The Crestone Eagle • August, 2021

Crestone Eagle to join nonprofit news trend

by Marge Hoglin, 

CECM board director

Crestone Eagle Community Media (CECM) has reached an agreement to purchase The Crestone Eagle from longtime publisher and editor Kizzen Laki.  

CECM, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, was formed in 2018 to preserve and sustain The Crestone Eagle, while allowing Kizzen the opportunity to enjoy her much-earned retirement.  

This purchase, after three-plus years of research, planning and fundraising, is part of a much larger story, as more and more news outlets—here in Colorado and around the country—turn nonprofit to better serve the public good.

Misinformation, spread unchecked on social media, poses an evident threat to our democracy.  What may be less evident is the gradual loss of trustworthy local news that once held public officials accountable to their constituents and helped regular folks understand the workings of government at all levels.

Some two-thirds of journalism jobs have been lost in the past year, and hundreds of newspapers have folded. Which means that people in cities and smaller communities around the country have no way to get accurate news and information about what is going on around them.

Lack of civic information, in turn, results in greater political polarization, lower voting rates, fewer candidates running for public office and weaker local economies.

“Shared information, common understanding of facts, the ability to hold a mirror up and understand ourselves better—these are things that unite a community. In short, good journalism is good for a community—and you can’t have good journalism without the community’s involvement,” says Laura Frank, executive director of Colorado New Collaborative (COLab).

Local advertising once sustained community media, but the marketplace has changed.  News outlets—including The Crestone Eagle—are losing the battle for the public’s time and discretionary dollars to online sites powered by tech giants like Google and Facebook.  

Among those remaining independent news outlets in Colorado, a third or so have owners who are approaching retirement age and seeking to exit the business.  As many of you know, Kizzen, who has faithfully produced the Eagle for some 32 years, is among those owners.

Plans are to continue covering community events, regional history, environmental issues, the arts and spiritual centers; to strengthen in-depth local news reporting; expand the newspaper’s geographic coverage area and build an up-to-date digital platform. 

“It’s been a long and interesting journey,” says Dan Frelka, board treasurer and a founding member of CECM.  “We are extremely gratified by the support we have received from community members who value The Crestone Eagle,” 

The board is excited, as well, to move forward as one of a growing number of nonprofit newspapers in Colorado and around the county.  

For-profit newspapers traditionally were about competing with one another for readership numbers, often with sensational headlines and colorful news “scoops,” to capture enlarged shares of limited advertising dollars.  The nonprofit mission is about sharing information and about collaboration among journalists to serve the public good.

An innovative blend of funding sources is evolving to allow newspapers to be less dependent on advertising dollars.  A key component is the sustaining membership model made popular by public radio.  

Another is public funding, based on the concept that people need news the same as they need libraries and education.  This became particularly evident as the COVID pandemic spread and folks needed accurate, up-to-date information about the availability of testing and vaccines within their local communities.

A number of organizations, including COlab and the Colorado Media Project (CMP), have been formed just in the past three years to support local news as a public good and to find new ways to sustain independent media.

CECM has captured the attention of Corey Hutchins, a CMP team member, journalism instructor at Colorado College and contributor to Columbia Journalism Review, The Washington Post, and other news outlets. 

In September, Hutchins will be bringing students in his “Future and Sustainability of Local News” class to the CC Baca Campus to conduct a real-life case study about The Crestone Eagle, looking at the challenges and hurdles faced by the fledgling nonprofit and examining what’s possible for the future.

“At the national level, all eyes are on Colorado,” Corey says.  “What’s happening in Crestone could serve as an innovative model for rural communities.”

Report for America, which hires dedicated young reporters and places them in local newsrooms around the county, is among the national organizations formed to assist local news outlets. “The crisis in our democracy, disinformation and polarization, is in many ways a result of the collapse of local news,” notes Steven Waldman, co-founder and president.  

“We have a unique opportunity to reverse this decline by filling newsrooms with talented journalists who not only view journalism as public service, but who can make trusted connections with the communities they serve.” 

Other organizations available to help include the National Trust for Local News, the Institute for Nonprofit News and Journalism Funding Partners. 

“We are so grateful to learn of all the resources available to us as we move forward,” says Peter Anderson, chair of the CECM board.  “And we are equally grateful to Kizzen for her years of dedicated community service and for the legacy she leaves behind.”

Kizzen is pleased, as well, with the transaction and confident that CECM “will do a great job continuing, and even expanding the Eagle. Having nonprofit status will allow the Eagle to continue as a vital source of news and connection in our region,” she says.  

“I thank the CECM board for all their work, research, vision and dedication.”

CECM needs you!

If you would like to get involved in the exciting process of sustaining and strengthening The Crestone Eagle as a nonprofit newspaper and digital platform serving rural Saguache County, we need your help! Please contact board chair Peter Anderson, pilgrimage@fairpoint.net if you are interested in serving as a board member, editorial advisor, potential staff member or project manager.