How Denver TV Anchor Kyle Clark Became the Next Big Thing | Westword
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How Kyle Clark Became the Next Next Big Thing

"After we put on the first show and had a celebratory cake, I thought, 'What kind of fool am I? I'm signing up to do this daily.'"
Pierce Murphy
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Kyle Clark is both the most admired and most despised Colorado TV news figure today, but he's not bothered by this dichotomy.

"I don't think the community is well served if a broadcast journalist's chief concern is that everyone likes them," says the forty-year-old anchor and lead provocateur for 9News, which boasts the state's most-viewed slate of homegrown news programs. "If they don't like them, it's fine."

More than fine, actually. In Clark's opinion, such disparate responses, largely based on claims by conservatives that he's prejudiced against them (he says his only bias is toward the truth), prove that he's on the proper path. And the national acclaim he's collected of late indicates that many agree.

On May 30, Clark guided a debate among Republicans running for representative in Colorado's 4th Congressional District, including vaping enthusiast Lauren Boebert and her five other GOP challengers: state rep Richard Holtorf, ex-talk-radio host Deborah Flora, business pro Peter Yu, Logan County Commissioner Jerry Sonnenberg, and onetime House minority leader Mike Lynch. The way Clark refused to be bullied by Boebert, in particular, immediately won plaudits from political lefties on social media, but the online attention mushroomed on June 4 after Jimmy Kimmel devoted a lengthy segment of ABC's Jimmy Kimmel Live to the spectacle.
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Kyle Clark's 9News promo shot.
9News

After airing one clip, Kimmel asked, "Did Kyle just win the debate?," and concluded that "the big takeaway is this moderator, this guy Kyle Clark. ... Give that man a raise."

Or a place at the moderators' table at a presidential debate, as everyone from former U.S. senator Claire McCaskill to sports writer Mike Lupica suggested.

Going viral for doing good work — as opposed to being spotlighted by HBO's John Oliver after gushing orgasmically about pumpkin-spice lattes, as other anchors have — is uncommon for a local TV news personality. But for every attaboy like the 2022 Colorado Sun column by former Denver deputy district attorney-turned-radio host Craig Silverman ("Kyle Clark Deserves Our Thanks for Standing Up to Bullies"), there have been putdowns by politicians such as Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman, who said during a 2021 KNUS radio appearance that Clark wouldn't pretend to be homeless for a week, as Coffman had, because doing so would "mess up his hair." And then there's Boebert, who claimed during another 2021 KNUS show that she didn't want Clark's name "to come out of my mouth" before describing him as "disgusting."

Next With Kyle Clark, which airs weeknights at 6 p.m., consistently generates both insults and adulation, and that's one of the best things about it. From its August 2016 bow, Next aspired to break out of what Clark refers to as "the litany of tragedy model: 'Let me tell you the ten worst things that happened in Colorado,' then weather and sports and goodnight." The idea was to take an original angle on big stories, tackle others whose complexities tended to scare off the average reporter, and present them in a manner that was pointed and personal.

At the time, this approach seemed so radical and unsustainable that plenty of pundits expected Next to explode shortly after takeoff, and Clark concedes "that was the smart bet. But from the start, the viewer feedback was like nothing we had seen before. Not to say they all liked it: Some passionately disliked it. But it no longer washed over people like waves on the beach. They were engaged with it, and we wanted them to be engaged."

Maintaining this connection night after night is among Clark's biggest challenges.

Kyle Clark's day starts early

In addition to hosting Next, Clark co-anchors the 9 and 10 p.m. roundups for 9News — and even after returning to the home he shares with his wife and two young daughters, he finds it hard to unplug. Mallory Harris, the producer of Next, says she often wakes up to emails Clark sent at 11:30 p.m. or later filled with concepts sparked by his perusal of viewer comments on various social media feeds. He's a master of Facebook and X, and improving on Instagram.
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Kyle Clark talking with colleague Marshall Zelinger.
Michael Roberts
On June 12, his quest starts early. As usual.

He's already working at 7:30 a.m., sifting through pitches with Harris via Microsoft Teams. The two most promising prospects hail from reporters Marshall Zelinger and Kelly Reinke. The day before, a fatal accident occurred on Highway 285 near Shaffers Crossing; given that it was the fifth crash in the vicinity this year, Zelinger wonders if the 2024 total is anomalous or typical, and why a concrete barrier hasn't been constructed to prevent future smashups. For her part, Reinke plans to look into why pricey Firehawk helicopters obtained by the state aren't being used to fight the Interlaken fire near Twin Lakes, which had already consumed a couple hundred acres.

An hour of back-and-forths later, Clark shifts to getting his girls ready for the morning while responding to viewers on email and social media. (He ultimately combines these tasks by way of an X post featuring a photo of his hair festooned with barrettes snapped into place by his daughters in an attempt at beauty enhancement.) He also spends part of this block finalizing questions for an interview that afternoon with CD4 hopeful Holtorf. Clark extended invitations for one-on-one, no-time-limit interviews to all six of those seeking the seat, and four accepted; the exceptions were Sonnenberg and, yep, Boebert.

By 10:30 a.m., Clark is on his stationary bike looking through nominations and applications for "Word of Thanks," a regular Wednesday segment that exemplifies his commitment to Colorado even as it underscores the profound impact of Next. "Best part of my day," he stresses.

The micro-giving effort "started during the lockdown period of the pandemic, June 2020," Clark says. "We knew nonprofits were struggling, but I also struggle myself with the traditional way of highlighting nonprofits on local TV: You get a three-minute sob story about what the organization does, and at the end, it says, 'For more information, go to 9news.com.' You make people go through all these hoops, so I thought, 'Let's try to make the process as simple as possible.'"

The result was "Word of Thanks," which Clark calls "a nimble, frictionless way to get involved in philanthropy. I asked people if they would give five bucks and said I would match the first fifty people who did."

The amount of cash raised beyond Clark's personal weekly donation of $250 thrills him. A spreadsheet that he updates documents donations to more than 200 separate campaigns, with amounts ranging from $20,000 on the low end to more than $2.7 million for the Boulder County Wildlife Fund after the devastating Marshall fire. The overall "Word of Thanks" total as of June 12 is over $12.6 million.

By noon, Clark is at his standing desk in the 9News newsroom, directly across from Harris's cubicle, and the two workshop questions for Holtorf. He's searching for a way to bring up his dismissive comments about women — the state rep has said Boebert dresses like a prostitute and referred to Flora as "Little Debbie" — and seemingly contradictory personal anecdotes about abortion in ways that won't allow the politician to deflect. Clark has a theory that Boebert is virtually guaranteed to win both the GOP primary — and the election, since CD4 may be the safest Republican district in the state — because her opponents will split the remaining vote. The trick will be getting Holtorf to address it.
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Producer Mallory Harris and Kyle Clark plan the day's edition of Next.
Michael Roberts
Over the next hour or so, more Next contributors drift in — among them Marilyn Moore, Next's digital producer (and occasional substitute for Harris), and Marissa Solomon, Moore's predecessor as digital producer, who recently shifted into a special-projects role — and join the conversation. Also making a pit stop is Zelinger, who is renowned among his colleagues for his ability to turn around in a day a report that would take most reporters two or three. For this piece, he needs data from the Colorado State Patrol about Highway 285 crashes — such stats are rarely made available quickly — and to convince a Colorado Department of Transportation spokesperson to talk about probably unflattering numbers on camera.

Not that every topic is so serious. A viewer comment about Clark's weight gain during the pandemic, when he was anchoring from home in close proximity to his refrigerator, prompts the proposal to juxtapose photos of him then and now before divulging that he gained an impressive 23 pounds over this period. The nickname his co-workers take delight in repeating? "Chunky Kyle."

There's as much joking as pontification among members of the Next team, which is notably tight-knit, unlike the lumpy circular rug around which their desks are arrayed. The floor covering is the final remnant of a time when Next staffers occupied a space set apart from the main newsroom, and it looks as if it was last vacuumed during the Hoover administration. People occasionally trip over it, but no one's had to be hospitalized.

Clark began his broadcasting career young

A native of tiny Lyons, New York, Clark was something of a broadcasting prodigy; he began co-hosting high school basketball games on a tiny station dubbed WACK-AM when he was fifteen. But when he was studying journalism at Ithaca College, a professor said there were more jobs covering news than sports, and he made the change.

The switch paid off. Thanks to gigs at stations in Rochester and Binghamton, Clark caught the eye of Ellen Crooke — now an executive with TEGNA, 9News's owner, but then the news director at a Buffalo station owned by Gannett. In 2007, Crooke asked the 23-year-old Clark where he wanted to work. After he said the location wasn't as important as the opportunity to partner with the best photojournalists in the country, Crooke suggested 9News, another Gannett property, and put him in touch with Patti Dennis, the outlet's news director. Dennis was impressed by Clark, and so was Mark Cornetta, the station's president and general manager — positions he still holds under TEGNA, which acquired 9News in 2015 after Gannett separated its publishing and broadcasting assets.

"When I met Kyle, I couldn't help noticing how smart he was — how curious, how thoughtful," Cornetta says. "He just brought a lot to the table as a journalist."

Foremost among these attributes was Clark's ability to find stories others hadn't managed to sniff out, no matter their aroma. Such was the case with one of his favorite early reports, which revealed what happens to the animal waste from the National Western Stock Show. Turns out the smelly stuff was trucked out daily to be mixed with organic compost that residents could purchase to put on their garden — and everything came up roses.

The same went for Clark's career at 9News. When veteran broadcaster Ward Lucas retired, he took over as weekend anchor, and during the next several years, he continued to assume more prominent roles, proving his mettle with, for instance, his coverage of the July 2012 Aurora theater shooting, which he anchored for seventeen hours. But while he was clearly adept at standard TV-news duties, he ached to create something unique.

The process that led to Next was laborious. "We talked about putting it on the air for a good year before we did," he reveals, "and we spent months putting together a team and trying to figure out how it would work. Then, after we put on the first show and had a celebratory cake, I thought, 'What kind of fool am I? I'm signing up to do this daily.'"

No rest for the weary

The interview with Holtorf — he of the metacarpal-pulverizing handshake and shoulder-dislocating arm yank — rapidly goes off the rails. Most of Clark's chats with candidates for various offices, which are uploaded unedited to YouTube, last around twenty minutes or so, and his conversation with CD4 candidate Yu stretched to thirty, a new record. But Holtorf seems to see the interview as a chance to show how adept he can be at filibusters. His answers to Clark's questions are never direct, meandering like a carnival-goer prone to dizziness after riding the Tilt-A-Whirl. Moreover, he seems to be wholly conscious of what he's doing.

"Sort something out for me with, I pray, some brevity," Clark ventures at one point.

"From me?" Holtorf asks, feigning astonishment.
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Kyle Clark sat down with CD4 candidate Richard Holtorf for a solo chat.
Michael Roberts
Nonetheless, Holtorf doesn't come out of the exchange completely unscathed. He evades a direct strike when quizzed about his propensity for denigrating females by hyping his sponsorship of a bill to establish Women Veterans Appreciation Day. But his tortured explanation for a statement he made in a General Assembly address about a woman he'd impregnated who had an abortion ("I respected her rights and gave her money to help her through her critical time so she could live her best life") speaks volumes. And when Clark shares his hypothesis about Boebert's election being a sure thing because too many people are running against her and queries, "Is that flawed logic?," Holtorf admits, "Not at all" before arguing that all her rivals other than him should drop out.

Still, by the end of the session, which clocks in at a stunning 47 minutes-plus, Clark is clearly exasperated. "We never put a time limit on these extended interviews. You have caused me to reconsider that," he deadpans, triggering a Holtorf guffaw.

Back in the newsroom, the Nexters, who've watched the exchange, are in near-hysterics over what they consider to be an amazing slab of television. But Clark is too busy flagellating himself for failing to control Holtorf to see things from their perspective. "I'm sorry," he says.

There's no time to wallow, though. Clark must edit two representative slices of the interview for airing on that evening's show and finish a commentary about Boebert allegedly politicizing Hunter Biden's conviction on three gun felonies. Rather than squeeze in a dinner break, he munches an apple while scanning the script on his monitor.

Fortunately, Next isn't a solo act. Zelinger comes through as usual; he obtained the sought-after CSP stats (exactly 285 crashes took place near the recent Highway 285 accident location over eleven years), cajoled a CDOT expert to weigh in, and found out that a concrete barrier for the spot is seen as impractical since it might be even more dangerous during winter freeze cycles. Reinke's piece is also complete, and Harris has put together the day's "Word of Thanks" package; it benefits the Center on Colfax's free mental health program for LGBTQ+ youth. As a bonus, Moore has finally gotten the entire Holtorf interview online and is chopping up snippets for social media distribution.

By 6 p.m., when Next airs, everything is in place, and the show runs smoothly. No snafus mar Zelinger's live report from Highway 285; Reinke appears in-studio to talk with Clark about the Firehawk helicopters and the Interlaken fire, whose acreage more than doubled in a day; forecaster Kathy Sabine's weather update goes off without a hitch; the Holtorf bits hang together better than feared; and the commentary is sharp and concise.

The only casualty is the "Chunky Kyle" capper, which is jettisoned to make room for a random comment sent in during the show from a viewer named Fritz. "Kyle, I used to like you," Clark reads. "Now you're just talking flesh. You sound like you've been hit in the head with a bag of nickels."

After a pause, Clark offers his take: "That's either disturbing or poetic or both."

Seconds later, Clark moves from the studio to the control room, where he debriefs with Harris, Reinke and a handful of behind-the-scenes collaborators, including director Cyrus Allen and senior executive producer Nathan Higgins. They share positives, but he's not overly enthusiastic. On a scale of ten, he gives the offering a six or a seven.

The good news is, there's always tomorrow — though for Clark, the demarcation between days can get fuzzy. Once the June 12 Next has been beamed into the stratosphere, he moves to prepping for the 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. broadcasts. He gets home around 11 p.m. but spends the next two hours on social media between preparing questions for his next CD4 interview subject. By the time he gets to bed, he's well into June 13.

This schedule sounds like a burnout blueprint. But Linda Kicak, who joined 9News as news director in March after spending twenty years at Fox31 and KWGN/Channel 2, already knows better than to tell Clark to slow down. "That's how he's built, and I have to trust that when he needs a break, he'll take a break," she says. But she thinks his work ethic "shows how much responsibility he feels and how important it is to him."

What's next for Kyle Clark

Even some of Clark's supposed failures are successes: The Holtorf interview winds up generating around a half-million views on various platforms. Such reach, plus the attention Clark has received from beyond Colorado lately, raises the prospect that a big station in a larger market or a major network might poach him. But when asked twice about whether he's had inquiries from such operations, he initially slides to another subject without addressing the odds of such a jump, then gives the sort of non-answer answer that would do a dodgy politician proud: "I've had lots of conversations with lots of people." But he hastens to add that he loves his current job and has concluded that local TV is even more important now than when he joined 9News seventeen years ago.

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Kyle Clark has more than 200,000 followers on X.
X
These days, convincing average folks — especially those under age fifty — to turn on a television and watch a local news program is tougher than ever. Scads of people in their twenties and thirties follow Clark on social media (he has more than 204,000 followers on X alone) but never tune in, which doesn't do anything for 9News's ratings. News director Kicak concedes that getting more of them to become regular viewers is high on her to-do list.

Because Next skews younger than most local newscasts, the incentive to replicate its format would seem high. But there are no overt Next clones airing anywhere in the U.S. and relatively few efforts to do something fresh with the age-old TV news format — and that disappoints Clark. "If I could wave a magic wand, there'd be five or six innovative news shows in Denver and in every market around the country. I think they could bring new audiences to local TV," he says. "That doesn't mean there should be five Nexts. But we need shows that are different."

One person who understood this desire was the late Carl Akers, a Denver broadcast pioneer and commentator whom Clark reveres; he keeps two Akers books on his desk. Their styles could hardly be less similar, but Akers shared Clark's disinterest in pandering, as epitomized by his long-ago response to a critical letter from a viewer. In the note, shared with Clark shortly after Next's debut by the family of the man who received it, Akers recommended a rival newscast that didn't feature commentaries like his before adding, "You, I assume, have intelligence enough to turn the dial."

This message is the same one Clark delivers to his critics. In his words, "There's lots of other things to watch."

But none of them are quite like Next.
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