The best news stories do more than just hurl information at you; they make you feel like you’re actually part of the story, engaged in a discussion of issues, people and places you care deeply about.

One of our founding goals at The Colorado Sun is to foster those kinds of discussions about our state. So, in that spirit, we put together this list of Colorado long-form stories that sparked conversation in 2018.

They come from news outlets both big and small, based across our state or all the way across the country. Maybe you missed them the first time around, or maybe you want to read them again because they’re that good.

There is a caveat: This isn’t a definitive list. Colorado is blessed with many talented people who want to tell its stories. So if you know of an engrossing narrative or investigation we missed, please send it our way, and we’ll update this thing.

OK, ready? Let’s get talking.

 

Here’s your chance to support thoughtful, independent journalism in Colorado into the new year and beyond. Become a member of The Colorado Sun right now, starting at just $5/month.

Jump to: Insights | Environments | Reckonings | Campaigns | Investigations | Interventions | Castoffs | Profiles | Interviews | Embeds | Monologues | Miscellanies

 

INSIGHTS

“I look up and see the lights of the train and think, ‘I’m going to die right here with a perfect stranger.’ ”

A lack of public transit in rural Colorado is hurting disabled and low-income residents — and even placing lives in danger. In this story by The Colorado Independent’s Tina Griego — perfectly headlined Sixty two buses, 60 drivers, 9,000 square miles: What happens when the demand for public transit in rural Colorado exceeds supply? — the woman quoted above tells of getting her wheelchair stuck in a railroad crossing because there was no bus that could take her to the bank. Another says she once called an ambulance because she couldn’t get any other ride to a doctor’s appointment.
Story // The Colorado Independent

In this April 2, 2018 photo, pharmacist Steve Protzel poses for photos holding a bottle of OxyContin at Daniel’s Pharmacy in San Francisco. (Jeff Chiu, AP file photo)

Other insight stories

The inside story of how one opioid company spread millions of pain pills around Colorado, according to a newly unsealed court document.
Story // The Colorado Sun

At least 30 Colorado school districts and charter schools allow teachers to carry guns, but no statewide training standards regulate them.
Story // The Denver Post

For ‘Columbiners,’ school shootings have a deadly allure.
Story // The New York Times

Cautionary approach: New Mexico’s rail woes are a lesson for Colorado’s Front Range rail.
Story // The PULP

Not a long read, but …

This month, the Rocky Mountain PBS program “Insight with John Ferrugia” won an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award for excellence, among the most prestigious prizes in broadcast journalism. The piece? Imminent Danger, which examined when firearms can be taken away from people who are mentally ill and featured interviews with the mother of the Aurora movie theater gunman and the mother of a man who killed a Douglas County sheriff’s deputy.
Program // “Insight with John Ferrugia”

Back to the top.

 

ENVIRONMENTS

Remnants of a home destroyed by the 2012 Black Forest fire.

“People who are in a better emotional state with it say it’s just the new normal. You gotta stop thinking about what it was. This is what it is, this is what we have.”

Five years after the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history, some residents of Black Forest have rebuilt. But, as others struggle to rebuild, drought returns and new development looms, Colorado Sun reporter Kevin Simpson and I ask: Is their slice of paradise at risk of being destroyed again?
Story // The Colorado Sun

Go deeper

Many Black Forest residents were thrilled to find their property intact after the 2013 wildfire. For some, the ordeal was just beginning.
Story // The Colorado Sun

For one man in a Colorado foothills town, watching the Black Forest wildfire explode was almost like looking in the mirror.
Story // The Colorado Sun

Deep inside Black Forest, a lesson in the importance of wildfire mitigation.
Story // The Colorado Sun

Wildfires in Colorado cost $130 million in 2018. Here are the details, down to the $40 daily rate on portable toilets.
Story // The Colorado Sun

Wildfires don’t hurt hot real estate markets.
Story // High Country News

Other environmental stories

Agricultural interests steer Colorado’s wildlife management.
Story // High Country News

The rising risks of the West’s latest gas boom.
Story // High Country News

Back to the top.

 

RECKONINGS

But 20 years ago, on Oct. 7, 1998, Matthew Shepard became America’s wake-up call.

Fort Collins Coloradoan reporter Erin Udell and some of her colleagues spent months looking back at the murder of Matthew Shepard and examining how that tragic event changed the nation. In this story — headlined How Matthew Shepard became America’s window into hate — Udell launches the series with a single, declarative sentence: It took 18 hours.
Story // The Fort Collins Coloradoan

Go deeper:

The Matthew Shepard killing, 20 years later: Reflecting in words and pictures.
Photos // The Denver Post

Matthew Shepard’s murder still haunts Wyoming after 20 years.
Story // The Associated Press

John Davenport of Denver Trout Unlimited casts his line into the South Platte as the Denver skyline looms in the background. Trout fishing is one of the activities proponents hope to see return to the urban stretch of the river. (Kevin Simpson, The Colorado Sun)

Other stories on history

After long regarding the South Platte as not much more than a sewer, is metro Denver ready to love its river?
Story // The Colorado Sun

How Denver’s disability activists transformed the city.
Story // 5280 Magazine

The crusade for Center.
Story // Colorado Public Radio

The murder of Preston Porter Jr. and Colorado’s grim history of lynchings.
Story // Westword

This shape explains Denver’s past, present and likely its future.
Story // Denverite

Back to the top.

 

CAMPAIGNS

Colorado Republican Party chairman Jeff Hays, left, speaks to a television news reporter on election night, Nov. 6, 2018. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

“This isn’t an academic exercise. With the next cycle already underway, whether we win or lose in 2020 will depend to large extent on whether we — as a party and as candidates — can draw the correct lessons from 2018.”

The Colorado GOP was absolutely hammered in 2018 — so badly that even in county-level races, voters showed the door to down-ballot Republicans presumed to be widely popular. But, as the party looks to rebuild, it must confront an uncomfortable question: Is it us or is it Trump? Colorado Sun reporters John Frank and Jesse Paul went looking for the answer.
Story // The Colorado Sun

Go deeper

How Donald Trump, guns and cash spelled an end to Mike Coffman’s decade in Congress.
Story // The Colorado Sun

Other politics stories

How Jared Polis gets what he wants: A portrait in four parts.
Story // The Colorado Independent

Not a long read, but …

The Purplish podcast, from Colorado Public Radio: Reporter Sam Brasch and friends examine Colorado’s famously balanced electorate, the trends shaping our state’s modern political identity, issues around voting integrity and access, and more in this fascinatingly thorough podcast. Be sure especially to check out the Nov. 1 episode, The Holdouts.
Podcast // Colorado Public Radio

Back to the top.

 

INVESTIGATIONS

Tax records show that more than half the state’s nonprofit hospitals or their systems cut back on their charitable giving for items such as free medical care, subsidized services and community health programs from 2013 through 2015.

Colorado hospitals’ profits soared even as hospital systems here embarked upon one of the most aggressive building campaigns in the nation. In this story — headlined Coloradans pay more as hospital building spree leads to empty beds and profits nearly twice the national average — Denver Post reporter Christopher N. Osher looks at how state officials believe patients are losing in the hospital industry’s “arms race.”
Story // The Denver Post

Amanda Jolliff, Sarah Berry, Jon Phillips, Vanessa Hall, David Hall. (Provided by law enforcement)

Other investigative stories

For some, home schooling is not about learning. It’s about hiding child abuse.
Story // The Colorado Sun

Shrouded justice: Thousands of Colorado court cases hidden from public view on judges’ orders.
Story // The Denver Post

How you can visit the hospital, then get a lien on your home.
Story // 9News

Body of complaints piled up: State knew of funeral-home concerns long before FBI raid.
Story // The Daily Sentinel

Go deeper

“It wasn’t his ashes”: Suspicions about Colorado funeral home’s body-parts business grew amid lax state regulations.
Story // The Denver Post

“This really has shattered me”: Betrayal, anger, grief haunt victims of Colorado funeral home that sold loved ones’ body parts without permission.
Story // The Denver Post

Back to the top.

 

INTERVENTIONS

Will and Maria Bales on vacation with their sons, Nick and Tyler. (Photo provided by the Bales family)

“I remember standing in his yard and looking up at the tree with such curiosity. As if the tree had all the answers. But the tree stood silent. That visual played in my head over and over again, like a horror movie. My parents never mentioned the word suicide, I think they were trying to protect me, but I figured it out anyway.”

This may be the most difficult Colorado story to read this year, but it also may be the most important. In “He seemed to have it all”: Arapahoe High School senior’s suicide rattles emotionally fatigued, frightened community, Colorado Sun reporter Jennifer Brown shows how a string of suicides terrified a south metro community, then motivated it into action. She also gives tips for spotting warning signs and for how to ask teens if they are thinking of harming themselves.
Story // The Colorado Sun

Go deeper

Creating connections: Solutions to youth suicide in La Plata County.
Story // Durango Herald

A silent sorrow: How a 12-year-old’s death launched a suicide-prevention campaign in Eagle County.
Story // The Colorado Independent

Other stories on people in crisis

The opioid crisis is breaking hearts in Colorado — and that’s forcing doctors to make tough choices.
Story // The Colorado Sun

Alone in the world: Foster kids in Colorado leave system with no home, no family, little support.
Story // The Denver Post

Colorado Jail TV Room Death: Guards ‘Not Criminally Negligent’.
Story // Patch

Back to the top.

 

CASTOFFS

A large block of aluminum cans at Alpine’s Altogether Recycling — the state’s largest recycling facility — on July 20, 2018 in Denver. (Kathryn Scott, Special to The Colorado Sun)

“We’re low. There’s no bones about it. Colorado is at the bottom of the barrel. But you don’t know where you are unless you know where you started.”

When we launched The Colorado Sun in September, we wanted to find a different way to tell a story about growth. Colorado has more people, more businesses, more tourists, more more. But what about the stuff we’re getting rid of? What kinds of stories does it tell? In this piece, Tamara Chuang looks at Colorado’s low recycling rate and finds that the whole system is tedious, cost-prohibitive, voluntary — and evolving.
Story // The Colorado Sun

Other stories on refuse

Coloradans generate 9.6 pounds of trash per person, per day. Where does it all go?
Story // The Colorado Sun

Where does our poop end up? Probably spread on farmland in eastern Colorado.
Story // The Colorado Sun

“This just does not happen”: A Garden of the Gods garbage heap is revealing big clues about the founder of Colorado Springs.
Story // The Colorado Sun

Go deeper

Rural southeast Colorado loved its landfills. After a health department deal, some will finally close.
Story // The Colorado Sun

Recycling can be a hard sell in rural Colorado. That hasn’t discouraged a resourceful nonprofit effort in tiny Swink.
Story // The Colorado Sun

Back to the top.

 

PROFILES

“We sell real-man guns,” he says, and laughs. It’s the laugh, the dry weirdness of it at the end, that echoes hauntingly.

As the nation continues to grapple with the terror of mass shootings and the debate over who is responsible for them and how they can be stopped, GQ reporter Michael Paterniti journeys to El Paso County to meet an eccentric gun dealer in the ominously headlined Dragonman, the man who sells “people-hunting guns.”
Story // GQ magazine

Elizabeth Lamphere and her daughter Madelyn in 2016. (Photo provided by Elizabeth Lamphere)

Other profiles

“If I can prevent at least one kid from going through what my kid goes through every day, I will do whatever it takes. I have to.”
Story // The Colorado Sun

How Eyni Ali found her voice in Colorado.
Story // Westword

Joshua’s Journey: Gazette chronicles a year in a young boy’s battle with cancer.
Story // The Gazette

Amid Manitou Incline glory, double amputee continues to fight demons.
Story // The Gazette

Go deeper

Double amputee reaches Pikes Peak summit after grueling three-day ascent.
Story // The Gazette

Double amputee who summited Pikes Peak arrested on suspicion of DUI and assaulting a medic.
Story // The Gazette

Back to the top.

 

INTERVIEWS

“I don’t know if this happens to anyone else, I don’t know if you get hugs from people while you’re knocking on their door asking for their vote and they stand there in front of you and they’re crying. I don’t know if that happens to anyone else. That happens to me.”

Democrat Tom Sullivan was elected to the Colorado House of Representatives on Nov. 6. His son, Alex, was killed in the 2012 Aurora theater shooting. Here Sullivan is posing in the Colorado Capitol on Nov. 19, 2018. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

We conducted several long-form interviews this year — including reporter Jesse Paul’s conversation with newly elected state Rep. Tom Sullivan, quoted above. Here are a few of those discussions, paired with powerful stories that help bring context or add another dimension to those discussions.

“It revealed to me this is what I can do”: Tom Sullivan’s son was killed in the Aurora theater shooting — and now he’ll be a state representative.
Interview // The Colorado Sun

Pairs with:
Running for Alex: How Tom Sullivan turned tragedy into a political crusade.
Story // 5280 Magazine

How a movie about Gary Hart will make you rethink modern politics (and the media).
Interview // The Colorado Sun

Pairs with:
John Hickenlooper searches for his liberal voice even as he preaches a new brand of politics ahead of 2020.
Story // The Colorado Sun

Amid drought, a changing climate and population growth, can Colorado’s unique water-law system survive?
Interview // The Colorado Sun

Pairs with:
How best to share the disappearing Colorado River.
Story // High Country News

A writer explored Colorado’s rich UFO history and heard tales of lights in the sky, but his focus was on the people who saw them.
Interview // The Colorado Sun

Pairs with:
The rock that fell to Earth.
Story // The Verge

Back to the top.

 

EMBEDS

The plane flies with no lights. Lights are targets. Some of the aircraft that land here are big enough to carry five howitzers, yet the most you can hope to see from the ground is a dark spot moving across the sky.

Earlier this year, a howitzer crew from Fort Carson became one of the first gender-integrated Army units to deploy in combat. For On the front line: Embedded with American female combat soldiers in Afghanistan, 5280 Magazine reporter Kasey Cordell went along to see what it looks like when history is made in a war zone.
Story // 5280 magazine

A globe is displayed in the exhibit hall at the Flat Earth International Conference, held Nov. 15 and 16, 2018, at the Crowne Plaza Denver Airport Convention Center. More than 600 people were registered to attend. (John Leyba, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Other stories from the field

We went to a flat-Earth convention and found a lesson about the future of post-truth life.
Story // The Colorado Sun

A week with Colorado Task Force 1: Lakewood search-and-rescue team takes on Hurricane Florence.
Photos // The Denver Post

Back to the top.

 

MONOLOGUES

Away I went, schlepping my disheveled, wet self into Old Town businesses where concerned secretaries took pity on me as I handed them their soaked mail. Welcome to the United States Postal Service. “Neither snow nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night …” — that’s how it goes, right?

OK, so this one isn’t exactly from a news outlet, but great storytelling can come from anywhere, can’t it? In this Twitter thread, former Fort Collins Coloradoan reporter Stephen Meyers entertainingly recounts — with gifs included! — how he was laid off from his job at the newspaper and, after months of searching, became a mail carrier until he could find his next career path.
Thread // @stemeyer

Other personal stories

Secret life of a psych-ward security guard.
Story // Narratively

Opinion: A Costa Rican visitor’s first snow, and other beasts that came in from the cold in Colorado.
Story // The Colorado Sun

‘I was almost a school shooter.’
Story // 9News

Back to the top.

 

MISCELLANIES

“I heard about a false alarm in Canada that cost like $10,000,” one of the other hikers told me as everyone dispersed. Thanks, buddy.

Island Lake with Titcomb Towers as a backdrop in the Wind River Range of Wyoming. (Dean Krakel, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Veteran backpacker (and photographer) Dean Krakel is such an expert in the wilderness that there’s a film about his year hiking the Colorado Trail. But he had perhaps the most mortifying experience of his outdoor life this summer when he accidentally triggered the SOS function on his emergency satellite messaging device — while it was turned off. Read about how it happened (or just bliss out looking at Dean’s photos) in his first-person account, A Colorado photographer thought he was alone in the Wyoming mountains. Then he heard a rescue helicopter.
Story // The Colorado Sun

Other various stories

The trippy, high-speed world of drone racing.
Story // The New Yorker

Susan Potter will live forever.
Story // National Geographic

Here’s how a Colorado dentist became Big Sugar’s worst nightmare.
Story // Buzzfeed News

Tim Watkins’ last ride: Unresolved murder of Palmer Lake mountain biking icon leaves community deeply unsettled.
Story // The Gazette

‘Pedophile hunter’ mom travels to Mexico to find fugitive accused of molesting her son.
Story // The Coloradoan

Storytellers: 82-year-old man, ‘The Frenchy,’ inspires others to live life to the fullest.
Story // 9News

Back to the top.

All right, that’s our list.

Thank you for reading this year; thank you for caring about Colorado and for supporting local journalism. Here’s hoping your 2019 is filled with joy and prosperity — and plenty of good stories to keep the conversations going.

Here’s your chance to support thoughtful, independent journalism in Colorado into the new year and beyond. Become a member of The Colorado Sun right now, starting at just $5/month.

The Latest

John Ingold

The Colorado Sun — johningold@coloradosun.com Email: johningold@coloradosun.com Twitter:...