Something Extraordinary

A connection with purpose
  • 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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Dear Fellow Coloradan,

Something extraordinary happened Sunday, after COLab and dozens of our media partners across the state began publishing our latest collaborative investigation. 

Coloradans learned for the first time why so many of our most vulnerable friends and family have fallen through the mental health safety net that is supposed to help them. The reasons are a mixture of failing government oversight, entrenched bureaucracy and, I’d say, lack of courage for change. You can decide for yourself. If you haven’t already seen it, a link to the story is below and above is a picture of Matt Vinnola and his mom, Janet van der Laak, who have been affected as much as anyone by failures with the system.

COLab does many things. We’re helping news sources and communities — particularly communities of color — better connect with each other, so all Coloradans are better served by their local media. And we’re helping evolve the business models that support journalism. But on this day, I want to focus on the way we help your local news outlet do more with the resources it has. COLab leads collaborative reporting among more than 160 news outlets statewide. On Sunday, Coloradans from all corners of the state were able to turn to their own local news sources — people they often know and trust — to understand what has gone wrong with our community mental health systems during the deepest mental health crisis the state has faced in our lifetimes.

Collaborative reporting means journalists across the state worked with COLab coach Susan Greene to build on her deep investigation, taking data and details she gathered and digging into what it means in their local communities. Susan’s mission — and I mean mission because it’s more than just a job to her — is to help every journalist she can help be the best journalist they can be. And then they can coach the journalists who come after them. Susan believes you and all your neighbors deserve the best journalism possible. Soulful, unflinching, honest and thorough. Information that inspires you to be connected to your community.

Our media partners, your local news sources, want that, too. And they know they can deliver more of that kind of reporting if we all work collaboratively when a story is complex and nuanced and time-consuming and requires more than any one newsroom can do alone. We need people like Dave Perry at Sentinel Colorado in Aurora to ask questions no one else thought of. We need people like Lee Ann Colacioppo at The Denver Post to help edit the story into the strongest it can be. We need people like Terri House at the Pagosa Springs SUN to catch typos that many other sets of eyes missed. And we need people like Radio Tricolor’s Samuel Bernal, who translated the full story into Spanish so that more people could read it. 

This work bridges the gaps in information and resources that keep the public in the dark and unites Coloradans and its journalists in one purpose: In the case of this project, informing as many Coloradans as possible about the state’s tattered and dysfunctional mental health safety net system.

So Sunday, the story began appearing all across the state. It was everywhere, from the Canon City Daily Record to the Craig Daily Press, the Lamar Ledger to the Longmont Leader, the Pagosa Springs SUN to The Colorado Sun, the commercial TV 9News to the public TV Rocky Mountain PBS.

Then it began happening: Scores of people reaching out in calls, texts and emails with some version of this question: What can we do to fix this?

This is exactly what the founders of our country envisioned when they determined a free press needed protection in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. We can’t run a democracy without reliable facts and information. The people have a right to know. This is essential to freedom.

Now COLab and our media partners across the state begin the important work of helping people connect with each other so they can start to answer their question. We call this “community engagement.” And it is what so many people hunger for: A connection with purpose to something bigger than ourselves that has a chance of making a difference in one life or many lives. To be very clear: COLab and our media partners don’t have the answer to this question and it’s not up to journalists to decide. A journalist’s job is to get the story. A citizen’s job is to make democracy out of it.

Thank you, 

Laura Frank

P.S. Here is the link to the On Edge Investigation, if you haven’t already seen it. 

This post was sent as a letter to our email subscribers on Monday, December 6, 2021. Join our email list to learn more about COLab and the work we are doing.