Boulder Beat’s 5 favorite stories of the past 5 years

Friday, Jan. 5, 2024

As Boulder Beat wraps up its five-year run, certain coverage stands out from the more than 650 stories we published. I wrote roughly 500 of those myself; that’s the body of work I’ll be pulling from in this best-of list. 

5. Budget stuff

This would be higher on the list if more people actually cared where their tax dollars go. I don’t know if I ever accomplished that, but I’m definitely taking credit for Boulder starting year-over-year budget comparisons (I did it first!) even if I actually had nothing to do with it. 

I also loved my reporting on Boulder County’s love affair with local taxes, my COVID-era explainer of the problem with dedicated funding and pretty much any story with finances or numbers in it (like this story on Boulder’s grocery sales tax).

4. Policing and oversight

Another series of stories, albeit loosely connected. It started way back in 2019 with the confrontation of Zayd Atkinson, a Black Naropa student who was picking up trash when armed officers surrounded him. That turned into a protest and a listening session on racism, which begat an expedited racial equity resolution and plan along with an overhauled mechanism for police oversight. I also did a half-dozen stories on crime (a topic with historically terribly reporting), the use of guns by Boulder police officers and the purchase, deployment and lack of oversight surrounding phone-hacking tools by Colorado law enforcement.

I knew nothing about policing or oversight when I started my reporting. That’s one of my favorite ways to go into a topic, especially a controversial one: fresh. 

3. Obituary for my dog

OK, this one’s a bit of a cheat, since it’s not a news story nor did it have anything to do with Boulder. But when my beloved dog died in 2020, I wrote one of my favorite pieces of all time. Boulder Beat gave me somewhere to publish it. Featured on Longreads, it’s still worth a read for anyone who has ever loved and lost a pet (or a person).

2. Political profiles

It may surprise you to learn that I hated covering city council. It’s the opposite of everything I love about journalism: talking to the same people (instead of meeting new ones), writing about the same topics (instead of learning different things). And then there’s the whole politics of it all (I hate politics; it brings out the worst in people).

I did enjoy the 39 profiles I did of city council candidates over the course of three elections, plus the 31 explainers of local ballot issues. I like breaking things down and providing the pros and cons so that readers can make up their own minds.

The profiles were particularly memorable. Some were fluff, some were mean, and some were downright ugly

Contrary to what some people may think, it’s not easy to write harsh things. But, like it or not, I wrote what I felt was true. In most cases, I have been gratified to hear from community members that they felt I was right on. 

1. Homelessness 101

Technically a series of stories, this work remains unfinished. Perfection can definitely be the enemy of progress, but with such a tricky and misunderstood issue, I felt it best to take my time and get things right. Then I got busy and, as more time went on, I got nervous. Anxiety turned to paralysis, and by the time I had a post-election opening in my schedule to pick the work back up, I had a new job.

I am sad to never have finished my planned analysis of Boulder County’s system, for which I interviewed more than a dozen local providers and subject matter experts, as well as unhoused people themselves. An “official” look is on tap for early next year — the first one in all my time that promises to identify “gaps” in services.

That being said, the first few pieces are ones I’m really proud of: also the result of dozens of interviews with experts from around the country, plus massive quantities of reading and my own volunteering experience.

Bonus best: My story on Flatiron Freddy, Boulder’s stuffed marmot who makes an appearance every Feb. 2 to predict the weather. This piece probably still holds the record for most puns per square inch.

— Shay Castle can now be reached at


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