*9/16/22 Update: Yet, another price increase for printing, bringing it to now a 33% increase since this was written in May 2022 and since prices began increasing in 2020. We have had so many price increases we are losing count. Are we on the 7th? 8th? 9th?
I woke up this morning thinking about the printing press.
This started from the 28%* increase in the cost of publishing on paper compared to 2020.
Print isn’t dead; it’s expensive.
Yet, it’s freed societies, it’s educated masses, it’s been propagandized and vilified, but most of all, throughout the history of the printing press – it has informed. Like technology of many kinds, it changed how we communicate.
Then why, in a communication-heavy world, are so many areas suffering from news deserts?
I was raised in the media rooms since the age of 21. I watched as the editors did their magic, telling stories that affected the community. It was the local pages that helped keep people connected. One thing that was drilled into my head all these years above all else — speak the truth. Even if some will hate you, speak the truth.
Some journalists have been jailed or killed for speaking out against totalitarianism and injustice. Often, the energy they spent putting in countless hours researching, checking facts and sources are reduced to the battle-cry of the ill-informed; “Fake News.” News illiteracy is raging across the country.
The pay is typically lousy, the hours are long. Stress and burn-out guaranteed. They are energized by knowing their work has helped to free innocent people from behind bars, attempts to keep politicians honest, and uplifting humanity.
I am reminded of what Jeff Fard said to me right before I published the biggest and scariest story of my life; “Just remember, it isn’t us who make the news; they do. We just report it.”
After 38 years representing journalism and media, I recently was honored to interview some of Colorado’s most respected journalists – all committed to keeping it alive. From Pulitzer Prize nominees, Hearst Fellows, prestigious universities, and lifers to newbies, this was my “meeting my favorite rock stars” moment, which turned out to be quite intimidating for this art-school drop-out, and even more intimidating to write.
In total, I spoke to 10 amazing journalists, Susan Green (CoLab News/The Colorado Independent), Jeff Fard (30 minutes with brother jeff), Dave Flomberg (Yellow Scene Magazine/Colorado Times Recorder), Shay Castle (Boulder Beat), Michael Roberts (Westword), John Lehndorff (5280, Boulder Weekly, KGNU)), Tatiana Flowers (The Colorado Sun), Rosanna Longo (KGNU), Erik Maulbetsch (Colorado Times Recorder), and Amy Golden (Longmont Leader).
Keeping to a word count limit became a challenge. I was enthralled.
As Dave Flomberg quipped; “You mean you talked to a bunch of journalists who waxed poetic?”
Each of these amazing talents had extraordinary things to say, not just about journalism but about the world. I didn’t want anything left out.
SUSAN GREENE: COLab News (Colorado News Collaborative)
Susan reported in California, Nevada, and Washington, D.C., before her 13 years as a reporter and news columnist at The Denver Post. She went on to become the editor and executive director of The Colorado Independent before it merged in 2020 with COLab. “Trashing the Truth,” a series she reported with Miles Moffeit, helped exonerate five men, prompted state and federal reforms on evidence preservation, and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in investigative journalism. Her investigation,“The Gray Box,” exposed the effects of long-term solitary confinement. Susan has been honored in recent years by the National Press Foundation, ACLU, Society of Professional Journalists, and Colorado Press Association for her First Amendment work and coverage of criminal justice, mental health, and civil rights. She was selected as a 2020-2021 Rosalynn Carter Mental Health Journalism Fellow, and is the inaugural recipient of the Benjamin von Sternenfels Rosenthal Grant for Mental Health Investigative Journalism — a partnership between The Carter Center’s Mental Health Program and Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR). Susan lives in Denver with her two sons and a dog they’re pretty sure is the messiah.
Q: Tell me how and why you launched CoLabs?
Susan: For those of us who’ve been in the industry for a while, it has felt like being on the slowest sinking ship ever. After the Independent, it felt like the next thing to do was to work on these news deserts and on just this general idea of collaboration. Especially if we came up in newspapers, we’re so indoctrinated in this sort of competition, that is really just a construct. The public who really doesn’t care or notice which outlet that’s out first, there just simply aren’t enough resources to go around. I’m always getting calls, I just got off one this morning, about issues going on in local communities that will ask, “Well, can you send an investigative reporter over?” There is no index reporter, and there might not be any reporter at all, no matter what they do in that community. And that happens so much. It just feels like the right thing to do for keeping people informed is to pool our resources rather than play in each of our own sandboxes.
Q: What are some of the stories you are most proud of?
SUSAN: I’ve always been an underdog person. I feel injustice more deeply than I feel partisan politics. But I don’t go into any story thinking I’m setting out to change policy. You try to be as fair and balanced as you possibly can, especially when you’re covering something over years as I did with Clarence Moses, Tim Masters, Tyler Sanchez, and Marvin Booker. If you watch a man get wrongly convicted, and try and try again to get himself exonerated, only to be countered by lies from the prosecution in the public’s name, you’re bound to have personal feelings about it. It’s way more gratifying to write about people who need help having their voices amplified than about politicians, who have teams of propagandists around 24/7.
Q: Sometimes, it seems it would be easier not to care.
SUSAN: It’s easy not to care, but I don’t think you’d last very long. I think journalists are actually the most idealistic people I know. That makes it even more frustrating when our motives are under suspicion. For journalists, there’s nothing more exciting than election night. And it has nothing to do with who wins or loses. It just has to do with democracy and what’s at stake. If you don’t care then I don’t think you can do a good job and there really is no room for you in this industry.
Q: What makes you passionate?
This mental health project that I’m working on. Talking to someone who just cannot find the mental health care they need for a loved one, and helping them feel heard. Playing some role in the bureaucracy and finally paying attention to them as a person, not just a number, feels really good and meaningful.
JOHN LEHNDORFF: 5280 | Boulder Weekly | KGNU
After graduating in English with honors from McGill University in Montreal, he moved to Boulder, where he worked in the restaurant industry, taught cooking classes, hosted The Generic Gourmet Show – a weekly food radio program, and freelanced for numerous publications. For 15 years, he was an award-winning food editor, writer, and nationally syndicated Nibbles food columnist for the Daily Camera, followed by eight years as the dining critic and columnist of the Rocky Mountain News. Most recently, he was the food and editor and columnist for the Aurora Media Group newspapers and websites: Aurora Sentinel, Buckley Guardian, and Life Science, as well as Aurora magazine. He is a freelance food writer and editor and host of Radio Nibbles, a new, weekly program focused on food, cooking, and dining on KGNU, 88.5 F, currently publishes with 5280 and Boulder Weekly, and is a recognized pie authority. Lehndorff was the executive director of the American Pie Council, spokesperson for National Pie Day, chief judge for the National Pie Championships, and organizer of the Great American Pie Festival. He is the author of Denver Dines (a restaurant guide book), and a judge for the James Beard Foundation journalism awards.
Q: Why do you stay in it? What keeps you motivated? For me at the end of the day, I love what I do. Tell me how you got started?
JOHN: That’s a good reason. All I ever said was I was going to have to work until I died. I said; ‘well, I don’t want to have to get up every day, hating it.’ When I decided to become a journalist, I said, if I’ve got to do this repeatedly then I think I’ll write about food and music, because that’s what I like. I also ended up writing obituaries and stories about cars and things, but that comes with the territory. I was going to McGill University in Montreal, and after I graduated, a friend said, “Hey, want to help me drive a car from New York to Colorado?” I was going to help him with that because it sounded like a good time. You know, Kerouac-esque. Then I got here, and the sun was sunnier, and there was less humidity, and people seemed happier. I said I’d stay for a couple of weeks. That was 1976. Mainly I wanted to be a music critic and go to concerts for free. But I found that there was a limited need for that.
Q: Did you always want to be a writer?
JOHN: The first time I felt the buzz, so to speak, I was in the fifth grade. Most of my teachers in elementary school were smart but elderly cranky nuns, but I got a good one. I forget what I wrote about, but she was very positive about it, and sometimes that’s all it takes. I thought I was gonna go in a more literary direction, I was mainly into poetry and prose. When I got here, the streets were full of beat poets. I saw Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs eating soup at the New York Deli. I realized all the poetry jobs are taken I realized I needed to expand my writing efforts. My father, who escaped from the Nazis in Austria, was a huge fan of stand-up comedy. I learned to appreciate a good punch line, and a well-told joke, it’s like a haiku if it’s done right. I always wanted to have a punchline on my columns.
Q: When I worked at the paper in Boulder, I would listen to you on KGNU every time you aired. It was part of my morning drive.
JOHN: I just started hanging around KGNU; I proposed this show called The Generic Gourmet Show. I thought I’d do something like A Prairie Home Companion about food. As it turned out, that was rather grandiose for one guy who didn’t know how to use tape machines.
Q: How did you become the pie expert?
JOHN: I was friends with Charlie Papazian, he launched the American Home Brewers Association, which later became the Great American Beer Fest. He was actually a nuclear engineer. His birthday was coming up but he didn’t like cake, so he declared his birthday, January 23, to be National Pie Day and made up a mythical organization called the American Pie Council. To this day, January 23 is the official National Pie Day. He asked me to be a judge and handle the calls for the day and turns out dozens of people were calling about it. I have judged over 100 pie contests, taught seminars, and ended up becoming known as the Pie Guy.
DAVE FLOMBERG: Yellow Scene Magazine | Colorado Times Recorder
Director of Content for Modus Persona, Content Strategist, Published Author, Public Speaker, Freelance Columnist, Trombonist. Attended UNC in Greeley at the music school. He has written for Vail Trail, Boulder Weekly, Rocky Mountain News, City Search, Yellow Scene Magazine (since issue #2), the Colorado Times Recorder, and wrote a book, Management for Zombies. Dave considers himself a lucky man and attributes it to his great parents. His father was poor, she was lower-middle class; both Jewish children of immigrants from Eastern Europe. As the grandson of the Survivor generation, he believes deeply these life events helped shape who he is.
Q: In all interviews, you refer to your parents frequently and how much they shaped you; what was their biggest influence on your life?
DAVE: The importance of education is a cultural underpinning for us. My mom made sure that I was reading and writing before I went to school. That is a privilege to have a mother who was able to take the time to do that while Pop was working. We were not wealthy by any stretch of the imagination, but they made sacrifices so she could stay home with us for the first few years of our lives as kids. That kind of head start is so critical for everyone to have the simple basics of reading and writing before they get to school. The world opens up to you in terms of literature. My pop was the most honest man I’ve ever known, his moral compass was always true. So even though he and I didn’t always agree on all things politics he was devoted to community and justice. He would always stand up and speak out against injustice.
In America, we tend to look at everything as good or bad. One of the reasons I write about the things I do is because we tend to be so binary in the way we evaluate life. Disney, Star Wars. It isn’t that easy. You can believe at the same time that Jews have an absolute right to exist in the land of Israel, and Palestinians have an absolute right to exist in the Palestinian territories without being morally corrupt.
Q: I lost my mom and then dad five years later, everything they tried to teach me suddenly became so much more important. I wanted to live up to it even more.
DAVE: One of the traditions of Judaism is there isn’t really a scripted concept of what afterlife is. No one’s gone to heaven and come back to tell us what that’s about. So we don’t know. The best idea we have is that your proximity that God and whatever you envision God to be, you know I take a pretty Universalist approach is that your proximity to God is what is eternal, and what matters and the way to honor the people who have died before you your parents or siblings or whoever is when you do something good. It elevates them in God’s eyes and brings them closer to him. So by doing a mitzvah that helps keep those who came before you you know, closer to God. And, you know, whether you’re agnostic or atheist, I still like the concept of truly honoring my father and mother is to doing right by them and living the best way. You know that they tried to teach me to be so I don’t see anything wrong with that. Even if, even if I end up not believing in anything at all. It’s still a good way to live.
Q: So the ancestry that influences you so greatly and even speaking to regardless if you’re agnostic or atheist, it sounds like you take to heart the teachings.
DAVE: Culturally, if you want to look at it from the perspective of those who hate me, our oppression status depends on who’s observing and Hitler could not care less who we pray to. For him, we were an inferior race of people that need to be exterminated. Whatever I believe is kind of irrelevant at that point. It’s the fact that this is the reality of the world I live in. Is my bloodline something that damns me in the eyes of a lot of people? My cultural identity of what it is to be a Jew, what it is to have this history.
Q: Jeff Fard spoke a lot on being a Pan-Africanist, do you see any similarities in these views?
DAVE: An example is with White replacement theory and how effective the right-wing has been at helping stoke the fires of division between Jews and the black community over the years. There are definitely racist Jews; there are definitely antisemitic blacks. And that’s heartbreaking because our stories are so similar, right? In a world where Jews and the Black community came together and found a way to truly align their objectives, there will be no stopping, correcting the historic wrongs.
Q: How do you feel that that affects you as a journalist?
DAVE: I loved the idea that my job requires me to learn something new every day and then become as close to an expert as I can on the topic in order to tell other people why they should care about it. An effective journalist may have bias, and there’s no way to avoid the prejudices your perspective creates. But a good journalist will follow the evidence, like a good detective. My willingness to consistently reevaluate my position and my opinion on any topic is what’s made me a decent journalist. Keeping my eyes firmly following the evidence and looking for truth has led me to where I am today underpinning a lot of problems Americans have today – a refusal to reevaluate their own position.
Q: Do you have a favorite story or is that too hard to pin down?
DAVE: There were a lot of draconian policies in place at the border. Alma Lopez and her American husband had been married for years. They decided to apply for her citizenship resulting in her being trapped in Mexico for months after years of living in the U.S. Within two weeks after our article came out she was brought home. When I get the opportunity to tell a story that matters, that is the important thing. And not being beholden to the economics of a day job telling stories for people’s agendas is very freeing, and allows me to focus on the things that matter most.
Q: What do you think would happen if we lost journalism?
DAVE: Digital has impacted more than journalism in the sense that the death of expertise is a huge problem because the best and brightest aren’t always going into journalism. We got fly-by-night bloggers out there, some do good work, and some do terrible work. At the beginning of broadcast journalism, the governing body had a really good approach that American broadcast media had to ensure one out of 24 hours is dedicated to news. That made news important to the culture of this nation, to why the democracy experiment was working the way it was. Where they f*cked up was by not specifying that they could not profit. Connecting capitalism to that decision is what has eventually resulted in the situation we’re in today.
JEFF FARD: 30 minutes with brother jeff
A native of Northeast Denver, Jeff S. Fard, better known as brother jeff, is a multimedia journalist, historian and community organizer who lectures nationally speaking to youth, students, social organizations, and professionals about subjects including cultural identity and history, diversity, self-empowerment, community building, economic development, health disparities, and the uniting power of art. In 1994 he founded brother jeff’s Cultural Center—located in the historic Five Points District in Northeast Denver—a space committed to fostering growth, strength, and voice in the community. He is also the publisher and editor of the award-winning monthly publication, 5 POINTS NEWS. brother jeff is a board member for the Center for African American Health and is a past board chair of the Denver Foundation, which is the nation’s oldest and Colorado’s largest community foundation. He has received numerous honors for his work, including being recognized by the late Steven Graham and the Community Resource Center as a “Legendary Leader of Colorado’s Nonprofit Sector.”
Q: You grew up in Denver, correct?
brother jeff: Yep, native, George Washington HS. I traveled extensively across the country, around different parts of Africa, but Denver is my birthplace. I’ve always been a part of what they call a pan-Africanist movement, so my entry point into the continent was really around anti-apartheid in South Africa. I began traveling in South Africa and became very familiar with the politics. I was there when Mandela was released from prison. Dealing with apartheid, and the HIV/AIDS pandemic. We were interested in why Black women were disproportionately impacted by HIV/AIDS. We did a lot of work in Kenya and Ethiopia. Now I am focused on genocide in Ethiopia. My pan-Africanist perspective links me to the continent and diaspora.
Q: Pan-Africanism is not a term many caucasian Americans are familiar with. Can you describe it to our readers?
brother jeff: The reality is that Africa is the birthplace of civilization. Everyone who believes that they’re not African, they’re actually African. It’s interesting to see folks look for their DNA and talk about they’re from this part of Europe or that part of Asia, but everybody’s from Africa. There was a scramble for Africa in the 19th century. The European powers came together to split that continent up amongst themselves. You have this intense colonization and, from that standpoint forward, what they call the transatlantic enslavement, which is why 100 million Africans are buried at the bottom of the Atlantic. We are displaced and also found everywhere on the planet. So wherever you are on the planet, you’re going to find the remnants of Africa. That is the birthplace. From a pan-Africanist standpoint, it is not erasing African identity while embracing where they’re from. W.E.B. Dubois and individuals like Kwame Nkrumah, a lot of them studied in the United States before they became presidents of African nations. There’s a direct linkage and connection.
Q: What got you into media, what sparked all this?
brother jeff: Growing up in Denver, we knew that what the Black community experienced was closely aligned with the Brown community. I was raised around the Black Panthers and the Brown Berets. I was around Lauren Watson and Corky Gonzales, all of these individuals were activists when I was very young.
Q: Your mother was an activist?
brother jeff: Absolutely. This was a period of community activism. So when you talk pan-Africanism, and you think about the 70s, when Roots came out. You started seeing Blacks longing to go back beyond 1619 and the borders of North America. That’s when you start thinking about Cleo Parker Robertson’s Dance Theater, which is directly related to this movement. You think about the musicians that were putting out songs in the 70s that talked about the power of Blackness, and you start thinking about that whole movement. It was very rich right here in Northeast Denver. Five Points was wholly Black. Today, it’s wholly White. In just a generation you started seeing the shift. I was raised with Dr. Daddio, aka Jimmy Walker, who is a legend in communications and media. He owned KDKO, a black-owned radio station. We came out of music, we were doing what they call hip hop. Perhaps the first publication I had was called A New Day – back when you used to go to the printer. I’ve done community resource guides and constantly told the stories through print, or radio. There’s probably not a facet of it that I’m not familiar with, even publishing Five Points’ Five Star News. And now utilizing this new medium, podcasting, or social media to tell the story, it’s all just telling stories. There’s probably not a time that I haven’t been doing it.
Q: Tell me about Five Star News?
brother jeff: Our mission was always to put paper in hand. I don’t know if we’re seeing the death of print, but the limiting, because we’re able to do a lot more online for less money. It’s just faster. We will do some more print, but we have to see how viable it is because our model is really about informing the community, and there are a lot of different ways to tell those stories now. If those price increases continue, I’m wondering what the future looks like. We’ll be doing it online for the foreseeable future. It’s amazing. Even radio station KDKO was so integral to the Black and Brown community and it no longer exists. There’s a big void, but fortunately, we’re able to fill it every day at two o’clock with 30 minutes with brother Jeff by telling those stories and connecting with individuals from a community standpoint, no matter the skin color. Individuals are longing for real and moving away from mainstream media, which is no longer mainstream. They’re often trying to catch up with what the community is already doing.
Q: How do we create media literacy?
brother jeff: Media literacy is important because most folks take on face value what’s given to them. We want to believe that folks have their best interests at heart. We’re not seeing how money plays a role in politics in terms of how decisions are being made. For example, the average person doesn’t have time to spend lobbying or even watching what their politicians are doing. You can guarantee that special interest has individuals that all they do is look out for their interest. The media literacy piece to me is, why aren’t certain stories being covered? Why is there demise in terms of the ability to shine a light on things that impact the everyday life of individuals? It’s not an accident. It’s very intentional. The less you know, the better, some will say. Ignorance is bliss.
Q: How do you see journalism surviving?
brother jeff: Good journalists tell the stories that haven’t been told or are not supposed to be told.
MICHAEL ROBERTS: Westword
Michael has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Q: Talking to everybody has made me even more inspired to pursue this new idea that is percolating for me. So, meeting all of you is exciting for me.
MICHAEL: I hope our conversation will not make you give it all up and decide to go into banking or some other profession.
Q: You have been in media a long time, you started at Westword how many years ago and when did you get started in media?
MICHAEL: I started at Westword in 1990. I grew up in Grand Junction and went to what is now called Colorado Mesa University. I am glad I did because it gave me opportunities to do a little of everything. I worked at the Criterion, the college paper, theater, and the radio station. I had written for my High School paper but originally thought I was going into film. I went to UCLA and got my Masters in screenwriting and even managed to sell one to Disney. But I found was while I am good at writing, I am terrible at pitching. So I enrolled in the Master’s Program at Northwestern in Chicago. Turns out Patty Calhoun (Westword’s editor since inception) is from Chicago and asked me to send her five stories. Patty, happened to be in Chicago and meets with me. All I own is a wool suit, it’s summer, I am sweating profusely, but somehow she hired me anyway. I submitted a story (by fax!), “Rock Stars whose careers were helped by their own death,” about Stevie Ray Vaughns’s passing. To my surprise, they put it on the cover. Someone bought an ad on the back page telling me to go kill myself. I saw this and thought, well I am fired now. But the managing editor told me, “You are bringing money in, so let’s make you the music editor.” I worked as the music editor for 9 years before moving to columnist, then to the content editor for our website-which went live in the 90s.
Q: I follow a lot of your writing, when I go to the website it’s almost always you that I read.
MICHAEL: I’m one of only three staff writers, along with our editors, Patty, and Emily Ferguson, our music editor. We use a lot of freelancers. One of the benefits for me of having broad interests is I can cover many bases. I’m interested in news, business, sports, art, and film. So it’s wonderful for me to not paint myself into a corner. Writing about a variety of things every day keeps it fresh.
Q: Since the 90s, we’ve been told print is dead. I still believe there’s a place for print, that people want an escape from their screen and to read long-form if the content is there. Is Westword looking at continuing to print or going strictly digital, like so many have?
MICHAEL: I know Patty is dedicated and believes in print. I think the strategy is to continue to do print. It’s expensive, and a pain in the neck. It’s a lot easier to write a story and then press a button and it’s out there than it is to proof pages and get them to the printer and distribute them. It’s a very costly enterprise. But it is part of the historical tradition, and that makes a statement about its permanence. People definitely like to hold an object in our hands that feels more real, feels built to last, that more care went into the creation of this product, as opposed to things that go online. So I think there is a respect that print creates and deserves.
Q: Do you think being a journalist has made you a well-rounded person?
MICHAEL: I’m very shy, so if I was in a social situation, I wouldn’t go up to a stranger and ask them a question; particularly a tough question. But in the role of a journalist, I get to call up really interesting people, notorious people, a wide variety of people, and learn more about their motivations, what they’re thinking and doing, and why. That provided a platform for me to be bolder and more opinionated than maybe I was able to handle in everyday life. What kept me with journalism all these years is to interact with the everyday world, and learn things people don’t have access to.
AMY GOLDEN: Longmont Leader
Amy was born in Denver and raised in Colorado Springs and received her journalism degree with a minor in business from the University of Northern Colorado in May 2019. She spent a semester as an intern with the Greeley Tribune, then found a job in Grand County as a reporter for Sky-Hi News. She has spent just under two and a half years there reporting on all sorts of things but especially the pandemic and the East Troublesome Fire, the second-largest fire in Colorado history that destroyed roughly 300 homes between Granby and Grand Lake. She has been with the Longmont Leader since the end of February, covering a variety of topics including education.
Q: You chose to go into journalism and studied at UNC Greeley, what made you decide to pursue journalism?
AMY: I’ve done journalism since high school when I accidentally joined the school newspaper. I didn’t really know what the elective was, but I took a shine to it and knew going into college that was what I wanted to do.
Q: You got hired right out of college at the Greeley Tribune?
AMY: I interned at the Tribune, then got hired at Sky High News. When I applied to the Tribune, it was going through a lot of changes and hard to get in, so I ended up working at a coffee and sandwich shop. I was feeling discouraged, so I didn’t send anything but my resume figuring I wouldn’t get hired. The editor there had also gone to UNC and worked at the Greeley Tribune and took the time to look up my clips. I was lucky he did because I got hired.
Q: Was there something about the work you were doing in high school that attracted you to journalism? What excited you about it?
AMY: In high school, we got a new advisor who helped us revamp the newspaper. Most of the student body didn’t even know we had one, and it was the typical school newspaper with just blocks of text. After we revamped it, people started to get really excited about it. I took that philosophy with me going into college because everyone constantly is telling you “journalism is a dying industry.” People like to read about things happening near them and they are actually craving that. Just because people don’t read the newspaper so much anymore doesn’t mean they don’t crave the truth. I have always been a defiant person and so this career appealed a lot to me.
Q: Do you have any ideas for future stories you are mulling over?
AMY: I went to the Northern Water conference yesterday which got me thinking about water. Something I have a unique perspective on because I was in Grand County for two and a half years. They give all the water basically to Denver Water – like 60% is diverted to the Front Range. Add in climate change and there’s just less and less of it. We assume that there’s enough water to go around and I think that’s not going to be the case pretty soon.
TATIANA FLOWERS: The Colorado Sun
Tatiana Flowers is the inequality and general assignment beat reporter for the Colorado Sun. She has covered crime and courts plus education and health in Colorado, Connecticut, Israel and Morocco. In her spare time, she enjoys skiing, Zumba, learning how to DJ, and live music events. Rabbits are her favorite animal.
Q: You said you have only been at The Colorado Sun a few months, where were you before?
TATIANA: I was a Hearst Fellow for Hearst Connecticut Media Group. Then they hired me and I worked at a paper in Greenwich, Connecticut, called Greenwich Times, for a year. Before the Hearst fellowship, I was in AP here in Denver, and before that, I was at Glenwood Springs Independent, but only for a couple of months.
Q: Wow! I have my work cut out for me because I’ve now interviewed one Pulitzer Prize nominee and one Hearst Fellow and I have to be honest I am a little intimidated.
TATIANA: Even when you do have those credentials it’s still really scary, and even people like Jen Brown, who I work with and who won a Pulitzer, says she still felt inadequate, so I don’t really think it’s something that goes away.
Q: You strike me as one of those students who devoted themselves to their studies, is that true?
TATIANA: I was able to because I was lucky enough to have a mother who could support me while I was in school, which allowed me the resources to devote myself to my studies.
Q: Which makes me think, how many Einsteins have we missed? You sound like you have a serious work ethic.
TATIANA: I think my grandmother instilled that in us, she moved from Jamaica, England, then to the U.S. She had two kids and escaped domestic violence. She laid the foundation for my mom’s success and my success here. She cared a lot about education, and that just really sunk in for us. We saw how she got this really good nursing fellowship in the U.S. and how it shaped her life. So yeah, I would agree with that statement.
Q: It looks like you started out with a serious intent to go into journalism. I mean, your Bachelor’s in Journalism, and then you went on to get your Masters. Where was it that lit that spark that made you know that was what you wanted to do?
TATIANA: I didn’t know until I was a sophomore in college. I actually was studying animal science. Since I could talk I wanted to be a veterinarian. I still love animals just as much, but I didn’t love and wasn’t good at chemistry, physics, and math. So I got a rude awakening. I felt like I was wasting my mom’s money. I was convinced that I was going to kill all the animals because I was not understanding the formulas. So I went to the Career Services Office crying, and she was like, calm down, I see this all the time. She asked me what I was good at. I told her I was terrible at math, but writing classes always came naturally. Journalism looked like the noblest, and possibly the most stable career, and one that I would feel comfortable doing for the rest of my life. At that time, I wasn’t even really reading the news, but I thought that I could possibly make a difference in people’s lives doing journalism, so that is what I went to school for and luckily it worked out.
Q: A lot of people I talked to shared similar stories, they had different aspirations at first and ended up going into journalism because they had a knack for it or a curiosity about the world.
TATIANA: I think it was my senior year of college. I started doing video journalism because it looked fun. I thought that that’s how you see life every day; visually not writing-based. I loved that class. I think part of it was my teacher was just so talented, and passionate, that I wanted to feel that way. I started to understand the power of letting people speak about their personal experiences. I interviewed one man who had schizophrenia and had co-occurring substance use disorder. Seeing him feel so validated, that someone would care about his story enough to want to tell it to the whole school, made me imagine the possibilities later on in my career. One of my favorite parts about being a journalist still, is knowing that there are a lot of people living through terrible things, but that I, terrifyingly, and also powerfully, can elevate their voice with care and compassion, and sophistication.
Q: Have you experienced some of those downers, those high-stress moments? What drives you to stay in it in spite of those?
TATIANA: I know that if something went wrong today, I always have tomorrow to start over. I know that I go into every story honest and genuine and caring and that if something goes wrong, I gave it my best shot. That helps to keep going. I know I bring something unique to the table. One thing I’m good at is connecting with people and getting them to trust me fairly quickly, especially on these sensitive stories. I work hard to show them I care about what they say by actively listening and asking deeper questions and not talking over them – ever. I also am not the typical journalist in Colorado, right? Like I rarely see other young Black women journalists and I know that these attributes allow me to tell certain stories in a way that others cannot or will not. If I leave the profession, I’m afraid that we might lose some of those really important stories or perspectives.
Q: Lose the seat at the table.
TATIANA: It’s not just about me, it’s about are those people going to feel comfortable speaking up now? I don’t know. Maybe they would, but it’s scary and urges me to continue.
Q: What ethics most shaped you in this job?
TATIANA: Since I cover sensitive things, I’m going into it honest, caring, gentle, listening. I’m not sure there’s anything I’m more terrified of than a correction, so I check over my stories to make sure that I’m accurate because otherwise, people start to not trust you. That’s what makes a reporter great in their profession is getting people to trust that they do it correctly. I try not to pit people against each other where it’s unnecessary. There are different viewpoints but I lead with the facts. There’s reality-based journalism. I think journalists care about being objective making sure that their opinion is not showing. Sometimes that can lead to them not calling out things that are the way they are. That’s something I’m becoming more comfortable with. Racist is racist, right? Look up the definition of racism. If you’re in the business of telling the truth, then you have to call it what it is, which has been really important to me.
Q: I asked you who your heroes were, but do you realize you could very well be one for other young women?
TATIANA: That is going to make me cry. Yes, I am intimidated, thankful, happy, and relieved. I feel honored. One of my heroes is Jim Clark, the bureau chief of AP, because of his talent, his grit, and his commitment to lifting people up. He’s been my number one sponsor throughout my career. Nikole Hannah Jones, she’s probably my favorite, because she’s not only sophisticated in her research, but her writing is so bulletproof that you can’t argue with it when she calls something racist. She’s very clear when something’s discriminatory or when something is wrong, and she’s unapologetic, and I respect that so much.
SHAY CASTLE: Boulder Beat
Shay Castle? is Boulder-based journalist who has been covering business, government and other issues for eight years. Her work has appeared in the Daily Camera, Denver Post and New York Times, among others. She is owner and publisher of Boulder Beat News, an independent digital publication covering local government.
Q: You have been in Boulder a while, but came from Florida?
SHAY: I’ve been in Boulder for 10 years. This June, I moved back from Orlando, where I went to school and worked my way through college. I had an academic scholarship, but then I got sick and had to take medical leave, so they yanked my scholarship. I went back to school one or two classes at a time, as I could afford, working as a bartender.
Q: Is Boulder Beat a non-profit?
SHAY: It’s just me, which takes a ton of time and resources. I’m technically a sole person LLC. But yeah, 100% reader-supported. Patron and PayPal are basically my only sources of income. Every once in a while somebody will mail me some cash, which is really nice. I thought about pursuing nonprofit status, but I just don’t have the time right now. I only pay myself $20,000 a year, but I was able to raise that through fundraising. So I’m quite grateful to the community for all the support.
Q: 85% of all platforms being owned by five or six major corporations now, the need for independent journalists like yourself is greater than ever. But finding those jobs is hard. I saw that you worked at the Daily Camera for a while; what made you branch out on your own?
SHAY: I was the business reporter, then I was the government reporter there. After six and a half years I was basically the Senior Reporter as the Camera. Everyone else had already left. That’s depressing to me that after six and a half years in a city, you’re the most knowledgeable journalist on staff, and it should not be that way.
There’s just so much turnover, and I didn’t want to lose that institutional knowledge. By the time I left, it was in continual decline. We had maybe a third of the staff. I realized, there’s no backup plan, and there’s really nothing else comparable to the Camera in Boulder. I asked all the business leaders I knew, the important people in Boulder, and anyone who would care, “What’s the plan?” “What are we gonna do when the Camera is no longer meeting our needs or is no longer here,” and no one had a good plan. There were business people with business ideas, but you can’t just apply a business plan from another business to journalism. There are ethical considerations. You have to have a journalist at the helm, or at least consulting. I just kept looking for the adults in the room, I realized, well, I’m an adult. Sadly, I can’t believe I was the best-qualified person. but the way I was raised if it needed to be done, and you can do it, it’s your job. So I thought, I could do this. And I did.
Q: What made you want to become a journalist in college?
SHAY: I didn’t always want to be a journalist, but I’ve always been a really good writer, winning awards and stuff, I was just really into writing. When I lost my scholarship, I had to go back to community college instead of university, and I needed to pick a major, and I thought, well, I’m good at writing. I didn’t want to be like an English major, I wanted something I could have a career in, so I picked journalism. I took one class in news reporting with a phenomenal mentor for my first assignment. After I turned it in it was immediately apparent I was made for journalism. I had talent and skill and my professor thankfully saw that immediately and said, “You’re a journalist, you need to be a journalist.” So he got me an internship at a parenting magazine, which was a little silly for a 20-something. The next semester I started writing for the college paper, then the next semester, I took over the college paper. Then I started a college study abroad magazine.
In the family I grew up in, the truth was not allowed. You had to hide a lot of things to survive. A career where the truth was not only encouraged but required appealed so much to me because I hated the family secrets where no one was being held accountable.
Q: What is your passion for journalism today, now that you’ve got some experience under your belt?
SHAY: My passion has shifted along with how journalism has evolved and how the world has changed. I don’t think there ever was any such thing as unbiased journalism. That was something created to satisfy business interests. Just because someone has a particular bent doesn’t mean their information is not good.
My passion today is, how do we create sustainable journalism? The whole concept of journalists as heroes, as with nurses and teachers, these are all people who are being vastly overworked and people we don’t value as a society, in terms of actual money. I’m interested in how we slow it down, and how do we account for mental health? I just moderated the panel on burnout at the Conference of World Affairs. Journalists are notorious for burnout. I’m interested in new ways to make journalism better for the people doing it and the people consuming it. I think that has to involve community. There just aren’t enough journalists, and I know citizen journalism gets a bad rap, and sometimes rightfully so. People don’t necessarily follow the code of ethics that they should. But why can’t a talented editor or reporter partner with them to help them tell the stories they want to tell? That is something that I’m trying to pursue.
This may sound really trite, but I get thanked a lot for the work that I do. I was so burnt out around the election, I considered being done. Then I got this note from someone who had just earned his citizenship, and it was his first-ever election voting, and for the local stuff, he used my voter guide. You cannot beat that. I helped someone use their right as a citizen to vote. It just felt so amazing to be part of that.
ERIK MAULBETSCH: Colorado Times Recorder
Erik is a progressive investigative reporter. He writes largely on Colorado politics and policy, with a focus on right-wing extremists, hate groups, disinformation, and conspiracy theorists. His reporting has appeared in stories by the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, NBC, Politico, ESPN, Dow Jones Wire, The Denver Post, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and the Houston Chronicle. He has also worked as a research analyst for Freedom For All Americans, a national organization working for nondiscrimination protections for LGBT Americans, and as communications director of the ACLU of Colorado. He has also worked as a research and communications consultant and as the first magazine editor at Yellow Scene Magazine.
Q: How old were you when I hired you 21 years ago? Did you know you wanted to be in journalism then?
ERIK: Twenty-five. Yeah, I was doing real estate in Warren County and then was like alright, I’ll move with my girlfriend to Boulder then figure it out. I was briefly hired as an ad sales guy for Summit Daily. I did it for like two days and knew that was not what I wanted, what I really wanted was to write.
Q: Did you go straight to the ACLU following Yellow Scene Magazine?
ERIK: No. There were political consulting, research, and communication jobs. I was working with a lot of the progressive groups in Colorado like the Jill Foundation and other organizations including Freedom for all Americans. They did LGBTQ rights, employment, housing, and public accommodation rates – helping other states fight against bad bills because Colorado already has those rights. A lot of it was tracking conservative groups online. Pointing out if someone is calling for gay people to be fired (or whatever the issue might be).
Q: What was his goal at Colorado Times Recorder when he started it?
ERIK: To be a progressive news outlet covering politics and policy in Colorado and covering smaller stories that don’t necessarily get covered by The Post or 9News, not hiding the fact we are progressive reporters, but we still abide by basic ethics of journalism.
Q: What are some stories you are proud of?
ERIK: I was one of the first people to write about this group called FEC United, for faith, education, commerce, which is a far-right group founded by Joel Oldman that started in opposition to the lockdown, under a Facebook group called ReOpen Colorado. Joel Oldman had a militia that was part of FEC, called the United American Defence Force. They hosted public events, rallies, protesting public health departments, with the big one in Civic Center Park in October 2020, called a Patriot Buster – a Buster is when you bring soldiers together for an event. It resulted in one of their heavies getting shot and killed by a security guard for 9News. I did a story explaining the origins of this group, but also how the group has been doing political work. They were knocking on doors for Republicans, and they were meeting with Republican candidates. I did another story a few days later, where I went to a Bandimere Speedway meet and greet but was escorted off the property by an armed militia member. Oldman was mad about the story and called me an Antifa journalist. My stories showed how establishment conservatives in Colorado work with this group, and then some of the more extreme elements of the group. They become more and more conspiracist based, talking about “Plandemic,” that COVID was a hoax, etc. After the election, it moved to election conspiracies. Oldman has become a minor celebrity in the QAnon circuit. He is convinced that Dominion, out of Denver, rigged the election nationwide and has perpetuated this belief. He’s gotten a lot of money, so he’s traveling around the country pushing election conspiracy propaganda. They say they are not a militia, but a “defense force,” but their website offers discounts on ammunition, legal help if you shoot someone, tactical gear, training, militia stuff, etc.
Q: You have been following some wild people.
ERIK: I broke the story that the current chair of the Republican Party in Colorado was serving as president of FEC United. Michael Lindell pays them to fly around the country and promote the stolen election theory. They were getting volunteers together and canvassing all over the state, sometimes saying they were with the county voter verification commission, making it sound official. Random people who are convinced the election was stolen ask people, did you vote? How did you vote? Did you vote by mail? How many people registered at this address? Trying to prove the election was stolen. They put out reports showing a fundamental misunderstanding of how voter rolls work. Yes, there are names at old addresses, but federal law says that you can’t remove someone off the roll unless there has been no vote from that person for the last two cycles. That doesn’t mean that ballots are being forged. But it’s a great conspiracy, right? And people want to believe it’s true just because their guy didn’t win.
Q: You’ve come a long way, baby, from 20 years ago. Tell me how you feel like you’ve developed as a journalist in that time? What do you know, that you didn’t know, then?
ERIK: A lot. I found an area of interest in covering politics, particularly looking at extremism and conspiracies and how it’s affecting this country. A lot of it is hope or optimism that some of us will have a positive impact on the voters and policymakers, whether in Colorado or national, or even hyper-local.
ROSANNA LONGO: KGNU
Rossana Longo? is a Bilingual Equity Reporter at KGNU, an independent, non commercial, community radio station reaching Boulder, Denver, Fort Collins and beyond. As a multiethnic immigrant woman from Ecuador, with dual citizenship, she has been providing information with – and for – underrepresented populations in her local community.
ROSANNA: When I interview people, especially those that are Latinos or bilingual, I push to Facebook, because I know if they don’t access it through the radio, they access it there.
But when I decided to go back to school, I applied with a long letter saying I hate social media and that I think it should be banned. Instead of uniting us is really destroying us. It is so powerful that it is scary. You have to use it correctly, and you have to know where to go and what to read. I was devoted to bringing that topic to the Latinos, especially around COVID-19 because on social media there was a lot of misleading disinformation. I had to chat with my mom and said, Mama, please, don’t follow them. Critical thinking is being lost. Facebook has a responsibility, all media has a responsibility, but, you know, media literacy is really important.
Q: Was media in Ecuador heavily censored?
ROSANNA: A lot of my former colleagues have created their own platforms to continue talking against the government. Our indigenous people have created their own media, their own radio stations, and their own language. The power of this tool we have now is incredible. I think it has two sides, a lot of people can now use this tool to report things. But then again, do they have the criteria- the knowledge to use it well?
Q: It’s so hard to get honest, true coverage.
ROSANNA: It is sad. I had a scholarship to attend a bilingual school in Ecuador. My grandmother was a visionary, she made sure that of the 13 grandchildren the three girls got a bilingual education. The rest of my family do not speak English. She noticed that I was able to speak very well when I was little, English and Spanish, so she made sure that us girls got a bilingual education. It opens a huge door once you are bilingual. If you’re able to speak the language, even with a strong accent, it helps you think in different ways and changes how you’re seeing the world.
Q: Do you think that you already started there with this curiosity or found a good place for you? Or did it open up a doorway of curiosity?
ROSANNA: It opened a huge door of curiosity and a desire to understand yourself. I went to this American school and I learned that in America, everybody’s free, and everybody is equal. It doesn’t matter what color you are and, you know, freedom and liberty and all that. I had to come and live in America to really experience the sad reality. We went from being students to “I couldn’t work because I didn’t have the documentation yet.” I know exactly what it is to not have a driver’s license, not be able to open a bank account, not to be able to work because you don’t have the paperwork. Having to feel embarrassed and weird.
Many times I question my decision of coming with my husband for him to get his Ph.D. and to stay here in America to raise our kids. America has mass shootings. My son called me from Ecuador, from the rain forest, working with indigenous people. He worried, “Mom, are you okay? I just heard there’s a mass shooting, where are you?” I said, I’m here at the scene. I sent him pictures. I thought to myself, “What am I doing here? What have I done bringing my kids?” So my bubble really burst. Boulder is supposed to be the best place to live in America. So it’s really hard. And I worry about him being in Ecuador, because they rob you for a cell phone or shoes, and people are poor there.
Q: What brings you joy in the work?
I decided to cover a memorial concert honoring a beautiful singer from the group Los Chicos Milo’s Bad Boys on the Spanish show, He was like a bird when he sang, but he had decided not to get the COVID vaccine, and, like many others in the Latino community, he died. A Latina woman had spoken at the memorial about why we need health and life insurance and I interviewed her on the show. Next, a 62-year-old woman from Pueblo who heard our interview called to tell me that she got insurance for her daughters. Now she’s telling her older friends and they’re getting coverage. I felt amazing. I had done my work.
Q: I had to write a story that scared me a lot. I had the truth and was the only one who did. I knew I couldn’t sit on it even though it put me at risk, even knowing I would be harassed for telling the truth. But I did anyway.
ROSANNA: Wow, what you’re telling me inspires me to continue to believe in myself. I am not a hero. I’m doing the work with my accent, with my grammar mistakes, with my awkwardness. But you are inspiring me to keep going. I remember pulling an all-nighter to produce a piece about a lack of diversity in the media. And I got these thankful messages from people. It was amazing.