A memorial observance was held Aug. 12 at the Denver Press Club for the late John C. Ensslin, a former president of SPJ national. Dan Petty (left), president of the Press Club, welcomes guests. Denver Councilman Kevin Flynn (right), a former reporter for the late Rocky Mountain News and colleague of Ensslin, read a city proclamation. Friends and colleagues filled the Club to fire-marshal capacity. Here is an obit from The Gazette of Colorado Springs.


By Joey Bunch, For The Gazette, Colorado Springs

Colorado Politics reporter John C. Ensslin was found dead in his Denver apartment Monday (Aug. 5).

Ensslin joined the staff of Colorado Politics in March, focusing on Denver politics. But his heralded career in Colorado goes back decades. He has been a member of the Denver Press Club Hall of Fame since 2007 and was a past president of that institution.


John C. Ensslin  

He was a man of uncommon compassion and good cheer,   agree those of us who knew and loved him. He liked East   Coast diners, Quentin Tarantino films and everything to   do with journalism, training himself in multimedia   journalism in the latter years of his career. He hoped to   work a couple of more years with Colorado Politics and   then travel with his beloved wife, Denise, and perhaps   settle in Pennsylvania, he said over a late-night breakfast at Tom’s Diner two Saturdays ago.

He returned to Colorado because he wasn’t ready to give up journalism, and he would wait on his wife, Denise, to retire from her job training special education teachers in New Jersey.

He reported for the past eight years for The Record in Woodland Park, N.J., where he covered the state legislature, Bergen County politics and government, and Paterson City Hall.

He worked for other newspapers in New York and New Jersey before making a name for himself at the Rocky Mountain News for 25 years.

After the Rocky Mountain News closed in 2009, Ensslin worked for a couple of years at the Colorado Springs Gazette. He returned to New Jersey to help his sister care for their mother until she died.

“I was able to be there and have a few good years with her at the end,” he said over eggs and toast. “I’m glad I did that.”

He said he jumped at the chance to return to Denver and work for Colorado Politics. “I felt like I still had some more left in me, I still have something to give.”

Ensslin, 65, admired big city reporters such as Jimmy Breslin, and he liked to hang out in diners and talk about friendships with vice cops. He talked about his rambunctious youth in New York City while he was getting an English degree from Columbia University, watching the rise of punk rock and seeing a lot of the pioneering bands at CBGB in the East Village.

An extended conversation with Ensslin might unfold like a tattered paperback novel, with laugh lines scattered along the trail.

He would want to be remembered as a great journalist, but he will be remembered by other journalists as that and much more.

John Temple, who worked at the Rocky for 17 years and was its editor when it closed in 2009, remembered Ensslin as a humble presence in the newsroom who was supportive and kind to his coworkers.

But Ensslin was a giant in the journalism community, Temple remembered, the main driver behind the Denver Press Club, the annual Damon Runyon Awards that attract top national journalists to the city, and he constantly was inviting top speakers to come there the rest of the year.

Ensslin is a former national president of the Society of Professional Journalists.

“John wanted a journalism community, and he almost single-handedly created it,” Temple said. “He was so active in creating a journalism culture here, that in many ways that might have been his greatest contribution. He created a sense of pride around journalism, that this was something — that the people were to be appreciated and that they were special.

“And he was very modest, and he didn’t try to attract attention to himself, but he wanted to celebrate other people. And he just quietly went about his work.”

When Temple arrived at the Rocky, Ensslin was a cop reporter, and an excellent one, his editor recalled.

The next year, the Rocky Mountain News hired a reporter to cover night cops. Her name was Lynn Bartels, and she went on to be another Denver Press Club Hall of Fame inductee who now writes a column for Colorado Politics.

“He worked the day shift, and I came on at 1 p.m.,” she remembered. “It was the so-called Summer of Violence and, man, were we busy.

“I was thrilled when John returned to Colorado to work at Colorado Politics.”

She recalled Denver Mayor Michael Hancock’s campaign asking her what John was like as he began covering the re-election campaign.

“Here’s the bad news … John’s old school,” she told them. “He’s going to ask tough questions. And if he thinks the answer is BS, he will say so.

“Here’s the good news: John’s old school. His goal is about providing information to Denver residents. He’s not looking to get more clicks or get the next big job. He’s about journalism.”

Jim Trotter, now associate editor of the Colorado Springs Gazette, worked with Ensslin at the Rocky Mountain News from 2000 to 2009.

“John was a rock solid reporter and one of those journalists who formed the backbone of our newsroom at the Rocky Mountain News,” Trotter said. “He was tough, but he was also a kind and gentle person. It’s a tragedy that he has passed.”

Vince Bzdek, editor of the Colorado Springs Gazette, spoke of that terrible death.

“When John returned to Denver recently to work for Colorado Politics, the journalism community welcomed him home like a conquering hero,” he said. “That’s because he helped build that very community and sustain it for many years as president of the press club and national president of the Society of Professional journalists. He was one of the princes of our profession.”

Another longtime colleague, Gazette weekend editor Joel Millman, said Ensslin didn’t really need the job when he came back to Colorado, but he did need to remain a journalist. “We all define ourselves as different things: husband, wife, mother, father, our work, our hobbies, our accomplishments. John was always a journalist first. Baseball fan was a close second.”

Gazette Managing Editor John Boogert worked with Ensslin for many years at the Rocky Mountain News.

“John was one of the best reporters I ever worked with, particularly when it came to crime coverage,” Boogert said. “I often had John tell me the story of how he found and talked to suspect James King at his home in Golden before the police showed up after the Father’s Day Massacre in 1991 at United Bank in downtown Denver.”

Mark Harden, managing editor of Colorado Politics, also remembered Ensslin fondly.

“I only got to work with John for a few months, but what a privilege it was,” Harden said. “He was a legend in Colorado and New Jersey journalism, and he relished the challenge of helping us launch our Denver coverage at CoPo.

“And what a sweet, gentlemanly guy he was. But he was also tough when he had to be. I’m heartsick about losing him, and I know the readers he kept informed for decades will dearly miss his reporting.”

Temple saw one ray of light in the passing of such a kind friend to journalists and journalism.

“This is terrible to say, but I’ll say it anyway,” he concluded. “I’m glad he was able to be a journalist to his dying day. He loved his work, and he never would have wanted to stop.”


Colorado Politics senior political reporter Joey Bunch is the senior correspondent and deputy managing editor of Colorado Politics. His 32-year career includes the last 16 in Colorado. He was part of The Denver Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 and he is a two-time Pulitzer finalist.

The Colorado Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists is deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Neil Westergaard, an award-winning Colorado journalist who served as executive editor of The Denver Post and editor of the Denver Business Journal.
Neil Westergaard

Neil Westergaard

Westergaard received Colorado SPJ’s Keeper of the Flame   Award in 2018 for his lifetime contributions to journalism   in the state. The Colorado Press Association named him  Newspaper Person of the Year this spring. He also was a   member of the Denver Press Club’s Hall of Fame. He was   67.

 “It’s tragic that Neil is gone so soon, because he still had     so much to contribute,” said Colorado SPJ President   Sandra Fish. “We’re keeping his family in our hearts as   we mourn his death.”
Most recently, Westergaard wrote columns for Coloradopolitics.com.
He died Sunday night after suffering from heart and kidney issues, according to a family statement. He is survived by Cindy, his wife of many years, a son (Ben) and daughter (Rachel). His family plans a private funeral, with a memorial service in August.

Check out the 2019 winners here:  spreadsheet of results.

The Colorado chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists board of directors sends their condolences to the family, friends and co-workers of Kevin Kaufman, who died of cancer Feb. 10. 

Longtime Boulder Daily Camera editor Kevin Kaufman is 2019’s recipient of the Keeper of the Flame Award, bestowed by from the Colorado chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists for his lifetime contributions to the profession in Boulder and Colorado.

Kaufman, who joined the Camera as an assistant city editor in 1994, rose through the ranks at the paper and was named to the top newsroom job in 2006. Staff members say he was instrumental in maintaining the Camera’s role as Boulder County’s paper of record and as a tenacious watchdog over local governments.

“Kevin has made an immeasurable impact on journalism in Boulder County and Colorado since arriving at the Camera in the mid-‘90s … helping train and mold a generation of Colorado journalists,” said Matt Sebastian, former city editor at the Camera and now senior editor for enterprise at the Denver Post. “Kevin has been a fierce advocate for the public’s right to know, holding public servants accountable and, above all, doing the invaluable job of local journalism.”

Kaufman’s journalism career began as a youth in the south Denver suburbs delivering a Littleton newspaper, and his love of the profession never wavered. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Colorado State University and spent his early newsroom days as a reporter in northwest Colorado and in Illinois. He covered Coloradan Gary Hart’s campaign in Iowa during the caucuses there.

A graduate of Heritage High School, Kaufman also served as a medic in the Navy. He previously worked for the Pekin Daily Times in Illinois and the Northwest Colorado Daily Press in Craig. He was married, with two daughters and has six siblings.

As city editor, Kaufman led the Camera reporting staff in coverage of numerous national stories over the years, everything from the JonBenet Ramsey homicide to Ward Churchill to Frozen Dead Guy Days.

The Keeper of the Flame Award is given annually by the Colorado SPJ chapter to honor longtime journalists for their contributions to the profession and for leading and mentoring young journalists.

“Kevin loves his job, he loves journalism, writing, editing, newspapers, and the people involved,” said his brother Ken. “He loves working at the Daily Camera.”

Society of Professional Journalists Region 9 winners and finalists in the Mark of Excellence contest were announced April 21, 2018 at the Excellence in the Rockies conference on the Auraria campus in Denver.

The 2017 contest for collegiate journalists in Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming attracted 359 entries, an increase over the 253 entries the previous year. Certificates for the 119 winners and finalists were distributed at the April 21 MOE awards luncheon.

The list of Region 9 winners and finalists is posted here: Judging_result_vertical2111174542(2018-03-14).

Schools represented by winners/finalists:

Adams State University, Arapahoe Community College, Brigham Young University, Colorado College, Community College of Denver, Colorado Mesa University, Colorado State University-Fort Collins, Colorado State University-Pueblo, Laramie County Community College, Metropolitan State University-Denver, New Mexico State University, University of Colorado-Boulder, University of New Mexico, University of Utah, Utah State University, Utah Valley University, and Weber State University.

One hundred and five students, faculty and professional journalists plus more than two dozen speakers attended the two-day conference, which began April 20 with half-day sessions on Facebook and Google training.

Conference sponsors included the Metropolitan State University of Denver Department of Journalism and Technical Communication, the Univeristy of Colorado-Boulder College of Media, Communication and Information, Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, Rio Grande SPJ Pro Chapter, Utah Headliners SPJ Pro Chapter, and the journalism/mass communication departments at Colorado State University-Pueblo, University of Northern Colorado and Colorado State University-Fort Collins.

SPJ National Conference 4.20-21.18

Reporting on Sexual Harassment was the first session on April 21 at the SPJ Region 9 Excellence in the Rockies conference on the Auraria campus in Denver. From left: Moderator Corey Hutchins of the Columbia Journalism Review, Colorado Politics chief legislative reporter Marianne Goodland, KUNC public radio capitol reporter Bente Birkeland, KUNC news director Michael de Yoanna, Arapahoe Community College The Arapahoe Pinnacle managing editor Emily Langenberg. (Photo by Justine Suzanne Johnson)


Freelance journalists Julian Rubinstein, left, Rachel Sturtz and Steve Knopper discuss the various stories they’ve had published in national publications at the April 21 Freelancing 101 session.(Photo by Justine Suzanne Johnson)


From left: Ashley Schaerfl of Colorado State University-Pueblo, Auraria SPJ Chapter members Rebecca Ramos and Desiree Gillespie, and Fort Collins Coloradoan reporter Kelly Ragan discuss challenges they’ve faced at the April 21 Campus Coverage Roundtable. (Photo by Justine Suzanne Johnson)

The SPJ Colorado Pro chapter thanks the following for their support of and work on the conference:

–Shaun Schafer, chair, Metropolitan State University of Denver Journalism and Technical Communication Department
–Kristi Strother, journalism chair, Community College of Denver
Auraria Campus SPJ Chapter members:
–Angel Rivera
–Kaitlin Quinn
–Desiree Gillespie
–Claudia Tena Guzman
–Jonathan Hidalgo
–Justine Johnson
–Alexandra Gaddison
–Rebecca Ramos
–Todd Smith
–Veronica Holyfield
–Krystn Powers

See the winners of this year’s Top of the Rockies on this spreadsheet: Judging_result_vertical2111174542(2018-03-14)

Please check back next week for posts with links to all the winning work.

The Colorado Pro Chapter of Society of Professional Journalists recognized four professionals for their contributions to journalism Friday.

The chapter annually honors individual Colorado journalists nominated for outstanding contributions at its Top of the Rockies awards event.

Bente Birkeland

Bente Birkeland

Radio reporter Bente Birkeland is recognized as Journalist of the Year for her groundbreaking work covering the #MeToo movement and a culture of sexual harassment at Colorado’s capitol. Birkeland is the statehouse reporter for a collaborative of 15 public radio stations, including KUNC in northern Colorado and KRCC in Colorado Springs. She has reported 40 stories about sexual harassment at the capitol since Nov. 10.

Birkeland was the first reporter to report workplace harassment allegations against Democratic Rep. Steve Lebsock and Republican Sens. Randy Baumgardner, Larry Crowder and Jack Tate, and Democratic Sen. Daniel Kagan. The House voted to expel Lebsock in March, while GOP Senate leaders determined allegations against Tate were unfounded. Senators voted against expelling Baumgardner. Kagan’s complaint is pending and Crowder’s complaint was resolved, though not to the accuser’s satisfaction.

Jamey Trotter

Jamey Trotter

Jamey Trotter of Arapahoe Community College is Educator of the Year. Trotter runs the only program in Colorado that offers an associate’s degree in journalism, and oversees the student online news site, the Arapahoe Pinnacle.

Trotter, an English instructor, ensured that credits from ACC transfer to Metropolitan State University of Denver’s journalism program.

The Colorado Independent Editor Susan Greene is recipient of the First Amendment Award. She’s being recognized for her aggressive coverage of violence at the Denver County Jail, District Attorney George Brauchler’s pursuit of the death penalty and more.

Susan Greene

Susan Greene

Greene and The Colorado Independent have successfully sued for government documents in several instances, holding Colorado’s law enforcement community to account.

Denver Business Journal Editor In Chief Neil Westergaard received the Keeper of the Flame Award. This honor recognizes Westergaard’s significant Colorado career, first as executive editor of the Denver Post and for the past 18 years at the Business Journal. 

Neil Westergaard

Neil Westergaard

Under his leadership, the Denver Business Journal has won numerous national and regional awards. He oversaw an online transition in 2009 that tripled the site’s traffic. Westergaard is retiring this year, but will remain a contributing editor and consultant to the Denver Business Journal.