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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Rocky Mountain News, RIP

I doubt that anyone in Denver--including the journalists and professionals employed by the Rocky--is surprised by the announcement, but the death of the Rocky Mountain News will still be sad to quite a few of us who have read and supported the paper throughout our lives. But today’s announcement of the closure of the Rocky Mountain News was a mere formality: the paper has been struggling for years and on life support for a few months now.

“Today the Rocky Mountain News, long the leading voice in Denver, becomes a victim of changing times in our industry and huge economic challenges,” Rich Boehne, CEO of Cincinnati-based Scripps (NYSE: SSP), said in a statement.

“The Rocky is one of America’s very best examples of what local news organizations need to be in the future. Unfortunately, the partnership’s business model is locked in the past.”

Scripps said that a possible buyer came forward before the Jan. 16 deadline set by Scripps for an offer, but that the buyer was “unable to present a viable plan” for operating the News.

Outside of any dispapointment, though, is the realization that no business plan lasts forever, and a 150 year run is nothing to sneer about. Newspapers have provided a valuable service to us and have been an important part of maintaining our freedoms. I’m a Republican, so seeing the gleefully critical press of the Bush years become the cheerleaders of the Obama years is blunting the sentimental side of me that wants to mourn the Rocky, but it is worth acknowledging the value of having a free press watching over our political class. They have been imperfect guardians and given to their own sometimes-hilarious follies, but that’s just describing people, isn’t it?

If this reads like a Dirge for the Passing of Journalism, there is a reason: freedom of the press has less and less to do with a press or with journalists with every passing month. Much of the old trade of journalism is dying and even the best known syndicated columnists are seeing their opportunities diminish with every newspaper closing, with every report of revenue and circulation drops, and with every regular joe who decides to get his news from somewhere other than nightly news and the morning paper.

And that’s fine. While old journalism dies, opportunities will open for the people smart and clear-eyed enough to see what’s coming next.

Goodbye, Rocky. I’ll miss you (but, then, I’ve been missing you for years).

Read the story.

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There’s some old sentimental sense that’s saying I’ll miss the Rocky. Of course, I’ve been reading it only via RSS for a while now. And I’d rather see 2 newspapers in town, if only because I think it provides, or should, a little balance. Competition is good. But then I don’t know to what, if any, extent the two papers tended to keep each other honest. Probably not much.

So, I’ll have to spend some time digging up RSS feeds for state and local news.

on Feb 26 2009 @ 04:36 PM

Back when papers mattered in a big way, I think having two papers really did make a difference. That’s mostly gone, though.

I stopped subscribing to the Rocky a few years ago when the paper had already shrunk to a terrifyingly small size. I’m surprised it lasted as long as it did.

on Feb 26 2009 @ 05:46 PM

They say the name and URL are for sale. Let’s club together the Bash bloggers and buy it as our house organ.

on Feb 26 2009 @ 05:59 PM

1) When I am in Denver this summer we will have to have lengthy, inebriated discussion about the media. It should without saying that I have a different perspective than I did two years ago.

2) The idea of buying the URL is actually very good. If several Colorado bloggers joined forces and abandoned their individual blogs for a new, 21st century Rocky, you might actually be able to create something of real value and marketability.

on Feb 27 2009 @ 09:55 AM

There is a video documentary of this available online: http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/a_newspaper_refuses_to_die_quietly.php

on Feb 27 2009 @ 10:04 AM

That’s a great video. I think that the employees were a little more sunny about the prospects of continuing than the situation deserved--the last time I picked up a Sunday paper I was amazed at how tiny it had become and that was a reflection of both editorial content and advertising. I wondered how long they could possibly survive because the biggest problem with running a newspaper is the cost. It takes a lot of people to run a daily paper of that type.

The cost of all of those employees plus the cost of production plus the cost of distribution plus the facility overhead--that’s an incredibly expensive operation. Advertising was down, recruitment advertising has abandoned newspapers for other media, and the paid subscriptions never really covered much of the actual business costs. So the paper cut down on the real content of the paper--it was a shock to me when Denerstein was let go a few years back--and as the content declined, so did my desire to read the thing. I’m betting a lot of people felt the same way.

And advertisers are only sort of buying that blank spot on a page; what they’re really buying is buyers’ eyes. If those eyes aren’t there, then neither are the ad dollars.

The problem was that monetizing the web delivery is tough especially if it has to cover the shortfall of the print edition over the long haul--ad dollars on the web are growing, but they are diffuse and much smaller than their print counterparts.

The business plan has failed.

Like them, though, I worry a little about what is coming next. As much as bloggers really really want it to be them, it’s not. Not in the present form, anyway. The lack of accountability, the lack of professionalism, the minimal amount of real reporting (as opposed to editorializing about other peoples’ reporting) isn’t what takes the place of the daily paper, is it? Or, at least, it certainly shouldn’t.

So, I hope nothing that I’ve written reads like me dancing on the grave of the Rocky (or any other failed paper), because I’m not. I’m also not the guy that I describe as being smart or clear-eyed enough to see what’s coming next. I just hope that whatever it is can continue the tradition of holding our politicians accountable, will cover stories with the vigor of our local reporters, and will find a way to improve the bits that a dead tree edition can never do well (like competing with the immediacy of online news sources) while still making enough money to operate.

Some of the wounds were definitely self-inflicted, but the very nature of the infrastructure that grew up around a daily, printed newspaper is most likely the biggest impediment to the long-term survival of a bunch of newspapers across the country. I do hope that this makes the Denver Post stronger and better, though; I know they are picking up some of the columnists and workers from the Rocky, but I have no idea if it will mean more advertising or much more in the way of readership.

on Feb 27 2009 @ 11:02 AM

I would never presume to say that you were wrong, Zombyboy. But you’re wrong.

You can make money in the newspaper business, bundles of it. They’re all doing it wrong. If anybody has a ridiculous pile of venture capital and a desire to see me put up or shut up, David has my e-mail address.

on Feb 27 2009 @ 11:31 AM
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