DENVER, COLORADO — With layoffs at the Denver Post and the closing of the Rocky Mountain News in 2009, few places have lost as much reporting talent in recent years as the Mile High City. Ann Imse, a former reporter for the Rocky who had previously worked as a correspondent for the Associated Press during the collapse of the Soviet Union, saw the writing on the wall earlier than some. “At least five years ago, a number of journalists started talking about the fact that we were likely to lose one of our newspapers in Denver if not both,” she explains. From this discussion came the seeds of what would become Colorado Public News, the site which Imse serves as editor-in-chief.
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Despite the fact that the idea for the site had been in the works for years, it took until February of 2011 to get Colorado Public News off the ground. Not surprisingly, the holdup was financial.
“There were a lot of years spent talking about it,” Imse recalls. “We did our market research and realized there was no such thing as a viable business plan for news that you could take to a venture capital firm…it didn’t seem like there was a business model that was working.”
Colorado Public News began with a group of journalists who forged a partnership with Colorado Public Television 12 in the fall of 2009. The group then went to work to raise the funds needed to get the venture off the ground, designing several news packages to appeal potential funders.
While still existing under Colorado Public Television for legal purposes, Imse found that that finding revenue sources was slow-going in what she refers to as a “difficult economy.” The “game-changing” moment for the site came in February of 2011, when the site put together a proposal to be a healthcare news source for fourteen plus media outlets in the state, serving major commercial television, public television, public radio, and seven newspapers. After pitching their idea to The Colorado Trust, the site received major funding, enabling it to finally get off the ground.
The site acts as a news service for various outlets throughout the state, sharing primarily healthcare-focused content, per the stipulations of their grant funding. She explains, “Our partners now include four television stations, seven newspapers and numerous radio stations. The Colorado Trust wants the news widely distributed, and thus [content] is free now.”
As the site moves forward, Imse hopes to expand its coverage: “We are working on expanding revenues, grants, and donations to do more stories beyond health care.” Such stories would include coverage of education and the economy, with hopes of maybe even expanding into the world of television news. “We consider CPN a news service, not just a website. We’d love to have money to create a Colorado news program on Colorado Public Television, in the style of PBS NewsHour, focusing on significant stories.”
In addition to Imse, the site employs a managing editor, Cara DeGette, as well as a host of freelancers. All interns are paid, with Imse earning a “part-time salary for full-time work.”
Working with freelancers on a topic as complex as health care has its challenges. “We’re trying to build up an expertise among our freelancers,” Imse explains. “The problem we ran into was that, particularly in television, they want a level of expertise that is more than you can find in one person. Despite all of the hype about backpack reporters…It has proven impossible to find a multimedia journalist who can appear on-camera, shoot video, edit video, report and edit radio, and write for newspapers and web, to the quality that our media partners want.”
To adapt, the site employs freelancers who have diverse and varied skill sets and expertise. “We have one person who’s really good on camera, we have another person who’s a really good video journalist, someone else who’s good for print,” and so on, she explains.
One of the site’s first and most well-received stories was a five-part series about the health care system in Grand Junction, Colorado, one of the highest quality low cost health care systems in the country. The story examined what it was Grand Junction was doing that others were not throughout the country, to achieve what Imse describes as “spectacular results.”
A story describing the vast discrepancies that exist in the cost of an MRI has also gained traction. Imse notes, “We found the price ranges from $450 to $3500 for a shoulder MRI…people are overpaying two-three thousand dollars for an MRI because they don’t think to go shopping.”
In an era of contentious health care debate, Imse has found an attentive audience. “Everyone we talk to tells us that [health care] is the number one issue.”
“I would argue that one of the reasons that the debate over health care devolved into nonsense, instead of a serious national discussion about alternatives, was that most of the health care reporters have lost their jobs,” she continues. Providing meaningful reporting across multiple platforms, Colorado Public News is doing all it can to make sure nonsense is eradicated.
Colorado Public News Data
Name: Colorado Public News
Principal Staff: Ann Imse, editor; Cara DeGette, managing editor; Carol McKinley, staff reporter; Drew Jaynes, webmaster.
Affiliations: Editorial: Numerous content partnerships with Colorado newspapers and television stations.
Business: Colorado Public Television 12 (CPT12, a PBS affiliate), The Colorado Trust, The Small Community Fund of Denver Foundation, the Brett Foundation.