The Colorado Independent: ‘Wake up. This is not 20th-century journalism.’
Friday, July 7
6 p.m., Denver Open Media building, Denver, Colorado
The Colorado Independent is housed in the Denver Open Media building, which serves as a community media center with open music sessions and a radio station created by and for the people of Denver.
When I arrived I had some time to kill, so I helped a bunny across the alley behind the building. I feel like that’s worth mentioning because of all of the animals I have already encountered on my trip. I also think that surely this must be a strictly Colorado experience, but I could be wrong. In the South we see wildlife in the wild. Here, I’m on a busy Denver street and Thumper comes hopping along.
I visit the Colorado Independent to see Editor and Executive Director Susan Greene, who has an impressive background (which includes being a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in investigative journalism), so I was eager to pick her brain about running a nonprofit online company.
She cut to the heart of many of the problems in journalism in a couple of sentences:
“Journalists suck at asking for money. We can ask the president questions. We can ask the governor hard questions. We can talk to anybody about pretty much anything, but when it comes to asking for money, we suck … Wake up. This is not 20th-century journalism. You have got to be entrepreneurial.”
Greene started working for The Independent in 2013 and led the transition to run the site solely out of Colorado, not D.C. Before that she reported for papers in California and Nevada before spending 13 years at The Denver Post working as a political reporter, national reporter and metro columnist. “Trashing the Truth,” a series she reported with Miles Moffeit, helped exonerate four men, prompted reforms on evidence preservation and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in investigative journalism. Her 2012 project, ‘The Gray Box,’ exposed the effects of long-term solitary confinement.”
Greene talked to me about the challenges of running a newsroom and a business at the same time. She is editor, but also executive director of the organization, so the non-journalism aspects of the job fall to her. Although it is nonprofit, the website clearly states the goals of the company, including the fact that editorial and financial support will remain separate:
“The word ‘independent’ in The Colorado Independent is key to our work. We practice journalism as a public trust and subscribe to standards of editorial independence adopted by the Institute for Nonprofit News … We will make public donors who give a total of $1,000 or more per year,” it reads. “We will accept anonymous donations for general support only if it is clear that sufficient safeguards have been put into place that the expenditure of that donation is made independently by our organization and in compliance with INN’s membership standards.”
Greene suggested anyone interested in nonprofit news needs to learn journalism, as well as how to run a business. She admitted that she’s still figuring out some things as she goes.
“We feel like newspapers — we know that they get their revenues from subscriptions,” Greene told me, “and we know that those subscriptions are waning, and you can see who advertises in newspapers so we feel like you should be able to see whose funding our news organization.”
Next up in the #followmylede series: I visit WIAT CBS 42 in Birmingham, Alabama.