When a reporter attending the introductory news conference for the Colorado Sun, an ad-free online journalism project launched by former staffers of the Denver Post, asked why the event was being staged against the backdrop of the Post's former headquarters, where its logo is still in view, Larry Ryckman, one of the effort's editors, said that observers could decide about any significance for themselves.
Not that there was much ambiguity about the symbolism. The Sun journalists, who are also owners of the operation, all left the Post amid aggressive downsizing by Alden Global Capital, the paper's hedge fund owner, whose strategy seems to revolve around slashing personnel until a 20 percent profit margin can no longer be maintained and then leaving the mess for others to clean up.
The June 18 news conference drew reporters and camera people from pretty much every other remaining news organization in the city, and that makes sense. After all, traditional print and broadcast outfits are all struggling to keep the lights on in the Internet age, and the prospect of a new funding model involving a blockchain system and cryptocurrency is certainly intriguing.
To that end, one of the main attractions at the gathering was Matthew Iles, the CEO of Civil Media Company, who's working with the Sun journalists to get their undertaking up and running.
Iles avoided going into details about how blockchain actually works with the quip, "Do you have two hours?" But he didn't shy away from touting some of the concept's attributes.
At one point, for instance, Iles contrasted a blockchain network with Facebook, which he characterized as a "frenemy" of the press — a service that provides a large platform and plenty of potential readers, but also dictates algorithms and story rankings in ways that are beyond the control of news purveyors. The Civil network will provide a more pure, less brokered relationship between consumers and content providers, he said, complete with technology that essentially places a digital fingerprint on each story so that readers can be confident it actually came from the Colorado Sun as opposed to an unknown and potentially less reputable source.
In the meantime, he continued, contributors can purchase the equivalent of shares on the network, thereby earning more of a say about the kind of material the Sun produces, similar to the ways shareholders are able to influence the direction of a publicly owned company. This prospect could conceivably be problematic from an editorial perspective: Imagine if a large group invested in the Sun and then demanded that a certain political viewpoint be expressed. But instead of raising concerns, Iles portrayed this characteristic as adding a democratic element to the Sun and other publications like it.
The Sun isn't envisioned as a one-of-a-kind experiment. Iles said he hopes that thirteen outfits like the Sun will be in the works across the country by the end of this month, with all of them competing on an even playing field for hearts, minds and eyeballs.
This last theme was struck by a number of the Sun speakers — among them Ryckman, fellow editor Dana Coffield, tech guru Eric Lubbers, writer Jennifer Brown and outdoors specialist Jason Blevins, who will continue to be based in Eagle, as he was during his Post days. Again and again, they talked about producing the kind of smart, incisive, deep-dive journalism that's becoming increasingly rare in this day and age — and that readers will value enough to reach into their wallets for.
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Some stories will be long-form investigations, others will be shorter or lighter in nature, and sports will only be covered in a newsy manner, Ryckman added. He can imagine an exploration of the fight for control of the Broncos among the children of ailing owner Pat Bowlen, but not one of which tight end deserves to be first on the depth chart.
Previous reports about the Sun suggested that funding was in place to support the staff's work for two years. But when asked directly about that, Ryckman made it clear that there isn't currently a big pile of cash that will cover salaries and expenses until mid-2021. Rather, he said, everyone involved is dedicated to putting infrastructure in place that will be sustainable for at least two years and, with luck, a lot longer than that. But aside from a brief mention of business plans currently being developed at the University of Denver, specifics about subscription rates, the possible use of paywalls and more were absent.
A start date isn't firm, either: Ryckman eschewed previous references to a July or August debut in favor of a more general hope that articles and posts will come forth sometime during the summer. But he also said that if journalists stumble upon a story that can't wait, they may issue it earlier than that.
In the meantime, Sun staffers are assembling a regular newsletter that will be available on June 20 (visit its website to sign up) and then the journalists will start discussing what to do next, now that the Sun has emerged from behind the dark cloud that is the current Denver Post.