Since the closing of the Rocky Mountain News in 2009, Colorado has become the epicenter of a national conversation about the decline of local newspapers, what that means for communities and what can be done about it.
The shuttering of the Rocky, just shy of its 150th anniversary, transformed Denver from a two-paper town to one whose remaining paper, the Denver Post, would soon file for bankruptcy and be acquired by Alden Global Capital. In 2018, members of the Post’s staff used their editorial pages to lambast the paper’s hedge-fund owner for slashing newsroom jobs while extracting some of the largest profit margins in the industry.
In a state with a storied history of media activism, it’s no surprise that Coloradans are taking action to envision a local-news system that will better serve local communities. Reporters whose bylines used to appear in 100+-year-old outlets have started new online news sources; community members have launched local campaigns to explore public support for local news; community-radio stations and local newspapers have produced Spanish-language coverage; and elected officials have denounced predatory media owners and called for more investment in local reporting.
Not every community, though, is benefiting from this renaissance of media innovation.
Few journalists of color are represented among the state’s shrinking corps of reporters, editors and producers. The stories and information needs of Colorado’s Latinx residents, who comprise nearly one-quarter of the state’s population, are rarely a top priority in traditional newsrooms. And the perspectives of Black and Indigenous people in Colorado are critical as the state attempts to address longstanding disparities that the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing racial-justice uprisings have laid bare.
Meanwhile, news outlets are shrinking and outright shutting down in rural communities, many of which are experiencing declining populations. As the state wrestles with how to address the needs of a changing population, not all Coloradans see themselves reflected in or served by local news.
Announcing News Voices: Colorado
Today, Colorado faces rapid population growth, particularly among immigrant communities, consequential environmental debates — and, more recently, a reckoning with the state’s white-supremacist past and its current manifestations in Colorado life.
Community leaders across the state are asking how these shifts can bring about futures filled with joy and rest for those who have had to struggle for either. And media observers nationwide are watching to see if solutions rooted in Colorado — from the Community Foundation Boulder County’s Equity Reporting Initiative to statewide media collaborations like COLab and community-media spaces like the Open Media Foundation and Longmont Public Media — could provide replicable blueprints for innovators across the country.
These are among the pressing challenges and incredible opportunities that Free Press and the Colorado Media Project face as we partner to launch News Voices: Colorado — a new initiative that will work alongside communities underserved by local media to help strengthen and reimagine local news.
News Voices: Colorado will build on years of organizing and media-making within and beyond Colorado. We’ll use community-organizing tactics the News Voices team has implemented in New Jersey, North Carolina and Philadelphia to help foster trusting relationships between community members and reporters.
We’ll follow the lead of local residents and organizations, and leverage statewide research and local partnerships forged by the Colorado Media Project. We’ll work alongside partners within and outside of newsrooms to help journalism center the needs, voices and hopes of communities that have been historically misrepresented or excluded from mainstream news outlets.
Building on a foundation of local partnerships
News Voices and the Colorado Media Project began our partnership in 2019 through a working group that produced critical research and cutting-edge policy solutions to support journalism in the state. In Longmont, we worked together with other local partners to organize a public forum where residents shared their visions for local news. Forum participants called for equity in journalism, a greater range of voices, training for citizen journalists and media that build community.
Free Press’ history in the state goes back much farther. When the Rocky Mountain News folded, we held an event in Denver to discuss the future of journalism. In 2013, our National Conference for Media Reform brought more than 1,500 media-makers and activists to the city.
With the launch of News Voices: Colorado, we’re taking the next step to build momentum statewide for new models of community engagement in local news. News Voices: Colorado Manager Diamond Hardiman was born in Colorado and raised here by her parents and grandparents, who have spent a majority of their lives in Colorado as well. She spent the last few years organizing around issues of housing, equity and Black dignity and hopes to use that experience to foster strong relationships across the state as we work together to transform local news.
Both Free Press and the Colorado Media Project are thrilled to expand and deepen our relationships in the state, especially beyond the Denver metro area, and to work with local partners. If you want to dream, build community and take action with us, you can sign up to stay up to date on News Voices: Colorado and learn about ways you can get involved in the movement to strengthen and transform local news.
We’re hosting a series of statewide conversations on some of the most pressing issues facing our communities and want to hear your thoughts on how local media can tell the stories that matter most and provide information your community needs. Reach out for details and to add your voice to the conversation.
Join Free Press on Facebook Live on Wed., Aug. 26, at 11 a.m. to watch News Voices: Colorado’s Diamond Hardiman in conversation with the Colorado Media Project’s Philip Clapham. This is another chance for you to share your ideas and questions about the future of local news in the state.