The Mountain-Ear, nestled in Nederland, Colorado, has long been a cherished source of community journalism. With a tech entrepreneur's recent investment aimed at preserving the paper's legacy and supporting its evolution, both he and editor/publisher (and former owner) Barbara Hardt join us to discuss their journeys. Barbara discusses her multifaceted role, the challenges and rewards of “professional juggling,” and the paper's innovative ventures, from podcasting to community partnerships. It's a glimpse into the enduring value of local news and the individuals dedicated to its future.
(02:10) – Why a tech entrepreneur bought this print newspaper
(06:30) – Barbara Hardt’s background at the paper and plans for the future
(09:33) – About Nederland, Colorado and the Mountain-Ear
(15:17) – On being a “professional juggler”
(18:32) – Producing a local news podcast
(21:46) – Managing interns with a small team
(23:43) – Partnering with local organizations
(30:03) – Advice for small publishers looking to engage the community beyond print
(33:47) – Accountability reporting at a small community paper
Listen to the episode here:
- Mountain-Ear: web, Facebook, Instagram
- The Mountain-Ear Podcast: web, Apple Podcasts, Spotify
- Barbara Hardt: LinkedIn
- Christian Vanek: LinkedIn
- Local News Matters: web, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn
- Colorado Press Association: web, Twitter, Facebook
- Tim Regan-Porter: bio, Twitter
In lieu of traditional bios, Barbara submitted these two pieces on her and Christian.
Barbara Hardt: Moving at the speed of Barb
There’s not much mysterious about Barbara Hardt. She has lived here so long (since 1986), and has her fingerprint on so much going on in the Peak to Peak area that, if you live anywhere around here, you’ve run into Barb or been involved in some project she has touched. But this is about Barbara and The Mountain-Ear.
Barbara has been involved with The Mountain-Ear since October 31, 2006. She began working in classifieds when the paper was owned and published by another. She caught the journalism bug, and with her family’s help, bought the paper in 2007. She sold the paper January 3, 2023, to Christian Vanek.
Since then, she has worked on every aspect of the paper, including sales, marketing, publisher, editor, graphic design and layout, web design, social media, writing, photography, circulation and more. She strongly believes that “every position at the paper is a spoke that holds the paper together and keeps the wheels turning smoothly.”
She is thankful to have an amazing group of people, professional and volunteer, up to 46 contributors per month, who pull together to make the paper happen every week. Among other tasks at the moment, Barbara manages nine interns this semester.
She received the Colorado Press Association (CPA) Innovation Award for her leadership of The Mountain-Ear in April of 2017. At that time, the judges for the award said of The Mountain-Ear, “A strong weekly newspaper doing it all, well. Under Barbara’s leadership the paper is adapting and soaring to new heights in the changing world of the printed newspaper, online and new media. Congratulations on a job well done.”
Barb (as the community knows her) has been almost unbelievably active in service to her community. She’s volunteered for local nonprofit organizations including the Peak to Peak Healthy Communities Project, Nederland Area Seniors, and the Nederland Area Historical Society. She has served as a deacon and an elder at Nederland Community Presbyterian Church. She is a board member with the Nederland Downtown Development Authority.
Her community extends to Gilpin County, where she has been a member of the Eagles’ Nest Early Learning Center Board, as well as a member of the Gilpin County Health and Human Services Advisory Board. She was recently selected to serve on the Gilpin Advertising Panel (GAP), where she can use her extensive knowledge of marketing and advertising to help the county.
Remembering and honoring her longtime friend and tireless reporter, Barbara Lawlor, our Barb also raises funds for and administers the Barbara Lawlor Memorial Scholarship, which she established in 2019. The fund has honored over a dozen local students with scholarships for college.
As her passion for local journalism developed, Barb’s educational goals also developed. She attended Lamar Community College from 1991 to 1992, studying Horse Training and Management, Farm and Ranch Management and Marketing and Futures. Then she attended Arapahoe Community College from 1998 to 2000, focusing on Paralegal Studies. From 2012 to 2016, she attended school part-time at Front Range Community College, graduating with a degree in Sociology and a minor in Graphic Design.
Oh…she has also assisted in marketing and promoting Brightwood Music since 2010. Those tasks developed as her relationship with Brightwood’s owner, Doug Armitage, also developed. The two married in 2020.
She plans and expects to remain in the Peak to Peak region for at least another five to ten years, full-time. She hopes to spend a bit of time each winter in a warmer location, when the time is right.
Her youngest child, Hayden, is 17 years old and is a senior at Nederland High School. Hayden also works for The Mountain-Ear, as well as TEENS, Inc. Her daughter, Allison, is 20 years old and lives in Evans, Colorado. Her older children, Matthew and Alexandra, graduated from Nederland High School in 2012 and 2013. Matthew is in the armed forces outside Seattle and Alex owns a mobile dog grooming business in Cheyenne. Barb, Doug, and her dad own a home south of Nederland.
Barb’s long term goal for the paper was to find a local buyer, and she couldn't be happier than having Christian as her new boss. She was determined to keep the paper local, and is equally determined to keep up the quality of journalism that has been established and enhanced over the last four decades.
Christian Vanek: The dream of a Pulitzer Award
By now, most of us have heard of Christian Vanek, the new publisher of The Mountain-Ear. As the paper moves forward with some exciting changes, Vanek thought it’d be nice to keep our readers informed on the paper’s plans and progress.
A lot of the changes Vanek has planned for your local paper is to continue doing what The Mountain-Ear has always done – produce an amazing weekly newspaper for our community, while keeping up with technology and our readers.
When asked what Vanek’s dreams for the paper were, one of his responses was, “Well, I think a Pulitzer Award for Local Reporting sounds nice.”
As a resident of Nederland, Vanek’s first and original goal is to help keep the paper, your paper, locally owned and operated. “It’s part of my larger goal of helping to give back to the local community by supporting the institutions that make up our small mountain town,” Vanek shares.
Originally, Vanek was going to open a mini-arcade in the old Peak Real Estate office by Town Hall, “something to tide over my entrepreneurial urges until the Synder’s Garage location is rebuilt.” Since getting involved with the paper, those plans have shifted, and the old Peak Real Estate location will be renovated to re-open as the Nederland office for The Mountain-Ear this spring.
Vanek’s other hope, aside from a Nederland office, is to grow the staff in a few ways this year (and likely into 2024). More with online content, social media, photography, and video production starting this year. Vanek advises, “Folks should keep an eye out in the paper for job opportunities related to that.”
A new website and mobile app are also in development, taking primary focus for the first few weeks this year, including new tools and services for local business owners. Vanek wants the community to know that “Part of our mission is to provide advertising services and promotion that help our local economy and local artists.”
“I think there’s a lot more we can be doing to promote local artists and local musicians. I think we will really be working closely with this community over the next year,” shares Vanek. This is all part of proving that The Mountain-Ear truly is and has always been YOUR community newspaper.
Vanek’s background is in software development, marketing, and business development – all great skills to help support Barbara Hardt and the rest of the team. Building his first content management system in 1998, at 21, for a company that had hired him to automate their event marketing and registration system.
Building that content system led to the 2006 founding of SurveyGizmo, a Boulder-based software company, which Vanek served as CEO until he left the company in 2018, selling the company in 2022.
Leaving SurveyGizmo has allowed Vanek time to refresh his skills in software and web development. He has decided to come out of his brief retirement to use his skills again to support, according to Vanek, “an amazing local business,” which most of us can agree with. He’s already started to “dig in,” and he confesses to having a blast.
In short, “My focus this year is to work on the website, social media, and video publications. In the first few months of the year, we hope to launch a new website, a new mobile version of the paper, and a new advertising platform for our local businesses. That’ll keep me PLENTY busy for a while.”
Who knows? Maybe by the time 2024 rolls around, The Mountain-Ear will be ready for that Pulitzer Award.
I'd have to say that when I heard that The Mountain-Ear might be available for purchase, it was right when we've been dealing with the national news being so overwhelming, and this idea started occurring to me that really the events that impact our daily lives are local. It's what's happening in our town, counties, and state, and yet all of this attention is on the national news. And so the idea that we could preserve this amazing newspaper and continue to have this outlet of information became really important to me, and I think it's important to the town and to the local area that we serve.
Welcome to the Local News Matters podcast, where we explore pathways to stronger journalism, better businesses, and healthier communities. I'm Tim Regan-Porter, CEO of the Colorado Press Association. In each episode, I sit down with guests from newsrooms and others in the local news ecosystem to highlight the innovative work of local newsrooms and those that support them, as well as the crucial questions they face.
This episode I’m excited to talk to Barbara Hardt and Christian Vanek from the Mountain-Ear, a small community paper in the mountain community of Nederland, Colorado. Barbara has been on my radar for this podcast for a while. For many years, she was a one-woman operation but doing the work of a much larger organization thanks to amazing support from freelancers, high school and college interns, and volunteers in the community. That team has been producing a local podcast that is about as professional and interesting as anything you’ll find in local news. They produce a big event, offer studio tours, started an archive project with the local library and more. At the beginning of this year, local resident and former software engineer and business owner Chrsitian Vanek bought the paper and retained Barbara because he thought it was so important to the community, which I also found fascinating.
If you like this episode and what we're doing more generally, never miss an episode by signing up for our newsletter at lnmpod.com.
And now I bring you the team at the Mountain-Ear.
Why a tech entrepreneur bought this print newspaper
Welcome, Christian and Barbara. Thanks for joining me.
Thanks for having us.
Yeah, thank you.
So I wanted to talk with both of you. I've known Barbara since I've been out here at the Press Association. And the Mountain-Ear, I've always had this view of it as the little engine that could doing a lot of remarkable things with largely Barbara being superwoman and pulling in people to help her. But the number of things you're doing has always impressed me. And what was it, at the end of last year, Christian? You came in and purchased the Mountain-Ear and kept Barbara on. When did that go down?
It was actually January this year. It really hasn't been all that long.
And you did not come from a journalism background, correct?
Oh, no. I know almost nothing about this. Diving into the deep waters and so.
We don't see a lot of people outside of journalism moving in and purchasing titles. So what made you want to come in and purchase the Mountain-Ear?
I'd have to say that when I heard that the Mountain-Ear might be available for purchase, it was right when we've been dealing with the national news being so overwhelming, and this idea started occurring to me that really the events that impact our daily lives are local. It's what's happening in our town, counties, and state, and yet all of this attention is on the national news. And so the idea that we could preserve this amazing newspaper and continue to have this outlet of information became really important to me, and I think it's important to the town and to the local area that we serve.
Well, I'm glad you did that. I definitely think it was worth preserving. What was it about the Mountain-Ear that you particularly appreciated?
Well, since I moved up to Nederland ten years ago, the Mountain-Ear has always been around. I grew up with physical newspapers, and there's something about them that as soon as you touch them, you begin to smile. The whole experience of reading news in that format, I don't want it to go away.
And what was your background? I guess we should get a little bit of that.
Software engineering. For 15 years I ran a company out of Boulder called Survey Gizmo, and then I retired last year.
And so even as someone coming from software, you valued physical print.
I do. Behind me is just lines of bookshelves, so I still like physical books as well.
I come from a tech background myself, and I think that the death of print has been greatly over. Forget the line. The rumors of our demise have been exaggerated. And I think as we're both evidence of, even people coming from tech can appreciate the value of having that physical product.
Absolutely. And the good news is it sounds like just like vinyl makes a comeback every so often. Physical books are making a comeback right now. So that's very exciting to me.
What role from an outsider or as a member of the community, but outside of the newspaper before this, what role did you see it playing in the community? And what thoughts do you have about how that might evolve? As the community evolves and as technology evolves and the staff changes and grows?
There really is not a good substitute, not that we really want one for the type of information that you get out of the Mountain-Ear. The journalists of the Mountain-Ear are incredible. Again, I have no idea how Barbara's been able to do this, but all of the local county and town meetings are covered. In some cases, this is the only location that you're going to get detailed in depth information about what's going on in the local community. And honestly, seeing that continue to expand, that's kind of the future of the paper, I think.
So you're less than, I guess, just about five months in. Have there been any big surprises or learnings for you as an owner?
All of it. I really did not know how much work went into producing a newspaper every week like this. And there's both the online presence and the print newspaper. I'm just in continuous awe. And every week the paper arrives and it is both beautiful and well written.
Barbara Hardt’s background at the paper and plans for the future
I think this would be a good time to bring Barbara in. So how long have you been with the Mountain-Ear?
And how long has it been in existence? Did you buy it from someone else?
Yes, actually, the Mountain-Ear has had now four owners. I was the third, and Kate Turnbaugh started it in 1970, 719 79. We went to Weekly, Laura Rambo, laura Ryan bought it in late three, and then I took it over in six and purchased it in seven.
And what are your aspirations now that you've brought Christian on or sold to Christian and you're now working with him and charting the course for the future? What is your hope for where the Mountain-Ear goes?
Well, continue doing what we're doing. Continue expanding on specific programs that have been very successful for us. Christian immediately hired myself and four others with full time positions, benefited positions, which was really weird for me because I came from piecing it together every week for so long, especially during COVID and having a lot of writers that worked for free. And we still have some that just want to work for free and submit something occasionally. But everybody on staff that wants to get paid now gets paid. And Christian believes in paying people a living wage. So it's really unique up here in the mountains. A lot of people maybe settle for less money to live where they want to live, but it costs as much or more to live up here. So I kind of just see it expanding on what we've been doing. I don't see a lot of new stuff, but we do have some. We're expanding our contests, which is huge. If you want to get new people to read the paper and pick up the paper or other publications that we're doing, you have to morph constantly to figure out who those people are. We've added a studio tour. Our taste of the peaks is huge. We printed it and said, oh, this will last us six months. And we printed it at the end of March and we have 500 left, and we printed 7500. So we're seeing a lot of people picking stuff up, and it's pretty amazing. And now we know that we need to expand even farther in that publication because people in Boulder want it. People in Longmont want it and gosh, it'd be great to have it down at the airport. I mean, there's just so much that we can do within reason for our workload that I'm really excited the way that's going. And then of course, our intern program has expanded. Right now we have nine interns for the summer and we'll be back down to probably eight for the school year. Two of my college interns will leave, but then we'll pick up hopefully one more senior from the Gilton School because we want to have a senior on board from at least one from each school in the area. And then we have a couple sophomores and juniors.
About Nederland, Colorado and the Mountain-Ear
I want to dig a little bit more into your internship program and all the other things you're doing. Before we do that, maybe both you and Christian can tell us a little bit about the mountains and also Nederland. Christian, you moved to Colorado from Cambridge, Massachusetts and eventually up to Nederland. So as an outsider coming in, what attracted you to the community and how would you describe it to others?
How would I describe Nederland? It is in some ways it's almost a town untouched by time. It's this cute little mining community up in the mountains that people visit. They visit our carousel of happiness and all the little local businesses. It's just cute and quaint, nestled in some of the most beautiful hills in Colorado that I have ever seen. And with the rain that we've had recently, honestly, this is what I imagine New Zealand looks like. There could be little hobbit holes everywhere and I wouldn't be surprised.
Barbara, how would you describe it?
Because Nederland is where I first came. But I love Nederland. I live in Gilton and we know one of our offices in just we're we spread so far across the peak to peak. Nederland is definitely growing right now. It is a very unique community, but it is also more west Boulder than it used to be. We're kind of attracting a different group of people to town. And Gilton, where I live and where our other office is in Central City, is like just frozen and still very small town. Going into the neighborhood pub and running into the exact same people that you've been running into for 35 years or their kids or whoever because they go out and have dinner on Friday. So I love the entire peak to peak region and I really kind of split my time across the whole region and go up north and Allen's Park and Coal Creek. And that's one of my favorite things is getting out there and networking with all the businesses and the people that I've known for so long and finding out, hey, what's happening? What should we be doing?
And the Mountain-Ear itself, can you tell me a little bit about its frequency, its reach, circulation, and also so that's for print. And how are you treating the website?
Our print reach right now is about 5000 readers a week. We have over 9000 subscribers on the website. Everything that goes in print goes on the website. Some stuff that goes on the website doesn't go to print. On the website. One of the things that we're focusing on in July every month, we just have a different goal right now, but in July we're going to focus on when we put up stories, we're going to add photos to those stories online because we can do that without taking up more of our print space. And that is one thing people really look for, is extra information that maybe they couldn't get in print. The cool thing about online is everybody who has a print subscription can get onto the website, but we have a lot of people that are subscribing just to online too. And that's kind of a really different thing for me because I'm a print reader too. But we have a lot of people that are, especially if they're out of state, it's become so cost prohibitive to send stuff out of state. We raised our prices a bit. And so I say, I know you love it this way, but you can check out the website, you can download the full PDF, that's the exact paper you're going to see in print and you can have it on Thursday instead of waiting for it on Tuesday in Massachusetts. So we still have over 300 out of state subscribers each week.
And I think going on a little tangent here, I think the willingness of people to do that migration from print to digital, I think we in the industry often underestimate. I was just at a convening of newsrooms that the American Press Institute did earlier this week and heard from another a number of newsrooms, a lot of them large metros, but I think the lessons can be extended. Where they went into one of them went into outlying counties and did one on one trainings with people on how to access the website, how to get the e edition, how to use it, and actually gave them iPads for the length of their subscription. And their conversion ratio was close to 80% across the board, and often it was higher, which is I think, pretty remarkable. So it's interesting to see that you're still invested in print, but you also have a lot of people who are coming even from out of state. And depending on your website, right..
The print out of state is still 300. The people that are out of state in online only is less than that. But these are print and a lot of them are longtime subscribers, grew up here, lived here forever, and have moved out of state or they spend summers here and the rest of the time out of state. So we have a large community, half the town of Eldora, our summer cabins. And so they come here and they tell us, hey, we're back in town, and switch us over for the next 90 days and then switch us back to Arizona or wherever. Those are the people right now that I'm trying to get to switch over to online if they will because it's so expensive to send out of state. And then of course our out of country subscriptions, which we have several those work perfect if you're out of the country and you want to subscribe because you get it at the same time and we can't send papers out of the country, it's cost prohibitive.
On being a “professional juggler”
So I want to talk a little bit more about all of the things you do and how on earth you've been able to do them. Of course now with some help from Christian, you're getting a little more support, but even before Christian came in, you were producing a podcast that by the way, I really appreciate. It is very well done and it sounds like something that would come from a much bigger publication. In fact, most podcasts I've heard from large publications are not the quality of what you're producing. They're much more robotic and not much more than the headlines where you've got community people talk, several number of people on the podcast as host talking about what's going on in the community. And so I've really enjoyed listening to that. You alluded to the interns. You've got basically an army of interns, particularly since for a long time it was just you and freelancers and interns. You've got a project going on with the library that maybe you want to talk about. You're doing a lot on the website and all of that and still printing out what many publishers call the weekly miracle. Actually getting that thing out the door can be all consuming. So how have you juggled all of that and made it work?
Well, I'm a professional juggler. I think I've been doing it for so long that it doesn't seem hard anymore. It just seems normal. So I still do the finishing touches on the design. Some weeks I still do the whole design of the paper because our designer might be working on Taste of the Peaks or one of our other publications. So it's really time management. My family will tell you that when I'm on deadline on Tuesday night, normally on Tuesday is my longest day, so I normally start anywhere between five and seven in the morning and I might be working until about that time on Wednesday. Sometimes I'm done at midnight though and they'll tell you they don't talk to me on Tuesdays I leave the door closed and I go out to get food. They'll tell you they leave the food at the door so that I can just pick it up and pull it in the closet with me. But actually I do take breaks and go out and balance stuff. And even when I'm not doing the layout, tuesday is just finishing touches on everything. So it is definitely balancing. I've been doing this since my youngest son, who's 17, was a year old. And everybody that is part of my family knows those days and times when it's not a good time to have things unless the school has scheduled something and then I have to set the paper aside for 4 hours and go to a music concert. But I make it work. And I like working on the weekend some because nobody bothers me on the weekend. So it's like my time where I can get things done uninterrupted. But right now it's summer, so I have other stuff going on. I'm out taking pictures and writing stuff down to use in a future paper. So it really is it's like a great balancing act.
So let's talk about some of those specific things you're doing beyond the weekly print publication and why you're doing them. What are you getting out of them? What do you hope to get out of them? Let's start with the podcast. How long have you been doing that? Why did you start it?
Producing a local news podcast
The podcast we have been doing for over two years. We started it with just kind of a whim, like, oh, we'll just do this thing like once a month. Our designer and her at the time boyfriend who had some experience in that and they were running a podcast said, hey, this is working great for us. And the line of everybody makes money at this. And of course you don't make money. You might break even, but you don't rake in the money on news in general, but it does okay. And the first year that we did it, I think we put out about 40 maybe. But this year, it's been every single week. No matter what, it's published on Monday. So that has really made a difference in how we are able to grow it. We have such an incredible crew on there. Cynthia, Dango that's Dan Rose, and he's with Elephant Revival, and he has a background in pretty much music sound production, and he knows everybody in the music world. And he has done some stuff with different recording in Boulder, and he has his own recording space, and he's really aware of what's going on. So he and Cynthia together are the driving force of the podcast. And then Marianne joined us, and she's wonderful, and she just does a little segment. And then Jamie's one of our interns, or he's no longer an intern. He was a high school intern the first year of COVID He graduated, and he has stuck with us, and he goes to Cu Boulder. He's a junior. Well, I guess technically he's a senior now. And he kind of has a different quirky attitude that you see come through in the podcast. He is the one like me that is super connected to the community because he grew up here and he went to high school here. So the podcast is great. I don't think it'll go away.
I assume this is a passion project for a lot of them. They're not retiring off the money you're paying them for the podcast. Is that the you what kind of audience are you reaching?
It is a passion project for sure. Cynthia is the only one that's a salaried employee and she's the designer plus the podcast, plus other stuff. So Dango does it because he loves it and he loves sharing the news. And they kind of see know as things shift with other newsrooms, they kind of see that it has an opportunity maybe to expand a little, especially kind of in Boulder with things maybe not happening down there as much. So they're really excited about that. But yeah, it's definitely something that they just want to make happen every week. For our viewing audience, that is more of a Cynthia question than me because she can pull up all of the information on who's listening. But we know that for some odd reason we have a lot of the Front Range is our audience and it is bit younger, and I say younger because younger than me. So 30 to 45 ish range rather than my age and rather than the really younger ones who instagram is the thing. And they don't listen to podcasts yet.
Managing interns with a small team
Let's talk a little bit about your internship program. So you and I have talked about that multiple times before because you have encouraged other newsrooms to not ignore high school students. And a lot of newsrooms have trouble even handling college student interns because they feel like it just takes so much of their time. So how have you been able to productively use that many interns and interns that young and without formal training and experience?
I think I've said before, you get them as young as you can because you can still help them to understand what community news is. In our circumstance, we're not a big newsroom. We really focus on hyper local. So you find the kids in the schools that are interested in it. Some of them come to us through referrals with teachers. Some of them know we have a scholarship program that is often awarded to interns on their senior year and they're interested in that. I've got two already this year that they're seniors and they're interested in the scholarship program. But it's really finding kids that are excited about what's happening in their community and want to share the news. They submit their stories. It has been they submit it to me and to Sarah, who's one of our editors. And Sarah, now she's a full time employee as well. Now she will be taking on more of the intern program this fall, but she hasn't worked with our college interns yet. I'm the only one that's worked with the college interns, so I'm handling it through the summer with those guys. But yeah, right now out of our interns, two are college students from Cu Boulder. One is a college student with American University. She's studying abroad in Germany right now and she writes our Gilton County School Board meetings. And she grew up here, which is kind of a cool way for her to stay connected and is going for a journalism degree and then the rest are high school.
Partnering with local organizations
One of the other things I know you've been intentional about in the last, I don't know how long, year or two, maybe longer, is reaching out to others in the area to really partner on some initiatives. Can you talk about how that's come about and why you wanted to go that route?
We actually advertise in other publications about our publications, and they have done stories about us and we have done stories about them. And we've said, hey, these guys are in Coal Creek Canyon and you should know about them because they're monthlies. Most of them are monthlies. And here's what they do and here's their editor, here's a story about them or how they came to be. And really the only way to know everything that's going on in the whole peak to peak region is to talk to all of the publications in the peak to peak region and tell people why they should also be subscribing or advertising with these other businesses. And I had a couple of people say, gosh, didn't that backfire on you? Doesn't it take away from your publication? No, it actually helped people understand we're all in this together. Whether you're a weekly or a monthly or online, we're all in this together and we're all sharing the news of our community. And we can do that because we're hyper local. And I think it has just expanded our reach by having, you know, we're a monthly. You can't put your information in us because your event is going to be over before we can get anything out to the public. But if you talk to Barbara, Barbara can get the information on her website tomorrow for you and she can get something in the paper next week, and then people will know that you're having the Easter egg hunt. And that's the only way that we can reach everybody is by brainstorming with them. And that's part of what a chamber would do or a business organization would do that we've been doing for quite some time. And now we have a new chamber, which is so exciting because that will take it to another level than what we're doing. And Christian started a chamber, another exciting thing that's happening for our entire business community up here because we're all in this together.
Yeah. And do talk a little bit about the archives project you're doing with the library.
So the archive project started with the library. I was talking to the library director, Electra, one day, and I said, gosh, it would be really cool if we could do this. And I was talking with this historical society was at the same table, and they had some of our papers as well and said, yeah, this should be made available to everybody. So I started researching it and Electra started researching it and she found it first through the Colorado Historical Newspaper Collection that we could get a small grant. So first we received a small grant which got our first eleven years digitized. So that went up online and then it started to really kind of snowball from there that hey, we can do this. And that was one of the first things I said to Christian when he was buying the paper, we have to finish this. This is something we started. We've done grant money, we've done fundraising, we raised this much money out of it. This many years can be done, but there are a lot more years. So we have now down being processed to be put online all the way through 2010. So 1977 to 1988 was done the first round and then the next round was going to be three different rounds. But because of how we raised money through the news, colorado needs grant. We raised money through just asking people for donations. We were able to actually do all the way from 88 to 2010. So it's a huge process. And then the next process for us from 2010 to part of 2013 is scanning page by page of the newspaper. There is no PDF and the Colorado library stopped putting it on microfilm, so it'll be scanning page by page to get those couple of years done. And then starting in 2013, we have some years as PDFs and in 2014 we have more and in 2015 we have a lot more. So once we can just give them the PDF, it will be a lot easier and it'll go even faster. But I'm really excited about that. People are really liking being able to go online and check out stories from way back then or type in a name. You want to just type in a name of some community member and see how long they've been doing some project or something. And just in those first eleven years, it's been incredible to read that. And the town itself doesn't have some of that historical knowledge that we have. And there's a lot of knowledge in there.
Yes. I think we sometimes underestimate the value that we have as news organizations in the archives that we're writing the first draft of history and a lot of times we're the only ones who have that. And so I think it's definitely worth some effort to make that available. So that's great. Have I missed anything? What else are you doing in all your free time?
In my free time, I like to go out and listen to music and then I do little bursts on the Facebook page for the Mountain-Ear of live music and cover events. And sometimes this week I put on our Mountain-Ear Facebook page that I happened to be down at a silent auction for one of the fire departments that actually got the most hits this week. I was just standing there taking a few photos. Supporting the silent auction, getting some cool items from the auction and people were just kind of looking at it and sharing it and checking it out. And I think those are one of the most important things we do. That's one of the things we're going to work on with the interns as well, is give them access so they can post a photo and hey, this is happening right now and it goes till 04:00 and you should check it out. So that's what I do in my downtime.
Do you have newsletters, by the way? Email newsletters.
Newsletter goes out every Thursday and it's through the website. So it's just kind of the latest news and it says, hey, the latest news is here. Click here to open it and click here for our podcast. So it just kind of takes people to different parts of the website, but it takes everybody back to the website.
Advice for small publishers looking to engage the community beyond print
What advice would you give to other publishers, particularly in smaller towns and weekly publications, doing hyper local news, to really start moving away from just focusing on that weekly print product. And I know for you, and maybe you could start here. Really my impression from talking with you is that this is a collaborative project with the community. This is for the community. They are part of what you're doing and you bring them into the production and you're not trying to do it all yourself or even just with two or three people. So what advice would you give to others who are trying to get out of the daily grind of just getting that print thing ready?
I think that having a newsletter is important. Having a podcast or any kind of outreach, even little live videos or whatever on Facebook to reach new demographics. Because otherwise we get stuck with the demographics that have been following the newspaper for a long time and we may not be pulling in new, and we need to do that and more than anything find ways to engage the public. Run contests have people wanting to know what's going on inside your newspaper so opening it up and they're looking for a silly contest of Easter eggs spread throughout where they can win two carousel tickets. I mean, it's really like it's just engagement. The most important thing that we can do is engagement. And engagement can't be just print anymore. We have to go beyond that. And in every community, I'm sure it's different, but I feel like we have found the niche in our community to have so many different type engagement.
And you mentioned a number of times the businesses in the community. And I think a lot of small papers in small towns are successful because I think they understand how the paper serves the whole community and how the businesses the businesses understand how they depend on the paper to just let people know what's going on and to keep people connected. But I don't think that comes naturally to all journalists and all publishers. Can you talk a little bit about how you think about your service to the business community and your interaction with them?
I think we have always tried to be very open to whatever the business community needed from us. I think during COVID it became clear that they needed a lot more, that we needed to find new ways to support them. When we did our Keep It Local campaign, which lasted for a year and three months with Gilpin County and the town of Nederland, we reached businesses that nobody knew were there, and that has made all of them grow, and especially businesses that are run out of homes, but also the businesses that are brick and mortars. Hey, we're still here, we're still open. So I think just having somebody that is keyed in what's happening with the businesses in each community is really important. And I don't know if it does with other publications, but with me it falls back to the journalists that are in those communities. And that's one of the reasons we hire somebody in Allens Park and somebody in Jamestown and somebody in Gold Hill, because they know what's going on and whether they're paid or they just want to submit regular events for the three venues in Gold Hill. It's really important to have those relationships and keep building them so that those businesses have the possibility to reach as many people as possible. And I think that we do a pretty good job of that. We really have done a pretty incredible business series that just wound down two months ago.
Accountability reporting at a small community paper
In what role in community papers this can look very differently, very different from a metro daily. But what role do you see the Mountain-Ear playing just in terms of accountability? You mentioned you've got an intern dialing in remotely to look at school board meetings, but what role does accountability play at the community level, at the community newspaper level?
Well, we have to work really hard to dig up some of the news. Sometimes. The one that is covering the Gilpin school board has covered a couple of things that the school will not comment on. Pretty big things that are happening at a state level with health departments and things. And for us to dig into that. The only way we can do it, and she can't do that one, is to know who do I need to talk to at our local health department to figure out who to talk to at the state health department, and which reporter can I put on this? Is going to be able to dig up enough information because they're not saying anything. So it's important that we're covering that, holding the school accountable for what's going on, holding our local government accountable for what's going just we're super lucky that we have pretty incredible reporters on all of our local government. We have one in Nederland that is just phenomenal and just started its paper less than a year and a half ago, and we have three in Gilton County. And just keeping track of what's going on and making sure that we're covering it all and that we're not sugar coating anything. People need to know, and they just need to know the information that should be out there to the public. We're not going to make it sound sweet.
And I think it's important to talk about that because in some circles in journalism, there's sort of this dichotomy or even antagonism between investigative or accountability coverage and all of the other aspects of journalism, the community coverage, events and business and everything else. And I think in a healthy paper, and I think community papers have a kind of a leg up sometimes, people understand that part of being a part of a community, part of even loving a community, is also being honest and open, know, digging out those facts. A number of years ago, Jim Brady, who's now at the Knight Foundation, but he had started a startup in Philadelphia called Billy Penn, and he was telling this story, they were holding an event, and I don't remember all the details, but it was some sort of mixer with city leaders. And one of the city leaders came up to him and said, you guys have hit us pretty hard this year, but at least I know you care about the community. The implication being that some of the bigger publications didn't. And I think that's so important. I think that's one of the things I think community papers have in spades is people know they care that they're there to serve the community. They're not getting rich. They're not there for I hate the term, but gotcha journalism. Like they're there to if they're doing something accountability wise, they're doing that for the health of the community. If they're talking about what's going on, they're doing that because it pulls people together. Don't know if you have any comments on that, but I think that's one of the strengths of our community papers.
Yeah. Oh, I absolutely agree. And we haven't done a lot of deeper investigative journalism before COVID And then of course, when COVID came, we had more time to dig a little bit in some ways, even though offices, including government offices, people weren't working in the office, but really having people for us. Like Christopher in Nederland, he lives in town and he's able to really dig into stuff that's happening in town, and he's able to get opposing views, but he does it very professionally, and that's so important. And we need to have a stronger person like that to cover some of the news that we're not getting enough. We're getting the top layer of and we really need to be able to dig down a couple of layers. So that's something that will hopefully come soon. We do try to have really good relationships with the town and the counties. It doesn't always go that way, but nobody ever thinks that we're being unfair.
I really appreciate your time. As I've said, I admire what you're doing there and wish you nothing but the best and invited Christian to listen in. But I wonder, Christian, if you want to come on. Are there any parting words, anything you've picked up that struck you?
No. I mean, the accountability aspect really resonates with me. Those big national papers and media outlets, they're never going to be able to cover it with the passion and the depth of local community reporters. And I think that's one of the reasons why it's a shame to see so many community papers disappearing, and hopefully we can save the few that are left before we really start to miss them.
Well said. Thank you, Christian. And thank you, Barbara.
Thanks for having us.
Thank you for listening to the Local News Matters podcast, and thanks to Barbara for the great work you're doing and to Christian for supporting that work.
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