Giving Thought: Roaring Fork Valley media collaborate to advance language equity

Allison Alexander
Giving Thought

News is not a nice-to-have, but rather an essential service critical for a thriving community, especially in times of crisis. The news aims to inform and educate community members about events to empower them to make decisions about their lives and communities. As the Spanish-speaking population in our region continues to grow, it is becoming increasingly clear that news organizations must reconsider how they serve the whole community.

Earlier this year, eight local media organizations were brought together by the Colorado Media Project to collaborate to advance equity in local news and explore how to better serve the Spanish-speaking community.

The Roaring Fork Valley Regional Spanish-Language News Collaboration comprises the Post Independent, La Tricolor, KDNK Community Radio, Aspen Daily News, The Sopris Sun, The Aspen Times, Aspen Journalism and Aspen Public Radio. With financial support from the Rose Community Foundation, group members convened to better understand what news and information is currently provided locally in Spanish, and how residents are consuming, evaluating, and trusting state and local media overall.

Using a combination of surveys and interviews, the coalition gained a deeper understanding of the landscape and presented their findings and considerations for next steps at a public event Nov. 2 at TACAW.

Among the proposed next steps is an investment in cultivating sustainable translation services for regional reporting in print and broadcast. Relying on artificial intelligence and digital services has proven to be insufficient for capturing context and nuance. This is an area that needs bicultural/ bilingual support staff.

Our community has seen that during times of crisis, like the Lake Christine Fire in 2018, Spanish-speaking community members struggled to find timely and well-translated emergency information, causing unnecessary harm and stress.

“Translation is not just changing words. There has to be a sensitivity to concepts or ideas to honor context,” according to Breeze Richardson, executive director of Aspen Public Radio.

The past several years have demonstrated the critical importance of trust in news sources. Bilingual/ bicultural news coverage is paramount in building trust, according to members of the coalition. 

“There is a close connection between daily news and emergency situations. Strengthening daily news connects directly to having the capacity for navigating emergencies when it is critically needed in real time,” explained Richardson.

Richardson said this process has strengthened her commitment to language equity and that having more culturally responsive and relevant news available.

“My mission is to serve the public, and as I look at the data of who lives here, it is increasingly Spanish speaking,” she said.

In 2020, The Sopris Sun, a Carbondale-based nonprofit newspaper, launched a four-page Spanish language section branded el Sol del Valle. Around the same time, Aspen Daily News committed to launching a Spanish-speaking publication. An innovative partnership emerged and now the two publications share content and expand their reach to inform the Spanish-speaking population in the region.

“El Sol del Valle is a bridge between communities,” according to Todd Chamberlin, executive director of The Sopris Sun.

Chamberlin envisions building more collaboration in year two of the coalition’s work with the launch of a collaborative website that includes audio and printed news stories.

Providing news in audio format furthers language equity by removing literacy barriers. As a result, community members gain more equitable access to news and information. When community members experience fewer barriers, they feel a deeper sense of belonging, and trust can develop, underscoring the importance of involving multiple radio stations in the coalition.

Samuel Bernal, vice president of integrative marketing solutions for Entravision, the parent company of La Tricolor, said: “I imagine that when a community sees that you are writing and talking about them, they feel more included. They start realizing they do have a voice. And that is to make a community more confident and confidence is a key to improvement. Additionally, the more local information we have in our primary language, the better decisions we can make. In that regard, it is important to make sure we provide information that is useful for Spanish speakers. And not only that we create more content in Spanish — with cultural relevance for our targets — but that we develop creative systems to put that information in their hands.”

Our region is uniquely positioned to serve as a model for national media conversations as the coalition’s work continues. Many areas of Colorado and beyond lack a single local newspaper. 

“I’m excited at the rich local news media environment that exists here: Two daily papers in Aspen, along with Aspen Public Radio (an NPR station!) and the non-profit Aspen Journalism. Then we don’t get that far down the valley before we have the nonprofit Sopris Sun and then the Post Independent in Glenwood. There’s only the Vail Daily in the adjoining valley. So we have more voices here, more perspectives, more journalism,” said Don Rogers, editor of The Aspen Times.

Without access to reliable, culturally sensitive and trustworthy news in both English and Spanish, we run the risk of not only excluding community members but also endangering them in times of crisis. Through creative collaboration our local media outlets are creating a more equitable region one story at a time.

Allison Alexander is the director of strategic partnerships and communicationsfor the Aspen Community Foundation, which with the support of its donors, works with nonprofits in the Roaring Fork and Colorado River valleys.


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