The death of a newspaper

The Rocky Mountain News in Denver published its final edition today. Anybody who ever worked for a newspaper should be sad about that, and for that matter so should everybody else.

The demise of any media outlet is bad for America and for democracy, in my opinion, because we need more voices in the debate, not fewer. But we live in a tough business climate right now, and the economic realities of the newspaper business caught up with “The Rocky,” as it was known in the city. Scripps, the media company which owned the paper, expressed regret that the paper couldn’t make its business model work, but nevertheless shuttered the 150-year old publication, making Denver another in a growing list of one-newspaper towns that used to have multiple papers.

To be honest, I’ve never seen more than one or two issues of the Rocky Mountain News in my life, but Jayne and I feel as if we have a little bit of personal interest in this as a friend and former colleague of ours, Joey Bunch, is a reporter for the Rocky’s competitor, The Denver Post. About 10 of the RMN’s reporters will be going to work for the Post.

The death of the Rocky is a major story in the world of journalism, although I suspect it’s less so in the world at large. That’s unfortunate because the impact of the story extends beyond the Mile High City. Via Twitter, I found this blog entry from media analyst Ken Doctor that puts the Rocky closing into some context — it’s the biggest daily newspaper in the U.S. to cease publication since the Houston Post in 1995.

And as I’ve read about what it all means on various websites, I’m seeing more dire commentary about the future of newspapers. In recent months, I’ve even seen predictions that even the grand old New York Times might go out of business — to the delight of conservatives everywhere — or be sold to Rupert Murdoch, which some observers say is even worse.

How did the newspaper business get to this sorry pass? Again, I’ve read a lot of explanations, from the right (they’re too liberal) and from the left (it’s because they sold themselves and their souls to corporate interests in the name of profit). I don’t think either of these is adequate. I’ve also read the critique that they didn’t respond sufficiently, and early enough, to the demands of the new digital world — a more likely reason.

As an inveterate newspaper reader — to paraphrase Charlton Heston, they’ll probably have to pry one from my cold, dead hands — I’m not willing to give up on them just yet. And even if the newspaper business goes stone cold dead, it doesn’t mean that journalism is dead. People are information seekers more than ever before, and there will always be a demand for journalism and what newspapers do.

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About theoldperfessor

I'm a college professor, teaching journalism and public relations classes at a small private university, and a freelance writer.
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