Media

The Ten Biggest Media Stories of 2020

Dueling protests left one man dead in Civic Center Park.
Dueling protests left one man dead in Civic Center Park. Noah Kaplan
There's been no shortage of stories for Colorado reporters to cover in the awful, awful year of 2020. But the media itself has been in the spotlight for plenty of major events during the past twelve months, too. Here are ten of the standouts:

Coverage of Black Lives Matter Protests

Demonstrations spurred by the May 25 police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis erupted in downtown Denver a few days later. The vast majority of the events were peaceful, but a relatively small number of ruffians committed acts of vandalism that stirred more controversy. TV stations devoted hours of live coverage for nights on end, complete with helicopter shots of confrontations between police and frustrated citizens, and the results were viewed very differently depending on ideology. BLM supporters charged outlets with concentrating too heavily on destruction, thereby obscuring the actual reasons so many people had taken to the streets, while folks such as KNUS radio's Steffan Tubbs, whose documentary about the period was titled Denver in Decay, accused the mainstream press of downplaying negativity. One indisputable benefit of the BLM coverage: The death of Elijah McClain after an encounter with Aurora police in August 2019 went national, and by the end of 2020 had become the subject of at least four investigations.

9News and Matthew Dolloff

Matthew Dolloff, hired as a security guard to accompany a 9News crew covering dueling events at Civic Center Park (a so-called Patriot Muster and a BLM-Antifa soup drive) in October, shot and killed Lee Keltner following a dust-up captured on video and images snapped by a Denver Post photographer. The outlet's management immediately tried to distance itself from Dolloff, who wasn't a licensed security guard in Denver; he came to the station via two security firms that are now on the outs with Denver for failing to follow the rules. But 9News became a target of right-wing ire, anyhow — and Dolloff is now facing murder charges.

Coverage of COVID-19 Protests

Divisions continued over demonstrations against COVID-19 protocols. Two of the most prominent took place at Bandimere Speedway in Jefferson County: a Fourth of July fireworks celebration attended by approximately 7,000 people and a September 1 rally dubbed "Stop the COVID Chaos." Media organizations found themselves accused of either irresponsibly giving airtime to superspreading loonbags, or exhibiting a double standard by criticizing a gathering in which mask use and social distancing were rare — while allegedly giving a free pass to the BLM movement.


COVID-19 Furloughs and Layoffs

The effects of the pandemic pummeled the bottom line of many news-gathering operations in Colorado, this one included. In March, Clear Channel let go or temporarily sidelined a dispiriting number of employees, many of them working behind the scenes, and 9News, long the Denver ratings leader, mandated furloughs for all of its staffers. Even star anchor Kyle Clark had to sit out for a week, but his subsequent disappearance for an extended stretch turned out to have a happier ending: the birth of a baby.

Jeremy Jojola and Hate Criminals

The rising tensions between journalists and the public at large were epitomized by the dilemma faced by 9News investigator Jeremy Jojola. He'd been receiving ugly threats for months as a result of his reporting about local neo-Nazis when he revealed the guilty plea of Samuel Cordova for misdemeanor bias-motivated crime related to a June 2019 BookBar event called "Drag Queen Story Time." Shortly thereafter, Cordova and two extremist associates showed up at Jojola's home, which was occupied at the time by his wife and new baby, prompting the reporter to file a restraining order. Months later, Jojola quit Twitter, in part because of his sense that it had become such a haven for nastiness.

Colorado Public Radio and KRCC Team Up

Another blessed event of sorts involved the marriage of two public-radio heavy hitters, Denver-based CPR and KRCC in Colorado Springs, this past January. The get-together raised familiar concerns about too much consolidation of the public airwaves, which have dogged CPR for decades. But there's no denying that the burgeoning network, which also includes the online news purveyor Denverite, is weathering the COVID-19 crisis far better than many of its commercial rivals, perhaps because its revenue model has always been based on donations and grants, not advertising from businesses that themselves are struggling.

The Debut of the Denver Gazette

Launching a new publication during the current economic circumstances would be impossible for most folks — but not for gazillionaire Phil Anschutz, Colorado's richest person. Anschutz is the owner of the Colorado Springs Gazette, who's long toyed with the notion of entering the Mile High City journalism market — and in September, he finally took the plunge by way of the Denver Gazette. The site supplements content from the Springs paper and Anschutz's Colorado Politics with reporting about Denver from a local staff; thanks to its sizable budget, the project has received a major push. Of course, its editorial stance, including a pathetic endorsement of Donald Trump, doesn't exactly correspond to Denver's vibe — but given Anschutz's riches, he can afford not to care.
Marty Coniglio's exit from 9News came as a result of a tweet. - 9NEWS
Marty Coniglio's exit from 9News came as a result of a tweet.
9News

Marty Coniglio Bounced From 9News

In July, veteran forecaster Marty Coniglio, who had been lured back to 9News after planning to step away from TV in late 2019, tweeted a photo that essentially equated federal law enforcement officers dispatched to cities such as Portland, Oregon, to World War II-era Nazis. For this act of non-meteorological commentary, Coniglio was pink-slipped. But months later, when he wrote about the experience for Westword, he was hailed by readers for his brave public stand.

The Many Versions of the Chris Watts Story

During the summer of 2018, Frederick resident Chris Watts killed his pregnant wife, Shanann, and their two young daughters, Celeste and Bella, then calmly went public to ask for help in finding them. After Watts was arrested for the crime, the gruesome series of events became the kind of national cable news obsession that leads to multimedia remixes, several of which came to fruition this year: a January movie on Lifetime that seemed to blame Shanann for her own murder by bogusly suggesting that weight-loss pills and patches she peddled pushed her husband off the deep end, and a grim but intriguing Netflix documentary largely made up of police body-camera footage and the flood of material Shanann shared online before her tragic death. Even Dr. Oz got into the act, suggesting that we could continue hearing about this story for many years to come.

The Altitude Sports Fight

Way back in August 2019, Comcast, DISH and DIRECTV all stopped carrying Altitude Sports, the television home of the Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche, over what is essentially a compensation dispute. The months since have seen a lawsuit and no end of public posturing by all parties involved other than DIRECTV, which kissed and made up with Altitude shortly after the original story went public. Now the Nuggets, who made it all the way to the NBA's Western Conference finals this year, have already started a new season, and the Avs, a narrow loser in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, are getting ready to hit the ice with no solution in sight. Not exactly good news — but typical for 2020.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michael Roberts 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.
Contact: Michael Roberts