News comes and goes, so you may not remember the hundreds of articles the Sierra County Sun published this past year—on the county commission’s passing the annual budget in secrecy, on Elephant Butte’s loss of details regarding expenditures from a $600,000 loan, on the complex of forces that control the amount of water in Elephant Butte Reservoir, on the troubles with the management of Sierra Vista Hospital, on the controversies besetting the governance of Truth or Consequences, on the daily ins and outs of the administrative life of this county. But, throughout this past year, the Sun has monitored, researched and investigated how our publicly elected and appointed officials and administrators have performed for us and put out this information for you in almost a daily stream of stories online.
Local news reports and analyzes local topics in the belief that an informed citizenship is the basis of democracy. This effort to provide our community with in-depth public-interest journalism has been the hard work and dedication of two people: Kathleen Sloan and Diana Tittle.
Diana is the Sun’s editor and de facto publisher. She not only helps to shape or assign stories, edits and fact-checks all the articles, commissions or finds the images that illustrate them and lays them out on our website, she also decides on the sidebars, curates the articles from other reporting sources that the Sun reposts and herself writes some of the stories and editorials. In her “spare time” Diana has also handled circulation, marketing and promotion and spearheaded fundraising efforts. And she does all this for free.
Kathleen is one of the fiercely dedicated local-government journalists in New Mexico. A former T or C Herald reporter, she began a blog called the Sierra County Sun in the fall of 2019 to help fill the gap left by the Herald’s closure. Kathleen’s knowledge of state law governing the conduct of local government and local codes is encyclopedic and underpins all the reporting she had done over the past two years. Not unexpectedly, our elected representatives and local government officials have not appreciated being held in her stories to high standards of accountability for following laws, regulations and norms and advancing the public interest. They routinely refuse to answer her questions or provide public documents upon her request. Instead of being discouraged, she has become a master at wielding New Mexico’s Inspection of Public Records Act to pry out information about governmental doings that citizens have a right to know. The Campaign to Save the Sun in the summer of 2020 raised enough funds to develop Kathleen’s blog into a full-scale civic news source and keep her reporting on the state of the county through 2021.
Local and philanthropic support has sustained the Sun since its relaunch in October 2020. I think your donations have been well spent, that every article we have published has been a plus for the county. The Sun has been a successful venture, but the pace has been pitiless. Imagine producing several in-depth articles a week, with the setting up and conducting of interviews, the gathering of documents and information, the background research, the writing of stories, the fact-checking and editing of those stories, the rewriting, the re-editing—day after day. The financial resources were there to keep the Sun publishing, but the human resources have been exhausted.
When a public organization like the Sierra County Sun shuts down, there are some legal hoops that need to be threaded. Since the Sun is a not-for-profit New Mexico corporation recognized by the IRS as a 501c3 charitable and educational organization, a lot of these deal with how non-taxed dollars are handled. I want to give you the thinking that went into the plan developed by the Sun’s board of directors for dispersing these funds and the constraints the law put on our decision-making. Even though the board is fully responsible for the shut-down process, we want to be transparent and accountable to our readers and supporters.
Because the Sun is a nonprofit corporation, its assets cannot go to any individuals except as payment for services. Furthermore, non-taxed dollars have to be kept separate from taxed revenues. Both these requirements mean that after we pay our bills and issue requested refunds of unfilled subscriptions, the remaining assets must be distributed to another not-for-profit organization.
Our bylaws as approved by the IRS require us to favor a distribution to a not-for-profit in Sierra County or in New Mexico. That is the localized version of the federal laws. However, New Mexico also has laws regarding the closing of non-profit corporations. They require us to give our leftover funds to an organization “substantially similar” to ours, that is, to another not-for-profit news organization.
Since there are no such organizations in Sierra County, we had to look to the small field of New Mexico not-for-profit news sources. The Sun’s board has thus decided to disperse $10,000 of its leftover funds to Searchlight New Mexico, a Santa Fe-based news site which, like us, is devoted to in-depth and investigative reporting. The Sun has been grateful to republish many important stories that Searchlight makes available free of charge to other not-for-profit news organizations around the state. The Sun board has Searchlight’s assurances that our distribution will be used to advance some of our mission by publishing public-interest stories relevant to Sierra County and southern New Mexico on a periodic basis in the new year.
Here is our accounting of all the assets to be distributed.
SUN FINANCIAL STATEMENT
October 16, 2020, through December 3, 2021
Save the Sun Campaign donations $26,500
Individual donations 7,527
Alerts subscriptions 3,139
New Mexico Local News Fund grant 12,000
TOTAL REVENUES $49,166
Editorial stipend $23,332
Editorial honorariums 1,225
Editorial intern 1,200
Website design and maintenance 5,270
Marketing and promotion 3,559
Unfilled-subscription obligations 1,080
TOTAL EXPENSES $36,337
After the distribution to Searchlight, approximately $3,000 will remain. The Sun’s board has decided these funds should be distributed to the Sierra County Public-Interest Journalism Project, a 501c3 charitable and educational organization that was started two years ago to promote civic discourse and engagement here. SCP-IJP’s first project was to support the Sun. The SCP-IJP board has agreed to take over responsibility for the Sun’s website and maintain it for the immediate future as an archive. The board will also consider and help to fund future projects to support local journalism. We welcome suggestions from the Sun’s readers and supporters, sent via email to email@example.com