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By Ed Otte

Chalkbeat Colorado is a nonprofit web-based news organization – www.co.chalkbeat.org – covering educational change in Colorado schools.

In addition to staff-written stories that provide an in-depth look at school issues, the Chalkbeat site offers daily educational headlines from a broad network of other state print and broadcast news sources.

Nic Garcia

Nic Garcia

Coverage focuses on K-12 education in Denver, Aurora and Jefferson County as well the state board of education and the Colorado Legislature. Former Denver Post reporter and editor Todd Engdahl covers the Capitol and, during the legislative session, that reporting includes an extensive education bill tracker feature.

Chalkbeat Colorado relies on financial donations from a list of national sponsors – ranging from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to the Walton Family Foundation – and dozens of Colorado business and education leaders. Its website has a “Donate” button offering one-time contribution amounts of $125 to $1,000.

The organization’s philosophy, stated on its website, addresses a big-picture view of education: There are endless stories to be told about public schools, the people who work in them, and the children they serve. At Chalkbeat, we try to focus on what’s really going to matter, not just what’s happening. We do this by assessing every development through the lens of five major “storylines” we believe drive educational change:

Teaching and learning: the work happening inside schools

Politics and policymakers: the officials and advocacy groups that create school law and policy

Bureaucracy and operations: the evolving structures governing schools

Out-of-school context: the environmental factors that students bring to school

Educational tools: curriculum, textbooks, standards and assessments.

Started in 2008 as EdNews Colorado by Denver’s Public Education and Business Coalition, it later merged with GothamSchools, a website based in New York, to become Chalkbeat. Former Colorado bureau chief Maura Walz transferred to the network level, which provides support for bureaus across the country, in January to become deputy managing editor. A new bureau chief is expected to be named soon.

Nic Garcia is senior reporter and interim operations chief for Chalkbeat Colorado. He covers schools in Jefferson County and Aurora and other metro school districts as well as statewide school improvement efforts and Common Core Standards. Prior to joining the organization in October 2013, Garcia was the editor of Out Front, a statewide LGBT magazine.

Question: What is the No. 1 K-12 issue in Colorado?

Garcia: I don’t think there is a “No. 1″ issue. So much of what schools do is interconnected. Having said that, if you ask school leaders, teachers and parents, most will say two things: testing and funding. We did see the legislature attempt to tackle the issue of testing last spring. Critics say it’s not enough. So, we’ll see what other additional changes might come if and when Congress rewrites federal legislation. Regarding funding, your guess is as good as mine as to how Colorado gives more money to schools.

Question: Your website posts links to stories from the Loveland Reporter-Herald, Longmont Times-Call, Denver Business Journal, Daily Camera, Denver Post, KUNC, 9News, Fox31 and other news organizations. Does Chalkbeat have a partnership agreement with the organizations to share news stories?

Garcia: Every morning Chalkbeat aggregates the latest educational headlines from around the state and nation for our readers. We post what we call “Rise & Shine” both on our website and then email a version to thousands of readers across the state. It is a daunting task so early in the morning but our readers love it.

Chalkbeat also encourages other news organizations to republish our original reporting – for free. We send out stories of interest like state databases to members of the Colorado Press Association. And anyone can use our “republish” tool on our website. With just one click of a button, any news organization can republish our stories on its own website. (It’s the “R” button above each article.)

Question: Do non-news organizations republish your stories?

Garcia: Chalkbeat’s reporting is picked up by all sorts of organizations. Nonprofits and scholarly journals are just as likely to republish or cite our reports as other news organizations – if not more.

Question: Denver media focus on metro-area educational news. How do you complement your metro coverage with stories on school issues in rural Colorado?

Garcia: That’s a really good question. For a while there, we had a reporter who split her time between covering Denver Public Schools and rural schools. Sadly, that reporter left the organization for personal reasons. I think we need to come up with a solution on how to cover rural issues. And if there are any rural reporters or editors out there who might want to partner on some projects, let me know. (ngarcia@chalkbeat.org)

Question: What is the most under-reported education story in Colorado?

Garcia: It’s a tie. The first is how schools are implementing new content standards that were developed in 2010. Second, how schools are spending their money in a really granular way.

Question: What feedback to you get from your audience?

Garcia: Like any news organization, it ranges. We hear it all from “you’re doing a great job” to “you suck.” But I think what’s really ringing in my ears is that readers want more and deeper coverage of complex issues and fewer day stories.

Question: Chalkbeat is in the same Rocky Mountain PBS offices in downtown Denver with I-News and Inside Energy. Do the reporters and editors discuss story ideas or share news sources?

Garcia: We love the folks at I-News and Inside Energy. It’s go great to be in a space with like-minded individuals. We do share tips, sources, even content. But I think I speak for everyone when I say the best thing about being in this shared space is the Friday happy hours.

Question: In addition to Colorado, Chalkbeat has bureaus in New York, Tennessee and Indiana. Why these states?

Garcia: Chalkbeat was created by the founders of two existing news websites – EdNews Colorado and GothamSchools in New York. That’s one of the reasons why we’re in Colorado and New York. But more importantly, we’re in these states because we believe each has interesting stories to tell about how changes in education policy are impacting low-income students of color. For example, Indiana has one of the largest voucher programs for low-income students. Tennessee has one of the most robust state-run school turnaround programs in our nation. The success of those policies don’t have implications just for students in those states – but for the entire nation.

Question: What is the challenge in attracting financial supporters who don’t intend to influence your news coverage?

Garcia: As a reporter, I have very little to do with the logistics of fundraising. So, I’m probably not the best person to answer this question. I can say each of our funders understand they have no influence in our coverage and – from what I can tell – it hasn’t been a problem yet.

Dear members of Colorado Pro Chapter of SPJ:

My name is Deb Hurley. I’m the news editor at Evergreen Newspapers and the elections chair for the Colorado Professional Chapter of SPJ. I am calling for self-nominations for the six positions up for election on the board: four directors at-large, the treasurer and the president-elect.

Board meetings are held bimonthly, and board members may attend in person or via conference call. Board members may reside anywhere in Colorado, and must be members in good standing with national SPJ and the Colorado Professional Chapter.

To indicate your willingness to run for a position and to serve on the board, please e-mail me your name, the position you are running for, a photo, a biography of no more than 250 words and a statement of no more than 200 words explaining why you want to be on the board. Deadline is 5 p.m. Friday, July 31.

The election information will be e-mailed to all members of the Colorado Pro Chapter on Aug. 1. Members will have until noon on Thursday, Aug. 14, to cast ballots in this all-electronic election.

If you have any questions about the process, the duties or how you can get involved with the Colorado Pro Chapter – whether as a board member or as a volunteer – please contact me at 303-601-8098 or at dchurley@aol.com or chapter president Ed Otte at eotte@gmail.com.

Position: President-elect
Term of office: 1 year; this person automatically become president of the chapter in 2016, serving in that position for two years
Duties: The president-elect acts in the absence of the president and works closely with the president to oversee the chapter; learns the workings of the chapter in preparation to become president.
Position: Treasurer
Term of office: 2 years
Duties: The treasurer shall oversee all monies of the chapter and shall disburse funds upon proper authorization of the chapter’s officers; keep records of all receipts, disbursements and balances; report monthly on the financial condition of the chapter to the board.
Position: Members of the board of directors
Term of office: 2 years
4 positions are open
Duties: The board is responsible for the general direction and planning of chapter activities. Board members are required to attend board meetings and participate in the chapter’s professional development and programming efforts. A member of the board may also be appointed to chair one of several committees coordinating the work of the chapter, including membership, communications, programming, ethics and advocacy.

By Ed Otte

“The most common question I get is: What beer should I buy for my mother-in-law?” Natasha Gardner said.

The 5280 Magazine senior editor joined Denver Business Journal reporter Ed Sealover and Denver Post reporter Eric Gorski on July 9 at the Denver Press Club to discuss Colorado’s craft beer industry. The program was sponsored by the Colorado Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

Eric Gorski of The Denver Post, Natasha Gardner of 5280 Magazine and Denver Business Journal reporter Ed Sealover at the July 9 Colorado SPJ program at the Denver Press Club.

Eric Gorski of The Denver Post, Natasha Gardner of 5280 Magazine and Denver Business Journal reporter Ed Sealover at the July 9 Colorado SPJ program at the Denver Press Club.

Gardner’s answer reflects the current trend among craft brewers. “I tell them something with fruit in it. Whether it’s done well or not is another question. It’s better when it’s fresh out of the tap.”

According to Gorski, “Those beers have a lot of character with a lower alcohol content. Grapefruit IPA is big right now. It’s a desire for authenticity. Fruit that’s picked and brewed in a short time can be compared to jam.”

“The old brewers who used the German philosophy of just water, barley, yeast and hops would be turning over in their graves right now,” Sealover said. “By adding spices, chocolate and fruit – you’re widening the audience.”

Those consumers are growing in numbers and so too is news coverage of beer.

Sealover writes about government, health care, business and beer. “I cover the beer industry as a business story. I tell people why beer is interesting – not like 30 years ago – and why it’s important to Colorado’s economy. If I write a story about beer legislation, I get a lot of reaction, more than any other legislative story.”

5280 Magazine offers its readers a monthly mix of Denver news stories and lifestyle features including beer.

“Readers love our beer stories,” Gardner said. “Our coverage of the Great American Beer Festival is huge for us. The common reader response is that we’re not doing enough coverage. And there are a lot of fights on our staff for who gets to go the festival.”

Gorski, who covered religion at The Gazette and The Associated Press, admitted he wrote stories about “finding God at the festival because I wanted to get that three-day (festival) pass.”

This year’s Great American Beer Festival will be Sept. 24-26 at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver.

When Gorksi went to The Post, “(Editor) Greg Moore asked us to bring something in our lives to the paper’s coverage. I started a beer blog and we wanted to bring something new to the discussion – not just that another brewery has opened. There’s a big audience for this, a deep abiding passion. No one recognizes me for my education stories but they know me from the beer blog.”

Colorado’s craft beer industry is a national story because, Sealover said, “there are about 300 breweries in Colorado. Most of them opened since 2012. We always look for signs that the craft beer bubble will burst but people don’t sense that it will happen. Only about 120 of them are on the shelves. They could be competing for shelf space in stores but they sell in their taprooms instead and that’s hugely profitable for them.”

Craft beer prosperity requires more than taprooms and trendy flavors.

“Culty breweries is what Colorado is known for but they have to be business people as well as brewers. If they aren’t, they won’t succeed,” Gorski said. “You see more breweries opened by people who have experience in the business because they know what they’re doing. And they’re succeeding.”

Gardner agreed. “Dunng the first (craft beer) bubble it was really tough on the brewers. The ones who survived doubled down, producing what they do best.”

Another example? Cans. “What you used to get in cans was just swill,” Sealover said. “The craft industry was slow to realize it could use cans for quality beer. Now, you see it happening” primarily for marketing.

The three journalists cited a variety of breweries – mostly along the Front Range – as successful examples and they each mentioned the River North brewery district as a favorite location. In a Feb. 18 story in The Post, Gorski wrote:

“Once the domain of shady characters and drafty warehouses, the River North area just north of downtown Denver has been transformed into a hip destination with artists and architects, stylish workspaces and eateries, condo farms for the young and affluent – and one of the thickest concentrations of breweries in the West, if not the country.”

“Having that many close is a dream,” he said at the July 9 program.

“Pretty much anything from River North is good,” Gardner said.

Asked to name their favorite beer, they gave very different answers.

“Hoppenberg Uncertainty Principle from River North Brewery,” Sealover said. “It’s a double Belgian IPA that’s, well, really good.”

“The one that’s in my hand right now,” Gorski said without a bottle, glass or can of beer in his hand.

“One of the good things in Denver is that chefs are pairing craft beers with their dishes,” Gardner said. “But a lot depends on where you are. When I’m at Coors Field, I want a Coors Light.”

What do three award-winning Denver journalists have in common? Well, they like to write and talk about Colorado’s craft beer industry.

Ed Sealover of the Denver Business Journal, Natasha Gardner of 5280 Magazine and Eric Gorski of The Denver Post will discuss suds at 6 p.m. Thursday, July 9, at the Denver Press Club, 1330 Glenarm Place. The program, sponsored by the Colorado Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, is free and open to the public.

Sealover covers government, health care, business and beer for the Journal. Formerly with the Rocky Mountain News and The Gazette in Colorado Springs, he has won more than two dozen journalism awards in five states. He has been writing about beer since 2003, having penned a former column in The Gazette and a current website called Beer Blog. He published “Mountain Brew” in 2012 and is a member of the American Homebrewers Association.

Gardner is a senior editor at 5280 Magazine where she works on  long-form narrative pieces and multimedia projects. She helped conceive, design, write and produce 5280’s beer coverage. She too has won numerous journalism honors, including the 2010 Sigma Delta Chi award for public service in journalism in the magazine regional/local circulation category.

Both Sealover and Gardner appear often on the CPT12 Denver PBS “Colorado Inside Out” weekly panel program discussing local and national news events.

Gorski is a member of The Post investigative team and writes the First Drafts blog covering beer and brewery news in Colorado. He won several national awards for his coverage of the religion beat at The Post, The Gazette and The Associated Press. While at AP, he wrote stories about finding God at the Great American Beer Festival and competition to make the country’s greatest IPA.

Metered street parking is available in front of and near the Press Club. The meters accept credit cards. Parking is also available in a public lot on the southwest side of the Club.

By Sandra Fish

“Little hinges open big doors,” journalist and book author Patricia Raybon said at a talk on May 21 sponsored by Colorado SPJ Pro and the Journalism and Women Symposium at the Denver Press Club.

Raybon and her daughter, Alana Raybon, are authors of the recently released book “Undivided: A Muslim Daughter, Her Christian Mother and Their Path to Peace.” It is Raybon’s fifth book.

Their collaboration has been featured on The Today Show, the Tavis Smiley Show and more.

Patricia Raybon

Patricia Raybon

In talking about her career – from reporter and editor at the Denver Post to journalism professor at the University of Colorado Boulder to book author – Raybon outlined the seven hinges that led her to book writing.

Faith. The stories she learned in Sunday school as a child gave Raybon an appreciation of big ideas – think David and Goliath. It also provided the subject matter for many of her books.

Leaving your comfort zone. As a teenager, Raybon’s family moved from a largely black neighborhood to suburban Northglenn. There, she was one of few white children in school, “navigating an environment where you aren’t welcome as a teen.” But, she said, “You get to a place of doing things you didn’t know you could do.”

Reinvent yourself. Raybon developed her writing voice at crossroads in her career, including moving from news to feature writing at the Denver Post. Then at CU, her need to publish as a professor led her to memoir writing.

Humility. Moving into teaching was a challenge, but Raybon said it was important to remember that as a professor, she didn’t have all the answers. And it was also important to find at least one thing to love about every student.

Pay attention. “Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life” by Anne Lamott inspired Raybon in her writing – and in unraveling the snarl our ideas often begin as.

Have courage. “It’s scary to write a book out of your own life. Write the thing you don’t want to write.” That was what Raybon did when she decided to write the book with her daughter after years of conflict over Alana’s conversion to Islam. “Peace is a choice,” she said. “You make (the choice) every day.”

Always be connecting. Reaching out to people, especially potential audiences, is essential to marketing your work these days, Raybon said. So she’s on Facebook and Twitter, and she makes certain she responds to people who contact her about her work. Because who knows, as Raybon said, “It’s all material.”

Colorado journalists will receive two 2014 Sigma Delta Chi Awards for excellence in journalism at the SDX Awards Banquet on June 26 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

Westword editor Patricia Calhoun won the general column writing award in the nondaily circulation 1-100,000 category for a collection of columns that appeared in the Denver alternative weekly from June through December 2014.  Calhoun won the 2010 SDX feature reporting award for “Spreading Her Wings” in the same circulation category.

Alan Prendergast of Westword won the feature reporting award last year for “The Lifers Book Club.”

KUNC won its second consecutive SDX honor. The Greeley public radio station won the feature reporting award in the 101+market for a Nov. 11, 2014, story titled “Finding Soldierstone: The public has discovered a hidden war memorial. Does that change its meaning?” Reporter Grace Hood, editor Brian Larson and digital editor Jim Hill produced the winning entry.

Last year, KUNC won the breaking news award in its market category for its coverage of the September 2013 floods in Colorado.

The complete list of 2014 winners is here.

In SPJ Colorado Pro Chapter news, seven students were selected to receive scholarships totaling $7,000. Students submitted applications to scholarship chair Leticia Steffen of Colorado State University-Pueblo and a three-person selection committee recommended the seven students to the SPJ Colorado Pro board. The seven and their schools are:

Helen Verba Scholarship for aspiring print journalists:
Stehanie Mason, Colorado State University-Fort Collins
Allison Moses, Chapman University (Orange, Calif.)
Melanie Rice, Metropolitan State University at Denver
Katie Schmidt, Colorado State University-Fort Collins
Jordyn Seimens, CU-Boulder

Sheldon Peterson Scholarship for aspiring television journalists:
Joy Barber, CU-Boulder
Brynn Carman, Colorado State University-Fort Collins

Denver Post reporter Jennifer Brown received the 2015 Palmer Hoyt Journalist of the Year award on May 15 from the Colorado Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

The award was one of four special honors announced at the chapter’s annual Region 9 Top of the Rockies awards ceremony at the Denver Press Club. The 422 first-, second- and third-place TOR contest awards went to journalists in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. This year’s contest received 784 entries, which were judged by the SPJ Connecticut Pro Chapter.

The winners list: TORwinners.

KUSA 9News anchor Adele Arakawa with her 2015 SPJ Keeper of the Flame Award and Bob Burdick.

KUSA 9News anchor Adele Arakawa with her 2015 SPJ Keeper of the Flame Award and Bob Burdick.

The special award recipients were selected by the SPJ Colorado Pro board. In addition to the Journalist of the Year Award, Leadville Herald Democrat editor Marcia Martinek received the First Amendment Award, KUSA 9News anchor Adele Arakawa received the Keeper of the Flame Award, and Kenn Bisio of Metropolitan State University-Denver received the Journalism Educator of the Year Award.

Sandra Fish, president-elect of Journalism & Women Symposium and a data journalist for New Mexico In Depth, introduced Brown.

“At The Post, Jen covered higher ed, the legislature and health before joining the special projects team. As a projects reporter, she has investigated the state child welfare system, the parole system, mental health care and child homelessness. She has won Best of the West and National Headliner awards while at The Post.

“With Michael Booth, she co-authored the book “Eating Dangerously: Why the Government Can’t Keep Your Food Safe and How You Can” a work prompted by the 2013 listeria outbreak caused by Colorado cantaloupes.

“Her work on problems with the state’s foster care system prompted lawmakers to ask Gov. John Hickenlooper to replace the leadership of the state’s human services agency. She’s collaborated with others at The Post to produce compelling multimedia work about homeless students, the mental health system and more, using statistics, but, more importantly, the tales of real people to illustrate how we’re failing those who need our help the most.”

Leadville Herald Democrat editor Marcia Martinek, right, with her 2015 SPJ First Amendment Award and Ashley Kissinger.

Leadville Herald Democrat editor Marcia Martinek, right, with her 2015 SPJ First Amendment Award and Ashley Kissinger.

Ashley Kissinger, whose Denver law firm of Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz represented the Herald Democrat in its open government lawsuit, introduced Martinek.

“Marcia is receiving this First Amendment Award because of her tenacious pursuit of audiotapes of an illegal secret meeting held by Leadville’s Board of County Commissioners back in 2013. The board had learned that the head of the county’s building and land use department was selling prescription narcotics out of his county office. So the board held a two-day long executive session closed to the public and told the employee in the meeting he would be fired if he didn’t resign, which he did.

“Because this was a personnel matter, the board did have the right to discuss it privately under the Open Meeting Law. But that law requires that the public be notified that the discussion is taking place, and know as much about the purpose of the meeting as possible without compromising the reason for holding it privately in the first place. None of that happened here. The board didn’t notify the public that it planned to hold this meeting. The commissioners just gathered in a room, said to nobody, since nobody was there, that they were meeting to discuss a personnel matter and to speak with their attorney, didn’t give any other information, and then locked their door and held their meeting. And then afterwards the board dragged its feet before telling the public that it had held this meeting, publishing minutes of it only after Marcia and her team at the Herald Democrat received a tip and began asking questions.

“”Marcia gave the board many chances to do the right thing, but after they and their counsel ducked and weaved around the law in letter after letter, she made the difficult decision to sue – a decision not lightly made by the editor of a weekly newspaper in a small community. The board defended the suit on numerous legal grounds and a half-day trial was held before the district judge in Leadville, with four witnesses testifying. The judge ruled in favor of Marcia and the paper, writing a detailed opinion and awarding $64,000 in attorney’s fees and costs to Marcia and the paper.

“The board appealed the decision and the Colorado Court of Appeals heard oral arguments on April 29.

“No matter what the ultimate resolution of this lawsuit is in the courts, Marcia deserves a load of thanks for taking on this fight. Litigation is never fun. And I imagine that when you stick your neck out as the editor of a small community newspaper, and slap your good name and that of your newspaper on a lawsuit that forces the county government to expend resources to fight that lawsuit, you can worry yourself sick over whether you are doing the right thing. And convincing your publisher to go for it must add an additional layer of stress. So I commend SPJ for choosing Marcia Martinek for its First Amendment award this year. You could not have made a better choice.”

Denver Post reporter Jennifer Brown, right, with her 2015 SPJ Journalist of the Year Award and Sandra Fish.

Denver Post reporter Jennifer Brown, right, with her 2015 SPJ Journalist of the Year Award and Sandra Fish.

Former Rocky Mountain News editor and Colorado Springs Gazette publisher Bob Burdick introduced Arakawa.

“I have the distinct honor of speaking about SPJ Colorado Pro’s Keeper of the Flame Award. This honors a person for distinguished service to journalism. That’s the technical description. But what it really honors is a distinguished journalist for service to his or her community.

“You know her, we know here and most of Colorado would recognize her on the street. That’s because she has been a rock steady figure helping our friends and neighbors cope with the tragedy of Columbine, the mindless bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building, the terrifying Four-Mile Canyon wildfire and so much more. Through it, she has won seven regional Emmys, including Best Anchor. Further, in 2013, she was inducted into the Silver Circle of the Heartland Chapter of Regional Emmy Awards.

“She also has been honored by the Asian American Journalists Association. She is a member of the Japanese American Citizens League and the Japanese American Service Committee, as well as the AAJA.”

MSU-Denver profession Kenn Bisio, right, with his 2015 SPJ Journalism Educator of the Year Award and Doug Bell.

MSU-Denver profession Kenn Bisio, right, with his 2015 SPJ Journalism Educator of the Year Award and Doug Bell.

Doug Bell, editor of the Evergreen Newspapers, introduced Bisio. Bell is an adjunct journalism instructor at MSU-Denver, and he and Bisio shared an office on the Metro campus in the 1990s.

“It’s difficult to introduce my friend Kenn Bisio without succumbing to the tendency to make lists. Usually I start with the well-known publications where his photos have appeared, from Newsweek to Sports Illustrated to National Geographic. Then I move on to the list of photojournalism awards he has won, everything from photographer of the year to NPPA awards too numerous to mention. Then there are the former students of Kenn who have won Pulitzer Prizes; two, with three Pulitzers between them.

“All of his former students understand that no assignment is routine or lacks significance, and that no subject is unimportant or unworthy of respect.

“Good journalism teachers give students the knowledge and experiences required to pursue the profession. Great journalism teachers produce professionals who carry forward an unserving commitment to excellence, a humble heart, and a mission to illuminate the human condition. Kenn, and countless students he has touched, share that rare combination of qualities. That’s why we’ve named him Journalism Educator of the Year.”

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