Inside the News: Colorado Newsrooms Swarm To Serve Spanish Speakers in the Roaring Fork Valley

  • 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 coalition of news organizations has banded together to serve Spanish-language audiences in the Roaring Fork Valley.

The initiative counts a mix of nonprofit, for-profit, public and commercial, digital and print outlets as partners.

“I am not aware of anything like this in the country,” said Laura Frank, executive director of Colorado News Collaborative, known as COLab, which is involved in the effort. “And the whole thing was born of engagement with community about what they wanted and needed.”

  • The background: Last summer, several local news organizations serving the Roaring Fork Valley surveyed 155 residents in English and Spanish in hopes of understanding what Spanish speakers thought of local news and to assess potential coverage gaps and how to mitigate them.

Around this time last year, journalists from some of the publications involved gave a presentation about the findings.

Now, a year later, they are working to put what they learned into action with a project called the Roaring Fork Spanish News Collaborative.

El Sol del Valle, which launched in 2021 as a Spanish-language insert in the nonprofit Carbondale-based Sopris Sun newspaper, serves as the anchor. (Look for ads about it on buses around Aspen.)

“For the past year, el Sol del Valle, a project that began with a few original columns in Spanish, along with a translated story and news bulletins each week, has benefited from other news outlets in the Roaring Fork Valley contributing their own translations to a standalone version of the newspaper that is printed by Aspen Daily News and distributed from Aspen to Rifle and into the Vail Valley,” says Sopris Sun editor Raleigh Burleigh.

El Sol del Valle now has its own editor, Vanessa Porras, a bilingual and bicultural artist, writer, and educator, who was born in Mexico and grew up in the valley. During a speech last month at the Colorado Press Association convention in Denver, she said this:

Our columnists are a team of professionals in their own field providing information to their community with topics ranging from culture and arts, immigration, and the immigrant experience, law enforcement, and civic rights. Environmental sustainability, action, impact, and preservation. Information on physical and mental health as well as food insecurity services.

Our columnists are people who have lived in the community, who are critical thinkers and have a lot to say. I have seen them grow from people who were unsure about their contribution as columnists to people inspired to propose pitches and dipping their toes and reporting about their own community.

Currently, Sol de Valle and the Sopris Sun are in the midst of a web upgrade that will allow them to post news in Spanish from all the collaborators in one place, says Todd Chamberlin, who serves as executive director of both publications.

“We’re going to put it on that platform so there’s just kind of one source of news for this area,” he said over the phone this week, adding that Newspack, an open-source publishing and revenue-generating platform, will power it.

The project last year benefitted from a $25,000 grant from Colorado Media Project, which underwrites this newsletter. At the time, the initiative counted as partners Aspen Daily News, the Aspen Times, Glenwood Springs Post Independent, Aspen Journalism, KPVW La Tricolor, KDNK community radio, and Aspen Public Radio.

Chamberlin said this week he expects the Sentinel newspaper in Grand Junction and Mountain Parent Magazine to also come on board. (The Roaring Fork Spanish News Collaborative has also partnered with other local and statewide outlets like KGNU radio in Boulder, the education-focused Chalkbeat Colorado, and the Colorado Sun.)

Partnering news organizations “recognize the need for reliable local news to be accessible in Spanish” and are “proud to contribute toward this collaborative effort,” Burleigh said over email this week.

“In some cases,” he added, “publishing stories in el Sol del Valle is something they can point to when speaking with potential funders, moreover it’s a shared value we news folks identify with — bolstering the presence of a Latina-led initiative with the potential to grow into its own source of representative reporting from which the valley as a whole will benefit.”

In her speech at the CPA convention, Porras said the project enlists about 10 columnists, two translators, one illustrator, and a photographer.

“El Sol del Valle is a place where the community can uplift and highlight each other as well as inform,” she said. “It’s an example of a collaboration amongst several news outlets for the benefit and health of a community that has been largely uninformed through print media in our region.”

People who “didn’t think their stories were worth telling,” she said, “are seeing their names and picture [in] the paper. Writers and creators whose thoughts and work had gone unexpressed are now making a difference.”

A ‘challenge’: Colorado SUPCO judge & state AG talk about tech & the First Amendment

Last week, Colorado Supreme Court Justice Melissa Hart and the state’s Democratic attorney general, Phil Weiser, sat for an interview at the Denver Democracy Summit at the University of Denver.

The conversation ranged from concerns about bad actors using artificial intelligence to spread disinformation to how new technology intersects with the First Amendment.

You can watch the whole thing here. Here were some highlights:

  • On the First Amendment and AI regulation: “The challenge, I think, for courts will continue to be: How you can protect speech, counter-speech, where we have a robust marketplace of ideas, and how do you avoid the First Amendment becoming, if you will, a weapon to strike down artificial intelligence regulation,” Weiser said.
  • On AI and the law: Hart noted a recent continuing legal eduction program that came with this prompt: “ChatGPT should be admitted to the Colorado BAR. Discuss.” Hart said: “There’s something to that. We need to think about how this operates as a lawyer.”
  • On arguments by some conservatives that they have a ‘right’ to be platformed by tech companies: “We are not in a good place on this right now because the digital public square is owned by private tech companies,” Weiser said. “And the rules that they adopt are absolutely protected by the First Amendment.” He added that he could imagine a law that stated tech companies must disclose their policies about what they choose to de-platform and to have some sort of appeal or review process. “I do believe that we have a public interest in a fair digital marketplace of ideas and the rules that I outlined could be in service of that,” the state attorney general said. “This is not to tell companies what to do, but it’s just to say that the public does have an interest in knowing what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and there are real consequences if there’s adverse information about me that’s completely malicious and untrue, and there’s a refusal to take it down. That’s going to harm me.”
  • “The First Amendment only prohibits the government from limiting however much speech the government can’t limit,” Justice Hart said. “So the analysis of the First Amendment in the context of privately owned companies is simply different as a doctrinal matter. However, people talk about it as if it’s the same. And that makes it really hard, I think, to have rational conversations around it.”
  • On Section 230, the law that offers immunity to platforms (unlike publishers) from liability based on what people publish on them: “It was done when these companies were nascent, small startups,” Weiser said. “These are now the most powerful companies in the U.S. I believe the complete bar of liability of the type that for example the New York Times would have to have is hard to justify, and thus a re-examination of 230, thinking about the ideas that I just mentioned, is in order.”

Justice Hart also talked about a recent controversial Colorado Supreme Court ruling, in which she joined the majority, that involved reverse-keyword search warrants. I pulled out that portion and inserted a video of it into last week’s newsletter item about that ruling if you want to check it out.

Shay Castle is the new editor of Boulder Weekly. So, what happens to Boulder Beat? ‘TBD’

From print newspaper to digital news entrepreneur — and back again.

That’s the professional trajectory of Shay Castle, who spent years as a reporter for the Boulder Daily Camera newspaper, then left to launch her own outlet called Boulder Beat.

Castle is among a movement of “one-person newsrooms” in Colorado that are typically run by former newspaper reporters who set off to do their own thing in the communities where they live.

For the past five years, she has built a following in Boulder by covering hyperlocal issues, holding local governments accountable, and keeping Boulderites informed.

This week, Castle dropped a bit of a bombshell, announcing she will be taking on the role of editor at Boulder Weekly.

So … what happens to Boulder Beat? “TBD,” she told me over the phone and in an email exchange this week.

“I was actually planning to shut down Boulder Beat at the end of the year (more accurately, January 7, our 5-year anniversary) and be jobless for a bit until there was an interesting enough job opportunity, in or out of journalism,” she said. “But I saw the Weekly’s editor was leaving in your newsletter, and that seemed kinda perfect. I sent an email and a week later, I had the job.”

Castle said she is considering incorporating some Boulder Beat content into the paper, or maybe keeping the brand alive within it somehow, but, “I think it’s safe to say the Beat as it exists today will not continue.”

Covering city council as she has been doing is a full-time job, she added, as is running a news outlet. “I miss being part of a team,” she said. “That was my main motivation for wanting to move on. … I am really looking forward to beefing up the Weekly’s news offerings. The staff is so stellar: relatively young and excited to do big, new things! I feel incredibly fortunate.”

A quarter million dollars in grants open in Colorado to advance equity in local news

Newsrooms in Colorado that want a shot at the third round of Advancing Equity in Local News grants from Colorado Media Project, which underwrites this newsletter, can start applying this week.

A quarter of a million dollars in grant money will flow this year to Colorado news organizations for the initiative with the amount per project typically ranging between $5,000 and $25,000.

From the CMP announcement:

These grants will support projects in 2024 that address one or more of these three priorities, which are responsive to community-based calls for action put forth by the Colorado News Collaborative’s Black, Latinx, AANHPI and Indigenous Voices Initiative Working Groups: 

  1. Support internal diversity, equity and inclusion capacity-building efforts in Colorado newsrooms;
  2. Strengthen connections and build trust between Colorado newsrooms and the diverse communities they serve; and/or
  3. Support more diverse and inclusive civic news leadership, entrepreneurship, ownership and narratives.

“Too often, journalism has been seen as a one-way street — where news outlets set the agenda for community conversations and priorities, and communities feel misunderstood or misrepresented and lose trust in the media,” Colorado Media Project said in a statement. “CMP aims to help newsrooms shift these power dynamics and build deeper levels of trust in local news, by inspiring new ways of two-way engagement between local newsrooms and the people most impacted by inequities in our state.”

Sign up here for an informational session TODAY at noon. Here is a direct link to apply for a grant.

The Colorado Sun donates shares of Colorado Community Media to National Trust

Impacts are still emanating from the Colorado Sun’s major move that converts it from a public benefit corporation to a nonprofit.

One question has been what would happen to the Sun’s relationship with the string of two dozen Colorado Community Media newspapers in the Denver suburbs it acquired in 2021 in a unique-in-the-nation deal along with the National Trust for Local News.

Now, the growing statewide local news operation announces this:

This week, as The Sun transitions from a public benefit corporation to a nonprofit, we donated our shares to our friends at the National Trust, which is itself a nonprofit. Just as we believe that nonprofit is the right fit for The Sun, we believe it’s a good fit for these weeklies, too. That will be a decision for the​​ Trust and the board of directors of the Colorado News Conservancy, the parent company of CCM.

The Sun received no compensation for this transfer of shares. We embarked on this journey to benefit the public, and we believe we have done that.

Read the rest at the link above.

How we know local news is good for democracy

Jim Brady of the Knight Foundation asked me this question during a panel discussion at last week’s Denver Democracy Summit at the University of Denver.

Here was my answer (at 5:37:10):

Find all the summit discussions here. Read Democracy Fund’s research on the issue here.

More Colorado media odds & ends

📧 One Big Thing: Thanks to the Axios Denver team for traveling to Colorado Springs to join students in my current Colorado College class “Inbox Journalism: Writing for Newsletters” and offering them the opportunity to write for the newsletter. Students produced these two items for Axios Denver this week. (Become a member of Axios Denver here.)

📲 “Colorado joined dozens of states’ attorneys general in announcing a federal lawsuit against Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram,” CBS Colorado reported. “The lawsuit alleges that Meta, created and implemented harmful features on Instagram and Facebook that get children and teens addicted to these social media sites, often to their mental and physical detriment. The state of Colorado, specifically, alleges the company violates consumer protection laws.”

👍 Brier Dudley this week gave this newsletter a shoutout in The Seattle Times as part of its Save the Free Press Initiative, noting last week’s coverage of the Rio Blanco Herald Times.

🏔 The Mountain Gazette is publishing its 200th issue this fall “with a nod to the magazine’s Colorado roots and a cover designed by an Aspen artist.” Aspen Public Radio’s Kaya Williams has an audio story about it with owner and editor Mike Rogge. “On the bill of sale, he asked me to buy him a Coors Banquet beer,” Rogge said about his acquisition of the magazine. “And so at 8:30 in the morning, I signed a contract, I bought a Coors Banquet beer, and I was the new owner of a storage unit in Boulder, Colorado that contained the rights to publish Mountain Gazette.”

❌ In last week’s newsletter I wrote that KVNF is located in Carbondale, conflating it with KDNK. KVNF is based out of Paonia, Colorado. (I had Gavin Dahl on the brain.)

⚖️ A judge this week “ordered Denver to disclose city officials’ text messages about last June’s severe hailstorm at Red Rocks Amphitheater, ruling the communications were improperly withheld from 9NEWS reporter Steve Staeger.” Jeff Roberts at the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition has the story.

🔎 Colorado news organizations can be more transparent by making sure their postings at JournalismJobs[dot]com are complying with the Equal Pay for Equal Work Act that requires employers to post salary ranges in job listings. (Unless those outlets don’t want people to know for some reason.)

📺 Denver7, the local ABC affiliate also known as KMGH and The Denver Channel, turned 70 this week. As part of a look back at its history, Jeff Anastasio reported on the 1955 bombing of United Flight 629 over a family’s sugar beet farm in Longmont, and how Denver7, then known as KLZ-TV, “fought through the bureaucracy arguing the trial should be televised” and “forever changed courtroom coverage in Colorado.”

🎥 Julian Rubinstein spoke at the Investigative Film Festival inWashington, D.C. on a Thursday panel that presented his documentary “The Holly” as a case study for “investigative filmmaking under fire.”

🏆 Filmmaker Rick Goldsmith’s documentary, “Stripped for Parts: American Journalism on the Brink,” which is about a “secretive hedge fund that is plundering America’s newspapers and the journalists who are fighting back,” was selected for the Grand Jury Award for Best Documentary at the United Nations Association Film Festival this week. (The trailer focuses heavily on journalists from Colorado.)

📡 Rocky Mountain Community Radio held its annual conference in Fort Collins this week that included about 70 station members from ColoradoUtah, and WyomingKSUT Tribal Radio in the Four Corners region has a writeup.

👩‍⚖️ A Denver judge who is hearing a current court action aimed at barring former Republican President Donald Trump from appearing on the 2024 presidential ballot in Colorado this week declined to toss the case, saying “she would need to reconcile the First Amendment’s protection of speech with the 14th Amendment’s disqualification for insurrections after hearing all of the evidence,” Michael Karlik reported for Colorado Politics.

📺 Chief 9NEWS meteorologist Kathy Sabine “reduced her on-air schedule following recent treatment for skin cancer, but she is now returning to her previous role handling the 4 pm, 5 pm, 6 pm, 9 pm and 10 pm broadcasts,” wrote PR pro Jeremy Story at his Denver Public Relations Blog.

🏅 The Colorado Press Association honored the life and work of former MSU Denver journalism professor Alfonzo Porter with a posthumous award at the organization’s recent annual convention. Sara Martin at Met Media has a writeup about it.

🤦‍♂️ Campaigns using newspaper paywalls to their advantage? The Denver Post editorial board chose not to endorse a candidate for school board, but said of two that “either will be a great improvement.” One of them went on social media saying, “The Denver Post Supports Our Campaign To Bring Change to the DPS Board.” 9NEWS anchor Kyle Clark called it “not false, but interesting (perhaps misleading) spin” and noted that with the newspaper’s editorial “behind a paywall (no complaints here, journalism costs money to produce), it’s possible voters may mistakenly believe the Post endorsed [one candidate] over [the other]. It did not.”

👊 As someone who has written my fair share of “Best Of” alt-weekly items, I was proud to see so many Colorado College journalism minors represented in the masthead as contributors to this year’s “Best of Colorado Springs” edition in The Indy.

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. 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.