Motivated by the desire to provide local news for Montezuma County, managers at KSJD radio are hoping that innovation and outside-the-studio-box thinking will allow them to produce a daily newscast – both on-air and online – that will reach over 56,000 people in the Four Corners area.
“Our goal is to inform, entertain and empower the community,” said Jeff Pope, KSJD executive director. “If KSJD doesn’t try, what does that say about us? We have to try this.”
Strengthening the community and grassroots democracy while raising awareness of the need for local news are at the forefront of this mission, Pope said.
But first, the funding.
A campaign is under way to raise $100,000 to launch and build a news department to cover local issues. The goal is to have a functioning news department, including a full-time news director and part-time producer, by December or January.
“We are working to raise resources for a trusted local news department,” Pope said. “We know local news matters, and the free press isn’t free.”
An informational sheet given to prospective donors reads:
“There is no better time than now to create the legacy of an informed community, where civic engagement leads to creative solutions to the challenges and opportunities that arise in the Four Corners region. An informed community can better ensure that our young people – and people of all ages – have the knowledge and skills they need to participate as active citizens in our community.”
Michelle Rojas, Cortez Chamber of Commerce manager, agreed that such a news department would be important for the Four Corners area.
“KSJD has a very positive image in the community and a lot of community support,” she said. “I definitely see the need for local news and have been hearing that from the community as well. This effort will strengthen our community.”
The funds raised will go towards hiring the necessary staff; the equipment is already in place.
“We need to have reporters to go get the news and resources for people to go out and do it,” Pope said. “Radio is licensed to the community. Stories from within the community are important as well as holding people accountable.”
According to Pope, the campaign is a “barn-raising” effort, meaning that the goal is to build something meaningful together.
“In much the same way as a solidly built barn will stand the test of time, with your financial support, we will build a local news department that will serve you, and strengthen our community for generations to come,” he said.
The Cortez Chamber of Commerce is partnering with KSJD on the initiative and is collaborating to create a list of potential business donors, including current or potential chamber members.
“Reception has been very good and it’s exciting to hear people’s input on what they want to hear,” said Rojas. “It’s exciting for the chamber because we’ve been aware of our need to create more value for our businesses. This is a great community business builder.”
Brett and Rachel McWhirter, who own the ice-cream shop Moose and More in downtown Cortez, said they definitely support the development.
“I’m super excited about KSJD,” Rachel McWhirter said. “The more eyes and ears we have out there, the better our community is. We live here and are business owners and want to know about events going on and what people and other businesses are doing. These are our friends and family.”
Brett McWhirter agreed.
“It’s important because we don’t have instantaneous news here,” he said. “People are often misinformed about a lot of issues and this would help, and hopefully make people less apathetic about the local elections if they know what’s going on.”
Rocky Moss, director of the Dolores Chamber of Commerce, said she has seen the need for such an operation.
“I think KSJD is one of the best things we have around here and I’m always stunned by their vision and innovative thinking,” said Moss, who is a regular financial contributor to KSJD. “That’s what small communities need. They may have a small voice comparatively, but it is a loud and proud voice.”
Pope said there is a group in the area who want what others have – news that is live and local.
“The community wants live and local radio, and in order to stay local, we must also be live,” he said. “We want more local news, not less, and this is a vehicle for that.”
However, this does not mean they want to move from a community feel to a big-city approach.
“We’re not trying to be like Los Angeles or New York,” Rojas said. “We’re trying to find out what other places are using to increase revenue and strengthen community.”
KSJD, the only locally-owned public radio station in Montezuma and Dolores counties, was formed in 1986. It is based in Cortez and includes KZET and KICO. It serves the Four Corners region of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah, also encompassing the Ute Mountain Tribe and portions of the Navajo Nation.
Volunteers power much of the programming and station operations. The station was originally intended to train young people and help them get jobs in the media, according to Pope.
“We formed to create the news, not just consume it,” he said.
This original goal is still in place today. Volunteer DJs are trained and encouraged to find their voice. This effort includes a studio in Rico for students.
Liz Bohm, who works at KSJD in communications development and has held various positions at the station for about two years, said KSJD helped her find her voice.
“When volunteer DJs talk, they’re coming from a real place. These people are the roots of the community. As a volunteer DJ, it really helped me find my voice,” Bohm said.
“Part of the human experience is that we want both to be heard and to hear each other,” he said.
Ray McDonnell, station manager of the local Dolores radio station KKDC, said he supports the news campaign.
“It’d be great to get some local news,” he said. “It keeps you in touch with the community and I’d support just about anything Jeff Pope and KSJD are doing.”
McDonnell said he would like there to be a focus on children and the future.
“How can we fix problems of the world if we don’t first understand what’s going on in our own neighborhood?” McDonnell wondered. “If someone is doing something positive for our kids, I’d want to know how to get involved.”
KSJD has produced thousands of hours of programming focused on issues regarding the local community, including KSJD Morning Interviews, Ag Markets and More, Talking Heads, Veteran Affairs and others.
“We’re not starting from nowhere, we want to grow these programs,” Pope said.
Lack of local information could ultimately be detrimental to citizen engagement and democracy, he believes.
“There is concern that without news stations, smaller communities will be left without a news source,” Pope said. “Communities need to be informed more and more, not less and less. Many rural places in America don’t have enough resources to chronicle daily life.”
KSJD has been innovative in finding other ways to establish itself as a strong presence in the local community, as well as beyond.
The Community Radio Project, a 501c(3) organization based in Cortez, is the licensee of KSJD and also operates the Sunflower Theatre, a 125-seat venue for the arts and culture in downtown Cortez. KSJD’s and the Sunflower Theatre’s mission is to inform, entertain and empower the people of the Four Corners Region.
“We want to be a content-creation house – on stage, on the radio and online,” Pope said. “Local information matters to the community and it’s the thread that holds the community together. It can be really fun.”
For increased reach outside of its immediate demographic, KSJD also would like to establish podcasts.
“Why market only locally if the content also has the international and national reach?” Pope asked. “Our story is that we are rooted in international and national farming and dryland farming. These stories are worthy of being told and re-told out of the community.”
Donations to KSJD and/or its news project can be made through single gifts of any amount, by becoming a sustainer with a set monthly contribution, or by becoming a member of the KSJD Leadership Circle and investing at a higher level.
On Thursday, Oct. 22, at 6 p.m., there will be a fundraising celebration at the Sunflower Theatre with special guests Wade Goodwyn, an NPR national desk correspondent from Dallas, and local news pioneer Dottie Wayt. All are invited; the cost is $35 and refreshments will be served. Also, from Oct. 9 through Oct. 16, there will be a public and community radio membership drive.
For more information, visit KSJD.org or contact Jeff Pope at 970-564-9727, ext. 11.
Disclosure: Free Press editor Gail Binkly is currently doing some news-related work for KSJD on a part-time, temporary basis.