Around the country, especially in larger cities, traditional print newspapers are struggling to keep up with an ever-changing electronic landscape; websites, bloggers, RSS feeds, social networking – all changing the way we gather, and receive our news.
The challenges of rapidly evolving technology are creating a tectonic shift in newsrooms, in the field, and in virtually every aspect of traditional reporting.
Out of this upheaval, new ways of reporting and consuming news are evolving almost daily. Here in Central Colorado, a variety of new websites are boldly going into uncharted territory, connecting readers with stories and issues they may not find in the traditional media and providing feedback mechanisms and an immediacy previously unavailable to consumers.
As card-carrying members of the “old media,” we at Colorado Central Magazine decided to take a look at some of the local players in the new world of community-based and “citizen” journalism.
The Salida Citizen
Online for about a year, the Salida Citizen was created as a response to concerns by the founders about the direction of the resource management and rapid growth of their community. One of its founders, 10-year Salida resident Bill Donavan, had seen the result of unchecked, rapid growth in western towns in which he had previously resided – Jackson, Wyoming and Whitefish, Montana – and was concerned about government transparency and a lack of real access to community representatives.
He was also apprehensive about the use of tourism dollars to promote the region and how those dollars were being spent. He felt he was witnessing the same problems from his previous towns happening all over again in Chaffee County.
“Growth and promotion of natural resources at the expense of preserving community and managing change. Community is a natural resource and begets growth. It is the essence of tourism, creating a desirable place to visit or live.” said Donovan.
One of the other partners in the website, Trey Beck, had similar concerns and they discovered many others in the community who shared their views. Beck is the I.T. guy behind the site, employing his technical prowess to create a modern, up-to-date, user-friendly platform.
Beck and Donavan envisioned the Citizen as a “true town square,” a “two-way communication tool,” with the ability for locals to have a venue to discuss issues of concern as well as a place for newcomers to get a sense of the community. A third partner, Lee Hart, former Marketing Director for the Chaffee County Visitor’s Bureau, is using her journalistic credentials to contribute researched articles on topics of particular concern to area residents. Her ongoing coverage of the Nestlé Waters proposal has been referenced by other publications reporting on the story on numerous occasions.
Other contributors to the site include City of Salida representatives, elected officials including Salida Mayor Chuck Rose, recreational enthusiasts and others who are willing to share ideas and common concerns. In addition, the site features blog posts, opinion columns, photos, videos, events calendar and reviews. Donavan also believes the site is valuable in its ability to link to other sites of interest to readers: “We can provide realtors hard data and direct links from people who are exploring the area for relocating. If someone is looking into biking the local Tenderfoot trails, they should see a link to Absolute Bikes, who is almost exclusively responsible for making that project happen.” Links also provide the ability to validate a story by referencing outside sources, he said.
Donavan considers the site, “completely altruistic at this point,” but hopes to explore an ad-based model to ensure the site’s sustainability. He says the site is reaching thousand of viewers a month which could benefit potential advertisers.
The group has also started a sister site, Travel Green Colorado, (www.travelgreencolorado.com) to help promote sustainable, geo-tourism statewide through networking, consultation, discussions and communications. Colorado Governor Bill Ritter and State Senator Gail Schwartz were both on hand for a ribbon cutting in Buena Vista this past June to mark the launch of that site.
Launched in February 2008, Channel BV was designed by John and Allison Abdelnour and Alex Telthorst as a place for Buena Vista residents to discuss local issues, correct inaccurate information that may be in circulation, and provide a forum for community members.
Calling it a “virtual bulletin board,” co-founder John Abdelnour says it was never the intention of the site to become a dispenser of local news or for the founders to provide the bulk of the content. Their hope is for the site to become a hub for other bloggers in the regions to share concerns about issues affecting their lives and get others thinking about issues they may not have considered in the past.
The idea for Channel BV was hatched after the founders attended a town meeting in Buena Vista and found a lot of the public information lacking and were concerned that many attendees may had left the meeting ill-informed. Now, a year and a half into the project, the site has become a venue for town trustees to have open discussions with community members, allowing townsfolk to ask questions directly to their representatives. The site also features a community calendar, announcements, videos and links to other informative websites in the region.
Their goal is to provide thought-provoking but non-offensive forums on local and regional issues, said Abdelnour.
The site required a considerable amount of time and money to launch, and though it does have some financial sponsors, the founders have yet to recoup their startup costs but continue to maintain the site as a service to the community. According to Abdelnour, the site is currently available to any interested party willing to take it on.
Ark Valley Voice
Also based in Buena Vista is the Ark Valley Voice, an online news website launched in April 2009. The brainchild of Buena Vista resident Sterling Quinton, the goal is to create a publication that serves the various functions of a newspaper but include more entertainment, perspectives and in-depth investigative features. In addition to the website, Quinton plans on publishing a bi-weekly print version to be distributed through the region and hopes to have his first edition on the streets by August 4.
The Voice has met with a lot of positive local response, says Quinton, and he’s been told the site is filling a niche, although he has some detractors who don’t agree with some of the published content. He believes the publication should “stir up emotions and most especially create discussion.”
For the first six months the print version will be available at no charge throughout the valley and may continue to be free if it gets the financial support Quinton hopes for. He also hopes to have contributors as well as advertisers.
Once the print edition is out he plans on cutting back on the amount of content available on the website, placing more in-depth coverage in the print version.
The Ark Valley Voice currently features news, events, commentary, comments sections and other community news. The sight boasts the goal of “invigorating the democratic process … through accountability … and a vigorous local press.”
His long term goal is simple. “We want to create an informative and entertaining publication that serves a broad demographic and adds to the local media in a way that helps people understand their community and make informed decisions about their lives.”
The website was founded in 2002 by brothers Ronald and Michael C. Rael. It compiles news from throughout the San Luis Valley and reports on history, culture, news and events. It includes embedded videos, news links to the Alamosa Valley Courier and Adams State College news. The site also features links to webcams throughout the Valley and has a feedback board for the stories posted.
Efforts to reach the website owners for more information were unsuccessful.