Denver7 recaps a big story from last week that no one who follows Colorado politics should be happy about–new layoffs in The Denver Post’s newsroom that are certain to further reduce both the quality and quantity of local political journalism:
The news broke Wednesday that the largest newspaper in Colorado would lose about 30 percent of its newsroom staff, as downsizing continues at the Denver Post. Denver7 decided to tackle the issue from a 360 point of view, including what this means for journalism in our state.
Starting with the Post, editor Lee Ann Colacioppo gave the news to the staff Wednesday afternoon, causing an outpouring of emotion from The Post’s journalists and others who have watched the 126-year-old paper have its staff cut repeatedly over the past few years under Denver-based MediaNews Group (known as Digital First Media), which is controlled primarily by a billion-dollar New York hedge fund, Alden Global Capital.
Colacioppo told Denver7 it was the hardest thing she’s had to do…
“Every time a journalist loses their job in this city,” the Post’s editor said, “the community is poorer for it. We need more people doing this work not fewer.”
Political journalism has been in decline in Colorado for a decade. Most observers trace the beginning of the precipitous decline to the closure of the Rocky Mountain News back in February of 2009, which ended a fierce competition for scoops between two newsrooms that benefitted everyone hoping to earn press for their cause or work in politics. Closure of the Rocky left the Denver Post as the state’s principal newspaper of record, shouldering on with a larger then ever responsibility and continuously dwindling resources.
The hollowing out of the Denver Post’s newsroom over the course of years has left behind a further diminished ecosystem in Colorado for political news. Some Denver TV stations (like Denver7) have done a commendable job filling the gap with their own investigative reporting, a great recent example being 2016’s award-winning work by Marshall Zelinger exposing forged petitions submitted in support of Jon Keyser’s failed 2016 U.S. Senate campaign. But in innumerable other cases in recent years, stories that could have dramatically changed the state of play in Colorado politics have gone both un- and underreported. We’ve been shocked, just as one example, that no media outlet in the state has made the connection between Republican funding attacks on the Colorado Civil Rights Commission and the blatantly anti-LGBT views of GOP lawmakers on the Joint Budget Committee. We could write for weeks about all of the stories that have been missed–stories we believe would not have been missed back in the days of thriving political journalism in Colorado.
The biggest danger we see going forward in addition to the loss of capacity and insight is the growing primacy of one man’s personal media empire: right-wing billionaire Phil Anschutz, who owns the Colorado Springs Gazette in addition to the national conservative newsmagazine The Weekly Standard, the conservative leaning online news site Washington Examiner, and…well, a ton of other stuff from the Coachella Music Festival to the Los Angeles Kings. Anschutz owns the state political news outlet formerly known as the Colorado Statesman, which has bought up a large stable of local political writers and today accounts for a large volume of Colorado political news.
The problem with Anschutz controlling so much of Colorado political news is plainly evident in that outlet’s favoritism toward GOP gubernatorial frontrunner Walker Stapleton, who the paper is frequently obliged to disclose is supported by Anschutz. Even with those disclosures, the tenor of news coverage from the former Statesman has plainly favored Stapleton at the expense of his opponents–including the shafting of Stapleton’s opponent Cynthia Coffman with a string of unfavorable news stories about her (admittedly) floundering campaign. Also, in 2016 a Washington Post story detailed large donations from Anschutz to anti-LGBT and other fringe conservative groups that later created a major scandal for Anschutz ahead of the 2017 Coachella Music Festival. But needless to say, you never read about that at any Anschutz-owned media outlets.
Going forward, it’s impossible to predict what will happen at the Denver Post or with political journalism in Colorado generally. The decline of the Denver Post comes at a time when individual reporters at the paper are doing good work and the need for that work is greater than ever. We sincerely hope the state’s most important and historic remaining news outlet can be rescued–but rescued in a way that preserves its journalistic integrity in contrast to what has happened elsewhere.
Because we need them now more than ever.