The Indy 500: The Independent receives First Amendment honor, wins four reporting awards

Susan Greene accepts the Colorado Press Association's Service to the First Award for The Independent. Lightbox Images.

We interrupt our regularly scheduled program to thank you. As always, we are grateful to have you among our family of readers, commenters, sharers of posts, suggesters of stories, catchers of typos. You make us better. But today a special thanks goes out to donors who help us pay the reporters who do the work that makes a difference. Last week The Colorado Independent took home one of the more prestigious prizes in local journalism: The Colorado Press Association’s Service to the First Award.

The award recognized The Independent’s pursuit — led by Editor Susan Greene — and subsequent First Amendment battle to unseal documents in the death penalty case of Sir Mario Owens, one of three men on Colorado’s death row. The judge in that case affirmed Owens’ allegations that prosecutors withheld key evidence, but he didn’t lift Owens’ death sentence. 

Our pursuit for records that may have shed light on the prosecutors’ transgressions took us all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. In the end, the court, as it does with the vast majority of petitions, chose not to hear The Colorado Independent v. District Court for the Eighteenth Judicial District of Colorado. Still, we built a statewide and national coalition of news outlets – competitors, in many cases – that joined in solidarity against case law that threatens to erode our ability to do our most basic job: watchdogging government. As Susan once wrote about our legal battle: “As journalists, it is not just our responsibility to report news, but also to champion and defend our and all Americans’ right to scrutinize powerful institutions.”

Colorado Press Association CEO presents Colorado Independent Editor with CPA’s Service to the First award. Lightbox Images

“The team at The Colorado Independent has been the key advocate, working tirelessly to right Colorado’s egregious state Supreme Court decision regarding court records. This is just one example of the First Amendment advocacy The Colorado Independent does every day through its investigative reporting and community leadership,” said Jill Farschman, the Press Association’s CEO.

We’re grateful to the CPA and its judges who recognized The Indy’s work.

And that wasn’t the only prize, we took home. Indy reporters Alex Burness and Corey Hutchins (whom we have since lost to the teaching field) won the coveted first place for Public Service for news outlets our size, taking home the prize for their superb profiles of gubernatorial nominee and now Gov. Jared Polis and his Republican opponent, Walker Stapleton. Let it be noted that no outlet of any size profiled the gubernatorial candidates in such depth.  

Our coverage of the 2018 ballot measures also took Best Series. Kudos again to Corey and Alex, as well as contributors Lars Gesing and Mara Abbott.

Susan won first place in environmental reporting for her story  “PARCHED: Climate change and growth are pushing Colorado toward a water crisis,” which is a must-read to understand the scope of the water shortage facing the state and the official response (or lack thereof) to it.

And, finally, Alex also won second place in the feature writing category for “Front-line felons” his piece about Colorado inmates who work as firefighters.

Congratulations to our reporters and editors. And congratulations to you, our readers and donors who make this work possible. We make a great team.


  1. Congratulations and well done, all of you. As an former Denver resident, your reports keep me up to date from an independent perspective on critical issues – much appreciated.
    Keep up your fine work. You make a difference.

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