Too many communities are finding out what life is like without local journalism. (Photo illustration by The Colorado Sun)

In the classic Christmas movie “It’s a Wonderful Life,” George Bailey is given the great and terrible gift of seeing what the world would be like if he had never been born.

His friendly town of Bedford Falls becomes the cold, hard Pottersville, where unrestrained greed and power create a dystopian nightmare of vice and misery. Even the larger world feels the impact: Soldiers aboard a troop transport ship died because Bailey’s younger brother wasn’t there to save them — because George hadn’t been there to save Harry as a boy. 

Larry Ryckman

Today, some people don’t need the movie’s angel Clarence to show them what their world would look like without someone — or something — important in their lives. They’re waking up in communities that no longer have newspapers or journalists, and their lives are poorer for it.

People sometimes ask me whether their newspaper could really go away. Sadly, just look to Oakland, Calif., where the Pulitzer prize-winning Oakland Tribune was closed by the same hedge fund that owns The Denver Post. The Rocky Mountain News is but a memory. Baca County, like many Colorado counties, has just one newspaper (until a recent revival, even it had gone dark). Waves of cutbacks have left a growing number of cities across Colorado with fewer journalists and no-longer-daily newspapers. And big corporate media mergers are likely to make the situation worse.

We’ll never know the stories that weren’t written because there wasn’t a journalist there to write them. The corruption cases that weren’t revealed. The government officials who weren’t held accountable. The injustices that weren’t highlighted and reversed. The good people who weren’t celebrated. The plays and performances that weren’t profiled and reviewed. 

Communities suffer when the watch dogs are put to sleep, when the champions are silenced. The founding fathers understood that a free press was a vital part of our democratic infrastructure, and they protected it in the First Amendment to the Constitution.

READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

As others have noted, a free press doesn’t necessarily mean it’s free. Journalism is also a business, and it can cost thousands of dollars to obtain government documents in a court battle. It can cost hundreds of dollars to send a reporter and photographer out on assignments. Journalists have families to feed, rent and mortgages to pay.

We launched The Colorado Sun in September 2018 to serve our state, to try to fill the gaps in coverage that have emerged in the absence of hundreds of journalists, to produce quality, nonpartisan stories that bring understanding of the people, places and policies in Colorado.

The bulk of our journalism is free for all to read, because we believe it’s important for us all as citizens, as Coloradans, to be well informed. And we recognize that some can’t afford to pay and others need to get to know us better before they might be willing to help. But we’re able to continue as a free site because thousands of Coloradans have joined our community of paying members and sponsors. 

Every reader who pays us as little as $5 a month helps to ensure access for themselves and others to the kind of deep, meaningful journalism that we all need and deserve. Those who become premium members at $20 a month have access to additional, exclusive coverage of politics and the outdoors. If you’re unable to become a paying member now, please help by sharing our stories with family, friends and colleagues through email and social media.

As I said, we don’t have to imagine what our world would look like without journalism. Here’s a quick look at just some of the journalism you wouldn’t have seen this year without The Colorado Sun:

As we wrap up 2019 and another trip around the sun for The Sun, I want to thank all of our readers, members, sponsors and supporters who have joined with us to do something special for Colorado. The Colorado Sun is a public benefit corporation owned by its 10 founding journalists (and here’s a special thanks to my partners, too!). We now have 11 full-time journalists and more than 50 freelancers across the state who do amazing work every day. I’m also excited to announce that in January, reporter Moe Clark will join the staff as our 12th full-time journalist. She will help cover the legislature and environmental issues.

Remember how “It’s a Wonderful Life ends? Friends, family and the community come together to support a beaming George Bailey. His brother toasts him as “the richest man in town.”

That’s the way we feel at The Sun. We’re incredibly grateful for your support, Colorado. Thanks again, and here’s looking forward to another amazing year in 2020 — together.

Larry Ryckman is Editor and co-founder of The Colorado Sun.

Larry Ryckman is Editor and co-founder of The Colorado Sun. Previously he was senior editor at The Denver Post, managing editor at The Gazette in Colorado Springs and city editor at the Greeley Tribune. Ryckman spent 22 years at The Associated...