Our Approach to Reporting in 2022

Bolstered by a staff that grew to three full-time journalists in June, Aspen Journalism published stories on a diverse array of topics in 2021. It was also a year of transition at the top of the organization.

Our water desk, staffed by Heather Sackett, produced 42 stories as Sackett covered 61 water meetings across the state of Colorado. It was her third year on the beat. Her work has been distinguished by its analysis on the impact that ongoing drought is having on water users and water policy. Sackett also broke important stories about a mining company’s violation of the Clean Water Act, a state legislative effort to develop new policy on investment water speculation and the city of Aspen’s efforts to create a new integrated water plan that includes new storage sites.

Curtis Wackerle, hired in July 2020 as editor overseeing all aspects of the newsroom, as well as editor and reporter on the Connie Harvey Environment Desk, added executive director of the organization to his title in August. This was precipitated by Brent Garnder Smith, AJ’s founder who since 2020 had been serving as executive director, stepping down to become the news director for Aspen Public Radio .   

The environment desk published 16 stories in 2021. Focus areas included grappling with the impacts of surging recreational use, by OHV drivers on the Lead King Loop near Marble and overnight hikers in the Maroon Bells Snowmass Wilderness. The desk also published stories about land conservation initiatives.

Aspen Journalism established a data desk, staffed by Laurine Lassalle. Lassalle began working part-time for AJ in May 2020, when she took over our Tracking the Curve local COVID-19 data project; since then and through all of 2021 she updated our local coronavirus info post five days per week. Lassalle began working full-time for Aspen Journalism in June, and has put out a weekly Data Dashboard since then, sharing updates on a revolving suite of metrics focused on local environmental and quality of life factors such as stream flows, traffic, precipitation, air quality and Lake Powell water levels. She has also conducted investigations into public health and environmental issues that have resulted in stand-alone news stories. 

Aspen Journalism also launched a social justice desk in 2021 that published three stories, including an investigation written by freelance journalist Hector Salas, with data analysis by Lassalle, into the racial disparity in local COVID-19 vaccine uptake rates. 

Our history desk published two stories in 2022.

We also enhanced our weekly newsletter, The Roundup, to include insights from our newsroom about the stories published. And we launched a redesigned website in February. 

By the numbers, in 2022 we published: 

58 Investigative Stories

41 Water Desk Stories
6 Environment Desk Stories
6 Local Public Data Desk Stories
3 Social Justice Desk Stories
2 History Desk Stories

187 Data Updates

52 Data Dashboard Updates
135 Tracking the Curve Updates

46 Newsletter Editions

39 Editions of The Roundup
7 Editions of The Runoff, launched February 9, 2022.  

71 Water Meetings Attended

For a complete list of the stories published and meetings attended in 2021, click here

Organizational capacity

Besides our full-time staff, Aspen Journalism worked with 10 freelance journalists in 2022:

Luna Anna Archey
Dan Bayer 
Tim Cooney 
Catherine Lutz
Amy Hadden Marsh
Hector Salas
Sarah Tory
Andrew Travers
Kaya Williams
Dale Ulland

We also worked with a part-time marketing and web production contractor,
Claire de L’Arbre. 

We estimate our annualized total staffing capacity for the year at 4 FTE. 

Media Reach

We continued our collaborative partnership with The Aspen Times and its sister papers across the Colorado high country owned by Swift Communications: Vail Daily, Glenwood Springs Post-Independent, Steamboat Pilot & Today, Craig Press, Sky-Hi News and Summit Daily News. Each of our water, environment, social justice and data stories ran in the Times. Most were picked up by at least one of the other mountain town papers — with some stories running in each publication. Our history desk stories ran exclusively in the Aspen Daily News.

Aspen Journalism also saw our work published by a variety of other news organizations, as we invite any and all to share our work. When our work touches on an issue relevant to a specific location, we often reach out to the editors of the local paper and offer them the story. We also posted our work to the AP StoryShare platform, where it is made available to media organizations statewide. In total, 22 media outlets published our work in 2022. They were:

The Aspen Times
Aspen Public Radio
Glenwood Springs Post-Independent
Vail Daily
Steamboat Pilot & Today
Sky-Hi News
Craig Press
Summit Daily News
Aspen Daily News
Sopris Sun
Ouray County Plaindealer
The Colorado Sun
The Aurora Sentinel
Montrose Daily Press

KKCO 11 Grand Junction
Pagosa Springs Sun
Rio Blanco Herald-Times
Grand Junction Daily Sentinel
Yellow Scene Magazine
Coyote Gulch
Longmont Leader
Colorado Springs Gazette

Revenue and expenses

We were supported by 225 individual donors in 2022. (See here for more on our donors and funders.) Aspen Journalism also was the beneficiary of the federal Paycheck Protection Program implemented in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and saw a $42,000 loan forgiven in January.

In total, we had $416,565 in revenue and $386,300 in expenses in 2022.

Awards Won in 2022

Colorado Press Association, six awards, more information here.

Best Agriculture Story | First Place | Heather Sackett, Aspen Journalism
Best Business News/Feature Story | First Place | Curtis Wackerle, Aspen Journalism
Best Environmental Story | First Place | Sarah Tory & Luna Anna Archey, Aspen Journalism
Best Newsletter | First Place | Curtis Wackerle, Aspen Journalism
Best Informational Graphic | First Place | Laurine Lasalle, Aspen Journalism 
Best Informational Graphic | Second Place | Laurine Lasalle, Aspen Journalism

Society of Professional Journalists, nine awards, more information here. 

Climate Reporting | First Place | Heather Sackett, Aspen Journalism
Social Justice Reporting | First Place | Laurine Lasalle, Aspen Journalism
Business: Enterprise Reporting | First Place | Curtis Wackerle, Aspen Journalism
Agriculture and Environment: Feature | Second Place | Heather Sackett, Aspen Journalism
Health: News | Second Place | Laurine Lasalle, Aspen Journalism
Agriculture and Environment: News | Second Place | Sarah Tory and Luna Anna Archey, Aspen Journalism
Extended Coverage | Third Place | Curtis Wackerle, Aspen Journalism
Agriculture and Environment: News | Third Place | Curtis Wackerle, Aspen Journalism
Social Justice Reporting | Third Place | Hector Salas and Laurine Lasalle, Aspen Journalism

Aspen Journalism 2022 Staff

Curtis Wackerle, Editor and Executive Director

Heather Sacket, Managing Editor and Water Desk Editor

Laurine Lassalle, Data Desk Editor

Aspen Journalism 2022 Board of Directors 

Mark Harvey, President

Tim McFlynn, Vice President

Denise Jurgens, Treasurer

Cristal Logan

Pete McBride

Michael McVoy

Jane Pargiter

Harry Teague