If you pay attention to the news in Colorado, then you already know: There isn’t as much of it as there used to be.
Like the rest of the United States, Colorado has experienced widespread newsroom closures, journalist layoffs, vulture-capitalist takeovers, and, most critically, residents losing out on the news they need to stay informed and engaged. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the long-brewing crisis — just when our communities most need trustworthy information to stay safe and healthy. At the same time, Black communities are rising up in support of Black dignity and journalists are rethinking how they prioritize their relationships with police and communities of color.
There is a window of opportunity for Coloradans, inside and outside of newsrooms, to conceive a new path forward for journalism. A new Free Press project, News Voices: Colorado, is joining efforts around the state to ensure that communities have access to the information they need and are represented in the stories being told.
In this time of great need, more Colorado newsrooms are shunning competition in favor of collaboration. Philanthropists are banding together to fund new experiments in news gathering. Community-centered media are focusing on race equity. Community leaders are organizing Facebook groups to share local news. This innovation across different fields is energizing and welcome — but can’t fully offset all of the local coverage Coloradans have lost over the last two decades.
When it comes to the need for more informed communities, we are in a moment to reconsider what is possible and what we can do to achieve the impossible.
In partnership with Colorado Media Project, COLab and many others who are building the future of news here, News Voices: Colorado will listen to communities and journalists to understand the challenges they are facing, host conversations to strengthen the relationship between the public and local newsrooms, and follow the lead of community members to collectively build a more equitable and sustainable Colorado media system. News Voices: Colorado will 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.
Colorado’s local-news crisis isn’t just a problem for the journalism industry. Studies show that civic participation and community cohesion decline when the news disappears. Those who are most impacted by the loss of local-media outlets — people who live in news deserts, people who lack home internet and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of color) — must be at the center of conversations on how to repair local news. News Voices: Colorado will prioritize listening to communities whose needs and voices have historically been ignored or misrepresented in the media.
As a Colorado native and community organizer, I know firsthand the need to confront narratives that the media and other institutions have weaponized against communities. I have seen how media distortions and stereotypes undermine the political, economic and social will necessary to transform the conditions impacting Black and Brown people. Yes, journalism can comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, but it can also reinforce the myths and violence of white supremacy.
As Toni Morrison said, “Definitions belong to the definers, not the defined.” So it can’t just be journalists and media watchers who have the power to define the future of local news. That’s why News Voices: Colorado understands and will pay homage to the innovative ways in which Black, Brown and Indigenous people keep each other informed — from using braids to relay messages to crafting quilts that hold stories.
Community members are best suited to name their information needs and tell their stories — defining themselves on their own terms to help chart a new way forward for local news. Through community conversations, journalism trainings, newsroom-community partnerships and other ways of making media platforms more accessible and accountable, News Voices: Colorado hopes to guide and inspire Coloradans to harness their collective power. This power can bring about communities that center equity, prioritize healing and leave space for the continuous expansion of what we dream to be possible.
We ask for you to journey with us in creating a news ecosystem that values community members as thought partners, content creators and generators of knowledge. Our first public conversations will focus on Black dignity uprisings, local-news coverage and COVID-19 news-and-information needs in immigrant communities. Your voices are instrumental in building local news for all Coloradans.