Inside the News: As Another Colorado Newspaper Folds a Local Library Works To Digitize Its Archives

  • Corey Hutchins is a journalism instructor at Colorado College and a contributor to Columbia Journalism Review, The Washington Post, and other news outlets. This column is produced with support from the Colorado Media Project, and is distributed statewide via the Colorado News Collaborative.

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A weekly newspaper that has operated since 1958 in the town of Fountain, just south of Colorado Springs, has gone out of business.

“Our newspaper printed its last edition Dec. 28,” read a sign on the door of The El Paso County Advertiser and Fountain Valley News on a recent evening this week.

“I truly don’t think many in our community fully realize what they are losing with our paper closing,” Patricia St. Louis, assistant manager and former editor, wrote in a column for the paper’s final edition. “Maybe none of us really know what we have until it’s gone.”

The “voice of the Fountain Valley” is another casualty of the post-pandemic economy. Now, as residents worry about where they will continue to get their hyperlocal news and information, and who or what will hold local institutions accountable, a public library is making sure the paper’s archives remain available — and searchable — online.

“We heard that the newspaper was going to close down, and my first thing as a librarian is, ‘Uh-oh, for the sake of democracy we need to make sure that we have some kind of news outlet in this area’,” Sarah Anspach, head of public services at the nearby Security Public Library, said over the phone Wednesday. She added that she feels the larger news outlets based in the urban core of Colorado Springs neglect the Fountain Valley community of about 100,000. “We’re forgotten in the bigger, larger frame of things,” she said.

In the past few years, a movement has been afoot in Colorado to try and save small local newspapers and keep them in local hands, and organizations have launched to do that — thus far in the Denver area.

In the Fountain Valley, Anspach said the Security library asked the newspaper if there was anything they could do, but “unfortunately there’s really nothing that could help to keep them open.” (Libraries elsewhere in the nation have stepped in to fill a local news gap when a newspaper has folded; in Longmont, Colorado, locals in 2019 unsuccessfully pushed for new taxes to fund a library district with a community news component.)

At the very least, Anspach asked if the Security library, which is currently working on a local history project, could house and digitize the print archives of the Fountain paper as it fades. The newspaper agreed.

“So we’re going to digitize them,” Anspach said, “and also so they’re easily accessible … we’re going to try to get them to where they can be searchable as well.” Doing so will take time, but the library has the technology — though it’s not the most up to date. They hope to enlist volunteers to help. “I have no idea how long it’s going to take to do this,” she said.

Beyond a trend of vanishing newspapers and growing news deserts, the development reflects a larger national issue of disappearing or deteriorating digital archives of community papers in cities and towns across the country. Sometimes a local news outlet’s online archives simply die of “link rot” (not unlike some U.S. Supreme Court decisions); other times there might even be someone trying to “catch and kill” a former newspaper’s bank of archives to ensure past negative news stories disappear from the web.

In a Dec. 28 Fountain Valley News column titled “Saying goodbye to our hometown newspaper,” St. Louis, the former editor, wrote:

We have worked to keep you informed about city activities and governmental happenings to keep you in the know. We have advocated for citizens when we felt the need to and challenged our elected officials to never forget who elected them and who they serve. We have asked the tough questions of them, when citizens were often concerned about doing so themselves. As Carl [H. Wiese, who founded the paper] taught me, we are the community’s “watchdog.” It is nothing to take lightly.

The Colorado Springs Gazette, the largest print newspaper in southern Colorado, which is owned by a Denver billionaire, covered the nearby newspaper closure. Reporter Mary Shinn wrote:

The El Paso County Advertiser and Fountain Valley News was doing fairly well about three years ago, prior to the pandemic, but when businesses started to struggle, ad revenue faltered and never recovered. At the same time, the price of printing and other costs rose, said St. Louis, assistant manager and former executive editor.

This year, post-pandemic, some advertisers told the paper they were no longer interested in publishing in print news outlets, staff members said … The staff also looked for a buyer, but didn’t find one. 

Some print newspapers whacked by pandemic and post-pandemic headwinds have decided to go online-only to save money, but the Fountain paper didn’t have the funds to try. (It doesn’t always work, either; last year, The Florence Citizen shifted to the web, only to fold up shop months later.)

More from The Gazette about the defunct paper’s vanishing footprint in the Fountain Valley community:

Over the past three years, Karin Hill has been … the main storyteller, as the paper’s reporter and editor and she said it has provided an important alternative to social media networks that can rely on rumors and guesswork. “We have our thumb on the pulse of what’s going on,” she said. … The loss of the paper was likely a shock to many and the reality of it will likely kick in when the paper is no longer delivered to doorsteps or available around town, said Geof Clark, a former reporter who also worked in other roles.

Whether a new hyperlocal news source moves in to fill a gap, an entity tries to revive the paper, larger news outlets nearby step up coverage of the area, or if residents will turn to social media, local Facebook groups, or elsewhere remains to be seen.

Anspach, the local librarian, says while the paper came out weekly, it also kept the community up to date on emergency news, public safety, and information on its Facebook page. She wondered if anyone would keep the page active without paid employees. And as someone who has attended local government meetings herself and found scant coverage beyond the now-defunct local paper, she worries about the future.

“I think that’s the biggest travesty of this … our community is so under-reported throughout the Fountain Valley,” she said. “That’s the biggest thing: It isn’t necessarily the history; it’s going forward what our community will lose.”

‘Political speech’ and ‘journalism’ are now protected in Colorado’s new privacy law

As policymakers in Colorado last month worked on rules to implement a sweeping new law called the Colorado Privacy Act, newsroom leaders had concerns about how it might affect their news-gathering process and journalistic business.

This month, new draft rules show state officials moved to rectify some of those fears.

From Jeff Roberts at the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition:

new version, released by the office of Attorney General Phil Weiser on Dec. 21, explicitly says that nothing in the Colorado Privacy Act or the rules themselves gives the AG or a district attorney any enforcement powers “that would infringe upon rights protected by the United States Constitution or Colorado Constitution, including the right to freedom of speech or freedom of the press.”

The revised language also clarifies that the law exempts data maintained for noncommercial purposes, defined to include “political speech and journalism.”

At the website of his government transparency organization, which works with journalists in Colorado, Roberts had previously rounded up testimony by some Colorado newsroom leaders who urged policymakers to ensure it protected news-gathering.

His latest piece has more details on the new rules. Another hearing on those rules will take place at the first of next month.

Want to report in Cortez, CO for The Daily Yonder?

A national digital news outlet founded in 2007 that provides “news, commentary, and analysis about and for rural America” is offering a one-year rural reporting fellowship in Colorado.

The outlet is The Daily Yonder and the fellowship location is Cortez, a town in Colorado’s southwest region known as the Four Corners. The outlet shares its reporting with newspapers and radio stations. Here’s the pitch for a “special one-year fellowship” based in Colorado:

The Daily Yonder’s Rural Reporting Fellowship is a program for aspiring journalists and media strategists. Want to kickstart your career in online news and learn more about covering rural issues and perspectives? This is your chance to join our growing team of rural storytellers and communications professionals.

Applications opened this month and are rolling. A fellow could start ASAP. The general starting point is $18 an hour/$720 a week at full-time hours, I’m told. Where applicable, they also offer reimbursement of health care and telecom expenses like for internet and devices needed for work.

“This is a pilot program for the Yonder, and they are keenly interested in collaborating directly with local outlets to co-publish or broadcast news content created by the fellow and based on the needs of local newsrooms,” says Kasey Cordell, spokesperson for the LOR Foundation, which works to improve quality of life in rural areas, has a presence in Colorado, and is helping support the initiative.

More Colorado media odds & ends

➕ BONUS: If you read last week’s newsletter in your inbox, I added more to the published edition that includes the top five most-read online editions of this newsletter in 2022 and the top three most-opened inbox newsletters (with percentage rates) based on their subject lines.

👀 Colorado Public Radio “has grown to become the fifth largest newsroom in public broadcasting” and has “the largest locally owned news operation in the state capital,” according to language in a recent news release from the station.

⬆️ Brian Sherrod is now a weekend morning anchor for KKTV in the Springs. “What an achievement especially earning it in less than a year of being here,” he said.

📱 “As a journalist — and one who primarily covers criminal justice — I always do a little research on the people I’m dating,” wrote Elise Schmelzer of The Denver Post who offered “a few tips to conduct a simple check on someone you’re interested in.”

⚖️ A Nevada man and his healthcare staffing company filed a defamation lawsuit against a Denver TV reporter individually and the company he works for, along with a Denver newspaper for republishing the journalism. A Colorado reporter fora digital news site is also named in the suit. First Amendment attorney Steve Zansberg is representing some of the named defendants and said they would respond, “in due time, by seeking dismissal of the meritless claims under Colorado’s anti-SLAPP Act.” (Stay tuned for details if and when I see a filed response.)

💳 With help from a donor, the Colorado-based MoodFuel News is looking to raise $700 by the end of the month to launch an Indigenous Student Journalism Fellowship fortwo college students to report on mental health.

⚕️Denver7 anchor and reporter Danny New will be off the air for a couple weeks. “Unfortunately, I need another surgery for thyroid cancer,” he said. “Everything should be okay, prognosis hasn’t changed. Just please remember to have your doctors check your neck.”

➡️ When Axios Denver asked Colorado’s incoming House Speaker, Julie McCluskie (D-Dillon), about her go-to news sources, she said: “I am a huge fan of the local paper when I can pick it up and page through it because I’ll stumble upon things I didn’t know about.” She said turning on Colorado Public Radio is the first thing she does in the morning.

🗞 The Gannett-owned USA Today network reported its journalistic impact in 2022 and noted accountability and watchdog work by The Coloradoan in Fort Collins. The local paper’s editor, Eric Larsen, penned his own column about the Coloradoan’s impact from some of its 2,000 stories in 2022.

🦅 The monthly Crestone Eagle nonprofit newspaper in Saguache County in one of Colorado’s most interesting small towns is looking for a new editor. Salary range: $35,000 to $40,000. Send resume and clips to pilgrimage [at] fairpoint [dot] net. 

🎙 Colorado Public Radio’s podcast Systemic, “an audio documentary that takes an innovative look at people working to reform institutions,” returned this week for a second season, CPR said.

🔀 Andrew Travers, who briefly served as editor of The Aspen Times during its summer of turmoil, has a new job. (You might recall he said he was fired before his “title even changed on the masthead” after publishing a guest column critical of the paper). He has recently taken a post with the Aspen Institute, where he’ll manage educational programs for the Bayer Center. He’ll continue to freelance, and the leaders at the Institute have been supportive of his work “advocating for press freedom and better local news solutions,” he says.

🎤 KDVR TV reporter Joshua Short in Denver is launching “The Short Talk Podcast” with his twin.

🆕 Sixty35 (formerly The Indy alt-weekly in Colorado Springs) published its first print news magazine issue this week and unveiled its website with a story by Pam Zubeck about the 56 traffic fatalities (the most ever) in the state’s second-largest city. “And all of their deaths were preventable,” she writes.

⚰️ “It is with deep sorrow that we let the Denver VOICE community know that our long-time vendor, Brian Augustine passed away,” reported the “street newspaper” that “provides economic opportunities for people experiencing homelessness and poverty.” With his “myriad of hats, compassion for his fellow vendors, and positive attitude Brian was such a bright light, and we will miss him.” (9News did an obit for him and a mini-profile of the VOICE.)

🏰 You might have heard Prince Harry has a book out. Did you know his ghostwriterJ.R. Moehringerworked for The Rocky Mountain News?

🤖 Colorado Springs Gazette Editor Vince Bzdek used the new artificial intelligence tool ChatGPT to help write a recent newspaper column.

📢 Colorado Community Media’s Olivia Jewell Love had this to say this week: “happy yell at ur local newspaper reporter for not covering high school sports even tho she writes the entire paper alone and is the sole reporter for an entire county day.”

📡 KLZR public radio in Westcliffe is looking to hire a news director for “a half-time position, to manage its newsletter.” Pay is 20 hours/week at $20/hour. Email Kathy.Blaha [at] klzr [dot] org.

programs which include a weekday morning broadcast and e-newsletter.

🎙 Colorado College sophomore Elliot Singer spoke to fellow student Chris Mehlman on a podcast about balancing elite sports with school. (At the 26:55 mark they talk about CC’s journalism classes and the “Inbox Journalism: Writing for Newsletters” class they both took.)

🏆 The National Sports Media Association this week named Denver Post columnist Mark Kiszla its Sportswriter of the Year for 2022 . “It is the fourth time in which he has received the award,” the paper reported.

📺 vs. 📻 FOX21 News and X1039 in the Springs will compete at the “Media Brawl at WhirlyBall” to benefit Inside Out Youth Services, which “builds access, equity, and power with LGBTQIA2+ young people, through leadership, advocacy, community-building, education, and peer support.”

📈 Todd Engdahl, editor of Capitol Editorial Services, saw his Denver Post print subscription rise 30% — from $1,250 in October to $1,640 in November. (I reached out to Bill Reynolds, the paper’s general manager and senior VP of circulation and operations, for details but didn’t hear back.)

☀️ The Colorado Sun published my year in review: “The news behind the news in Colorado’s media world in 2022.”

⚙️ Briana Fernandez is joining KUSA 9News in Denver on its morning team, coming from NBC2 in Florida. Glenn Wallace has taken a job on the editing desk at The Colorado Springs Gazette and is “excited to get back to journalism.” Jordan Good hung up his headset as a digital content producer at KRDO TV in the Springs and said “farewell to news in Southern Colorado.” Jefferson Geiger has left Summit Daily News “to devote more energy to starting a life in California.” Cassie Knust is leaving The Montrose Daily Press to join KVNF public radio, saying, “it’s bittersweet leaving my first professional news job, but I’m excited to start the next chapter of my career.” Shannon Najmabadi is leaving The Colorado Sun to cover the Midwest for The Wall Street Journal.

I’m Corey Hutchins, co-director of Colorado College’s Journalism Institute. For nearly a decade I’ve reported on the U.S. local media scene for Columbia Journalism Review, and I’ve been a journalist for longer at multiple news organizations. The Colorado Media Project is underwriting this newsletter, and my “Inside the News” column appears at COLab, both of which I sometimes write about here. Follow me on Twitter, reply or subscribe to this weekly newsletter here, or e-mail me at CoreyHutchins [at] gmail [dot] com.