Sun to close, pass torch to Searchlight New Mexico

by Diana Tittle | December 3, 2021
4 min read

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,, 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.

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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.


This postmortem of a case involving a 75-year-old women who went missing from her home in Hillsboro last September sheds light on the bounds of law enforcement’s capacity to respond, especially in large rural jurisdictions such as Sierra County, and underscores the critical role the public, as well as concerned family and friends, can play in assisting a missing person’s search.

Reader Jane Debrott of Hillsboro commented: Thank you for your article on the tragic loss of Betsey. I am a resident of Hillsboro, a friend of Rick and Betsey, and a member of H.E.L.P. The thing that most distresses me now, is the emphasis on Rick’s mis-naming of the color of their car. I fear that this fact will cause Rick to feel that if he had only gotten the facts right, Betsey may have been rescued before it was too late. The incident was a series of unavoidable events, out of everyone’s control, and we will never know what place the correct color of her car may have had in the outcome. It breaks my heart to think that Rick has had one more thing added to his “what ifs” concerning this incident.

Diana Tittle responded: Dear Jane, the Sun undertook this investigation at the request of a Hillsboro resident concerned about the town’s inability to mount a prompt, coordinated response to the disappearance of a neighbor. From the beginning, I shared your concern about how our findings might affect Betsy’s family and friends. After I completed my research and began writing, I weighed each detail I eventually chose to include against my desire to cause no pain and the public’s right to know about the strengths and limitations of law enforcement’s response and the public’s need to know about how to be of meaningful assistance.

There was information I withheld about the state police investigation and the recovery. But I decided to include the issue of the car’s color because the individuals who spotted Betsy’s car emphasized how its color had been key to their identification of it as the vehicle described in Betsy’s Silver Alert. Because the misinformation was corrected within a couple of hours, I also included in this story the following editorial comment meant to put the error in perspective: “The fact that law enforcement throughout the state was on the lookout in the crucial early hours after Betsy’s disappearance for an elderly woman driving a “light blue” instead of a “silver” Accord would, in retrospect, likely not have changed the outcome of the search” [emphasis added].

I would also point to the story’s overarching conclusion about the inadvisability of assigning blame for what happened: “In this case, a perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances, many of them beyond human control, hindered the search that it would fall to Hamilton’s department to lead.”

It is my hope that any pain caused by my reporting will eventually be outweighed by its contribution to a better community understanding of what it will take in the future to mount a successful missing person’s search in rural Sierra County.

8 thoughts on “Sun to close, pass torch to Searchlight New Mexico”

  1. Will miss the Sierra County Sun, a well-written, well-researched publication. Best to you all, you did an admirable job.

  2. Thanks to all of the staff of the Sun. You have done a remarkable job and I’m sad to see you go, although, having worked for non-profits for basically my entire “career,” I totally understand your dilemma. Could you give us some guidance on how to connect with Searchlight and support them. I don’t have any idea whether there is money left in my subscription, but I trust you to use whatever is there to good purpose. So long and fare thee well.

  3. As a member and reader of the Sun’s news, I would especially like to add my thanks to you, Diana Tittle, along with my tennis partner, Debora Nicoll, and friends Max Yeh and Kathleen Sloan and Rhonda Brittan. I cannot imagine the amount of volunteer time put in by all (for little financial gain). I will miss your reporting. Sierra County is losing with the end of the Sun Alas, so be it. A sincere thank you to all who contributed in any way.

  4. For Dennis and others who wish to donate to Searchlight New Mexico, click on the word link to be taken to their website.

  5. Thanks for all you have done to maintain journalistic honesty in Sierra County. I am sorry to see this happening, but I completely understand.

    The Sun’s departure is a huge loss for Sierra County as journalistic integrity is not something we can count on from the remaining “news” publication. I wish you all the very best in your future endeavors, and again thank you for factual reporting, something that we see less and less of everyday. . . .

  6. Figures! I just discovered the July book review by Rhonda Brittan on climate change and wanted to read more of her writing! Now I find you had to close. My sympathies!

  7. The Sun has provided invaluable articles on local government and activities (like Copper Flat). Kathleen will be sorely missed.

    The Sun has provided interesting book reviews. Rhonda will be sorely missed.

    The Sun has provided thought-provoking editorials. Diana and Max will be sorely missed.

    In summary, the Sun will be sorely missed. Thanks to all for your inspiring work. Glad you are fiscally supporting the local journalism project and Searchlight.

  8. Please know that the reporting and writing for the Sun was as fine as that of any big city newspaper. Congratulations on your venture and condolences on its closing. Yours was a job well done. I am encouraged that one of your final decisions was to contribute to Searchlight New Mexico. I hope your journalists will continue covering southern New Mexico as Searchlight contributing writers.

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