After 14 months of operation as a full-fledged local news site, the Sierra County Sun will cease publication right before the holidays. We want you, a valued member of our family of supporters, to be the first to know.
Sun founder and chief reporter Kathleen Sloan and I have considered it a privilege to serve you, and we’ve enjoyed the work of keeping the community well informed about local government and public affairs. But we have each decided that the time has come to retire from our daily labors.
Believe me, we tried mightily to find qualified journalists to carry on the Sun’s mission. We even conducted a national search for a new editor, but we were unable to offer several interested applicants a salary commensurate with their journalistic experience and the hard work and responsibility entailed.
Because I served as the Sun’s full-time editor on a pro bono basis and Kathleen was willing to accept modest remuneration, the Sun has been able to operate on a shoestring budget. With our acceptance into national and statewide fundraising match programs that support local journalism, we had hoped we could raise monies at year-end to pay a new editor fairly well by Sierra County standards. But we found out that quality mainstream newspaper salaries for seasoned reporters begin at $75,000, and editors command even higher sums. These are amounts we had no prospects of raising.
There are so many people we would like to thank for their contributions to our endeavor to “watch out for your interests” (the Sun’s motto). First and foremost, we owe an unpayable debt of gratitude to our valued colleague and friend, citizen-journalist Debora Nicoll, for her volunteer commitment to providing regular, in-depth coverage of the activities of Sierra County government.
Like Deb, the majority of the people dedicated to helping to produce the Sun—from our board of directors to our contributing writers and photographers—have offered us their time and talents without compensation, as a labor of love.
We also owe a debt of gratitude to you, our civic-minded founders, loyal readers and generous donors. Along with a grant from the New Mexico Local News Fund, a nonprofit organization that provides financial and technical assistance to local news organizations across the state, your support paid the bills. It also allowed us to keep access to our website, sierracountysun.org, open to all, in keeping with our belief that the free flow of accurate information is indispensable to the functioning of a democratic society. Just as important, knowing that you took an interest in our work was a constant boost to our morale.
Not everyone has appreciated our watchdog reporting. Over the past fourteen months the Sun has posted more than 250 news stories, in-depth investigations, features, analyses and opinion pieces. Many of these articles were critical of government actions or inaction. We count as one of our greatest accomplishments the fact that our continuous coverage of the administrative failings of former Truth or Consequences City Manager Morris Madrid played a role in his resignation last March and paved the way for his replacement by former Sierra County Manager Bruce Swingle. Swingle is doing a thankless job of introducing a host of good-government practices that over time should help the City of Truth or Consequences to get its fiscal house in order.
The Sun will end the year with cash on hand after paying our bills and issuing requested refunds on unfulfilled alert subscriptions. Our board of directors has decided to distribute $10,000—the preponderance of our remaining financial assets—to the Sun’s content-sharing partner, Searchlight New Mexico.
Searchlight is a statewide not-for-profit news organization dedicated to high-impact investigative reporting. Since our relaunch as a not-for-profit civic news publication in October 2020, the Sun has re-published more than a half dozen in-depth Searchlight stories on topics ranging from needed end-of-life legislation to the fast tracking of the proposed nuclear waste dump near Carlsbad. Searchlight has agreed that the Sun’s funds will be expended on periodically producing longer-form investigations on issues of importance to Sierra County and southern New Mexico in 2022.
Our remaining monies, in the neighborhood of $3,000, will be distributed to the Sierra County Public-Interest Journalism Project, the Sun’s original fiscal agent. We invite our alerts subscribers to consider forgoing a refund for the unfulfilled portion of their subscriptions and instead contribute their refund monies to the pool of funds that will go to SCP-IJP. These funds will be used for new local journalism projects, as well as to maintain the Sun’s website as an archive until such time as it can be repurposed. Look in your inbox soon for our email providing further information about how to contribute or be sent a refund.
An editorial by the Sun’s board president, Max Yeh, published side-by-side with this piece, explains in greater detail the legally required steps we will take to appropriately wrap up the affairs of the tax-exempt Sun.
Take good care, everybody. Kathleen, Deb Nicoll and I and our regular editorial contributors Rhonda Brittan, Ron Fenn, David Goodman, Tom Hinson and Michael Young will miss our conversation with you.