The Rocky Mountain News breathed its last breath on Friday, February 27, 2009. It was less than sixty days shy of its 150th birthday, having first appeared on April 23, 1859. The Rocky’s demise comes almost exactly a year after the end of its E.W. Scripps Co. sibling, the Albuquerque Tribune (see obit here).
Scripps CEO Rich Boehne said The Rocky was done in by multimillion dollar losses in a bad economy and the Internet Age.
The Rocy Mountain News came into existence more than a decade and half before the State of Colorado. By the slim margin of just 20 minutes on April 23, 1859, it beat out a competitor to become the first newspaper in a then-Kansas Territory mining town that later became Denver. William Byers hauled a printing press from Omaha to establish the paper. Fierce competition became the style of the Denver newspaper market, especially after the debut of The Denver Post in 1892.
Scripps acquired The Rocky in 1926 and battled The Post head to head until The Rocky almost expired in the 1940s. A switch to tabloid format is often cited in the rescucitation of the paper. But by the 1990s, Denver’s two dominant newspapers had fought to a stalemate second only in inertia to the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war. In 2001, the papers entered into a joint operatign agreement (JOA), that effectively merged the business operations, but not the editorial functions, of the two.
JOAs have turned out to be the terminal life support stage for many papers over time. The nation’s first newspaper JOA was between the Albuquerque Journal and the now-defunct Albuquerque Tribune (although that JOA lasted nearly 40 years).
The entire newspaper industry has suffered declining revenues brought on by declining readership as so-called “New Media” becomes increasingly popular. In a ironic twist, the meeting in The Rocky’s newsroom with Scripps executives to confirm the closure was first reported via Twitter.
Media critic Eric Alterman told CNN: “(The newspaper business) is in a free fall and nobody knows where the bottom is. It’s kind of like water in the toilet swirling around and nobody knows what’s left when you finish flushing.”
I have been a reader of The Rocky for nearly 37 years. During eight years in Colorado, I read the print edition and sougth it out in libraries when I wasn;t in Colorado. And I’ve read the online edition of the paper since it started. In 1974, the paper covered the finals of a college debate tournament in Denver where I argued for the U.S. Air Force Academy against The Colorado College.
I’m afraid that newspapers as we know them will be history in another two decades if not sooner. It’s time to adapt to that reality. I agree with New York Daily News publisher Mort Zuckerman who said yesterday that “They’ll survive, but they’ll survive in different forms, their costs base will have to be dramatically lowered.”
There was one not-so-sad moment yestreday when Scripps CEO Boehne said that Scripps will maintain and attempt to sell the paper’s intellectual property, masthead, Internet URL, and archives. He added: ” Our goal is the archives to be open to everybody,” according the paper’s blog.
Tim Agazio blogged about this story yesterday at Genealogy Reviews Online.
February 28, 2009 Saturday at 12:56 pm