December 5 is Colorado Gives Day, a chance for residents across the state to support issues and organizations that make a difference in their communities. Since 2010 more than $100 million has been raised for nonprofits in the state through this day of giving. While thousands of organizations are worthy of your investment, we’d like to spotlight one cause that we feel is especially vital this season, because of the important role it plays in each Coloradan’s ability to participate in civil society: in-depth, independent journalism.
No matter which issue you care about - from the environment to education to the economy - there are nonprofit newsrooms throughout the state who need your support on Colorado Gives Day, and every day. These nonprofit journalists are working for the public, digging into the difficult issues facing communities across the state without fear or favor. Your donations help make their work possible, and that means they answer to you.
This is especially true at the education reporting project, Chalkbeat Colorado, which has a reader advisory board where Colorado residents give journalists feedback and guide their coverage. Chalkbeat Colorado has provided statewide coverage of education policy and local reporting with real impact on kids and families. A recent investigation from Chalkbeat reporter Yesenia Robles helped reveal how proposed school closures in Jefferson County would disproportionately hurt low-income students. In the end, only one of five schools was closed and the new superintendent put a moratorium on additional school closures, citing Chalkbeat’s coverage.
Unfortunately, news outlets’ capacity to do in-depth coverage like this is at risk, as journalism in Colorado is facing real threats. Last week the Denver Post fired nearly a dozen employees. A few weeks earlier, the digital news start-up Denverite let go of three staff. A year ago, a wave of layoffs hit The Boulder Daily Camera, The Coloradoan, The Longmont Times-Call and the Loveland Reporter-Herald. The advertising business model that sustained journalism for a long time is eroding, and as newsrooms shrink it gets harder and harder to get the information we need about the issues we care about.
Nonprofit newsrooms from Denver to Durango, Grand Junction to Pueblo are working to fill these gaps, but they depend on contributions from civic-minded readers like you. On this Colorado Gives day you can double or triple your donation to some of these newsrooms, because a group of national foundations and local partners including the Gates Family Foundation have launched the national News Match campaign – which will provide more than $3 million in matching dollars to local and investigative nonprofit journalism between now and the end of the year. In Colorado, five newsrooms - Aspen Journalism, Chalkbeat Colorado, the Colorado Independent, Rocky Mountain Public Media and the Mountain Independent - are eligible to have donations doubled. As a longtime, mission-aligned supporter of Chalkbeat, the Gates Family Foundation is offering to triple your donation to Chalkbeat Colorado.
The foundations that created News Match did so as a call to action to inspire people to give to the journalists who help keep our citizens and residents informed by keeping a watchful eye on our elected leaders and telling the stories of our communities. Their stories reveal corruption, save taxpayer dollars, help us vote, and spark meaningful policy changes that serve the public good.
Rocky Mountain PBS’ unflinching investigation into the understaffed, overburdened VA system in Colorado is just one example. In October, ahead of Veterans Day, the station aired “Serving Those Who Served,” a look at how the system serves Colorado’s 50,000+ active military personnel and hundreds of thousands of veterans. After the episode aired two Colorado Congressmen introduced bills addressing homeless veterans and veterans’ health care.
“Two of the veterans in this piece had never talked about what happened to them while serving their country,” said Laura Frank, a journalist at Rocky Mountain Public Media. “Our journalists were able to take the time to gain their trust — and the outcome was to give them a voice they’d never had.”
What if their story had never been told?
Whether it is important beats like Aspen Journalism's coverage of water issues or the Colorado Independent’s reporting on criminal justice, specific stories like High Country News’ award-winning piece on fighting forest fires or the Mountain Independent investigation into green building and eco lumber, or the consistent coverage of statewide issues from Colorado Public Radio, your donations help ensure that these newsrooms can remain independent and free to produce hard-hitting journalism. At a time when trust in media is at an all-time low, you can count on these newsrooms – can they count on you?
This Colorado Gives Day, be sure to support the issues you care about – and the journalists who cover them. Without you, these stories that give voice, move public opinion, and inspire public action will go untold.
Joshua Stearns is Associate Director of the Public Square Program for the Democracy Fund. Melissa Milios Davis is Vice President for Strategic Communications at the Gates Family Foundation. This piece is cross-posted on Stearns' blog on Medium.