05 Feb Boettcher Scholar Changing Community Through Storytelling
As a journalist and investigative reporter for 9News, Chris Vanderveen has been recognized at the national level for coverage of the Aurora theater shooting, opiate abuse, and a query into the fuel lines of combusting helicopters that prompted a federal investigation. For these stories, Chris received Reporter of the Year awards from the National Press Photographers Association and a regional Edward R. Murrow Award.
However, when asked which stories stand out the most from his 22-year career, the 1992 Boettcher Scholar noted, “It’s the small ones – stories that would have remained untold otherwise, about humble people living remarkable day-to-day lives.”
Chris Vanderveen’s own story began in suburban Denver in 1973. While other kids watched cartoons after school, Chris grew up consuming television news and the daily paper: “When something was going on, I wanted to know more about it.”
Chris’ inquisitiveness helped him earn a Boettcher Scholarship to attend CU Boulder, where he studied broadcast journalism and anchored the campus radio station. From there, he landed a job as a photographer in Casper, Wyoming, and soon was anchoring weekend newscasts. There, Chris realized a career in journalism was a match for his inherent curiosity and love of storytelling.
“Journalism starts with something as simple as a curious reporter asking the questions that no one else is,” Chris said. From there, “the story develops into something much bigger, something that can profoundly impact our community.”
One of Chris’ most memorable stories took place in 2010, when he met an Army veteran who had been shot in the neck in Iraq and paralyzed. Over the course of a year, Chris documented the veteran’s recovery and his dream to have children. The day Chris received a call that the veteran’s wife was pregnant with twins was “one of the coolest moments to capture” in his career.
Sharing remarkable stories fuels Chris’ passion for journalism and service, even in the face of adversity. While many might perceive the current social and political environment as an obstacle for journalism, Chris sees a unique opportunity to discuss free speech and advocacy.
“I’m more proud and more excited to be a journalist, writer, and investigative reporter than ever,” stated Chris. “It’s a fascinating time in our country. We are having overdue discussions, and that’s a good thing.”
Chris is a strong advocate for the first amendment, and lent his thoughts to the ongoing discussion about college campus speech: “We must listen to things we don’t agree with. Yes, we’ll hear things we despise. But supporting the ability of people to speak who you may not agree with is a critical form of leadership.”
One of the ways Chris employs his skills to give back to the community is as a board member for The Blue Bench, a sexual assault prevention and support center in Denver. As an advocate for victims and the father of a young daughter, Chris is optimistic about the direction of recent discussions and the #MeToo movement.
“This country is having an overdue discussion about the role of powerful men and victims’ voices,” he said. “Victims need to feel they have an avenue to be heard and for justice to be pursued, and that’s finally coming to light. It’s okay to be uncomfortable.”
Looking back, Chris admits at the age of 18 he was unsure about accepting the scholarship, when his dream had been to attend a program out of state. Yet today, he is grateful for the financial freedom and the encouragement to give back to Colorado that the scholarship provided him.
“[The scholarship] was one of the greatest surprises that could have happened to me. I don’t take that gift for granted, especially with the perspective I have now.”