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2021 Year in Review … and a respectful funding request for RealVail.com

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January 11, 2022, 12:24 pm

RealVail.com for 14 years now has been at the forefront of freelance digital media in collaboration with print, radio and online-only news sites across Colorado and the nation.

The O Zone by David O. Williams
The O. Zone

Real Vail is a one-man operation, and I’m that one man. My work has appeared in more than 75 publications worldwide, from The New York Times to the London Daily Mirror and seemingly every small, regional publication in between. Real Vail is not controlled by a nonprofit board, and is not beholden to any individual or group of donors directing its content.

But I do like to get paid for my work. Most of my funding comes from freelance articles placed in other publications and sometimes re-posted with permission on my own websites, RealVail.com and RockyMountainPost.com.

For the first time in the history of these websites, I’ve added funding buttons in order for readers to contribute to my work via PayPal. I’ve made it very clear this is not a donation to a nonprofit (501(c)3) entity, and that it therefore cannot be used as a tax deduction. To fund RealVail.com, click here, and to fund RockyMountainPost.com, click here.

I can assure you that your contribution will go toward covering the topics I’ve been interested in and reporting on for nearly 30 years in Eagle County: energy, the environment, water, public lands, immigration, housing, health care, transportation, labor, politics, the Olympics and more.

I’m a registered Democrat and support progressive, as opposed to regressive, policies. I have never tried to hide that bias, but I’ve also sought out and reported opposing views on a wide range of topics. I will continue to do so.

Most importantly, I’m part of what I hope becomes a growing trend in journalism – one of writers, reporters and editors controlling their own platforms and not being subject to the failed media models dating back decades that have in many ways contributed to the demise of the Fourth Estate.

Top-heavy, profit-driven media companies have lost sight of their primary purpose of informing their readers, while simultaneously failing to respond to revenue-stream challenges from advertising competition on the Internet. Whether it’s “vulture-capital” companies like Alden Global gutting the Denver Post, or family-owned, out-of-state firms like former Vail Daily owners Swift Communications, these companies are squeezing journalists with wage levels stuck in the 1990s, and, more importantly, depriving readers of critical coverage.

Any public funding aimed at resuscitating local news should not go to these dinosaur media models but should instead go toward supporting the individual journalists struggling to survive.

New, nimble publishing models such as the journalist-owned Colorado Sun, a public-benefit company, are shaping the future of journalism in our state. In 2021, Real Vail donated to three 501(c)3 nonprofit news and opinion sites (meaning you can deduct the donation on your taxes): Colorado Times RecorderColorado Newsline and Writers on the Range.

I did not give to any large, for-profit media companies with multiple news outlets seeking “donations” and simultaneously accepting federal bailout (PPP) funds my site was not eligible for. In my opinion, those organizations are not transparent enough about how that money is being spent and what percentage is going to boots-on-the-ground journalists.

I also tend to back news organizations that are open source, allow full re-posting, and support freelance writers such as myself with fair market prices for articles — or at least acknowledge piggybacking off my reporting with attribution and a link to my websites.

An example of that is when I broke the news over the holidays last year that former Vice President Mike Pence was back in Vail. That prompted stories from the Vail Daily, Denver Post and NBC News and a follow-up in April by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington on the sizeable cost of that visit. Finally, from Gerald Ford to Dan Quayle to Al Gore to Pence, I wrote an opinion piece on veeps in Vail.

Also early last year, Real Vail broke that there would be a serious monopoly challenge to a plan by Union Pacific to lease its long-dormant Tennessee Pass Line railroad tracks to another company for passenger and light freight service and exclude hazmat such as oil trains, something that might not be allowed under federal railroad law.

While other outlets reported the revival of the line may be dead, Real Vail, in collaboration with the Colorado Times Recorder, reported on the Colorado and Eagle County implications of the fact that the federal government late last year approved an oil train project in Utah that could send oil tanker cars our way. The Colorado Sun on Monday followed that story with its own piece.

Sometimes it’s all about steering the narrative, and after being first to get Eagle County to weigh in publicly on a new reservoir proposal by Aurora and Colorado Springs in the Homestake Creek Valley near Red Cliff, Real Vail in 2021 was first to report that test drilling had actually started after the Forest Service approved that part of the project. The original reporting was in collaboration with the nonprofit Aspen Journalism.

Real Vail opinion piece on the project for Writers on the Range – accompanied by photos of the proposed reservoir site by famed nature photographer John Fielder — then ran in newspapers from the Vail Daily to the Salt Lake Tribune to the Denver Post to the Las Vegas Sun.

In the world of magazines, Vail Valley Magazine – owned by the Vail Daily – commissioned a story by Real Vail entitled “Where Has All the Snow Gone?” on how climate change is impacting ski towns. The story came out in November, which was one of the warmest and driest on record, and explored aridification and how it’s leading to wildfires like the deadly and destructive blaze in Boulder last month. Reporting from that story, on snowmaking and cloud seeding, was the basis for a another piece that then ran on Colorado Times Recorder.

For Vail Health Magazine, Real Vail delved into community health and efforts to improve outcomes for Eagle County’s most vulnerable populations during a global pandemic and times of increased economic uncertainty. Contributions to Real Vail will go toward more of that type of reporting, including follow-ups on living conditions in the Eagle River Village Mobile Home Park – the subject of a series in 2019 produced for the Vail Daily by RealVail.com – and a broader book project.

These are just a few examples of the impact journalism produced by Real Vail last year. Perhaps the greatest contribution to the local discourse came in the form of ongoing reporting on RealVail.com, in collaboration with sites that allow full re-posting – Colorado Times Recorder and Colorado Newsline – on highly controversial U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert.

In 2020, before Boebert won the Republican primary for the district that currently includes the western two-thirds of Eagle County, I conducted a phone interview – the first by a local reporter – with the Rifle restaurant owner. Many of those statements were reported on in other publications.

Based on that interview, RealVail.com in 2020 produced a 3rd Congressional District election preview for Colorado Politics focusing on health care, then a primary Q&A on energy and other issues for RealVail.com, and finally a Q&A on Boebert’s fringe Second Amendment positions. But in 2021 the interview became topical again when the Associated Press reported on Boebert’s husband earning millions of dollars from the oil and gas industry, and her failure to disclose that fact prior to the election. And on Jan. 6, Real Vail was the first local publication to report on Boebert’s comments and tweets leading up to and during the U.S. Capitol insurrection.

So later in the year, when Heather Bergquist, a local candidate in the nonpartisan Eagle County School Board race, took to the stage at a Boebert fundraiser in Wolcott, endorsing many of the same radical, right-wing positions, Real Vail posted this opinion piece, which was widely read and shared. A week or so later, the Vail Daily published the piece, free of any freelance fee. There, it garnered even more attention, including a vitriolic letter-writing campaign that proved how closely it hit home.

The group behind the failed school board politicization, Eagle County Grassroots, is still at it – just this past weekend hosting Front Range Republican Ted Mische, chairman of something called the National School Board Coalition, at a private home in Eagle to tell us how to run our local elections. All you need to know about Mische can be found in his bio on this Douglas County Republican website.

Bergquist, a homeschooler, is rumored to have been eyeing the school board seat as a stepping stone to run for an Eagle County commissioner seat in November. That’s why she’s been railing, after the fact, about the term-limit extension voters surprisingly passed last November. Yes, it was a strangely-worded ballot question, but that’s why you read the blue blook, pay attention to press coverage and object to the wording at the appropriate time. I did minimal research, understood the question and voted no, for the record. Just as I’ll vote no for any candidate who deceptively hides her politics and seeks a nonpartisan seat.

RealVail.com, with or without your funding help, will continue to daylight such deceptions and call out insurrectionists and 2020 election deniers no matter where they congregate. And with an ownership change at the Vail Daily, and all the uncertainty that entails, alternative, independent news sources will be all the more critical in 2022. Thanks for your support.

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David O. Williams

Managing Editor at RealVail
David O. Williams is the editor and co-founder of RealVail.com and has had his awarding-winning work (see About Us) published in more than 75 newspapers and magazines around the world, including 5280 Magazine, American Way Magazine (American Airlines), the Anchorage Daily News (Alaska), the Anchorage Daily Press (Alaska), Aspen Daily News, Aspen Journalism, the Aspen Times, Beaver Creek Magazine, the Boulder Daily Camera, the Casper Star Tribune (Wyoming), the Chicago Tribune, Colorado Central Magazine, the Colorado Independent (formerly Colorado Confidential), Colorado Politics (formerly the Colorado Statesman), Colorado Public News, the Colorado Springs Gazette, the Colorado Springs Independent, the Colorado Statesman (now Colorado Politics), the Colorado Times Recorder, the Cortez Journal, the Craig Daily Press, the Curry Coastal Pilot (Oregon), the Daily Trail (Vail), the Del Norte Triplicate (California), the Denver Daily News, the Denver Gazette, the Denver Post, the Durango Herald, the Eagle Valley Enterprise, the Eastside Journal (Bellevue, Washington), ESPN.com, Explore Big Sky (Mont.), the Fort Morgan Times (Colorado), the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent, the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, the Greeley Tribune, the Huffington Post, the King County Journal (Seattle, Washington), the Kingman Daily Miner (Arizona), KUNC.org (northern Colorado), LA Weekly, the Las Vegas Sun, the Leadville Herald-Democrat, the London Daily Mirror, the Moab Times Independent (Utah), the Montgomery Journal (Maryland), the Montrose Daily Press, The New York Times, the Parent’s Handbook, Peaks Magazine (now Epic Life), People Magazine, Powder Magazine, the Pueblo Chieftain, PT Magazine, the Rio Blanco Herald Times (Colorado), Rocky Mountain Golf Magazine, the Rocky Mountain News, RouteFifty.com (formerly Government Executive State and Local), the Salt Lake Tribune, SKI Magazine, Ski Area Management, SKIING Magazine, the Sky-Hi News, the Steamboat Pilot & Today, the Sterling Journal Advocate (Colorado), the Summit Daily News, United Hemispheres (United Airlines), Vail/Beaver Creek Magazine, Vail en Español, Vail Health Magazine, Vail Valley Magazine, the Vail Daily, the Vail Trail, Westword (Denver), Writers on the Range and the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. Williams is also the founder, publisher and editor of RealVail.com and RockyMountainPost.com.

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