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The Colorado Sun Rises on the Local Media Landscape

The digital-only news publication will be comprised primarily of former Denver Post staffers who resigned after the last round of layoffs. We spoke with editor Larry Ryckman to get the details.

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In the wake of another round of significant staff cuts at the Denver Post this spring, some of its longest-serving editors and reporters resigned. For nearly two months, it was unclear where those ex-staffers would land. Now, we know.

Over the weekend, news broke that former Post employees were teaming up to form a new, online-only news publication called the Colorado Sun. As Colorado Public Radio first reported, the Sunlaunching in July or August—will focus on in-depth and long-form stories across the state, and will be brought to readers ad-free. A group called Civil Media Company, a tech startup that uses blockchain technology and crypto-currency (in this case, Ethereum), is making a significant investment in the Colorado Sun, securing its financial future for at least two years. The staff has also launched a Kickstarter to gain support from the community (as of press time, they had raised almost $60,000 of its $75,000 goal).

While the funding model is complicated, the editors at the helm are confident about the future. 5280 caught up with Larry Ryckman, former senior editor at the Denver Post who will serve as editor of the Sun, to talk about the emerging publication and the state of local journalism in Colorado.

(Read: How Massive Cuts Have Remade the Denver Post)

5280: How long has this project been in motion? 
Larry Ryckman: It’s very, very recent. The reality is that Civil reached out to me after that last round of cuts and layoffs was announced. Frankly, many people reached out to me and others. There was a lot of discussion about what to do. One of those discussions was with Civil, and it was like ‘Imagine what the ideal newsroom would look like.’ We were having those kinds of discussions and then things began to change rather quickly. Chuck Plunkett resigned, and I thought I had to resign as well when it became clear that Alden Global Capital had made it impossible for us to even use facts in some of our stories. That was intolerable for me. I’ve never been told not to include a fact in a story and I wasn’t about to start now. I announced my resignation and things with Civil kicked into high gear. We’re rooting for everyone still at the Post and we’re rooting for our colleagues elsewhere.

How does the Colorado Sun plan to build its audience? 
By doing what we do well, which is good journalism. We have an amazing team. Jason Blevins, the premier outdoors writer in Colorado. We’ve got Kevin Simpson, who’s been part of Pulitzer-winning teams for Columbine and the Aurora shootings and who is a master at long-form narrative stories. Jen Brown, who was also a member of the Pulitzer team who covered the Aurora shooting and is an amazing investigative journalist who writes with great heart. Tamara Chaung, who is a great technology writer. John Ingold, who again was part of the Pulitzer team in the Aurora theater shooting and who also was a Pulitzer finalist on his own for us for his series about CBD. So we’re just going to do great journalism and it’s on us to demonstrate to Colorado that we’re really worth supporting.

There are now three local online news outlets that are run by former Denver Post folks: the Colorado Independent, Denverite, and now the Colorado Sun. What makes your company different, and would it be stronger if all these outlets combined forces? 
It’s difficult to say. I think the old days of viewing things as ‘if we win, you lose,’ I hope those days are over. I hope we all can win. Competition is a good thing for us. I think Coloradans benefitted from the competitive spirit that of course the Rocky Mountain News and the Denver Post brought to the community. We view our arrival on the scene as complementary to the others. We intend to do unique, local journalism. We think there are plenty of stories to go around for all of us to cover. The reality is, even with 5280, Westword, Denverite, the Independent, and the Denver Post, we still have a lot fewer journalists in this town than we did 20 years ago. We think there’s a void that needs to be filled and we’re ready to do it.

On the Colorado Sun homepage, it says “Local news is in crisis.” How deep do you think that crisis is, given that there are still other media companies doing news on a daily basis? 
Well just look at the Denver Post. Once upon a time it alone had 250 journalists in its newsroom. Today it’s down to 60 or less. Even though there is Denverite and the Independent and others, you know, if you put all of those together, they’re still probably not adding up to 100 total. So, there are a lot of stories that are going untold in Colorado and that means people are going uncelebrated. That means corruption is not being uncovered. There is need in our state for quality local journalism. The reality is that each one of us could have gone off and found jobs somewhere else, doing other things or leaving the state. This is about preserving that journalistic muscle—the institution and knowledge. Between all of us, we’ve been covering the state for decades and that’s tough to replace.

Obviously, you guys have a complicated funding model. In simplest terms, what do readers need to know about where the money is coming from? 
All readers need to understand is that this is going to be great journalism that they can get behind and support. They don’t need to have any involvement with blockchain or crypto-economics. If people want to give us $5 on a credit card, they can do that. If they want to give us $50 or $100 or $1,000, they can do that. We’re being paid in dollars. We could have an hours-long discussion about what blockchain is, but at the end of the day this is about doing great journalism. And people in Colorado, if they like what we do—and we think they will—they can pay us in dollars, and that’s what this is about.

The Sun has secured funding for two years, correct? 
I would say more than two years. There’s no clock ticking on this. None of us would have done this if we didn’t feel confident about the money and we didn’t have enough time to demonstrate to Coloradans that this is worthy of their support. There’s not set-in-stone timing. In order to be successful, we have to prove that we’re worth supporting. That means through subscribers, that means through donations, etc. It’s on us to do that, and we feel like we’ve assembled the A-Team to be able to do great work.

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