FRISCO, COLORADO — The day Bob Berwyn of the Summit County Citizens Voice was scheduled to be interviewed by CJR, he had to beg off due to what is apparently a not uncommon event when reporting from Summit County, Colo., home of famed ski resorts like Vail and Breckenridge. “I just got called to a search and rescue,” he wrote via e-mail. “Lost snowmobiler. Prob won’t be back.”
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In this case, the snowmobiler was quickly found, and so Berwyn was able to devote attention to other aspects of his beat. With more than a decade of experience reporting on the Centennial State, Berwyn covers any number of issues that are of interest to those who make scenic Colorado home, offering coverage of both local news and global environmental concerns.
Environmental issues are central to the site. And, as Berwyn explains, just because many of his stories deal with global issues doesn’t mean that they’re not locally relevant. “The way I look at it is that just about everything I write is relevant to folks here,” Berwyn says. “Even if it’s a global warming story about Antarctica, global warming has impact here too. So I’m trying to consciously build that connection with people, to show them that some of these global issues are relevant locally.”
The site’s Forest Health section is a notable example of Berwyn’s environmental coverage. The site also covers the issues that one might expect in Colorado: skiing, politics, wildlife, weather, and climate. Just as Berwyn’s environmental reporting often deals with global phenomena, his other coverage also tends to stray out of Summit County and take notice of events in Denver or elsewhere. Explaining the thinking behind this decision, Berwyn says, “I thought I’d mix it up. I find that with hyperlocal sites, the ones that are successful are geared towards areas with a pretty high population density, i.e. urban areas. I don’t know that we have the population here to have it be a successful model”.
Berwyn launched the site in December of 2009 after leaving the Summit Daily News after a twelve year relationship with the paper. Berwyn had written a column alleging inflated snowfall reports by Colorado ski resorts, a practice that is widely considered by skiers to be somewhat commonplace. The column touched a nerve with the CEO of Vail Resorts, who pulled his company’s advertising from the paper. According to Berwyn, his publisher (who has since left the paper) took him aside and explained that he would have to do some “groveling” to get back on the resort’s good side. He refused, and was fired a week later, though the publisher claimed it wasn’t because of the column. Soon after, Berwyn started the Voice.
Since the Voice launched, Berwyn has had a good deal of luck attracting local businesses as sponsors. Sponsors pay between $75 and $200 a month to appear prominently on the sidebar of the site, as well as receiving exposure through social media connected to the site. The sponsorships are by far the sites largest revenue stream, with donations from readers coming in second. Though Berwyn currently runs the business as a sole proprietorship, he is considering filing for 501(c)3 status and making the Voice a nonprofit in hopes of attracting grant funding. Fundraising events are also on Berwyn’s radar as a potential revenue source. For now, though, Berwyn freelances and works other part-time jobs to help sustain the Voice.
“It’s a labor of love,” he says. “The revenue side is slowly growing.”
Berwyn regularly enlists the help of Jenney Coberly, a retired software engineer, who volunteers to produce video journalism for the site. While there are a few other volunteers who regularly contribute content, Berwyn is the driving force behind the site.
Relationships with sources he’s developed over the years have been key. Berwyn notes, “People will tell me things that they might not tell another reporter, because they trust me and trust I’ll put things in the right context.” This has been especially true of local environmental issues that are central to the site. Berwyn believes that having the right contacts “really gives me the opportunity to become the source for those kinds of stories.”
Summit County Citizens Voice Data
Name: Summit County Citizens Voice
Principal Staff: Bob Berwyn, editor and publisher.
Affiliations: Google News; Mountain Public Radio.
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