The Sierra County Sun is a leading provider of fact-based, credibly sourced, independent, original reporting on local government and public affairs in Sierra County, New Mexico. 

The Sun’s primary objective is to ensure that the people of Sierra County are well informed about government activity so they can more effectively hold officials accountable for their actions and more successfully advocate for public policies to address Sierra County’s needs.

Certified by the State of New Mexico as a nonprofit corporation, the Sierra County Sun will fulfill its mission by these means:

•  Establish and maintain a website (www.sierracountysun.org) for the dissemination of accurate, fair, nonpartisan reporting in the public interest.

•  Make the news, analysis, commentary and narratives published on www.sierracountysun.org available to all readers free of charge

•  Enhance community awareness and appreciation of public-interest journalism by engaging Sun readers and donors in regular dialogue about the relevance, balance and usefulness of its editorial content.

•  Encourage and mentor citizen-journalists to undertake reporting, writing and graphics projects and publish their work, if suitable, in order to strengthen community engagement with the Sun and augment the coverage provided by its small professional staff.

•  Fund and sustain the Sierra County Sun’s free-to-all reportage by proactively and transparently seeking financial contributions from local citizens, businesses and corporations, in addition to applying for appropriate philanthropic grants. 

•  Demonstrate how an online news organization serving a rural borderlands county with an aging, low-income population of fewer than 11,000 residents in southern New Mexico can marshal the skills and resources to fulfill journalism’s traditional watchdog role and provide citizens with the free flow of reliable information about governmental and public affairs that underpins a functioning democratic society.


The Sierra County Sun was founded in October 2019 by veteran reporter Kathleen Sloan as an online, journalist-owned, hyperlocal publication covering government and the arts. These were her beats when she wrote for the weekly Herald newspaper in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, from 2006 to 2013. 

Sloan moved on to reporting jobs in the Midwest and on the East Coast, and the Herald closed after 90 years of service in December 2018. She returned to Truth or Consequences in the spring of 2019, with the embryonic idea of doing something to fill the gaps in local watchdog journalism.

Fill the gaps she did. With the help of editor Susan Christie and webmaster Bill Brown, every week for nearly a year, she reported and published four or five enterprising stories that, as a charter Sun subscriber described it, “lift[ed] the veil about what is going on in local government.” There was little time to focus on selling subscriptions, however, and Sloan found herself facing a seemingly insurmountable revenue shortfall. In April 2020 she reluctantly announced that the Sun would cease publication at the end of August.

Unwilling to stand by as Sierra County lost an asset as critical to its well-being as its hospital or schools, a group of concerned citizens stepped forward to devise and lead the Campaign to Save the Sun. Within 3 months, the Campaign had raised enough money to keep Kathleen Sloan on her government beat for 12 additional months. 

After taking a well-deserved break in September, Sloan resumed her practice of “pencil-in-the-eye” journalism, as a person familiar with the discomfort of the Sun’s scrutiny vividly put it. Her ongoing role is to ask challenging questions, dig into public records and explain the intricacies of state and local laws so that the citizens of Sierra County have the information they need to hold local representatives accountable for their actions or inaction.

The Campaign’s plan to secure the future of the Sierra County Sun included restructuring the enterprise as a not-for-profit civic news organization; redesigning the Sun’s website and automating its back-office functions; assembling a volunteer editorial team to carry out the gradual expansion of the Sun’s coverage; and devising fundraising strategies to support ongoing operations and make readership free to all. When the Sun was relaunched on October 16, 2020, all these objectives had been accomplished.

Not-for-profit Public-Interest Journalism

Sierra County, New Mexico, has firsthand experience with the proliferation of local “news deserts” in every corner of America. In December 2018, the Herald, a weekly newspaper that had covered the county seat of Truth or Consequences since 1928, stopped publication. 

Nearly 2,100 newspapers, most of them weeklies like the Herald, closed between 2004 and 2018. According to a 2019 study of the collapse of local news conducted by PEN America, a free speech advocacy association, most were victims of print’s losing competition with digital media for advertising and subscriptions. During roughly the same time frame, the number of newsroom jobs in the country decreased by nearly half. In a special report titled “The Future without the Front Page” published in August 2019, the New York Times estimated that about 1,300 communities across America now lack local news sources. Thousands more are inadequately served by surviving local newspapers struggling to provide their traditional soup-to-nuts coverage.

The free flow of reliable information is the lifeblood of a well-functioning democratic society. “Robust local news,” the PEN America study, entitled “Losing the News,” stated, “drives voter turnout, holds officials and corporate leaders accountable, makes people aware of nearby opportunities and dangers, and, perhaps most importantly, works against the now-widespread breakdown in social cohesion by narrating the life of a place and its inhabitants, telling the daily stories that form the basis for shared communal experience.” Without local journalism watchdogs, the study concluded, “government officials conduct themselves with less integrity, efficiency, and effectiveness, and corporate malfeasance goes unchecked.” 

The Washington Post describes the consequences more bluntly on its masthead: “Democracy dies in darkness.”

A countertrend gives hope that reporting in the public interest will not entirely disappear and may indeed rebound. About a decade ago, newspaper reporters and editors who had lost their jobs began creating small news operations, usually publishing online and usually making their coverage free to all. They specialized in local news or investigative journalism or in-depth reporting on state and national issues. Structured as not-for-profit civic news organizations, they won philanthropic support from foundations concerned about the preservation of a vibrant free press.

Today, more than 250 such news organizations are hard at work, informing civic discourse, combating disinformation and enabling citizen engagement in public life. According to Democracy Fund’s Local News Lab, nearly two thirds of them focus on local and state reporting.

The Sierra County Sun is proud to join their ranks in providing fact-based, credibly sourced, independent, original reporting on local government and public affairs.

Content-Sharing Partnership

The Sun shares content and collaborates with Searchlight New Mexico, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization dedicated to investigative journalism in the interest of New Mexico residents.



Understanding New Mexico's proposed new social studies standards for K-12 students

“The primary purpose of social studies is to help young people develop the ability to make informed and reasoned decisions for the public good as citizens of a culturally diverse, democratic society in an interdependent world.”
—National Council for the Social Studies 

Reader Michael L. Hayes of Las Cruces commented: What impresses me is that both the proposed standards and some of the criticisms of them are equally grotesque. I make this bold statement on the basis of my experience as a peripatetic high school and college English teacher for 45 years in many states with many students differing in race, religion, gender and socioeconomic background, and as a civic activist (PTA) in public education (My career, however, was as an independent consultant mainly in defense, energy and the environment.)

The proposed social studies standards are conceptually and instructionally flawed. For starters, a “performance standard” is not a standard at all; it is a task. Asking someone to explain something is not unlike asking someone to water the lawn. Nothing measures the performance, but without a measure, there is no standard. The teacher’s subjective judgment will be all that matters, and almost anything will count as satisfying a “performance standard,” even just trying. Students will be left to wonder “what is on the teacher’s mind?” or “have I sucked up enough.”

Four other quick criticisms of the performance standards. One, they are nearly unintelligible because they are written in jargon. PED’s use of jargon in a document intended for the public is worrisome. Bureaucrats often use jargon to confuse or conceal something uninformed, wrong or unworthy. As a result, most parents, some school board members and more than a few teachers do not understand them.

Two, the performance standards are so vague that they fail to define the education which teachers are supposed to teach, students are supposed to learn, and parents are supposed to understand. PED does not define words like “explain” or “describe” so that teachers can apply “standards” consistently and fairly. The standards do not indicate what teachers are supposed to know in order to teach or specify what students are supposed to learn. Supervisors cannot know whether teachers are teaching social studies well or poorly. The standards are so vague that the public, especially parents or guardians, cannot know the content of public education.

Three, many performance standards are simply unrealistic, especially at grade level. Under “Ethnic, Cultural and Identity Performance Standards”; then under “Diversity and Identity”; then under “Kindergarten,” one such standard is: “Identify how their family does things both the same as and different from how other people do things.” Do six-year-olds know how other people do things? Do they know whether these things are relevant to diversity and identity? Or another standard: “Describe their family history, culture, and past to current contributions of people in their main identity groups.” (A proficient writer would have hyphenated the compound adjective to avoid confusing the reader.) Do six-year-olds know so much about these things in relation to their “identity group”? Since teachers obviously do not teach them about these other people and have not taught them about these groups, why are these and similar items in the curriculum; or do teachers assign them to go home and collect this information?

Point four follows from “three”; some information relevant to some performance measures requires a disclosure of personal or family matters. The younger the students, the easier it is for teachers to invade their privacy and not only their privacy, but also the privacy of their parents or guardians, or neighbors, who may never be aware of these disclosures or not become aware of them until afterward. PED has no right to design a curriculum which requires teachers to ask students for information about themselves, parents or guardians, or neighbors, or puts teachers on the spot if the disclosures reveal criminal conduct. (Bill says Jeff’s father plays games in bed with his daughter. Lila says Angelo’s mother gives herself shots in the arm.) Since teacher-student communications have no legal protection to ensure privacy, those disclosures may become public accidentally or deliberately. The effect of these proposal standards is to turn New Mexico schools and teachers into investigative agents of the state and students into little informants or spies.

This PED proposal for social studies standards is a travesty of education despite its appeals to purportedly enlightened principles. It constitutes a clear and present danger to individual liberty and civil liberties. It should be repudiated; its development, investigated; its PED perpetrators, dismissed. No state curriculum should encourage or require the disclosure of private personal information.

I am equally outraged by the comments of some of T or C’s school board members: Christine LaFont and Julianne Stroup, two white Christian women, who belong to one of the larger minorities in America and assume white and Christian privileges. In different terms but for essentially the same reason, both oppose an education which includes lessons about historical events and trends, and social movements and developments, of other minorities. They object to the proposal for the new social studies standards because of its emphasis on individual and group identities not white or Christian. I am not going to reply with specific objections; they are too numerous and too pointed.

Ms. LaFont urges: “It’s better to address what’s similar with all Americans. It’s not good to differentiate.” Ms. Stroup adds: “Our country is not a racist country. We have to teach to respect each other. We have civil rights laws that protect everyone from discrimination. We need to teach civics, love and respect. We need to teach how to be color blind.”

Their desires for unity and homogeneity, and for mutual respect, are a contradiction and an impossibility. Aside from a shared citizenship, which implies acceptance of the Constitution, the rule of law and equality under the law, little else defines Americans. We are additionally defined by our race, religion, national origin, etc. So mutual respect requires individuals to respect others different from themselves. Disrespect desires blacks, Jews or Palestinians to assimilate or to suppress or conceal racial, religious or national origin aspects of their identity. The only people who want erasure of nonwhite, non-Christian, non-American origin aspects of identity are bigots. Ms. LaFont and Ms. Stroud want standards which, by stressing similarities and eliding differences, desire the erasure of such aspects. What they want will result in a social studies curriculum that enables white, Christian, native-born children to grow up to be bigots and all others to be their victims. This would be the academic equivalent of ethnic cleansing.

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