Last summer, Colorado Media Project surveyed Colorado journalists to gather information about the state’s news ecosystem. Colorado Media Project (CMP) disseminated two surveys to journalists statewide in collaboration with the University of Denver, the Colorado Trust, Colorado Press Association and Colorado News Collaborative.
Eighty-four journalists, myself included, responded to one or both of the surveys on behalf of 81 news organizations. Survey respondents represented 38 different counties and a variety of news platforms, including print, digital, radio and television.
CMP recently released 10 takeaways from the research project. They are explained in no particular order below:
— Colorado newsrooms are running on fumes: About 60 percent of surveyed journalists reported “lack of staff” as the most significant barrier in pursuing important news stories. A similar number reported that additional staff and funding are needed for stronger accountability journalism across the state.
— Size and mission matter: Colorado journalists noted that large, statewide news organizations are more likely to produce accountability journalism, while local news organizations choose to focus on explanatory coverage. Accountability journalism is centered on holding people and institutions accountable; explanatory journalism is focused on adding accessibility and context to ongoing news stories.
— Government is a focus: About 60 percent of participating newsrooms said they report on government and politics more frequently than other topics. Education and economic development were runner-up beats for local newsrooms.
— Topical news gaps persist: Survey respondents identified the environment, transportation and societal injustice and inequality as the top three beats newsrooms do not pay enough attention to in Colorado.
— Local matters: According to the journalists surveyed, original content is predominantly focused on local communities, not state and national issues. Journalists also said that topics that require specialization, like health care and the environment, are less likely to be covered at the local level.
— Original content is varied: Journalists reported that larger, urban newsrooms are more likely to use Associated Press content to supplement original articles, while smaller, rural newsrooms are more likely to use freelance writers and press releases penned by community organizations to supplement original articles.
— Rural communities are often left out: Survey respondents identified a coverage gap between urban and rural communities in Colorado. The Front Range receives a disproportionate amount of coverage, journalists said, while the Eastern Plains, Western Slope and San Luis Valley receive relatively little media attention.
— Inequities persist in media coverage: The majority of journalists surveyed said that newrooms do not adequately address the needs of diverse communities across the state. Respondents identified immigrant communities and communities of color as underrepresented groups in both rural and urban news coverage.
— Newsrooms need more diversity: About one-third of Colorado journalists said their newsrooms are not racially and ethnically representative of the communities they serve — a reality that needs to change.
— Community engagement can be tough: Journalists identified “lack of staff,” “COVID-19,” and “language barriers” as major roadblocks in reaching the level of community engagement their newsrooms would like to see.