Todd Shepherd, the man behind the invaluable Complete Colorado website, is leaving the position in favor of an investigative-reporter gig with the Washington Examiner, a Phil Anschutz-owned publication based in the nation's capital. But Shepherd stresses that Complete Colorado will continue after his departure — though it may take a while to compensate for the loss of his own writing, which helped the site go beyond aggregation into the realm of original journalism.
"I've had great success here in Colorado," Shepherd says, "and I'm very proud of it. But I just got that itch to see if I could keep taking on greater challenges — and now I'm going to do this experiment full-on."
Complete Colorado operates under the auspices of the Independence Institute, a libertarian organization. But that doesn't mean the site is a predictable amalgamation of agenda-driven headlines and links, like a homegrown Drudge Report, and thanks for that goes largely to Shepherd, who has wide-ranging interests that go beyond ideology. Among the pieces by Shepherd that we've featured in this space are his inquiries into the notorious Denver Players/Denver Sugar swingers' club, a look at alleged pot profiling of Coloradans, and information about assorted domestic-violence accusations made against former Denver Broncos receiver Brandon Marshall.
A graduate of the radio and TV program from Oklahoma Baptist University, Shepherd came to Denver circa May of 2005 to work for 850 KOA. "Those were three of the best years of my life," he says. "The people I met and the things I was able to see and report on — it still seems like a dream to me."
He also compliments the station for letting him take extended time off in 2006 to recover from open-heart surgery that he underwent at age 34. "I had an ascending aortic aneurysm, the very thing that killed John Ritter," he notes. "It was a total freak chance that my doctor, the internist for the Colorado Rockies, found it. Probably saved me from a catastrophic event in my forties."
In 2008, Shepherd headed to the Independence Institute and launched Complete Colorado. "It was a risk for me and a risk for [the institute], but I'm so proud of the way it's turned out," he says. "I don't think either of us expected it to be such a beneficial relationship. I'm so grateful to them for taking a chance on me, and on investigative reporting."
The numbers generated by Complete Colorado may seem modest at first blush; Shepherd estimates that between 2,000 and 4,000 folks visit on a daily basis, with monthly numbers typically fluctuating between 24,000 and 28,000 users. But these folks are extremely loyal, and when Complete Colorado posts something, they take the de facto endorsement seriously, driving substantial traffic to other local news agencies, including this one.
"I just can't thank our readers enough," Shepherd says. "They generally don't know how they propel what we do just by opening the website every day."
He also highlights the contributions to Complete Colorado made by Peter Blake, a longtime journalist for the Rocky Mountain News who died earlier this month at age eighty. "His loss really hit me hard, and I miss him," acknowledges an emotional Shepherd.
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Shepherd's move to D.C. isn't a fatal blow to Complete Colorado, he insists. "It will continue in the capable hands of the Independence Institute. A lot of people don't know that when I started, I had a business partner, Justin Longo, and I think they'd be surprised at how much he's been a part of the editing and aggregating process. He's already been a 50 percent or more component, so I think most readers won't miss a beat."
Original content will be harder to come by for a while, though. Complete Colorado has a full-time education reporter, Sherrie Peif, and she may do occasional reporting on other topics, too, particularly if the stories are rooted in Weld County, where she's based. Still, it's Shepherd's understanding that the Independence Institute "wants to continue to have an investigative reporter on staff. I think they'll be looking for someone to do that."
As for Shepherd, he'll remain in Colorado for the first few months of 2017, reporting long-distance for the Examiner, which supplements its online material with a free weekly print magazine distributed in the Washington, D.C. area; he expects to relocate permanently in March. But he'll hand over the reins of Complete Colorado by January 1 — a move that will present the website's remaining crew with challenges of their own. He, too, will be missed.