On December 25 2008, Carbondale-based newspaper the Valley Journal announced that the Christmas edition would be its last. The small Colorado town paper was unable to keep financially afloat and the decision was made to cease printing.
Deprived of the town's final stand-alone newspaper, locals began to miss out on vital community information such as birth and marriage announcements as well as updates on local infrastructure developments. However, it was the belated news of a friend's death that spurred Rebecca Young, Valley Journal's original founder, to take action: "I didn't hear of his death for a couple of weeks," she said. "I was so sad I wasn't at his service."
Young decided to see who else shared her view that something needed to be done and various emails later, it became apparent that she was not alone and so it was that the Sopris Sun was born: "It just beat the dickens out of sitting around whining that our paper was dead," said Young.
The Sopris Sun is being touted as an independent newspaper and according to the site it is "being organised as a non-profit sustainable community entity." The newspaper is made up of 7 volunteer board members with editor, Trina Ortega, the only paid-for member of staff.
The group's decision to launch their own newspaper has stunned some people, not least the group itself with Ortega saying it was a "crazy" move in light of other newspaper closures. Two months after the Valley Journal stopped printing, another Colorado paper, the Rocky Mountain News, was also forced to close, an event which has received a lot of media coverage.
Ortega, who was previously employed by the Valley Journal and now works seven days a week covering all manner of community stories for the Sopris Sun, admitted that they were "winging it" but acknowledged that were it not for them, Carbondale residents would have to make do without local news.
Ortega has editorial assistance from board member Allyn Harvey, once a newspaper editor himself, while Young works on design and format. Russ Crisswell, who also sits on the board, offered money to get the paper initially off the ground and personally delivers the paper himself.
In the meantime, the Sopris Sun remains at the mercy of local advertisers, although according to an article published today on the National Newspaper Association (NNA) website, this isn't necessarily a bad thing if you're a community paper. The article claimed that whilst advertising revenues had dropped as a result of the economic crisis, the fall was comparatively small compared to regional and national titles. Also, according to Suburban Newspapers of America (SNA) president Nancy Lane "community papers are affected by the current economic downturn but they are not in a crisis; they are not experiencing massive layoffs and they are investing in the future."
In any case, the Valley Journal itself was a community paper but that did not guarantee its survival. So how can Sopris Sun organisers be sure the same fate won't befall their own labour of love? One factor may be debt. Many papers, whether local or not, start off with a large amount of money owing before they have even launched - the fact that the Sopris Sun is a non-profit publication will shield it from market pressures, but only to an extent.
Ortega told the LA Times that she had received letters from journalists and photographers offering their services for free, but was doubtful that people would be willing to volunteer on a long-term basis.
Currently, the Sopris Sun is being supported by a group of individuals prepared to invest their own personal time and energy in reporting local news, but as time goes on they will need ongoing financial investment from advertisers if it is to continue printing. Also, the novelties of running a paper may wear off as the realities of the personal commitment and dedication needed to sustain this take over.
Earlier this month, Californian residents in the town of Point Reyes Station also decided to take matters into their own hands by offering to buy out one of the last two remaining papers.
Whatever the outcome, the Sopris Sun is admirable and exemplary of many other newspapers - including national titles - looking to weave themselves into the fabric of local communities, simultaneously taking the meaning of citizen journalism to another level.