By Faith Schilmoeller

Despite the name, Bucket List Community Cafe in Denver does not serve coffee.

Instead, it is an online news publication founded by Vicky Collins in 2019 where the emphasis rests on “community” and bringing people together through stories.

Most of the team are student interns who study journalism at the University of Denver, University of Colorado – Boulder and Metropolitan State University of Denver.

“With us, they are driving the train,” Collins said. "They’re not running a student publication; they’re running a community publication.”
To satiate a community’s news needs and mentor young journalists, Collins wants to ensure her reports are really “thrown into the soup.”

Ingredients of the Soup

Around 50 students have reported for Bucket List Community Cafe since 2021. They earn internship credit toward degrees in journalism.

London Lyle, the engagement manager, graduated from the University of Colorado – Boulder in May 2023 and has stuck around. The management team and a few senior reporters are also graduates. Around two-thirds of the team are student reporters.

“The cool thing about Bucket List is it’s kind of a mentorship program,” Lyle said. “Pretty much everyone on our team is in their 20s. That’s where I started out, and then Bucket List has made me make all these other connections.”

She organizes fundraising, sponsorships and the monthly podcast at Bucket List, but also freelances at other community outlets. Others do the same.
The area has a rich community journalism landscape. Some other organizations include the Denver North Star, Aurora Sentinel, Boulder Reporting Lab, Front Porch and Colorado Community Media (oversees 24 papers).

Instead of competing against one another, Lyle said there is camaraderie among local publications. Collaboration is valued at Bucket List.
“We’re where you want to start, you know?” Lyle said.

Bucket List students must produce six articles per semester, possibly their first bylines.

The organization publishes around 200 articles per year, or roughly three to four per week.

There is a wide range of coverage, from gun laws to online dating events to quirky business highlights. A recent grant allows Bucket List to produce at least two articles per month geared toward the Spanish-speaking population of Denver and translate existing articles to Spanish.

“The journalism we’re putting out there, I would put it up against what anybody else is doing. I think ourteam is doing really, really good work for journalists who are so very young,” Collins said.

Hannah Kirkpatrick, research director at the Center for Community News at the University of Vermont, said strong collaborations between students, universities and news outlets are most successful when editors are open to putting in extra time spent mentoring.

“I think it is important for there to be an understanding that it may be a little extra work to work with students, but that it’s worthwhile,” Kirkpatrick said.

Collins and editor Madison Lauterbach see themselves as mentors for the next generation of journalists.

“Beyond serving the community, we’re a bridge for [students] … to get all the skills they need to take the next steps,” Collins said. “The whole point isn’t to stay with Bucket List. The whole point is to move forward in your career, to use this as a ramp.”

Looking to the Future

According to an ongoing impact report by the Center for Community News, 120 university-led student reporting programs supply communities with local news. Around 2,280 students produced more than 10,000 articles in the past year.

Bucket List Community Cafe contributes to this growing movement.

Collins has big plans. She wants to see Bucket Lists across Colorado and the United States.

“I think what we’re doing is important work that could be replicated in other communities to bring community and journalism and universities together to cover the community,” she said.

Currently, Bucket List receives no compensation from university partners, a pain point Collins identified. Kirkpatrick confirmed that missing a strong advocate within universities could deter from successful collaboration.

“It could be a little bit of an obstacle, but clearly there’s ways to overcome it,” Kirkpatrick said, referring to the success of Bucket List so far.

The organization is also unique in that, with most university-outlet collaborations, Kirkpatrick said it is more common to see one school collaborate with multiple outlets, rather than one outlet, like Bucket List, collaborate with multiple schools. Amplify Utah is one exception, she noted.

“It’s really exciting to be innovating in this space. There’s a lot of promise but a lot of work to do,” Collins said. “This is something that benefits the community, it benefits the university, it benefits the students, and it benefits those of us who have been in journalism our whole career, who, now it’s our turn to give back.”

Faith Schilmoeller is a student in the Missouri School of Journalism at the University of Missouri.