CO. Chapter of Society of Professional Journalists Honors Six for Extraordinary Contributions

The Colorado chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists is honoring six individuals who have made extraordinary contributions to journalism, transparency, education and the First Amendment.

Longtime journalist, professor and author Lee Anne Peck is SPJ Colorado’s 2021 Journalism Educator of the Year.

While Peck’s career has spanned the globe, it began and continues to this day with preparing young Colorado journalists to thrive in the industry.

“Professor Peck has been a tremendous asset for the journalism programs at both Colorado State University and the University of Northern Colorado,” wrote CSU Associate Professor Kris Kodrich in a nomination letter.  “She is much admired and respected by her students. Likewise, observers of her work in the classroom note that it is obvious she cares deeply about her students,” Kodrich wrote.

Peck wrote for The Coloradoan and The Rocky Mountain News after graduating from CSU in 1978, and she began teaching young journalists as a teaching assistant when she returned to CSU to earn her master’s degree.

Peck has earned three master’s degrees and a doctorate over her career and has worked as a visiting Fulbright lecturer and researcher in Croatia and a visiting professor in Switzerland. She was a professor at UNC from 2003 to 2017, when she was appointed as an assistant professor at CSU.

Peck is an aspiring retiree who continues to teach online media ethics classes at CSU, write for her local newspaper, the Trinidad Chronicle News, substitute teach at a local K-12 school, edit a third edition of her ethics textbook, and work on a book about the history of Colorado Press Women.

With a work ethic and dedication to rival any news outlet in the state, Ouray County Plaindealer co-owners, publishers and editors Erin McIntyre and Mike Wiggins are SPJ Colorado’s 2021 Keepers of the Flame.

McIntyre and Wiggins purchased the Plaindealer in 2019, leaving jobs at the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel to “go out on a very slim limb over a very steep cliff,” wrote Albuquerque Journal Business Editor Gabrielle Porter in a nomination letter. McIntyre and Wiggins have not looked back.

During their tenure, the Plaindealer has doggedly reported on local government officials, whether it be less-than-transparent actions by the school board or the legal, personal and professional issues that plagued now-former Ouray County Sheriff Lance FitzGerald.

Ouray County voters recalled FitzGerald after the Plaindealer reported on his DUI, an alcohol-fueled domestic incident at a statewide law enforcement conference, and the subsequent public outcry.

More recently, McIntyre was sued by Ouray County when she filed a public records request related to two county employees who were disciplined for working too hard while responding to the coronavirus pandemic. The county later settled the lawsuit.

“Buying that paper was an act of sheer bravery, and Mike and Erin have worked tirelessly to keep their community informed in a publication that stands out among newspapers many times its size,” Porter wrote. “They’re everything community news aspires to be.”

Commanding deep sourcing, fast turnaround and a near-encyclopedic knowledge of Colorado business, Denver Business Journal senior reporter Ed Sealover is SPJ Colorado’s 2021 Journalist of the Year.

Sealover’s business coverage has spanned state government, economic development, transportation, hospitality, tourism and breweries, and he has racked up 133 state, regional and national journalism awards for his coverage.

But Sealover’s skills particularly shined during the pandemic, wrote Denver Business Journal Former Editor-in-Chief Rebecca Troyer in a nomination letter.

While some reporters struggled with the transition to 100% remote reporting, Sealover’s ability to cultivate and maintain sources kept him on the cusp of breaking and enterprise stories alike.

Troyer noted that Sealover seamlessly transitioned into telling stories during the pandemic, writing stories that offered a look at the impact of restrictions on sectors that depend on crowds and indoor spaces, while also writing about resources and making sense of regulations and legislation.

He also brought humanity to stories about layoffs, losses and gloomy economic projections.

“In short, Ed Sealover stepped up to report the multifaceted business challenges of the pandemic on a state and local level to a degree that I believe to be unmatched in Colorado and beyond,” Troyer wrote.

For relentless reporting and advocacy that resulted in a more transparent justice system, Denver Post reporter David Migoya and media attorney Steve Zansberg win SPJ Colorado’s 2021 First Amendment Award.

“It’s not easy to get a state law changed. It’s even harder, I believe, to get the Colorado Supreme Court to change rules affecting every criminal court in the state,” wrote Jeff Roberts, executive director of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, in a nomination letter.

But that’s exactly what happened because of Migoya’s reporting and Zansberg’s advocacy.

Until now, judges in Colorado have not been required to publicly explain their reasoning to seal criminal court records and cases.

Migoya’s reporting on the issue began in 2018, when his Shrouded Justice series in the Denver Post illuminated more than 6,000 court cases hidden from public view by judge’s orders, often with no ruling to explain why.

Zansberg first tried to address the issue in 2016 as president of CFOIC, asking the state supreme court to adopt a uniform standard for sealing court files in criminal cases. A Court of Appeals judge denied the request, but Zansberg continued to testify on the issue.

The Colorado Supreme Court adopted a standard for sealing criminal records, known as Rule 55.1, in December, and it takes effect statewide on May 10.

Then-Chief Justice Nathan Coats told the legislature’s Joint Budget Committee that the rule was substantially written as a result of public comments, particularly Zansberg’s on behalf of the press, Roberts wrote.

“Because Zansberg persisted in his quest for a statewide sealing and suppression rule, and because Migoya’s news stories clearly demonstrated the need for such a rule, the Colorado Supreme Court was moved to promulgate a rule that will govern public access to criminal court records going forward,” Roberts wrote.  

SPJ Colorado Pro awards a $500 stipend for each of the four areas. When co-winners are named, each receives half, or $250.