Friday, August 9, 2019

Gannett and GateHouse plan to merge, creating newspaper mega-group

Posted By on Fri, Aug 9, 2019 at 3:59 PM

  • Shutterstock
New Media Investment Group, the holding company that owns New York-based GateHouse Media, plans to acquire Gannett, the media companies announced Aug. 5.  Given that GateHouse and Gannett are the two largest newspaper chains in the country, the move has potential to change the face of local news — for better or worse.

"I'd love to say the mega-merger financed by private equity is likely to mean more investment in local journalism with new hires filling more beats, expanded circulation, and deeper coverage of their communities, but I doubt that's going to happen, at least in the short term," Corey Hutchins, the Colorado-based contributor for Columbia Journalism Review's United States Project, writes in an emailed statement.

"This is just where we are now in an era of hedge-fund journalism."

Colorado's GateHouse papers include the Pueblo Chieftain and La Junta Tribune-Democrat (dailies), as well as the Fowler Tribune and Bent County Democrat (weeklies).

Virginia-based Gannett, the group behind the USA Today national newspaper, counts the Fort Collins Coloradan among its many brands.

The combined companies — which will collectively own more than 260 daily newspapers, and more than 300 weeklies — will go by the name Gannett, the New York Times reports.

"Uniting our talented employees and complementary portfolios will enable us to expand our comprehensive, hyperlocal coverage for consumers, deepen our product offering for local businesses, and accelerate our shift from print-centric to dynamic multimedia operations," said Michael Reed, chairman and CEO of New Media Investment Group, who was quoted in a statement.

Both companies laid off employees this year. In May, GateHouse layoffs amounted to about 200 people out of its 11,000 staff, including two at the Pueblo Chieftain. Gannett laid off dozens in January, according to media reports, though an exact number was undetermined.

The layoffs and impending merger — which many fear will bring more layoffs — reflect an industry struggling to remain financially viable.

“Since GateHouse bought The Pueblo Chieftain the paper suffered cuts. Its journalists were protesting in the streets this summer," writes Hutchins, who is also a journalism instructor at Colorado College and a journalist at the Colorado Independent. "Earlier this year, Gannett's nationwide layoffs lashed the Coloradoan in Fort Collins and the paper scrap-heaped its weekly Opinion section to cut costs. Now these two companies are conglomerating. Great."

To Hutchins and other media observers, the industry's prospects often look grim.

A University of North Carolina study found the U.S. lost nearly 1,800 newspapers between 2004 and 2018.

And newsroom employment overall decreased by 25 percent between 2008 and 2018, the Pew Research Center found. The number of newspaper newsroom employees decreased even more — 47 percent.

In May, GateHouse planned to hire an entry-level reporter at the Chieftain for $13.41 an hour ($27,892 per year). The median annual salary for reporters and correspondents across the industry was $41,260 in 2018, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

Meanwhile, the new CEO of the combined companies, Paul Bascobert, will receive $3.9 million in Gannett stock and a sign-on bonus of $600,000, above his $725,000 salary, according to Matt Pearce of the Los Angeles Times.
According to the joint statement, the companies intend to cut costs by $250 to $300 million annually as a result of the merger. That's "not good news" for newspapers that "already have been cut to the bone," tweeted Eric Lipton of the New York Times.

Gannett and GateHouse already each have their "design hubs," which centralize design operations for local newsrooms around the country. (Disclosure: This reporter worked at Gannett's Phoenix design hub for two four-month internships.)

Presumably, by consolidating such hubs and other parts of their operations, the companies could save on overhead.

"I fear it's going to get worse before it gets better," Hutchins says. "Whatever happens to these newspapers after this deal, though, I hope they remain honest with their readers about it. I hope they let readers know the reasons why the way the papers are producing the news is changing instead of pretending it isn't happening or dressing up their own bad news in corporate Newspeak.

"I hope they bring their local readers into this conversation about one of the most challenging realities of our time. I also hope I'm totally wrong about all of this.”
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Thursday, August 8, 2019

El Paso County received more than 125 million prescription opioid pills in seven years, Washington Post database shows

Posted By on Thu, Aug 8, 2019 at 8:38 AM

  • Scotyard via Shutterstock
Last month, The Washington Post published a trove of federal data on opioids on its website, making the data accessible through an interactive database.

"The Washington Post sifted through nearly 380 million transactions from 2006 through 2012 that are detailed in the [Drug Enforcement Administration’s] database and analyzed shipments of oxycodone and hydrocodone pills, which account for three-quarters of the total opioid pill shipments to pharmacies," the national news publication explains.

The database breaks down by state and county the amount of oxycodone and hydrocodone pills shipped in those seven years — a timeframe within which, the Post notes, prescription opioids led to the deaths of almost 100,000 people.

(While a figure for El Paso County in that same timeframe was not immediately available online, opioids claimed the lives of 78 people in the county in 2018, and 92 the year prior.)

The database also includes data on the largest suppliers, and the pharmacies that received the largest numbers of pills.

The Post found that three companies manufactured about 88 percent of the opioids: SpecGx, Actavis Pharma and Par Pharmaceutical.

We reviewed the Post's data for Colorado and included some of the findings below.

  • Colorado pharmacies received 1,022,073,725 prescription pain pills between 2006 and 2012. Of those, 46 percent were manufactured by SpecGx LLC, a subsidiary of global pharmaceutical company Mallinckrodt.

  • The Omnicare of New York pharmacy in Golden received the highest number of pills in the state.

  • In El Paso County, pharmacies received 125,820,253 pills — enough for 30 pills per person, per year. About 44 percent of those came from Actavis Pharma Inc., a generic drug manufacturer that later merged with Allergan, a branded drug company, in one of the largest pharmaceutical deals of all time.

  • Walgreen Co. received more pills than any other distributor in the county.

How does El Paso County compare to other, similarly sized counties in Colorado? Denver County, though it has a similar population, received fewer pills than we did — 76,643,537 prescription pain pills, or an average of 18 per person, per year.

In Arapahoe County (the state's third-largest county, after Denver and El Paso), distributors received 99,985,887 pills, or 25 per person, per year.

Pueblo County, which has less than a third of Arapahoe County's population, received 74,629,205 prescription pain pills, or 68 pills per person, per year.

The chart below shows some of the data for Colorado's 10 largest counties. Visit The Washington Post's online database to see data for other counties, and to compare Colorado with the rest of the country.

More than 1,600 cities, counties, states, Native American tribes, labor unions and other entities have filed lawsuits against opioid manufacturers and distributors, seeking payback for what they call fraudulent and deceptive marketing that sparked the opioid crisis.

Former state Attorney General Cynthia Coffman filed a lawsuit against Purdue Pharma in Denver District Court last year, and her successor, Phil Weiser, has furthered the state's role in that lawsuit.

Besides Colorado’s lawsuit and others filed in state courts, hundreds more seek compensation in a multi-district federal lawsuit overseen by U.S. District Court Judge Dan Polster in Cleveland. Colorado plaintiffs involved in that case include Huerfano, Pueblo, Jefferson, Conejos and Adams counties, and the cities of Lakewood, Thornton and Brighton.

In El Paso County, however, county commissioners elected to not pursue damages for lives ruined or stolen by addictive painkillers.

That's despite the fact that County Coroner Dr. Leon Kelly estimated in April 2018 that his office alone had spent $219,810 in 2017 for autopsies conducted on 102 people whose deaths were related to opioids.
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Tuesday, July 23, 2019

SpringsTaxpayers offers watchdog help to taxpayers nationwide

Posted By on Tue, Jul 23, 2019 at 11:00 AM

Carno helps launch watchdog group nationwide. - COURTESY LAURA CARNO
  • Courtesy Laura Carno
  • Carno helps launch watchdog group nationwide.
Why did the city of Colorado Springs sell a $570,000 piece of property to a nonprofit for $1?

How come a Rockrimmon neighborhood just got newly paved streets to serve only 44 homes when that money could have filled 24,614 potholes instead?

Why is City Councilor Andy Pico the only one asking questions about how closing the downtown Drake Power Plant will impact customer rates?

What has the city done or not done to ease the traffic burden in the Cragmoor neighborhood since approving a big apartment complex there in 2015?

Find answers to these and other questions at, which announced on July 23 it's branching out to help other communities across the country find answers to local government questions.

SpringsTaxpayers is run by Laura Carno, a political consultant who co-founded the 50l(C)4 organization (and handled Steve Bach's campaign for Springs mayor in 2011), and Rebecca Marshall, a neighborhood activist who opposed bike lanes after they were installed along Research Parkway (and later removed).

Now, the two have launched YourTownTaxpayers, which enables taxpayers from anywhere to learn how to hold their local elected officials accountable.

From a news release:

Over the past two years, has been educating the citizens of the Pikes Peak region about local issues that affect their finances. These issues include spending prioritization, TABOR refunds, burdensome regulations, and government overreach.

“Since the inception of, we have been contacted by citizens from other cities —both in Colorado and across the country— who want to do something similar in their area,” said Laura Carno, co-founder of and Your Town Taxpayers. “Local government is the easiest government to hold accountable, and we look forward to sharing our process templates and issues research with other interested citizen groups across the country.” educates citizens through robust social media activity, a weekly newsletter, and original blogs. It also takes tips from members of the public, which is the source of some of its original blogs.

Carno and Marshall also will instruct taxpayers on how to use the Colorado Open Records Act "to uncover otherwise hidden facts, and discussions that go on with area public servants."

"A lot of people don't know they can do open records requests in their area," she tells the Independent. "You're the public. The government works for you. We can direct them to resources in their area."

Carno says qualifies as a "media-esque" type site, because it covers issues not being covered by other media — and it responds to reader tips.

"We still look at ourselves as educating taxpayers and local citizenry," she says. "We came out against a couple ballot measures in the past. We haven't endorsed candidates, but we've done commission and council surveys and just posted them (online)."

YourTownTaxpayers enables Carno and Marshall to share their expertise in being a watchdog of local government, she says.

The SpringsTaxpayers website gets about 1,000 visits a week, Carno says, while its Facebook page has about 700 followers.

For more information about Your Town Taxpayers, or 719-492-0211.
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Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Gov. Polis signs final bills into law, announces five vetoes

Posted By on Wed, Jun 5, 2019 at 3:02 PM

Polis spoke about his legislative accomplishments at Pikes Peak Community College on June 5. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • Polis spoke about his legislative accomplishments at Pikes Peak Community College on June 5.

At a June 3 appearance in Colorado Springs, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, said this year's legislative session delivered victories for health care and education.

He emphasized that 95 percent of the 454 bills he signed "were bipartisan: Republicans and Democrats working together to make Colorado better."

Polis vetoed five bills on May 31, three of which concerned state occupational licensing requirements. The vetoes drew consternation from lawmakers in Polis' own party, including Rep. Monica Duran of Wheat Ridge. Duran sponsored House Bill 1212, which would have extended a program requiring managers of homeowners associations, or HOAs, to have state licenses.

“We are greatly disappointed that the work we have done to protect homeowners’ biggest investments in their lifetime — their homes — has been undone," Duran said via a statement from the Community Associations Institute (CAI) Colorado Legislative Action Committee. CAI is an international membership organization for homeowners, HOA managers and businesses that provide services for HOAs.
"Managers of HOAs will no longer have to be licensed, which means they are not required to have background checks, demonstrate any knowledge of core competencies, show they understand Colorado HOA law or get continuing education," Duran continued.

On the other hand, Polis' vetoes drew rare approval from some conservatives.

“Governor Polis is right to veto legislation that makes it harder for Coloradans to find work," said Jesse Mallory, the state director of libertarian and conservative group Americans for Prosperity. Mallory was quoted in a statement from the group.

"Too often occupational licenses—government permission slips to work—are misused to protect entrenched interests, slamming the door on the dreams of would-be entrepreneurs," he added.

With his veto statement, Polis issued an executive order directing the Department of Regulatory Agencies to review existing and potential laws around HOAs and their managers, and recommend strategies for "efficient and effective" regulation.

"Before any unregulated occupation is to be regulated, or any regulated occupation is to be continued, the state should complete its due diligence to ensure that regulation will, in fact, ensure consumer safety in a cost-efficient manner," Polis wrote in his veto letter. "This bill does not meet that threshold."

Similarly, Polis vetoed Senate Bills 99 and 133, which would have required licenses for sports agents and genetic counselors. Both bills were sponsored by Democrats.

"Licensing in the United States over the years has at times prevented minorities and the economically disadvantaged from having the ability to access occupations," Polis wrote.

He also vetoed Senate Bill 169, which would have made changes to the budget submission process for information technology projects, saying that it limited the governor's ability to manage state contracts.

House Bill 1305 would have given tribal governments access to state databases for conducting background checks in child welfare cases. In his veto letter, Polis said the bill contained errors that would have forced tribes to comply with state child protection requirements. So in place of the bill, he issued an executive order allowing tribal governments access to the state databases while leaving out those mandates.

"In Colorado, we respect our government-to-government relationship with the Tribes," Polis wrote. "We also are committed to making resources available to assist the Tribes in conducting their governmental responsibilities."

In other news, here's some highlights from the list of bills Polis recently signed.


House Bill 1032: "Comprehensive Human Sexuality Education" appropriates money ($1 million annually) for the state’s grant program for schools that want to add comprehensive sexual education, closes a loophole that allowed private contractors to collect government money for teaching abstinence-only classes in public schools and ends an exemption for charter schools to the requirements. It also prohibits schools that have sex ed courses from teaching religious ideology, using shame-based or stigmatizing language, employing gender stereotypes, or excluding the experiences of LGBT individuals.
  • Sponsors: Reps. Susan Lontine, D-Denver, and Yadira Caraveo, D-Thornton, and Sens. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora, and Don Coram, R-Montrose
House Bill 1110: "Media Literacy" creates an advisory committee to make recommendations for ways to teach K-12 students how to read news critically, and discern fake news from the real thing. It allocates $19,800 from the state's general fund to the Department of Education for this purpose.
  • Sponsors: Rep. Lisa Cutter, D-Evergreen, and Sen. Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood
Senate Bill 007: “Prevent Sexual Misconduct At Higher Ed Campuses” requires higher education campuses to adopt policies on sexual misconduct based on minimum requirements set out in the bill. It provides for oversight and requires training on the policies.
  • Sponsors: Sens. Pettersen and Faith Winter, D-Westminster, and Reps. Barbara McLachlan, D-Durango, and Janet Buckner, D-Aurora


House Bill 1039: "Identity Documents For Transgender Persons" makes it easier for transgender and nonbinary people to change the gender on their birth certificates (without court order, surgery or doctor recommendation).
  • Sponsors: Rep. Daneya Esgar, D-Pueblo, and Sen. Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City
House Bill 1129: "Prohibit Conversion Therapy for A Minor" prevents licensed mental health and medical professionals from attempting to change a minor’s gender identity or sexual orientation through therapy. Democrats, who won control of the Senate last fall, were finally able to pass this bill on the fifth annual attempt.
  • Sponsors: Reps. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, D-Commerce City, and Esgar, and Sen. Stephen Fenberg, D-Boulder


House Bill 1176: The "Health Care Cost Savings Act of 2019" creates a task force to analyze the costs of alternative health care financing systems, such as single-payer, and make a report to state legislators. Polis signed the bill, but noted his concern that the bill's appropriation (around $100,000) wouldn't be enough to hire an analyst. He directed the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing to let him know in October whether legislators should request more money next session.
  • Sponsors: Reps. Emily Sirota, D-Denver, and Sonya Jaquez Lewis, D-Longmont, and Sen. Mike Foote, D-Lafayette
House Bill 1279: "Protect Public Health Firefighter Safety Regulation PFAS Polyfluoroalkyl Substances" bans firefighting foam that contains certain toxic, man-made chemicals: those classified as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, better known as PFAS. (An amendment to the bill makes an exception for when PFAS-containing foam is "required for a military purpose.") The bill also requires manufacturers to disclose when personal protective equipment contains PFAS.
  • Sponsors: Reps. Tony Exum, D-Colorado Springs, and Lois Landgraf, R-Colorado Springs, and Sens. Pete Lee, D-Colorado Springs, and Dennis Hisey, R-Colorado Springs
Senate Bill 077: "Electric Motor Vehicles Public Utility Services" requires public utilities to facilitate charging stations and to support the adoption of electric vehicles.
  • Sponsors: Sens. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson, and Angela Williams, D-Denver, and Rep. Chris Hansen, D-Denver


House Bill 1324: "Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation" adds protections against lawsuits viewed by First Amendment advocates, media organizations and others at infringing upon free speech. Specifically, it allows defendants accused of libel or slander to ask a judge to dismiss a civil case on the grounds that they were simply exercising their constitutional right to free speech or to petition the government.
  • Sponsors: Reps. Cutter and Shannon Bird, D-Westminster, and Sen. Foote
Senate Bill 179: "Enhance School Safety Incident Response Grant Program" adds funding to an existing state program, which funds nonprofit-led school safety training for law enforcement and school districts. The bill appropriates $1.16 million to the Department of Public Safety for the program.
  • Sponsors: Sen. Lee and Rep. James Wilson, R-Salida
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Wednesday, April 24, 2019

NRA files suit against PR firm after 38-year relationship

Posted By on Wed, Apr 24, 2019 at 11:15 AM

Ackerman McQueen's office is located in this building on South Cascade Avenue. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Ackerman McQueen's office is located in this building on South Cascade Avenue.
The National Rifle Association filed suit on April 12 against its long-standing marketing/public relations firm, Ackerman McQueen.

Based in Oklahoma City, Ackerman McQueen also has offices in Washington, D.C., Dallas and at 517 South Cascade Ave. in Colorado Springs. The firm's website describes the local office like this: "Situated at the base of the Rocky Mountains, this office is a creative center for all of our publishing efforts."

A lengthy analysis of the NRA's relationship with Ackerman McQueen was published in The New Yorker on April 17.

From the story:
The suit alleges that Ackerman has denied the N.R.A. access to basic business records, including the terms of Oliver North’s contract, and blames the firm for throwing it into an existential crisis. Ackerman’s general lack of transparency, the complaint says, “threatens to imminently and irreparably harm” the N.R.A.’s status as a nonprofit organization. (In response, the marketing firm issued a statement saying it “has served the NRA and its members with great pride and dedication for the last 38 years. The NRA’s action is frivolous, inaccurate and intended to cause harm to the reputation of our company and the future of that 38-year relationship.”)
The magazine reports delves into the long-standing association of the NRA and Ackerman, noting they're so close "that it is difficult to tell where one ends and the other begins."

The NRA has poured lavish amounts of money into Ackerman. From 2014 to 2016, it paid the firm $52 million, according to IRS filings available on Guidestar. The New Yorker also reported it paid another $40 million to Ackerman in 2017.

A dash of local flavor from the article:
In 2014, [Ackerman CEO] Angus McQueen’s son, Revan, got married, in Colorado Springs, in an opulent affair that brought together the most prominent beneficiaries of Ackerman’s work with the N.R.A. Revan had graduated from New York University only five years earlier, but he was being trained to work as the co-C.E.O. of Ackerman McQueen. During the wedding weekend, Revan and his guests, who included Colion Noir and several college classmates, went to a shooting range to practice tactical movements and fire semi-automatic rifles. The ceremony was held at a resort called the Broadmoor, a cluster of Italian Renaissance buildings set on five thousand acres at the foot of Cheyenne Mountain.... The groomsmen, in black tie, toasted one another with twenty-three-year-old Pappy Van Winkle bourbon, which can sell for three thousand dollars a bottle. During the ceremony, the Colorado Springs Philharmonic played on the terrace.
Given the apparent falling out between the NRA and Ackerman, we wondered what that means for its Colorado Springs operation. We telephoned the firm and were told to submit questions in writing, which we did.

We'll update when we hear something.

As a footnote, Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit that works toward "commonsense gun policies," issued a news release on April 23, saying, "In light of the revelations from the New Yorker investigative piece, Everytown has filed a complaint about the NRA's tax-exempt status with the IRS, and is calling for federal and state investigations into the NRA's operation as a tax-exempt organization."
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Monday, April 1, 2019

Mountain Metro light rail breaks ground outside Independent office

Posted By on Mon, Apr 1, 2019 at 12:32 PM

An Artist's rendering of the completed project. - SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
  • An Artist's rendering of the completed project.
The Colorado Springs Independent has been chosen as the first hub for a new light rail system connecting the city, a Colorado Open Records Act request revealed Monday.

Construction outside the Independent's office building, which began last week, had been, until now, shrouded in mystery. City officials would not tell Independent reporters what workers outside the building were doing.

But one construction worker, who asked to remain anonymous because he was not authorized to speak on the matter, tipped us off to the possibility that the sidewalk, curb and gutter were being removed to make way for passenger rail — leading us to ask the city for any internal communications on the subject.

The resulting, heavily redacted emails revealed that city is funding the first phase of the rail construction with $10 million from the Lodgers and Automobile Rental Tax (LART) and $20 million from stormwater fees.
  • Pam Zubeck
The rail will eventually mean the Colorado Springs Independent's building will be purchased by the city to serve as a transportation hub, complete with light rail ticket sales, food outfits and a gift shop. The Independent and other Colorado Publishing House entities that also work out of our building at 235 S. Nevada Ave. hope to move into a newly constructed building just blocks away in the trendy New South End.

"We didn't want the public to find out this way," a city spokesperson wrote in an email containing the redacted records. "But it had to come out sooner or later." The spokesperson alluded to some secret PlanCOS meetings that happened with an inner circle of stakeholders, outside of the public meetings to update our city's Comprehensive Plan recently.

The light rail will eventually connect the entire city and allow a code change to remove any and all parking requirements for new residential and commercial developments. This also means that no new parking will be constructed for either the stadium or the arena that are components of the City for Champions economic development initiative.

City officials are about to launch an aggressive public relations campaign for a ballot initiative approving a new sales tax to fund the second phase of the light rail, multiple sources close to the mayor confirmed.

The announcement came on April 1, which happens to be April Fools Day.
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Thursday, December 13, 2018

19 Colorado Springs agencies and businesses receive bomb threats

Posted By on Thu, Dec 13, 2018 at 4:23 PM

The Indy, like 18 other offices in Colorado Springs, received a bomb threat on Dec. 13. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • The Indy, like 18 other offices in Colorado Springs, received a bomb threat on Dec. 13.
The Independent was among 19 businesses, schools and government buildings that received a bomb threat today, Dec. 13. They appear to be bogus and possibly part of a nationwide rash of bomb threats, the Colorado Springs Police Department says. The CSPD issued this notice:

Large numbers of bomb threats are being reported at news outlets, government buildings, banks, libraries, and other businesses across the United States.

The Colorado Springs Police Department started receiving threats at 11:20AM on December 13, 2018. CSPD has worked closely with schools and employees at the impacted locations to ensure their safety. Each report received in Colorado Springs is taken seriously and investigated appropriately. At the time of this writing, our Communications Center has received 19 separate threats. No schools or businesses have reduced their schedules due to these threats.
Two police officers responded to the Indy building at 235 S. Nevada Ave. and spent an hour searching the premises at about 11:15 a.m. The threat was delivered via email and sought an amount of money in bitcoin. About eight threats had been made as of that time.

Amy Sweet, publisher of the Indy and some of its sister publications, says, "Clearly, this was a poorly executed attempt to scare and intimidate businesses. In today's political climate, the Indy took the threat seriously. We're pleased with fast response from CSPD and we plan to continue to do what we do best — provide locally produced journalism that is vital to Colorado Springs."
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