Colorado filmmaker Brian Malone was wrapping up final edits to his documentary about the dying local news industry when, on January 6, 2021 he flipped on the TV and watched in disbelief as an angry mob stormed the U.S. Capitol.

Amid shots of protesters scaling walls and busting out windows, one image hit him particularly hard: the one of crowds tearing down and stomping on news cameras.

It was, he says, a lightbulb moment.

“The thing that brought all of these people to the Capitol to engage in this historically violent act was misinformation,” said Malone, who returned to the editing bay that day to reframe the film. “Everything I had been talking about in the film—about the loss of newspapers and trusted information and the dangerous consequences—connected directly to what was happening.”

Four chilling minutes of that footage now mark the beginning of News Matters, which debuts this week on Rocky Mountain PBS.

With several scenes shot on campus, it centers around the efforts of CU Boulder News Corps Director Chuck Plunkett and a group of Colorado journalists to fight back against profit-driven hedge funds which have squeezed the life out of U.S. newsrooms.

Since 2004, more than 2,000 newspapers have been shuttered. Those that remain, including Plunkett’s former employer The Denver Post (withered from 300 to about 60 newsroom staffers) have been cut to the bone.

The film elucidates how it happened, makes the case for why they should be saved, and sheds a hopeful light on emerging alternative business models.

“There is nothing like a big, strong local newsroom to watch out for corruption and hold the government accountable,” says Plunkett, who joined CU Boulder in the Fall of 2018, as the director of the capstone program for journalism students in the College of Media Communication and Information. “When newspapers die, so does democracy.”

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