Executive Director Todd Chamberlin (right) addresses the Colorado Press Association, presenting the Innovation Award to Editor Raleigh Burleigh (left). Photo by Klaus Kocher

Last weekend, The Sopris Sun sent four of its staff to the Colorado Press Association’s 144th annual convention, the first in-person convening since 2019. Under the banner of “Stronger Together,” it was a wholesome bonding experience for each of us first-time attendees.

Among the highlights, including numerous shout-outs durings panels and breakaway sessions, The Sopris Sun received 10 awards. I was caught completely off-guard when they announced my name as the recipient of one of four prestigious member awards. The Innovation Award goes to “a member news organization or individual that has significantly improved its business model in one or multiple areas to reflect changes in audience, revenue streams, content dissemination and other applicable areas of change within the industry.”

As nominator for the award, Sopris Sun Executive Director Todd Chamberlin rattled off a list of last year’s fresh initiatives and achievements, each of which would not have been possible without the trust and support of our community. In 2021, these included the reboot of Everything Under Sun, our weekly radio show on KDNK, el Sol del Valle and a youth journalism program that pays its contributors.

The award is, in fact, a reflection of the community that we serve — creative, compassionate and driven. The Sopris Sun, at its essence, is an innovative organization. As many newsrooms puzzle over switching to a nonprofit model, The Sopris Sun paved the way over 13 years ago when a group of community members refused to let their hometown paper die.

Our spirit is innovation, and it would not be possible without the backing of donors and a dedicated board of directors. Todd’s efforts, timely in his elevated role, have been fundamental.

Over the course of the conference, it was acutely clear that good journalism is crucial to a functioning democracy, a healthy community and a shared social understanding. Ours is somewhat of an esoteric profession — keepers of the story — with real-world consequences, and the stakes are exceedingly high.

“Information is a utility that serves democracy,” Evan Smith, CEO and co-founder of The Texas Tribune, stated at the conference. “Journalism is about community … a place to litigate our differences.”

Good journalism can’t happen without time and attention. As we witness our valley teeter into the realms of unaffordable and unrealistic, it will depend on those with the means that value our profession to sustain it in this place. And better yet, to reinforce it with resources that do justice to the stories we share and the humans tasked with telling them.

We won’t always get it right and we’re bound to offend people at times. Please know that our commitment is to do our darndest, and to work it out within these pages. The most beautiful thing about The Sopris Sun is that we are a community, telling its own story. There’s no out-of-state corporation pulling the strings. You are always welcome to lend your perspective on the ways in which we should — or should not — go about this endeavor.

It feels amazingly good to have solid affirmation that The Sopris Sun is doing more than a few things right, thanks to our talented contributors and an underlying passion for this publication and what it means in our lives.

Look forward to more inspired initiatives in the year to come as we work daily to inform, inspire and build community at the center of all we do. My only innovation is a deepening of this philosophy. We strive to be a newsroom on behalf of the public’s interest, serving our community’s needs, unfettered by the myriad obstacles which would silence our collective, historically-informed voice.

It is my honor to serve this organization and share its victory with our community. Below is a list of the additional awards that our newsroom received in its division (Class 5) for our work in 2021. Don’t hesitate to congratulate each individual for their unwavering commitment to excellence in The Sopris Sun.

  First Place – Best Environmental Story (Relying on a wild river) – Olivia Emmer
  First Place – Best Photography Portfolio – Paula Mayer
  First Place – Best Cover Design (June 17-23) – Larry Day and Ylice Golden
  First Place – Best Digital Ad (Summer Veggies) – Todd Chamberlin and Ylice Golden
  Second Place – Best Newsletter (Sopris Sun Weekly) – James Steindler
  Second Place – Best Agriculture Story (Local farm aspires to global impact) – Will Sardinsky
  Second Place – Best Serious Column Writing (Bad ads, real estate) – Dyana Z. Furmansky
  Second Place – Best Advertising Special Section (Mountain Fair) – Todd Chamberlin and Ylice Golden
  Second Place – Best Print Ad (RJ Paddywacks) – Todd Chamberlin and Ylice Golden

Incidentally, our new graphic designer, Hattie Rensberry, also received a first place award for her work with the Vail Daily (Best Print Ad, Class 2). Megan Tackett, current editor of the Aspen Daily News and once a reporter with The Sun, was deservedly honored with the First Amendment Award for her reporting on The Aspen Times debacle.

I’d also like to take the opportunity to publicly thank Lee Beck for her active work on our board of directors and years of volunteerism as our weekly proofreader.

The Sopris Sun could not shine without donor support. It’s never a bad time to join our loyal patrons in financing the journalism that our community deserves at www.soprissun.com/donate