Please Don’t Let Phil Anschutz Buy The Denver Post

Phil Anschutz.

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.

20 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. MADCO says:

    If there is real demand for actual journalism and news – where is the competitor?

    Wher is the lean, well-run start up ?

    • JohnInDenver says:

      When was the last start-up of a metropolitan newspaper? Or other large-circulation daily? I know that USA Today kicked off in the early 1980s — and don't know of any large circulation paper or daily paper serving a major metro area since then.

      Even the 2005 "start-up" of the Washington Examiner was actually an accumulation of existing regional papers. It tried to make it as a daily (backed by Anshutz), and then transitioned into an on-line and weekly magazine format.

      • Davie says:

        Perhaps the Associated Press, which already has locally-based reporters around the nation and the world, should broaden and deepen their coverage, and offer retail web-based subscriptions. Regional editorial staff could produce localized editions 

        The fundamental problem with print news is the cost of producing and delivering stale, day-old news via dead trees.

        • mamajama55 says:

          When I started teaching in 2000, print newspapers would still deliver bundles of papers to classes. Students would read them, gleaning "current events" for assignments.

          Most schools also had a newspaper staff  – I sponsored the paper and yearbook at one Denver high school for four years.

          Neither of those dynamics exists much any more – city newspapers are too poor to deliver bundles of papers to schools, and schools are too poor to subsidize a monthly paper.

          Kids get their news online, from Facebook, Twitter, etc. The problem is, of course, that this news stream is not curated by editors or fact checkers. Some is reliable; most is not.

          There is no use in bemoaning the changing of format; journalists now are online or on cable. Paper format is a dying industry. The challenge will be to migrate editing and fact checking and investigative reporting to the new format.

          • Davie says:

            Exactly!  Establishing credibility on web-based news outlets is a huge issue. 

            Teaching impressionable minds how to distinguish what is fact, fiction or folly is a tough, but crucial task.  I know you challenge your students every day (yay!). 

            I wonder how we can make the process a self-reinforcing virtuous circle?  I think it'll take agreement and coordination among the Googles, Twitters, Facebooks and institutes of higher learning (esp. journalism schools).

            • MADCO says:

              I agree that printing, delivering ink on dead trees is an expensive model and likely obsolete

              But news does not come from it's medium.  It comes from skilled writers of varying degrees of talent skilled in the art, science and business of finding, editing, presenting and delivering the news.

              I would subscribe, even online.  Where is it?

              And my ribs /abs are sore – please do not suggest subscribing to get behind the paywall of the Denver Post.  The laughter would hurt.


              • Davie says:

                I like my online subscription to the New York Times ($7.50/mo) for all that you mention above.  But for local info, if it pains you to pay $5.99/mo for the digital Denver Post, then Westword and Aurora Sentinel are free, I believe.

                I haven't had a dead tree newspaper subscription for almost a decade, so can't offer any suggestions in that regard.  I'm about to cancel Time magazine because their new right-wing owner is slowly corrupting its coverage too.

                • mamajama55 says:

                  I have a combined Denver Post / Washington Post digital subscription that I got at my local Safeway store. I also get the Sunday paper edition, which I promptly recycle or give to my neighbor.

                  • Davie says:

                    I should probably upgrade my Denver Post subscription..  It's annoying when I click on a link to an article here and it stops me at the paywall because it is from the WaPo.

                    Maybe if Bezos chooses Denver for HQ2 he'll buy the Denver Post too!

                  • notaskinnycook says:

                    That's why I still have my Denver Post subscription; full digital access to Wa-Po. Now, Davie posts so many links to the NYT that we finally broke down and got a digital sub to that one, too.

                    • Voyageur says:

                      I get the full, seven day a week, dead tree edition of the new york times, and the washington post electronic edition.


            • mamajama55 says:

              How can we make the process a self-reinforcing virtuous circle?

              Public schools should continue subsidizing print/online student newspapers.

              Colleges should continue offering high quality journalism training and degree programs.

              We need to expose students to high quality journalism. I have special challenges in this, because the students I teach now are not fluent or completely literate in English.

              I like the site, which buys the rights to high quality news articles from professional journalists (with fact-checkers and editors), then translates many to Spanish, and also creates 5-6 versions of the meat of the article at various lexile levels. This makes real news accessible to most students.

              The articles are of high interest to kids, and reality-based; many would probably say that this gives them a liberal bias. The articles can be used to build literacy in reading non-fiction, as debate and argument writing tools, current event / social science, and much more.  Teacher trainers love Newsela.

              Newsela has a flourishing business promoting this service to schools; There is a free version available to anyone, and a pro version, which allows teachers to track individual student progress in reading skills over time.

            • Davie says:

              Google unveils $300 million plan to fight fake news, support journalism

              Google unveils $300 million plan to fight fake news, support journalism By Claudia Assis, MarketWatch 

              Three-year plan would invest in digital literacy, analytics for publishers 

              Google on Tuesday announced a three-year plan to spend $300 million in support of what it called "quality" journalism and to combat fake news. 

              "It's becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish what's true (and not true) online," Google's Chief Business Officer Philipp Schindler said in a blog post ( "The rapid evolution of technology is challenging all institutions, including the news industry–to keep pace." 

              Google, a unit of Alphabet Inc.(GOOGL) (GOOGL), called its plan the Google News Initiative, saying it will deepen its "commitment to a news industry facing dramatic shifts in how journalism is created, consumed, and paid for." 

              The company said it paid $12.6 billion to its news partners and drove 10 billion clicks a month to publishers' websites for free. 

              To counter fake news, it launched a "Disinfo Lab" during elections and breaking-news moments, and announced MediaWise, a project focused on improving digital-information literacy for young people, it said. 

              On the revenue side, it launched "Subscribe with Google," hoping to make it easier for people to subscribe to several news outlets. Consumers "are willing to pay for digital news content," Google said. 

              It also said it would use some of its machine-learning capabilities to make it easier for publishers to recognize potential subscribers and to analyze how their news is consumed. 

              Alphabet shares are up nearly 25% in the past 12 months, which compares with 14% gains for the S&P 500 index and an 18% increase for the Dow Jones Industrial Average. 

              -Claudia Assis; 415-439-6400; 

              > Dow Jones Newswires

              March 20, 2018 12:10 ET (16:10 GMT)

              Copyright (c) 2018 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

              Yes!  Time to buy some Google stock!

      • mamajama55 says:

        The Washington Examiner was the reincarnation (bringing over editors and staff) of the old Moonie paper, the Washington Times.  The latter was propped up by the fortune of anti-communist fanatical cleric Rev. Sun Myung Moon, who was in turn funded by the legions of gullible millenials handing over all their worldly goods to him, and roaming the streets selling candles and the like.

        To your point, maybe newspapers these days need a rich sugar daddy or a cult to prop them up, whatever their political agenda. Perhaps Tesla or Branson will oblige for a centrist, real journalism venture?

  2. RepealAndReplace says:

    What difference could it possibly make? That paper is a rag any way you look at it.

  3. Diogenesdemar says:

    Aw, c’mon . . . 

    Geez . . .

    . . . what the hell is Phil supposed to do with all his newfound tax cut money, then?

    . . . buy another Senator, or six?

    . . . more golden toilets?

    . . . Trump Tower condos?

  4. Gilpin Guy says:

    It's not like the rubes are waiting for the paper to be thrown from the back of a truck to find out what's going on.  They now have Fox News and are happy with being lied to.  You can't sell apricots to people who love Durian fruit.

  5. Littwin says "even Anschutz" – just, someone please buy the Post away from MNG/DFM/Alden.

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