From the Board of Directors: Into the breach

News  /  Opinion

Do or die. Those are strong words for a cover. The expression comes from a poem by Robert Burns, about the first War of Scottish Independence. The last stanza of the poem reads:

Lay the proud Usurpers low!

Tyrants fall in every foe!

Liberty’s in every blow!

Let us Do or Die!

It’s about fighting to the very last breath for something that matters so much you’re willing to do everything you can to save it. That something is freedom.

It’s what we fight for every day at Sixty35 news magazine. It’s what the Indy’s staff fought for, for nearly 30 years. Freedom. Freedom to speak out against what’s wrong and to speak in favor of what’s right. 

Over the years we’ve lifted up the voices of people of all colors, genders, religions, lifestyles, socioeconomic levels and walks of life. We’ve made a difference in the city’s political scene, its health services, public safety, education, and its artistic and cultural communities. We’ve fearlessly spoken truth to power — and our city is a better place for the work we’ve done.

We’ve honored women of influence, sung the praises of the business world’s rising stars, invited you to taste the best burgers and made the world of arts and culture not only visible, but accessible.

Now we’re fighting to keep doing what we do — and we’re asking you to stand with us, because what we do is THAT important.

Here’s the situation: On March 15, Sixty35 Media initiated a reduction in force, eliminating nearly half our staff. It was heartbreaking for everyone. The people we released are amazing, talented professionals who did nothing but work hard and give their all to the mission. It’s the hardest thing most of us have ever been through — and we had to do it to balance income and expenses.

The full details of how we got to this point are in a community information report released by the Board of Directors earlier this week. Here are some key points. 

COVID hit us hard. As businesses all over the city struggled, we took heavy losses in advertising revenue. That — along with our own willingness to cut prices and give our advertisers more time for payments — created a cash flow problem.

In October 2022 — facing an existential threat due to market conditions and the retirement of Independent founder and owner John Weiss — Colorado Publishing House (parent company of the Colorado Springs Independent, Colorado Springs Business Journal, Southeast Express, Pikes Peak Bulletin and more) converted to a nonprofit, Sixty35 Media, and combined most of its publications into a single news magazine.

The changes required to convert from a for-profit to nonprofit were massive, and more complex than any of us anticipated. We were stretched too thin. 

The nonprofit’s bylaws required a firm separation between the board and operations. This is fairly standard in nonprofits — but because our transition involved scaling back some businesses and closing others, that separation had a devastating effect.

The board relied on reports from the officer in charge, but the officer in charge did not obtain correct reports from the business office. Combining decades of information from individual businesses into one system overwhelmed the business office and the board received inaccurate reports.

While the board knew the company was under financial duress, it was not until Feb. 6 — when forced to take over operations due to the resignation of the publisher — that we began to understand the real scope of the problem.

A financial consultant was hired to evaluate the books. At first, the consultant couldn’t get the figures needed because data had been incorrectly entered into bookkeeping systems.

For the last six weeks, the board has researched and restructured the financial records. The outcome is as follows:

• As of March 20, 2023, this edition’s publication date, we owe just under $300,000 in payables. This includes both our regular monthly expenses and past due amounts.

• As of March 20, 2023, we have $283,000 in receivables to collect from advertisers. Collections have been slow, and we’ve been generous with time because we understand our advertisers are still recovering from COVID losses. It’s caused a serious cash flow issue.

You should know that advertising sales are increasing, and that advertisers who experienced brand confusion when we changed names are slowly beginning to embrace the new publication. We’re trending upward — but have to find a better way to sustain the company going forward.

We’re asking you to stand with us.

Here’s what we’re doing to right the ship.

Starting April 1, the company will have gone entirely remote, except for a small anchor office and some storage space. To reduce our operational costs by about $100,000 a year, we’ll regrettably leave the iconic building that has long been our home.

We’re redesigning the paper to reduce production costs while recovering basic brand identity markers. We will focus on the basics for a while, as we get back on our feet. We’ll apply for grants and await those funds, give the community time to become members and donors, and give advertisers an opportunity to catch up on what they owe us. At the same time, we’ll listen to input from our loyal readers.

We’ve put systems in place to monitor all financial activities much more closely, with safeguards and dual controls to ensure nothing slips through the cracks again.

With these reductions and the steps outlined below, we can sustainably pay our debts, retain valuable long-term local relationships, and live our mission. Key elements of our plan include:

1. collecting outstanding debt from advertisers;

2. working with a newly retained grant writer to initiate and grow our grant base;

3. expanding marketing awareness through a plan that includes print, electronic media and social media;

4. establishing a membership base of 2,500 people in the next 30 days. Our goal is to grow to 10,000 over the next three years.

This is where you come in.

Become a founding member of Sixty35 Media. You will receive a subscription to the weekly publication, mailed to your home, and the chance to weigh in on polls and surveys about what we do and how we do it. You’ll also receive special invitations to member events and quarterly reports from the Board of Directors charting our financial progress and accomplishments.

The founding membership price is $20 per month — basically the cost of a decent pizza. When we reach our goal of 2,500 founding members, we are assured a monthly income of $50,000 ($600,000 a year) that we can use to build our staff and bring back the features you love. We’ll keep working to grow our membership, keeping the community invested in the success of the paper. Growing our membership gives advertisers more confidence in our reach and will boost advertising sales.

For our first 2,500 founding members, the monthly membership cost will never increase.

To survive this crisis, we’re counting on collections and donations to cover a substantial amount of our outstanding debt. But to be the best newspaper for Colorado Springs, once the nonprofit’s debts are paid, we’ll hire more staff, expand our reporting, and bring more events and services to our community.

We’re asking you to:

Become a member — and ask 10 people you know to become members.

• Share our donation page (tinyurl.com/sixty35donate).

• Read the paper and tell us what you think — we’re listening.

• Come to our events (calendar.sixty35.com).

• Be patient — it’s a long road.

If you’d like to do more:

• Buy advertising in the paper.

• If you are a current advertiser with an outstanding bill, please pay it.

• Tell your friends how to get involved.

Together, we can build the city we want to see.

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