I have ever held a job.” (In our fast-paced, high-metabolism social media age, the tempo wasn’t a good fit.) The Roe v. Wade decision hadn’t yet exploded the political firmament, but a private Catholic high school in Aurora fired teachers when students produced a pro-abortion rights item in the student paper. After nearly four decades, Betsy Marston, a “fierce defender of the Western word” announced she would retire from the Colorado-based High Country News magazine. Ogden Newspapers of West Virginia began a takeover of a string of Colorado ski-town newspapers formerly owned by Nevada-based Swift Communications. The change would lead to one of the biggest Colorado journalism scandals of 2022, out of Aspen, and cause other headaches throughout the year for the newly acquired papers.
In February, Denverites learned that NewsBreak, which calls itself “the nation’s leading local news app,” had been quietly using the Mile High City as a test market in a national gambit to see if the app could gain traffic, engagement and downloads by providing original local news. “My newsroom has lost 20 people in just over two years,” a Colorado Public Radio reporter said on Twitter, adding that “almost half of them were people of color.” On TV, La Voz, a bilingual publication, profiled what it said could be the state’s “first ever” Latino television co-anchor team who were broadcasting on CBS4. In Northern Colorado, some staffers under new management at KUNC public radio were surprised to abruptly learn that longtime news director Brian Larson was “no longer with” the news organization. A former Denver journalist penned a column imploring the city’s reporters to avoid a “windshield bias” when covering local transportation issues. TV news stations in Colorado Springs and Denver showed they had no qualms about helping raise money for the local police departments they cover. Arvada Press reporter Rylee Dunn pointed out what she called “one small change” in her byline at the paper along with the transgender emoji. A top shareholder and a hedge fund announced it would buy Tegna, the national TV station operator that owns Denver’s KUSA 9News. (Because hedge fund ownership has been so devastating to newspapers, the development led some to wonder what kind of fate private equity involvement in local TV ownership might mean for local markets, including Denver.) OutThere Colorado was named “best blog in a poll by Outdoor Media Summit.” A KUNC segment reflected on “the legacy of racist Colorado media coverage.” The Denver Gazette invested in expanded coverage of the arts in Denver by hiring veteran arts journalist John Moore. Wesley Lowery, who taught a spring class for Colorado College’s Journalism Institute, appeared with Denver author Julian Rubinstein for a public conversation about media, covering social justice movements, law enforcement and more. As another election year geared up, KUSA 9News anchor Kyle Clark said he understood “the discomfort as a journalist in covering extremism,” adding, “I was there, too, at one point. But the public deserves to know who these people are and the power they hold in state politics.” Assessing the local news scene, one Denver Post reporter had this to say: “There is so much good journalism happening in Denver right now/lately, across so many outlets. It makes me super-happy to see.”
March found news that Colorado was unique because of a statewide prison online radio network broadcast from behind bars. Elsewhere in media innovation, the Coloradoan in Fort Collins partnered with the Center for Public Deliberation at CSU to launch The Northern Colorado Deliberative Journalism Project. A new nonprofit newspaper, The Pueblo Star Journal, printed its inaugural monthly edition in a city that some worry is becoming a news desert. On the anniversary of the 2021 Atlanta shootings, when eight people were killed, including six women of Asian descent, Colorado journalists gathered with community members for a panel discussion on “the importance of engaging with news media on how it portrays Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities.” A full two years after the coronavirus lockdowns, Colorado journalists were telling their audiences they were still testing positive for COVID-19. Vowing to cover what he felt the mainstream media might ignore during an election year, a Republican political consultant created a news and commentary site called Campfire Colorado. A seventh grader interviewed Gov. Jared Polis.
In April, FOX31 in Denver debuted a new statewide politics TV morning show, “Colorado Point of View,” as it angled to get its Sunday politics mojo back. The Denver Gazette faced off against a judge and Democratic Attorney General Phil Weiser when the public officials tried to stop the news outlet from publishing a story. (The paper won.) The publisher of The Villager newspaper in Greenwood Village attended the Republican state assembly as a delegate with voting privileges and “wore two hats, one as [a] partisan and another as a journalist.” The never-9-to-5 work-life balance of local journalism led the editor of the Craig Press to quit after about a year (he was 33 with six kids). Gov. Jared Polis let his social media following know The Saguache Crescent had gained “national attention as the last linotype printed newspaper in the country” after a story about it made the “Smithsonian Magazine.” Voters in Estes Park sided with their city government over their local newspaper on a local ballot measure about where the city should publish certain notices. News organizations across the state found out how they fared in 2022’s Society of Professional Journalists Top of the Rockies and Mark of Excellence awards, which cover Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. Colorado Sun founder and editor Larry Ryckman won Colorado journalist of the year. Republicans in the Trumpy Western Slope county of Mesa passed a resolution stating the county party supported “the registration and regulation of journalism to protect against the Marxist agenda.”
May was the month Politico published its bombshell leaked draft of a U.S. Supreme Court decision showing that the court’s conservative majority was poised to strike down Roe v. Wade. In the wake of the news, the CEO of Rocky Mountain PBS sent a notable memo to staff. “Times like these compel me to call out a fundamental difference between RMPM and other media organizations,” Amanda Mountain wrote to her employees. “Most media organizations create an effective ban on staff engaging publicly in ways that might potentially be perceived as biased,” she added, saying her organization would not. Elsewhere on public TV, Colorado Inside Out’s Dominic Dezzutti, who hosted the Denver public affairs TV show on Colorado Public Television since 2013, said he was moving on. Colorado College journalism students launched a new publication called Outdoor Journal. Dave Philipps of The New York Times, who lives in Colorado, won his second Pulitzer for reporting he contributed to an investigative project about U.S. airstrikes gone wrong. Layoffs at Boulder-based Outside Inc. followed rapid consolidation of outdoor media. Within a few months of working under new ownership, Aspen Times Editor David Krause published an unusually candid goodbye column saying he was not vibing with the new ownership after his paper’s purchase by Ogden Newspapers of West Virginia. The editor’s departure came at a rocky time for The Aspen Times — amid a lawsuit by a Soviet-born Swedish billionaire developer, a mayor’s accusation of coverage omissions, and the paper’s interim editor airing his frustration with new management.
June showed once again the innovative ways people in Colorado journalism are thinking about the future of local news, when the Journalism Trust Initiative announced it had chosen Colorado as “the first state in the nation” to pilot its program on a statewide scale. The Aspen Times reached a settlement agreement to end a billionaire developer’s defamation lawsuit that alleged “the mountain newspaper had wrongly portrayed him as a corrupt Russian oligarch.” The same month, the second media case to date that relied on Colorado’s 2019 anti-SLAPP Act led a judge to dismiss a defamation case against a TV news anchor. Longtime Colorado journalist Dusty Saunders died at 90. Andrew Baron, who was on the receiving end of negative local news coverage about his Boulder-based refugee-support initiative Humanwire, detailed his side of the story and why he took a no-contest plea deal. Denver author Julian Rubinstein’s documentary “The Holly,” based on his award-winning nonfiction book of the same name, won the Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature at the Telluride Mountainfilm festival. Journalists from across the country and world flocked to Denver where Investigative Reporters & Editors, known as IRE, chose to hold its much-anticipated annual conference.
In July, The Crestone Eagle, a monthly print paper in rural Saguache County, announced it would officially transition to a nonprofit as its editor retired and a group of locals banded together to keep the paper in local hands. The Colorado News Collaborative launched a project called Chasing Progress as a multi-newsroom initiative that sought to examine the “socio-economic and health equity among Black and Latino Coloradans over the last decade.” (Each installment was also available in Spanish.) The Denver Post hit the snooze button on some columnists. The paper said it was debuting a new commenting platform in hopes it would “reduce hate speech and harmful language.” Colorado Public Radio’s May Ortega launched a new podcast, “¿Quién Are We?,” that “focuses on the lives of people in the Latino, Hispanic, and Chicano communities.” Jason Van Tatenhove, who runs a local news site and podcast called Colorado Switchblade in Estes Park, testified before the Jan. 6 congressional committee about extremism and his time as a former spokesman for the right-wing Oath Keepers militia. Colorado Public Radio “earned five first-place awards from the Public Media Journalists Association, the highest number of first-place awards among the 100+ winning organizations.” Responding to the way The Aspen Times handled its response to a billionaire’s lawsuit, the Pitkin County government yanked its ads from the paper and made its rival, The Aspen Daily News, the county’s “paper of record.” Recognizing a looming crisis, the state’s two largest newspapers, The Denver Post and Colorado Springs Gazette, dedicated in-depth reporting on the Colorado River in the same week. CU Boulder celebrated 100 years of its journalism program. Denver journalist Chris Walker might have achieved the coolest title of the year in Colorado media as a “Psychedelic Journalism fellow.”
August saw coverage across the country, and in Colorado, that uncritically cited police departments saying their officers were falling ill after exposure to fentanyl — and one Denver newspaper reporter questioning the phenomenon. Fired Aspen Times Editor Andrew Travers published in The Atlantic magazine a blockbuster first-person account of the whirlwind that engulfed the town’s local news scene following the sale of his newspaper to Ogden. (The Atlantic titled the story “How to Kill a Newspaper.”) The Golden Transcript newspaper acknowledged that it had contributed to systemic racism in its past and promised to talk about it. A controversial tweet by a mainstream media sports reporter who covered the Avalanche hockey team raised questions about the intersection of fandom and sports journalism. A longtime Denver news anchor, announcing his upcoming retirement, said, “I will say some things about gun violence or climate change not as a journalist, but just somebody who lives in our community and as a dad.” Gannett, which owns USA Today and local news operations in roughly half the country including the Fort Collins Coloradoan and the Pueblo Chieftain, said it would undertake a “significant cost reduction program” amid a “challenging economic backdrop marred by soaring inflation rates, labor shortages and price-sensitive consumers.” The Ark Valley Voice, a digital newsroom in Chaffee County that started as a for-profit company in 2018, converted to a nonprofit.
In September, the Colorado Press Association and Colorado Media Project hosted two congruent conferences in the Aurora area. A major survey of the news habits of Coloradans showed residents turn to their phones to access local news more than anywhere else, pay for local news because they trust it, and think news should be free for everyone to access and should be supported by advertisers. CBS Colorado announced what it called “one of the biggest shifts in local television news reporting” by launching “neighborhood newsrooms.” KSUT, the NPR station for the Four Corners region, which was one of fewer than 10 tribal radio stations in the country when it launched in 1976, created a local news department. The journalist-owned Colorado Sun celebrated its fourth year in business, more than doubling its staff in the process. Westword reported at least 16 “stars” had left FOX31 in Denver within the past year. In what he called “a first,” Denver 9News anchor Kyle Clark said the campaign of a Republican U.S. Senate candidate created “lookalike” graphics and captions for 9News for “the portions of an extended interview the campaign shared on social media.” The editor of The Colorado Springs and Denver Gazette penned a column that accused a handful of his print, digital and radio competitors of bias without offering evidence. Saying it was no longer profitable, Colorado Daily shut down. The Sentinel in Aurora announced an ownership transition into a community-run nonprofit with inspiration from the Green Bay Packers, calling it “an experiment of sorts.” The same month, The Indy alternative weekly in Colorado Springs announced that it, too, would convert to a nonprofit ownership model.
October illuminated where Coloradans were finding relevant news and information in all 64 counties when journalists, academic researchers, and others (including myself) launched the unique-in-the-nation Colorado News Mapping Project. Listeners of KLMR, a local radio station that has served Colorado’s Eastern Plains for 75 years, learned the station had hung up its call letters and surrendered its license to the FCC. (The move came about two months after the station said a summer microburst storm tore through its roof and knocked out its broadcast towers.) The Alden Global Capital hedge fund that controls The Denver Post and about a dozen other newspapers in Colorado said its papers would no longer make endorsements for president, U.S. Senate, and races for governor. (The move reflected a national trend of corporations wanting to pare back the opinion content of their newspapers.) The Denver Public Library acquired lost issues of a Black newspaper called The Denver Star. Sandra Dillard, Rosalind “Bee” Harris, Mike Littwin, Kathy Walsh, and (posthumously) Alan Berg made The Denver Press Club’s Hall of Fame.
In November, Hispanic publishers from across the country convened in Denver for their annual convention, and Colorado celebrated 50 years of its Open Records Act. The Denver Post leveled a “temporary supply chain surcharge” on subscribers, saying “supply chain prices and surcharges” were at an “all-time high.” Kyle Dyer came on as the new host of Colorado Inside Out. Chris Reen, president and CEO of Clarity Media Group, publisher of several local publications, including the Colorado Springs Gazette, “said the company was considering mail for some regional papers but grappling with the idea that readers who rely on print will be getting outdated news.” PBS12’s new general manager, Kristen Blessman, said she heard viewers feel ‘“alienated by sharply divisive news.” The Anti-Defamation League and Jewish leaders in Colorado called an editorial in The Gazette “appalling & unacceptable” and said “Colorado readers deserve better.” Cameron Nutting, the regional publisher and chief revenue officer of Ogden Newspapers, the West Virginia company that took over a string of Colorado newspapers from Swift, was elected president of America’s Newspapers, which represents the newspaper industry. Journalists in the Roaring Fork Valley released their findings after surveying 155 residents in English and Spanish in hopes of understanding what Hispanics think of local news and to assess potential coverage gaps and how to mitigate them. Underscoring the relevance of ownership in local media, The Gazette made a choice to deprive its audience of news that its billionaire owner was suing Colorado over a tax dispute. (Other media reported the lawsuit could have “big financial consequences for the state.”) A mystery lingered for a string of ski-town newspapers owned by Ogden Newspapers when their homepage search functions temporarily hid the names of Democrats running for office before the election. The November 2022 issue of SKI magazine was “our last print edition,” the Boulder-based publication told readers. The Society of Environmental Journalists elected Colorado radio reporter Luke Runyon as the organization’s new president.
December saw the launch of The Florence Reporter, a new print newspaper in Southern Colorado. “The future of media is up to us,” its managing editor said. “We don’t have to answer to anybody except the community.” Unionized journalists at The Denver Post gathered in a local brewery to hoist glasses of a specially-brewed beer called The Thirst Amendment. (It was an effort to gain attention to their battle with management over a fair contract.) For a class on newsletter writing, Colorado College students helped write Axios Denver’s special Colorado Springs edition of its daily newsletter. Colorado Politics reported state Democratic House Member David Ortiz “used sexist language to criticize a Colorado Politics female reporter for a story he didn’t like.” The director of the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office said the government entity was looking to “partner” with the Boulder-based Outside media company. The Wet Mountain Tribune won a $50,000 settlement from the Custer County Commission after the paper sued its local government for retaliation. (County commissioners had voted to strip the Tribune of its “paper of record” status.) Denver 9News anchor Kyle Clark hit a milestone by raising $10 million for charities across the state through his “Word of Thanks” microgiving program on his show “Next.” The Colorado News Collaborative announced plans to produce “four major collaborative news projects,” adding that it’s “taking collaborative journalism to a new level in Colorado” in 2023.
Corey Hutchins is a journalism instructor at Colorado College and a contributor to Columbia Journalism Review, The Washington Post and other news outlets. This column is produced with support from the Colorado Media Project, and is distributed statewide via the Colorado News Collaborative. Interested in an insider’s look at the news behind the news in Colorado? Sign up here for Corey’s weekly email newsletter.