By Steve Lysaker
There are few true loves-at-first-sight in life: your soulmate, perhaps, or a pet or Reese’s peanut-butter cups (the latter of which I adore so much I named my first pet after, much to the chagrin of my soulmate).
For me, The Denver North Star was another.
My partner and I had lived in the Sunnyside neighborhood for about a year when one autumn day in 2019 I found what I assumed was a flier rubber-banded to our home’s front door. I was about to toss it in the recycling bin when the cobalt banner and golden compass caught my eye; it resembled another of my loves-at-first-sight, the newspaper.
I fell in love with newspapers as a kid in the 1980s. They collectively delivered enlightenment and empowerment in a lucid package.
My household subscribed to two newspapers: a robust, metropolitan daily that contained state, national and world news (not to mention comics), and a suburban weekly focused on local communities. The daily was expansive and appealing, with departmentalized sections and bold design, but the weekly — if lacking polish and comics — was no less significant; information, discourse and accountability are also vital at local levels.
By high school, I was a news junkie, and I sated my addiction by writing for my school and hometown newspapers. Little did I know as a journalism major in the 1990s that the newspaper was enjoying its last golden age and the Fourth Estate itself was in peril; when I graduated in 1996, even the tiniest newspapers in the most remote corners of the least populous states had ample staff with dedicated beats.
Then came the internet. And the Great Recession. And social-media outlets owned by ethically bankrupt, rich narcissists who need a Constitutional lesson in the “free speech” they profess to propagate.
As newspapers gutted workforces and shuttered in droves, misinformation spread faster than COVID-19 (another stake in the heart of print publications). Multiple studies conducted since the Great Recession, which sparked thousands of newspaper closures, found that civic engagement declined and became more volatile with reduced access to local news and increased exposure to opinion-based media (like Fox “News”) and unverified information (circulated on platforms including Facebook and the cesspool formerly known as Twitter).
No newspaper was safe. Denver, once home to two mighty dailies, lost The Rocky Mountain News in 2009, and The Denver Post now functions with a fraction of its former reporting resources.
Thirty-three Colorado newspapers ceased operations between 2004 and 2019, according to the Colorado Media Project; in 15 years, the Centennial State lost approximately 20% of its newspapers. I went through so many mergers, sales and closures that when I left my previous newspaper job in 2016, I vowed to never work in journalism again.
Then came The Denver North Star. Surely, I thought as I unrolled the first edition, no one would launch a new newspaper in this dystopian age, especially a free, hyper-local one.
But I held tangible proof in my hands. There were stories about my community, about neighborhoods and issues and people not being covered by other Denver media organizations.
The Denver North Star routinely introduces me to businesses and nonprofits and events I wouldn’t otherwise know about. It provides insight into North Denver’s economic development; social matters; and city, state and federal representation that other metro news sources can’t equal. It offers compelling columns about local history, institutions and public affairs.
When the opportunity arose earlier this year to join the slight but passionate team at The North Star and its sibling publication, The G.E.S. Gazette, I didn’t hesitate despite a career full of heartbreak. Alas, as you know if you read Publisher David Sabados’ column in the September issues, The North Star and Gazette are struggling to survive amid rising costs and declining advertising revenue.
Objective journalism is crucial to democracy. “The basis of our government being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right,” wrote Thomas Jefferson in 1787, “and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”
Yet as our nation nears its 250th birthday, access to equitable, localized news has never been more in jeopardy. More than 2,000 U.S. community newspapers went out of business between 2005 and 2021, according to a Washington Post report about local-news deserts; the same article noted that between 2008 and 2020, the number of American print journalists declined by more than half.
Research has linked the rampant reduction of local news coverage to increases in wasteful government spending, political polarization and the nationalization of local elections, as well as decreases in political competition and voter turnout. The situation is so dire that in 2017 the venerable Washington Post added the portentous slogan “Democracy Dies in Darkness” to its masthead.
The Denver North Star shines a light on our shared parcel of this democracy. While I don’t expect everyone to cherish The North Star the way they love their soulmate or pet or favorite junk food, I hope those who value access to local news will consider supporting The North Star and G.E.S. Gazette.
If you’re a reader, please tell local businesses and organizations that you learned about them through the papers. If you can afford a donation, monetary contributions may be made to The Denver North Star via mail at P.O. Box 11584, Denver, CO, 80211 or online at denvernorthstar.com/support-the-denver-north-star-and-local-journalism.
If you’re a business, nonprofit, government agency or other party with advertising needs, think about spreading your message via The North Star and G.E.S. Gazette. Advertising with local news sources is targeted, timely, trustworthy and affordable; it also powers the indispensable beacon of community journalism.
Steve Lysaker is an award-winning journalist and copyeditor for The Denver North Star and G.E.S. Gazette. He lives in North Denver with his partner and their two dogs.