At Aspen Journalism, our modus operandi involves identifying local topics or issues that would benefit from more and better news reporting, and then developing capacity to bring that reporting to life. Such has been the case with our Social Justice Desk, which published its latest story in collaboration with The Aspen Times and Glenwood Springs Post Independent over the weekend.
Social justice is a term open to interpretation, but I like to think of it as a study of the distribution of power and resources within a community, and to what extent that distribution benefits portions of the community unevenly. In a description of what Aspen Journalism wanted its Social Justice Desk to be, I wrote:
“While undoubtedly one of the most naturally stunning regions on the map, this is an area of dramatic inequality, with a culture based on attracting visitors and second homeowners with ample disposable income by offering high-end services and amenities. The economic framework is labor intensive and requires much of those who have come to live in the region and contribute to the community. … For too long, these stories have existed beneath the surface of most local media reporting, with little understanding among privileged classes of the social disparity that is a byproduct of everyday life.”
Our piece, “The most tenacious freelancers of the new West: Inside a housekeeping cluster that stays nimble to provide for its workers,” written by Grand Junction-based freelance journalist and Colorado Mesa University graduate Hector Salas, is in line with that spirit outlined above. Salas, who grew up in Rifle, embedded with a group of women from his hometown who make a living cleaning homes and other properties, mostly in Aspen. They have a unique framework and business model, operating independently, organized in a grassroots manner. No business cards or digital marketing, just a clientele that grows by word of mouth. While the women enjoy flexibility in their schedules, dependable income and working with their peers, they do not receive benefits that other workers take for granted such as paid time off or health coverage. Salas’ reporting shines a light on the world as these women experience it — a world that may not be widely appreciated or understood, but one that is nonetheless central to the operations of Aspen’s culture and economy.
It feels good to see the story across the finish line and I am hopeful that our social justice reporting will continue to grow. Building investigative journalism capacity is never easy, but there are many more topics worthy of the effort, including housing, criminal justice and labor practices. We are grateful for the support that has afforded us an opportunity to launch the desk — which has published a number of in-depth articles in the last year — and we look forward to more to come.
Also in the last week, Water Desk Editor Heather Sackett continued her collaboration with Aspen Public Radio, recording a “reporter two way” with APR’s Halle Zander about the situation at Lake Powell, which has fallen below a critical threshold designed to provide a buffer so the Glen Canyon Dam can continue to produce hydropower. Sackett provided a big-picture overview of the situation and, picking up on her recent piece on Lake Powell, analyzed the impact of last summer’s emergency releases, ordered by the federal government, from three upper basin reservoirs.
“When they get a kick in the pants, it’s amazing what kind of work they can do really fast,” Sackett said, referring to the states getting serious about a new annual operating plan to prevent future fed-ordered emergency releases. “Water managers really don’t move until they have to sometimes so when they are faced with a crisis they will do something.”
Keep up to date on all that, as well as the latest COVID-19 information from our Tracking the Curve project, as well as a weekly selection of relevant metrics via our Data Dashboard.
Thank you for reading and supporting Aspen Journalism.
Curtis Wackerle, editor and executive director
Stay up to date on news briefs not to be missed and a recap of the state’s best reporting on water policy by subscribing to Aspen Journalism’s new monthly newsletter, The Runoff, from our Water Desk.
Inside a housekeeping ‘cluster’ that stays nimble to provide for its workers
By Hector Salas | March 19, 2022
Between the prosperity of ski towns such as Aspen and Snowmass, in their nooks and crannies, the grit that is the working class conducts its business.
Documenting COVID-19 in Pitkin, Eagle and Garfield counties
By Laurine Lassalle | March 22, 2022
Eagle County reported eight new COVID-19 cases over the weekend, Garfield County recorded five cases, while Pitkin County added two cases.
Lake Powell’s elevation below the target elevation of 3,525 feet — first ever since the reservoir began filling in the ’60s and ’70s.
By Laurine Lassalle | March 22, 2022
• Paid occupancy in Aspen reached 79.8% in February 2022, the highest ever recorded for the month of February.
• Lake Powell’s elevation down to 3,524.4 feet — or about seven inches below target elevation.
By Halle Zander, Aspen Public Radio | March 17, 2022
Reporter Halle Zander sat down with Heather Sackett, who covers water issues for Aspen Journalism, to discuss the details and consequences of historic low water levels at Lake Powell.
“The concert cancellations mark a disquieting milestone for Aspen’s ever-worsening housing crisis, as skyrocketing rental and sale prices, proliferating short-term rentals and an influx of new owners choke the ability of the Music Fest — founded in 1949 as the cultural cornerstone of modern Aspen — to fulfill its mission in educating young musicians.”
Source: aspentimes.com | Read more
“The Apple Tree Park residents who attended Monday’s BOCC meeting disputed Hendrickson’s assessment, saying discolored water had been flowing through their faucets long before last Friday’s flush. One commenter even said she had stopped washing white clothes altogether due to the water’s brown hue.”
Source: aspendailynews.com | Read more
“‘This is a problem that’s driven by a class system in Aspen on down,’ Martin said. ‘Regionalism is a nice idea, but what I’ve seen from Pitkin County is “we’ll take the glory and, Garfield County, you pay the bill.” We cannot continue to cater to the elite in Aspen and Pitkin County.’”
Source: postindependent.com | Read more
A shrinking county on the Western Slope wants to grow with the help of a new dam. Some say ‘No, thanks.’
“Rio Blanco regional leaders say the area’s economic and cultural survival is at stake in the search for new water sources. But opponents are lining up against them to argue that you don’t divert more water from a Colorado River tributary when the use of river water by 40 million residents of Western states is headed for a drought-driven renegotiation.”
Source: coloradosun.com | Read more
“The real reason those Lower Basin states have voluntarily borne the brunt of conservation efforts is that for decades they relied on unused water that’s part of the Upper Basin allocation to build their cities, their economies and their lifestyles.”
Source: gjsentinel.com | Read more
“If Abramovich is sanctioned, the U.S. Justice Department’s new KleptoCapture Task Force would likely be able to freeze the property, but not seize it or take ownership. Sanctions experts say the only way the government can take title is if they can prove Abramovich has committed a U.S. crime.”
Source: cnbc.com | Read more
Our nonprofit mission is to produce good journalism for people who care about Aspen, the Roaring Fork Valley, and the upper Colorado River basin.