This weekend brought the unveiling of The Colorado Sun, a new, ad-free journalism project being launched by a handful of former writers and editors for The Denver Post, which has been decimated by layoffs ordered by Alden Global Capital, its short-term-profits-over-long-term-survival hedge fund owner. The Sun is expected to launch in July or August with help from an unusual blockchain funding mechanism, but it will need financial support from readers in order to dodge the fate suffered by myriad failed online ventures launched following the 2009 closure of the Rocky Mountain News, the Post's longtime print competitor.
At 9 a.m. this morning, the Sun crew, including editors Larry Ryckman and Dana Coffield, are scheduled to hold a news conference at Civic Center Park. But in advance of this appearance, the folks behind the project orchestrated a media roll-out that included stories from Colorado Public Radio and the New York Times.
Westword was clearly not part of the plan for the Sun braintrust. Staff writers Kevin Simpson and Jennifer Brown have not spoken to us at this writing after initially agreeing to do so in the wake of their recent departure from the Post, and ex-editorial page editor Chuck Plunkett, the just-named director of the CU News Corp, who's agreed to contribute to the Sun, didn't return a call last week amid a swirl of rumors about an impending announcement regarding the new venture.
Now, however, there's loads of material online, including a website announcing the identities of the Sun starters: editors Larry Ryckman and Dana Coffield, tech and strategy head Eric Lubbers, and writers Simpson, Brown, Tamara Chuang, John Ingold and Jason Blevins, who memorably resigned from the Post after a tweet blasting Alden boss Heath Freeman for "hurling shit at dedicated journalists."
Also live is a Kickstarter page highlighted by this video...
...and text reproduced below describing the Sun staff as "a community-supported, journalist-owned team focused on investigative, explanatory and narrative journalism for a state in the midst of a massive evolution. Our goal is to inform, engage and entertain readers from the Western Slope to the Eastern Plains and up and down the Front Range by shining light on the news that matters. The Sun will cover the stories that others miss, from politics, business and the environment to what it means to live the Colorado lifestyle."
Below, see the Kickstarter pitch, which has thus far inspired donations of more than $27,000 toward a $75,000 goal. But key to the Sun is Civil, a fledgling operation that intends to create an alternate ownership model in which journalists, readers and other interested parties purchase virtual tokens in a blockchain system. Civil has pledged enough dough, virtual or otherwise, to keep the Sun operational for two years — an impressively lengthy period — to help it gain a foothold.
Still, Lubbers, in the video above, makes it clear that Civil isn't going to pick up the tab indefinitely. "The Colorado Sun is initially going to be supported by Civil, which is the company that's trying to create a brand new way to fund and protect local news," he says. "But that's just getting us off the ground. We are going to need reader support right from the very beginning to make sure we are going to be a lasting part of the Colorado news landscape."
Whether this approach will pivot on a paywall or subscriptions in which readers pay $5 or more each month is unclear at this point. But what happened after the Rocky was shuttered should stand as a cautionary tale.
Kevin Preblud laid the groundwork for the online InDenver Times, which was set to include many Rocky veterans. But he said he would only back a full-scale website if he lined up 50,000 subscribers over a three-month period, and only 3,000 signed by the deadline.
Disappointed InDenver Times reporters then decided to put something together on their own and dubbed the results the Rocky Mountain Independent. But the RMI lasted just a few months before the plug was pulled.
After the Independent went south, onetime Rocky mainstay Ann Imse assembled another online effort, Colorado Public News. Unfortunately, it, too, went the way of all flesh — and one last try in March 2009, put forward at the website IWantMyRocky.com, did as well.
Today, InDenverTimes.com is a news aggregator, the Rocky Mountain Independent's address is dead and IWantMyRocky.com is an Asian site whose introductory text translates to this: "Differin Generic Gel's Maiden Heart. Not only adolescents but any adult suddenly appear acne on the face. It is very worrisome if it can be made in conspicuous places such as the nose head and mouth. Differin generic gel is useful in such cases. It is popular if it approaches the terrible acne fastest, effectively effectively."
We suspect every journalist in Colorado hopes that things head in a more positive direction for the Colorado Sun. After all, the shrinking number of news organizations in Denver keeping the citizenry informed, and the authorities on their toes, is an enormous concern — and the folks involved are undeniably talented. But they've got a tall task ahead of them.