A Revelation and a Revolution

  • Laura pioneered collaborative journalism in Colorado as the founder of I-News, the nonprofit investigative news organization that merged with Rocky Mountain Public Media in 2013.

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Since the spring of 2020, COLab has grown from an idea to an independent nonprofit serving more than 180 news outlets and their communities across Colorado – with more than 1,000 Coloradans financially supporting this work. We know that means people understand the great need and the great importance of strong, independent local news.

A reminder of why COLab – the brainchild of the former Colorado Independent, Colorado Media Project, Colorado Press Association and multiple local news outlets – came into being: local news was in trouble. Newsroom budgets were withering, reporters were being laid off with remaining staff stretched thin, unable to cover their communities as they once did.

COLab’s biggest accomplishment might be to acknowledge and act upon the reality that local newsrooms need each other. We can learn from one another, strengthen one another through collaboration that benefits not only our readers, viewers and listeners, but also the bottom line.

Some stories, yes, will always be competitive and newsrooms will go head-to-head on them. But there are others no one newsroom could do alone. Three years ago, it might have been inconceivable for The Denver Post, the Colorado Sun, Colorado Public Radio, the Aurora Sentinel, the Colorado Springs Gazette, 9News and even well-known team players such as Chalkbeat and Kaiser Health News, to regularly work together. They do it now…beautifully.

It might have been inconceivable that rural, ethnic and urban newsrooms would hop on a call to see what they might learn together. That just didn’t happen back then, but does now – weekly.

We might not have imagined that news outlets would work together to raise and save money. Now they are.

We are still learning and growing. But we are doing it together. And that’s a revelation and a revolution.

This got me thinking about what things would be like if COLab hadn’t existed. Here are just a few examples:

Grave, decades-old problems with Colorado’s mental health safety net would still be unexposed. Instead, COLab led statewide collaborative reporting that appeared in dozens of media outlets and inspired changes in how state-funded nonprofits must help some of the sickest and most vulnerable among us, without simply “firing” them from care.

The Sentinel in Aurora – perhaps the state’s largest news organization serving a majority community of color – might have closed. Instead, COLab helped the newspaper find a temporary owner, shift to a nonprofit business model and develop a plan for eventual community ownership. COLab also helped 30+ news outlets raise more than $800,000 in donations from 5,000+ Coloradans.

Black, Latino, Asian American and Pacific Islander and Indigenous community members and journalists would not have united in the hard work of building a path for local news coverage that is more inclusive, accurate and reflective of the lives of Coloradans of color. Through COLab, their recommendations for change have so far been presented to more than 500 residents and journalists who have added their voices and ideas, fueling the momentum for change. We’ve also helped launch a major project to better serve Spanish-speaking communities in the Roaring Fork Valley. And we’ve helped train dozens of journalists to recognize their own biases and blind spots when it comes to race and other differences among us. COLab helps media reach Coloradans they weren’t reaching before.

COLab is making journalism stronger by focusing on what we call the “three Rs” – Reporting, Reach and Revenue. We’re the only nonprofit in the country taking this holistic approach to helping local news outlets become more sustainable.

“These mutual projects are hitting the mark and helping us, and others, I’m certain, make gains in delivering tough stories.”

David Perry, (Aurora) Sentinel editor and publisher

We did not accomplish any of this alone. The word “collaborative” is not only in our name, it’s in our DNA. Working with colleagues at the Colorado Press Association, Colorado Media Project, Institute for Science & Policy, Colorado State University Center for Public Deliberation, our 180+ media partners and others, we’ve found ways to do a lot with just a little. Harnessing the power of this collective, we’re able to help dozens of news outlets, big and small, produce news stories, engage their communities and advance their business models at levels none could do alone.

Thank you again for your interest and support of local news in Colorado. To help us celebrate our anniversary, I hope you’ll join in extending that appreciation to the Colorado journalists working hard every day to bring us the news and information we need to make our state strong. If you believe that quality, local news is essential to democracy and economic development, please follow this link to join me in sharing some words of support or thanks to those who endeavor to keep you informed and connected to your community. I will share what you send with them. And please follow this link if you would like to support COLab.