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.

‘MSU’s student journalists should be free to shed light at all times’

Sometimes a moment defines an era. An image of that slice of time can be so iconic, so emblematic of a movement or a societal passion, that it changes everyone who sees it. And sometimes it even changes history.

The photo accompanying this column was taken moments after the Ohio National Guard opened fire on peaceful demonstrators at Kent State University on May 4, 1970. Four students were killed and nine were wounded, and a nation that was growing increasingly uncomfortable with its leaders’ lust for war in Vietnam and Cambodia saw its youth galvanized after the May 4 Massacre.

It was the first time in U.S. history that a student was killed in an anti-war demonstration, and the photo which brought home that terrible reality helped touch off a tidal wave of protest and outrage that ultimately turned public opinion against the Vietnam War.

Shortly after the killings at Kent State, Neil Young sat on a porch and wrote a song that would become an anthem for a generation. Some 4 million students would stage walkouts and sit-ins at hundreds of colleges and high schools.

Newspaper editorial boards around the country began to reconsider their support for the war.
Kenn Bisio, a renowned photojournalist and a retired Metro State journalism professor, is fond of saying that the essence of journalism lies in illuminating the human condition. And he often adds that subject matter is critical because our subjects matter.

How might history have been different if photographer John Filo had not captured the anguish of Mary Ann Vecchio as she watched the lifeblood pour out of that young man? Fortunately, we’ll never know, because Filo was willing to risk his own safety to tell a story that would indeed change all that came after.

By the way, Filo was not simply a photojournalist; he was a student photojournalist, who won the Pulitzer Prize for that stunning image. I often tell the aspiring reporters and photographers in my own classes never to identify themselves as “student journalists.” When doing the job, they are every bit as essential — and sometimes as accomplished — as the professionals who practice the trade.

Metro’s own Office of Student Media gives our students the opportunity to change their world and illuminate the human condition. And you never know when a critical moment will land in their lens or inform their reporting.

We can’t afford to have any of the journalists in the office miss a single one of those moments because of a pause in operations that is currently being proposed by the administration.

Democracy dies in darkness; MSU’s student journalists should be free to shed light at all times and to do their work with the backing of the First Amendment and the desire to make a critical difference in their world.

Doug Bell, an adjunct journalism instructor at MSU for the past 30 years, is president of the Colorado chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

2021 SPJ Regional Conference: April 9-10

2021 Regional Conference 

The Utah Headliners Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists is proud to host the Regional Conference of 2021 on April 9 & April 10. This year the conference is completely virtual and completely free!The national SPJ has lined up incredible speakers on Saturday to accompany awarding of the Mark of Excellence Awards, and locally we are also hosting some incredible breakout sessions.

To register for the main event CLICK HERE. For the Utah breakout sessions please RSVP at the links below.

Friday April 9, 12 pm MST“Protecting the Press” 

A summer of police protests, an insurrection at our nation’s capital and unrest elsewhere has made a journalists job more perilous than ever. Join us for a panel discussion featuring journalists from Utah, Colorado and California as we discuss how newsrooms are adapting and keeping reporters safe on the job as they continue to cover these historic but dangerous events.

Please RSVP by following this link, 

Saturday April 10“Innovative Nonprofit Newsrooms,” 9:30 am MST 

At this session we look at the trend of trail blazing nonprofit newsrooms featuring panelists including Trip Jennings the founder of New Mexico InDepth as well as Salt Lake Tribune editor Lauren Gustus, who will discuss the paper’s historic transition from for-profit to nonprofit status.

Please RSVP by following this link 

Welcome & Super Session: “How We Got the Story”, 11 am MST (Register at

Hear University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism’s Howard Center for Investigative Journalism faculty and students and National Public Radio Senior Editor Robert Little discuss their award-winning collaborative efforts. Howard Center’s Kathy Best will moderate.

Prioritize Yourself: Invest in Your Own Mental Health, 12-1 MST

Did you breathe a sigh of relief when you turned your calendar to 2021? Never before has fear for our safety and attacks on our professional credibility been this intense. This session will provide you with warning signs that you’re way beyond being stressed and overworked. Recognize the red flags and be prepared to take care of yourself. Find relief from some specific dos and don’ts and work to invest in your own mental health with Dr. Tammy McCoy-Arballo, a licensed Clinical Forensic psychologist. She is a former journalist who works with journalists and first responders. Jerry McCormick, SPJ At-Large Board Member, will moderate.

Regional Mark of Excellence Awards Presentations, 1:30 pm MST

Annually, the Society of Professional Journalists presents the Mark of Excellence Awards, honoring the best in student journalism. The awards offer categories for print, radio, television and online collegiate journalism.Entries are first judged on the regional level. First-place regional winners advance to the national competition.

Q&A with KUNC’s Neil Best

By Ed Otte

To honor his decades of leadership at KUNC, the Community Radio for Northern Colorado Board of Directors established the Neil Best Future Voices Reporting Fellowship.

Best, president and CEO of the nonprofit and NPR-affiliate in Greeley, will retire this spring after a 48-year career at the station. He was named to his current position in 2009 after serving as news and public affairs director, program director and general manager.

The fellowship will be awarded to young journalists who will spend a year learning their craft under the mentorship of KUNC's nationally recognized news staff.

Best, 72, is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists. During his tenure, KUNC has won numerous Colorado Broadcasters Association and SPJ Top of the Rockies awards for its reporting. The news staff won national Sigma Delta Chi awards in 2014, 2015 and 2018 for its news coverage.

KUNC began operations on Jan. 6, 1967, at the University of Northern Colorado. In 2001 the UNC Board of Trustees planned to sell the station to Colorado Public Radio. Under Best's leadership the Friends of KUNC quickly raised $2 million to keep KUNC an independent, community-licensed station.

When the station was housed in Carter Hall on campus, the KUNC call sign stood for University of Northern Colorado. After the separation from the university, the call sign became Uniquely Northern Colorado.

KUNC (91.5 FM) can be heard on different radio frequencies in 10 mountain communities and six Eastern Plains communities in addition to the Front Range, Boulder and Denver.

Tammy Terwelp, executive director at Aspen Public Radio, will succeed Best on April 5. She has more than 20 years of experience in public and commercial media. Community Radio for Northern Colorado includes The Colorado Sound (105.5 FM), a full-time music station, in addition to KUNC.

The following email interview was conducted in early March.

During KUNC's February Winter Membership drive Fresh Air host Terry Gross said "public radio took a hit" in 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic. How did the decline in listeners and sponsorships affect KUNC?

In the early months of the pandemic pretty much all media took a significant hit. From the inside one would think there would be a huge appetite for information, people wanting a better understanding of Covid-19. What is it, what is being done, what should I be doing? Instead, it seems so many people just withdrew, trying to internally come to grips with what was going on around them.

Public radio saw that begin to change in late spring as the election process began to ramp up and, as a society, we began to come to grips with the situation we found ourselves in as a result of the pandemic. To Terry's reference major metropolitan areas where so many listeners have (had?) very long commutes saw sharper declines in listening as large portions of the public radio demographic began working from home and, quite frankly, not listening to public radio.

At KUNC we were very fortunate in that we did not see a similar drop in listening. Our membership base remained strong. Two reasons. First, so many of our members support us with sustaining memberships, i.e., monthly donations that happen automatically. We did have some members who had to discontinue due to economic hardship, but that was more than made up by listeners joining us as new members during our on-air membership drives throughout 2020 and current members choosing to increase their support. While our coverage of the pandemic, both at KUNC and NPR, was not perfect, I do believe our audience found the focus on the science of the battle with Covid-19 to be worthy of listening to and supporting.

Like every media outlet our sponsorship income took a hit. For us there was a very large loss from live event sponsors who canceled all contracts with the various stay-at-home orders. At the same time, as most organizations re-examined their marketing budgets and made cuts, KUNC became a more affordable option to ensure marketing efforts continued, but at a reduced cost for organizations focusing on the long view. 

With changes in how people get their news, how is KUNC reaching its audience?

As I noted above, we had less of an impact because commute times in Colorado (hard to believe, I know) are not as long as in many major markets. Our ability to reach the audience during the pandemic is also part of the long-range recognition that the media world is changing. For at least two or three years we have marketed to our audience that smart speakers are the new radio. While you may no longer have a radio next to your bed or in your kitchen, your smart speaker is in essence, a radio. We are further investing in the digital world in various ways. If one goes back three or fours years ago our idea of digital was to take broadcast reports word for word and transcribe and put on the web page. But as we have learned how audiences use various platforms, we have learned that digital reporting requires a different treatment and our staff have adapted to better serve the digital consumers of our reporting. We also have invested in staffing whose entire focus is on delivering our reporting on digital platforms. 

How has the KUNC newsroom adjusted to public health restrictions in its newsgathering and reporting?

Like every news organization in the country, we made adjustments, but never closed the doors. We don't have the capability to move to 100 percent remote broadcasting from home. As a result, our hosts continued to be in the studios every day during the last year. We took a series of precautions to limit their exposure by having everyone who could work remotely do so. We also put into place procedures to sanitize the shared workspaces, i.e. broadcast studios. Gradually through the spring and summer months as we learned more about Covid-19 we began to adjust from doing all reporting remotely to making calculated decisions about expanding how we would go about reporting, based on the individual reporter's comfort level. There are still reporters I haven't seen in a full year now. Others are in the offices on a staggered basis to ensure significant social distancing and, of course, practicing respect for each other and the facility.

As with so many newsrooms ours is a collaborative effort. It has been hard not to have instant access to a colleague across the way as a sounding board. But I will note the staff has worked well to reach out to each other remotely and communicate. As much as I personally detest the Slack platform, it has been a great tool for the reporting staff and the editors to limit the amount of working in a silo which could be an easy byproduct of the pandemic and the work in-place restrictions.

KUNC, which has the largest newsroom - 21 reporters, hosts and editors - in Northern Colorado, focuses on regional stories. The Mountain West News Bureau, which includes KUNC, provides stories from public radio stations in Idaho, New Mexico, Montana, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming. How does the news bureau partnership work? KUNC's Colorado Edition program also features stories from The Colorado Sun, BizWest and Chalkbeat Colorado. How does this arrangement work?

When KUNC left the University of Northern Colorado in 2001 our newsroom wasn't really a newsroom. We had one and a half positions defined as news staff, but they also were responsible for hosting 40 hours on air each week. My highest priority since 2001 has been to increase our ability to provide reporting of importance and relevance to the communities we serve. To do that, we have always needed to punch above our weight, budgetwise. Over the last 20 years we have always been on the look out for partners with which we could collaborate.

At the end of the day, it can't be an arrangement whereby one organization is the sole beneficiary. We have differing levels of collaboration. For example, the Mountain West collaboration involves public radio stations in seven states committing not only local reporters to the project but also jointly funding an editor who works with all the stations creating a cost efficiency for all stations while maintaining a commitment to the editorial process. Very differently, but with the same commitment to collaboration, KUNC and The Colorado Sun have worked on joint projects. And, yes, there is an element of cross promotion that occurs and benefits all of our working partnerships. 

Is public radio's financial format with listener fundraising campaigns and corporate and foundation sponsorships a viable business model for print journalism?

I really don't know enough about the economic dynamics of the print journalism world to adequately answer the question. One of my brothers worked as a print editor for many years and the last 20 as a freelance writer, and he asks me that question on a regular basis. My answer is that ship sailed some 40-50 years ago. As public radio evolved it has always depended upon community support from individual memberships. Hence, a mindset was created. Newspaper and news magazine traditions have been very different, and I can't predict if the pivot can be made.

My best guess is a membership model for traditional print newspapers is not substantial. At KUNC we have various levels of membership. Our Leadership Circle membership is $1,200 or more a year. While we greatly appreciate those who support us at that level, the vast majority of our members are nowhere near that level of giving. Compare that to what I pay for my various newspaper subscriptions. In every case nearly at what for KUNC is a Leadership Circle gift. The question I ask myself is can the appetite be found to achieve that level of support? Given the changing media consumption habits we are seeing the answer, at least in my mind, is very doubtful.

There is potential in my estimation for hybrid models. The Colorado Sun has been focused on what one might call delivering a very targeted product and developed a loyal base of subscribers. The Denver Gazette may also succeed. In their case benefiting from collaboration with a heritage print journalism organization and owner with very deep pockets.

Adaptation remains the key. Sadly, due to numerous factors, attempts to shift the funding model for local journalism may be coming too late. And I say that with great sadness. 

In addition to regional news coverage, KUNC also reports Colorado capitol and legislative stories in Denver and other statewide stories. Is this in response to listener requests or is the broader coverage driven by the newsroom?

Our news coverage is focused on Northern Colorado, from Julesburg to Steamboat Springs. What happens in the Denver area, both at the state capitol and beyond, is very influential across the entire state. To ignore those implications would be foolish and a disservice to the communities we serve. At the same time, there is vital reporting across the region that we also are focused on covering. To directly answer your question - the answer is yes. Our coverage is in response to listener interest as well as our organizational mission statement and commitment.

I would note that KUNC's CapCov of the state legislature and state government in general by Scott Franz is another example of our collaborative focus. Because of our geographic proximity and editorial strength KUNC is the lead partner with various other public radio stations located throughout the western part of the state to fund and share the reporting of the CapCov project.

Describe the experience in 2001 when UNC board of Trustees planned to sell KUNC to Colorado Public Radio?

Well, this could be a rather long story. I will try to summarize. Our staff found out on Feb. 8, 2001, the FCC license would be sold to Colorado Public Radio the next day. We reported the story at 3 p.m. that afternoon. The next day after hearing impassioned pleas from community members the UNC Board of Trustees said they would put out an RFP with a deadline of 5 p.m. Feb. 28. Twenty days in other words. During that very short time period a community group, Friends of KUNC, raised more than $2 million in cash. On March 1, it was announced that the license for KUNC would be sold to the friends group.

I could go on and on about how and why this volunteer group was able to achieve what one would have thought was an insurmountable goal. In reality, it came down to a belief in the importance of community. From the first ever million-dollar gift to public radio to the $5 gift broken out of a six-year-old's piggy bank the message was the same. The station had spent the first 33 years of its existence focused on serving the community. This was an opportunity to repay that commitment and move it forward.

As a broadcaster for the last 48 years and a forensic debater in high school and college I should have words to describe the experience. But even 20 years later I struggle to offer a description. I will simply say it was such an honor to be a small part of the community that came together during those 20 days and allowed us to continue and to grow service the last 20 years.

Where will KUNC be 10 years from now? 

The focus on presenting reporting that recognizes the importance of international, national and northern Colorado news will remain as it is today. Delivery systems will evolve over the next 10 years. Unlike some of my colleagues around the country I believe traditional broadcast towers will remain important. But there will be every increasing digital delivery methods.

The largest change that I foresee will be in how coverage is directed. Our tradition has been that editors and producers have made the decisions as to what stories are important, where to deploy reporting resources, how to cover events. I think it is fair to say most of that coverage was institutionally focused.

The future will involve a partnership, using a variety of tools which will be weighted to digital platforms, where the community helps the editorial staff determine what stories, what issues are relevant to our lives. That, I submit, will strengthen our society.

Ed Otte is SPJ's Region 9 Coordinator for Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming and a past president of the Colorado Pro chapter. He also is a member of KUNC's Front Range Advisory Panel.