Carbondale nonprofit paper marks first year

It didn’t take long after the shutdown of Carbondale’s Valley Journal weekly newspaper at the end of 2008 for the town to realize it needed its own paper.

Residents missed memorial services because deaths went unreported. The Roaring Fork High School paper went unpublished because it had been partly a Valley Journal effort. Concerns arose that a 150-unit neighborhood development proposal wouldn’t get a close look because of the lack of a newspaper, said Carbondale resident Allyn Harvey.

Residents didn’t abide the situation for long. Within two and a half weeks of the Valley Journal shutdown, some of them held a meeting, and five weeks later the first edition of the Sopris Sun was born.

It was unusual enough for a newspaper to be founded even as the industry is in turmoil. But what makes the Sopris Sun even more unique is that it is a nonprofit.

It has a board of directors — including Harvey, who has a journalism background — and it relies partly on donations.

Now the publication is marking its first year. Its print run has grown from 3,000 to 4,000 each week, and it has raised probably $20,000 over the last year, Harvey said.

“We’ve gotten quite a bit of community support,” he said.

Mayor Michael Hassig said kudos are due to those behind the paper.

“I think they do a terrific job and I hope they are able to stick it out because I do think it’s a necessary and valuable piece of the town,” he said.

“This is a town that prides itself on its sense of community, and one of the things that informs and enhances that sense of community is a hometown local paper.”

But given the current times of economic belt-tightening, when nonprofits are competing for fewer donor dollars, Hassig wondered if it might be a tough climate to sustain the levels of contributed money and time needed to keep a nonprofit paper going.

Harvey acknowledged, “It feels week to week sometimes. It’s a fairly tight budget we work on. Pretty much every dollar we make we spend right now.”

Still, the paper manages to fund a full-time editor and another 35 hours of editorial support and a part-time designer, Harvey said.

Editor Terray Sylvester said the paper also relies on volunteer contributing writers whose only pay might be a gift certificate to a local pizza place. But he’s still struck by how much staff he has at his disposal, compared to some small-town weekly newspapers with editors who also sell ads and lay out the paper.

Sylvester may be one of the few journalists who can say they have worked at two nonprofit publications. He interned at the High Country News environmental magazine in Paonia before moving across McClure Pass to take the Carbondale job.

“It’s been a learning experience to say the least. It’s been a little bit tooth and nail but it’s making more sense as we go along,” he said.

He said the Sopris Sun is trying to get community members to commit to sustaining memberships as one means of making the publication pay for itself.

“It’s interesting to be this close to a model that, if it works out, could be replicated in other small towns,” he said.

It’s not the only such model in the region. Last year, the Silverton Standard & Miner, western Colorado’s oldest continuously operated newspaper, faced an uncertain future and its owner expressed a willingness to donate it to a local nonprofit.

On May 1, the San Juan County Historical Society became the paper’s owner.

Today, ad revenue and circulation are up and the paper has had some successful fundraisers, according to the Silverton paper’s editor and publisher Mark Esper’s comments in the current edition of the Colorado Press Association’s Colorado Editor.

“This summer, we will conclude our 135th year. And then we’ll keep going, ” Esper wrote.


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