Our February feature is Andrew Kenney, public affairs reporter at Colorado Public Radio (CPR). Kenney has been with CPR for just over a year and has worked at other local publications including The Denver Post and Denverite. Prior to reporting in the Denver area, he covered breaking news for The News & Observer, a local publication in Raleigh, N.C. Furthermore, Kenney received his B.A. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in journalism and took later coursework in analytics at North Carolina State University and in programming at Galvanize Inc.

Provide a brief explanation of you job title along with a description of your duties.

I’m one of CPR’s public affairs reporters. The central responsibility of the job is to cover the state government through written stories, daily radio newscast and longer audio features, along with appearances on Colorado Matters.

What stories, trends or issues are currently on your radar?

I’m most closely focused on the unemployment system, and also the upcoming legislative session, but my interests take me lots of different places.

What do you look for when you are researching writing a story?

It depends on the story. If it’s a “breaking” story, the reporting process is a lot faster and more formulaic. What happened, when, who was involved, where was it, why?

Other stories are more “news you can use.” An explainer about the unemployment system might not be the most compelling writing, but it can draw a ton of readership and help a lot of people. In thoses, I’m looking for the most common questions that people have about at opic, and then answering them in a very easy-to-read way.

What’s often more challenging and more rewarding are the “enterprise” stories — the ones that you have to go out and find. A few examples would be my recent stories on becoming homeless during the pandemic, or problems with the unemployment call centers, or the phenomenon of people quitting the GOP since Jan. 6.  For those bigger projects I am looking for a few factors:

  • Can I add something new about a newsworthy topic that no one else has covered?
  • Is there one specific person’s story that I can use to illustrate a bigger problem or challenge?
  • Is there a place, or a scene, where the effects of that bigger issue become tangible? In other words, how can I hear or see this issue in real life?
  • Can I find records or data that prove my thesis?

How has COVID-19 impacted your work?

I’ve been working from home, which is not ideal for audio. We prefer to be in the field. But I’ve actually managed to create a new workflow that has had good results, especially for my reporting on unemployment. I’ve set up a really groovy system for recording phone calls, and I’ve just had hours and hours of calls each week with people who are dealing with problems in the system. (I’ve found those people by putting out my name and contact info.) The result: I’ve got a really strong network of people across Colorado who keep me updated on the unemployment system and the way  the pandemic economy is playing out in real people.

I’ve also taken this time to focus on more data-heavy stories.

Please describe the most thrilling story you have written.

It’s a tie. I went to Spain to trace my grandpa’s footsteps through the Spanish Civil War.  And I also got to hang out with some falconers.

What story are you most proud of?

Tough question, there are too many. I’m still partial to “High On Stoner Hill.” I wrote it when I first arrived in Colorado in 2015. It’s about the community of young and mostly homeless people who hang out in one of Denver’s “crown jewel” parks — but it’s also about the homeowners trying to force them out. I would write it differently today, but I’ve rarely gotten to spend so much time on a story like that.

What tips do you have for PR professionals who need to pitch a story to you?

I prefer short pitches with bullet points. Put the important dates and locations near the top. Give me one or two sentences about why it’s important. Tell me who’s available to talk. Please don’t write me 15 flowery grafs — I just end up deconstructing what you wrote so I can write my own thing!

Also, if you know me, do add a line about why you think I might be interested in something!

What do you enjoy most about being a reporter in Colorado?

The place of the West in American society is still changing in such interesting ways, whether it’s our response to climate change or our love of direct democracy. People are fascinated by us because we have such unique issues. Also, we have a relatively robust media scene. It’s nice to have some good competition. Can’t beat the views, either.

When you are not reporting, what are some of your hobbies?

  • Mediocre landscaper/xeriscaper
  • Subpar home renovator
  • Above-average resort skier
  • Medium-distance bicyclist
  • Slow-but-steady runner
  • Dog & baby handler

Follow Andrew Kenney on Twitter here.