Like the way the Titanic band played until its feet got wet, there’s something romantic about the way the Rocky Mountain News announced its own demise today — as headline news.
We’ve pasted the whole story here because we think it’s newsworthy, but you should click through to see the article in its conext.
The Rocky Mountain News publishes its last paper tomorrow.
Rich Boehne, chief executive officer of Scripps, broke the news to the Rocky staff at noon today, ending nearly three months of speculation over the paper’s future. He called the paper a victim of a terrible economy and an upheaval in the newspaper industry.
“Denver can’t support two newspapers anymore,” Boehne told staffers, some of whom cried at the news.
On Dec. 4, Boehne announced that Scripps was looking for a buyer for the Rocky and its 50 per cent interest in the Denver Newspaper Agency, the company that handles business matters for the papers, because it couldn’t continue to sustain its financial losses in Denver. Scripps said the Rocky lost $16 million in 2008.
“This moment is nothing like any experience any of us have had,” Boehne said. “The industry is in serious, serious trouble.”
Boehne said there was nibble from one potential buyer, who withdrew after realising that it would cost as much as $100 million “just to stay in the game.”
The Rocky has been in a joint operating agreement with The Denver Post since 2001. The arrangement approved by the U.S. Justice Department allowed the papers to share all business services, from advertising to printing, in order to preserve two editorial voices in the community.
Since then, Scripps said, it has been working with Post owner MediaNews Group to come up with a plan to allow it to exit Colorado. It also shares 50-50 ownership with MediaNews of Boulder’s Daily Camera and a handful of other smaller papers in the state.
The closure of the Rocky will mean Denver will have just one major newspaper, like the vast majority of American cities today.
Scripps said it will now offer for sale the masthead, archives and Web site of the Rocky, separate from its interest in the newspaper agency.
Today’s announcement comes as metropolitan newspapers and major newspaper companies find themselves reeling, with plummeting advertising revenues and dramatically diminished share prices. Just this week, Hearst, owner of the San Francisco Chronicle, announced that unless it was able to make immediate and steep expense cuts it would put the paper up for sale and possibly close it. Two other papers in JOAs, one in Seattle and the other in Tucson, are facing closure in coming weeks.
The Rocky was founded in 1859 by William Byers, one of the most influential figures in Colorado history. Scripps bought the paper in 1926 and right away entered into a newspaper war with The Post. That fight ebbed and flowed over the course of the rest of the 20th century, culminating in penny-a-day subscriptions in the late ’90s. Perhaps the most critical step for the Rocky occurred in 1942. The paper was struggling and facing death when then-Editor Jack Foster switched its format from the more common broadsheet to the tabloid style it has been known for ever since. Readers loved the change and circulation took off.
In the past decade, the Rocky has won four Pulitzer Prizes, more than all but a handful of American papers. Its sports section was named one of the 10 best in the nation this week. Its business section was cited by the Society of American Business Editors and Writers as one of the best in the country last year. And its photo staff is regularly listed among the best in the nation when the top 10 photo newspapers are judged.
“I could say stupid things like ‘I know how you feel.’ I don’t,” Boehne said. “We are just deeply sorry. I hope you will accept that.”
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