Thursday, February 26, 2009

Breaking News: The Rocky Mountain News Shuts Down

Word streaked through the Denver Post newsroom just a few minutes ago bringing with it a mixture of sadness, relief and anxiety at my day job: Our competitor, The Rocky Mountain News, two months shy of it's 150th publishing anniversary, would be producing its final edition tomorrow.

"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, chief executive officer of Scripps, said in a prepared 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."

I have worked as a staff writer for the Denver Post for 13 years, spending eight of those last years running neck in neck in a race for survival with The Rocky, which 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. But when The Rocky announced it was being put on sale in December, rumors abounded of its imminent demise.

I want to say how sorry I am for my colleagues at The Rocky Mountain News and their families, and express my blessings that the Lord protect and keep them during the harsh economic times that has crippled the journalism industry. The Rocky's reporters tireless fight challenged us and kept all of us on our toes here at the Denver Post. Denver and Colorado will never be the same.

The Post did not leave this battle with out deep scars and worries of it's own. Last week, six high ranking managers were laid off and the union is shoring up the final stages of an agreement that includes pay reductions, forced furloughs and cuts in benefits for staffers like me.

And while some may find relief and hope that our jobs are safer now at The Denver Post, we can't forget that we have a major battle ahead of us: The Denver Post won't survive unless it can capture a significant portion of Rocky subscribers. In order to do that, Post big wigs have got to be progressive and learn how to leverage the internet for more readership and advertising dollars. I think it's the best time we've ever had to challenge ourselves to take on more ways of covering the news, from blogging and Tweeting to combining skill sets like I am doing with both my print reporter skills and my growing photographic ways to tell a good and accurate story.

Management said they intend to hire several marquee names from the Rocky staff, which will be key for holding on to specific reader bases. Those include: Vincent Carroll; Mike Littwin, Tina Griego, Bill Johnson, Penny Parker, Dave Krieger, Burt Hubbard, Lynn Bartels, Kevin Vaughan, Gargi Chakrabarty, Pulitzer Prize winning photographer Judy DeHaas.

But I think the best think the Post can do is change it's format from the traditional broadsheet to the tabloid format that Rocky Mountain News subscribers have enjoyed for more than a century. It's a bold move, but I can't tell you time and time again how many times I've heard that the only reason why some people read the Rocky over the Post is because they think the tabloid is easier to read. Denver Post management should listen, change the format and reassure Rocky readers that we are listening to their needs. So far the powers that be have said they will not do this....but if we can't capture at least 80 percent of those Rocky readers in the next six months, The Post could be in trouble next.

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