Monday, March 2, 2009

The death of a Newspaper

Friday was a sad day in the world of newspapers as Denver's Rocky Mountain News published it's very last issue.

After a nearly 150-year run in the information industry, the Rocky succumbed to the pressures of new media-- namely, the Internet-- and the national economic meltdown. With a declining readership and significant losses in advertising revenue, the Rocky couldn't hold on any longer, or at least its parent company, E.W. Scripps Co., didn't think so. After losing $16 million in 2008, the paper was put up for sale in December. But no viable buyer came forward to save the paper and it was ultimately decided that Denver simply couldn't support two papers: The Post and the Rocky Mountain News.

And so the paper was forced to shut its newsroom doors on a community it had served since 1859, as well as 200 staffers whose daily duty was to write, edit, photograph and layout stories that informed and entertained, or at least did one of the two. While I don't live in Colorado and never read the Rocky Mountain News before, I couldn't help but shed a tear for my compatriots in this fledgling-yet-still-relevant field of journalism. Reporter Mike Littwin said it best in his farewell column
"I know many businesses are closing, particularly these days. But newspapers don't simply close. They die."
My heart ached as I read Littwin's words, explaining that the Rocky has been coming out every day since Aug. 27, 1860 and now it never will again. And how guys in suits cut their staff and resources, citing economics. See, in newspapers, longevity don't mean a thing. The businessman's yardstick of success is in money not stories.

But my heart swelled, too, as the self-described "newspaper junkie" shared his passion for print, saying the reason he signed up for journalism at the age of 16 is because "there isn't a job where you could possibly have more fun."

Even in the wake of the Rocky's death, News Editor/Publisher John Temple told the Associated Press that he is not pessimistic about the future of journalism at all. Some outside the news realm might not understand this, but it is a hope that journalists cling to in a time of unprecedented change. How are we to go on doing what we are doing--what we love to do-- if there is no light at the end of the tunnel?

As the Rocky's Mark Wolf said in the paper's closing issue, "This is a tough time to work for newspapers, but you don't get to pick the career you fall in love with."

Even though I am a "cub reporter," I am not naive enough to think that those in the newspaper business will not have to adapt to the shifting media landscape. Yes, the printed broadsheet (or tabloid, in the Rocky's case) that shows up on your doorstep may one day too soon no longer exist. But I do believe there will always be a need for news--in one form or another-- and qualified, talented and dedicated journalists to deliver it. 

And so today I say to those qualified, talented and dedicated Rocky journalists: Thank you for your work. It has left a lasting impression not only on the city you covered but also the history of journalism. And the void left in its absence cannot be replaced.

Front Page image via Rocky Mountain News


Shoshanah said...

That's really sad. I think all the companies that have been closing are. But I don't think there are many cities that still have 2 newspapers. I know L.A. used to. But the only reason I know is because one of my favorite restaurants has old issues of it on the wall.

Amber said...

That's really sad. There's been SO many closures and cutbacks in B.C. and Alberta too. I'm having a hell of a time landing a 12-week internship that's worth 25 per cent of my mark.

200 staffers though... Wow. Very, very sad.