When the old paper closed, nobody was around to report the land deals and zoning around Carbondale, Colorado. That's where the Sopris Sun comes in.
As community journalists worth their salt know, the big stories, the meaningful power plays that change the direction of a community, often emerge in the tedium of planning & zoning commission sessions or through the dry deliberations of other local government panels.
The long meetings often are dreaded by reporters who see evenings slip away while listening to debates on matters that are challenging to make interesting to readers. But it is here where the community most needs alert journalists.
And for a time in Carbondale, Colorado, a mountain community of about 6,000 people, the news on developers and zoning and all manner and variety of issues and events was missing. The town had lost its local paper.
After 34 years of operation the Carbondale Valley Journal ceased publication, leaving this place without its own paper and at the whim of assignment editors in larger cities who would decide whether a story was worth the dispatching of a scribe.
Enter the Sopris Sun, a not-for-profit free weekly that is literally a community newspaper. Started on in mid-February by seven members of the community, the Sun — so named because the town is at the base of the spectacular Mt. Sopris — has volunteer contributors and a paid editor, Trina Ortega, a resident of the city and a one-time copy editor for The Denver Post.
Before the Sun started publication residents worried that zoning and other vital civic issues wouldn’t get the attention they deserved. “I think some residents came forward and said, ‘What’s going on?’” Ortega said in an interview with the Daily Yonder.
Located 170 miles west of Denver and 30 miles from Aspen, Carbondale is in the heart of Colorado’s central Rocky Mountains.
Through donated labor the paper has advertising and distribution and is scouting out grants to continue its role in the community, Ortega said. The paper has about 10 volunteer writers and photographers and help comes from a variety of places.
For her part, Ortega has been paying close watch to stories about land and development. “I’m actually covering it myself,” Ortega said. “Every issue has had a major land-use story.”
Ortega said one of her goals is for the paper to cover the area’s farming and ranching roots. A story on calving season graced the latest cover, with a lengthy feature story Ortega wrote. The March 26 issue also contains a wonderful obituary of Pamela “Granny” McPherson, a beloved lodge operator and puzzle maker who died at age 85 in a traffic accident.
The paper’s thorough community calendar would be the envy of many paid dailies – and is no doubt reason enough for most Carbondale residents to pick up a copy of the Sopris Sun. And in the last issue Evan Zislis pens a fact-filled commentary on teen pregnancy that has a hoot of an opening line: “Last week I watched television for the first time in years and was shocked.”
The Sun publishes a healthy dose of letters to the editor – a good sign that it is becoming a town square. There is much to talk about in the Sopris Sun.
The Carbondale area has a rich and varied history from gold and silver mining to sheep ranches to potato farming to ranching. When Aspen developed into a world-renowned resort it boosted tourism in the area, the effects of which as still transforming Carbondale today.
Thanks to Ortega and other community-minded people the town’s future won’t be decided by local officials alone. There will be journalists in the room, too.