Sixty35 marks new era in business news

News  /  News

The Jan. 6 issue of the Colorado Springs Business Journal will be the last under that flag, but hyper-local business news isn’t going anywhere. Rather, beginning Jan. 11, readers will receive a new magazine that combines the Business Journal with other publications within the company under the name Sixty35Business Journal subscribers will automatically become subscribers of Sixty35 magazine.

Sixty35 will have a separate business section, with coverage expanded beyond CSBJ’s current offerings — largely online. The print publication and its new website will also include features from the Colorado Springs IndependentSoutheast Express and the Pikes Peak Bulletin. All were previously produced by Colorado Publishing House — the Business Journal’s parent company before it transitioned to a nonprofit in October.

That stable of publications reaches 360,000 people in the Pikes Peak region, publisher Amy Gillentine said.

Gillentine noted that while it’s a big change for a lot of readers who like their individual publications, “this is not a ‘less than,’ this is ‘a more.’ We’re delivering more news to more people — and we’re doing it in an efficient way, for them and for us.”

The mission — to deliver the truth, build community and engage citizens — will not change.

But as a recently formed nonprofit, the weekly magazine faces a steep hill to attract funding, find its place among other media that rely on donations, secure a loyal and paying audience and promote a publication that’s been rebranded — even as newspaper readership declines across the country.

The new publication is anchored by the flagship Indy, which Gillentine said is well respected across the Pikes Peak region. It and the Business Journal are staffed with award-winning journalists. The Indy created events such as Music at the Indy, which takes place during the summer, and the Business Journal produces high-profile events including Women of Influence, Rising Stars and the COS CEO Leadership Series. The new publication will continue to sponsor events and focus on reaching more readers via digital media, including its newly created podcasts.

“Hyper-local business news isn’t going anywhere.”

Expanding commitment

Sixty35 Media, a rebranding that Gillentine said began two years ago, was launched in late October under the nonprofit Citizen-Powered Media after Indy co-founder and owner John Weiss stepped back to pursue other ventures. (He’ll serve as a nonvoting member of the nonprofit’s board of directors.)

On Wednesday, Jan. 11, the first issue of Sixty35 will hit distribution stands. By combining topics previously found in Colorado Publishing House’s other papers, it will feature business news, along with investigative pieces, politics and government, neighborhood coverage, military news, editorials, letters, and arts and entertainment.

Sixty35 magazine — and Sixty35 Media overall — will expand its commitment to lift up marginalized voices, speak truth to power, and engage the Pikes Peak region in taking actions that make us more inclusive, more informed, and better connected,” said Citizen-Powered Media Board Chair Ahriana Platten, an author and business consultant.

Distribution will change significantly. Sixty35 Media will place 10,000 free issues of Sixty35 magazine at “the most popular” pickup points in the region. The balance will be mailed to households by ZIP code, with distribution areas changing from week to week. CSBJ print subscribers will receive the publication weekly for the length of their subscription.

Readers can renew their subscription under a membership model that has different options based on benefits provided at the various levels. Membership includes early access to the news, as well as engagement with the news team at Sixty35.

As more people subscribe, the press run will be increased, Gillentine said.

“I see some free mailings continuing, even with a subscription base,” she said, referring to the rotating ZIP code mailing strategy. “With gas prices and delivery driver shortages, we have decided this is a far cheaper way to deliver.

“I want to emphasize that we will have a digital-first stance,” she added, “so the print edition isn’t where our main focus will be.” The increasing cost of newsprint — it’s tripled in two years — “eventually will force a lot of papers to digital-only. We are preparing for an inevitable future. So, instead of just weekly news, you’ll receive daily news updates. Our e-newsletters will continue.”

Platten said the existing publications’ growth online is already “crazy good.”

“That’s the foundation on which the decision [to emphasize digital] was made,” Platten said. “The reality is, if it’s not cost-effective, we go out of business. Ultimately, there has to be enough market demand for the product, and the market demand for a print product has diminished.”

There’ll be no paywall on the Sixty35 website; readers can access it at starting in early January.

Focus groups of local residents have reacted positively to combining the publications so they can “get all their news in one place,” Platten said.

Sixty35 Media will launch a campaign soon to promote the new website and publication.

Digital first

It’s true that readers are gravitating more toward digital platforms and away from print products.

Total weekday newspaper circulation nationwide, excluding large papers like The New York Times and The Washington Post, dropped by 40 percent from 2015 to 2020, and Sunday circulation fell by 45 percent, Pew Research Center reported in May. (Alternative weeklies comparable to the Indy have closed or scaled back publication across the country in the last few years, impacted, in part, by the COVID pandemic.)

During that same 2015 to 2020 period, digital circulation rose, Pew reports.

Nationwide, numerous news operations rely on donations and operate as nonprofits; by 2020, the membership of the Institute for Nonprofit News had surged to 300. In Colorado alone, the Colorado SunColorado Newsline and Colorado Times Recorder and others,seek reader donations.

Platten notes that Sixty35 Media will emphasize donations, because donations must surpass advertising revenue in order for the organization to maintain nonprofit status. Besides ad sales and donations, the publication will rely on memberships and grants.

Sixty35 Media has received: $75,000 over three years from the Colorado News Equity Project from 2022 through 2024; a $23,500 contribution from Google for the Google News Initiative, which has supported 450 newsrooms from 52 countries; and a $5,000 end-of-year matching grant from the Colorado Media Project. In addition, the publication has received a $250,000 matching grant from Weiss.

It’s worth noting, Gillentine said, that several papers that are members of the Association of Alternative Newsmedia and have become nonprofits have received grants from non-journalism foundations and arts organizations, including The Chicago Reader and Boston Dig.

Gillentine also noted that 10 percent of membership money will go toward creating a fund for journalism scholarships for people of color in Colorado, and Sixty35 Media will create a media literacy program for middle school and high school students in 2023.

When it comes to journalism nonprofits, larger organizations have turned out to be more attractive to large donors than small operations, according to William Birnbauer, who authored the 2019 book, The Rise of NonProfit Investigative Journalism in the United States.

“While researching the financial health of U.S. nonprofit news media, I’ve found a huge disparity between the most successful nonprofit news organizations and the smaller outfits, with some operating on the ‘sweat equity, heart and hope’ of journalists who struggle to raise funds,” he wrote in an article that appeared in 2019 on the nonprofit news site

He analyzed the IRS returns of 60 outlets, about half of the Institute for Nonprofit News’ members at that time, and found that foundations and donors contributed $469.5 million between 2009 and 2015.

He also found that three national outlets — ProPublica, the Center for Public Integrity and the Center for Investigative Reporting — received $185.4 million, or 40 percent, of that money.

“The 20 largest of these media operations amassed the vast majority of the funds: $423.1 million,” he wrote. “In addition to the top three sites, other well-funded outlets included the Foundation for National Progress that publishes Mother Jones magazine in print and online, the Texas Tribune, the Voice of San Diego and the Investigative Reporting Workshop, based in the School of Communication at American University.”

Platten said Sixty35 Media hopes to tap in to a loyal following built over 29 years by the Indy and its sister publications.

Since the company started asking for donations in 2020, individual readers have given about $36,000, Gillentine said.

Sixty35 Media also received a “significant contribution,” Platten said, from previous owner John Weiss.

Sustaining local news

Corey Hutchins teaches journalism at Colorado College, serves as the Colorado-based contributor for Columbia Journalism Review’s United States Project, is an award-winning journalist in his own right and is a member of The Washington Post’s Talent Network.

Hutchins also wears the hat of unofficial Colorado media guru and commentator, issuing a weekly newsletter reporting on the state’s journalism industry, to include media ownership, hirings, firings, First Amendment issues and the like.

“I commend the organization [Sixty35 Media] for going this nonprofit route, because I’ve, frankly, been surprised at the ability for weeklies and alternative weeklies to stick around so long,” he said. “We’ve seen many of them disappear across the country. It’s a wakeup call for how fragile they are.”

But he adds that despite the structure of a news organization, “No one has figured out what will be the business model that will sustain local news over the long term.”

Hutchins echoes what other media observers have said: that philanthropic organizations and the rich people who endow them can be “fickle,” which means a big gift might not be repeated indefinitely.

Thus, he said it’s a good idea for Sixty35 to seek not only foundation grants but donations from readers.

While rebranding an existing organization can be tricky, Hutchins said whether readers see Sixty35 as a new player or a rebirth of existing outlets depends on how the change is promoted to readers.

“This paper changing its name, is that going to stop the person from picking it up? Probably not,” he said. “As long as it’s got really good local content that they can’t get elsewhere that brings meaning to their lives, it won’t matter what the organization calls itself.”

But Hutchins said as news outlets proliferate, whether for-profit or nonprofit, and face a financial crunch due to advertising fleeing to Facebook and Google, they’re turning into “crowdsourced Ministries,” as described by Andrey Mir, author of the 2020 book Postjournalism and the death of newspapers, The media after Trump: manufacturing anger and polarization.

“More and more, people paying for news has almost become a political act,” Hutchins said, citing one theme of the book. “A donation to a news organization is almost affirming something. The reason I subscribe to a certain news organization [is] because I want to support what they do — and I want them to keep doing it.”

His concern from a journalism ethics perspective is whether funders might influence the journalism they’re helping to fund.

Gillentine said the organization’s core mission and integrity won’t change with a different name. “We’ve been very careful in our bylaws to be sure the journalism remains independent from any outside influence,” she said. “That will not change. Our reporting will not change.”

If so, we'd love for you to share it with your friends and followers! Sharing this article can help spread valuable information and spark important conversations. Simply click a share button below!