The newspaper crisis roiling the United States has claimed its biggest victim so far: The Rocky Mountain News, Colorado's oldest newspaper and a Denver fixture since 1859, will publish its last edition on Friday.
Owner EW Scripps Co said on Thursday the newspaper lost $16 million last year and the company was unable to find a buyer. "Today the Rocky Mountain News, long the leading voice in Denver, becomes a victim of changing times in our industry and huge economic challenges," Scripps CEO Rich Boehne said. Financial problems are widespread in the newspaper industry as the economy has deteriorated, ad revenue has tumbled, readers have gravitated toward the Internet and advertisers have followed them. Four owners of 33 US daily newspapers have sought bankruptcy protection in the past 2 1/2 months. A number of other newspapers are up for sale.
This past weekend, there were separate bankruptcy filings by New Haven (Connecticut) Register publisher Journal Register Co. and by the owners of The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News.
They followed a December filing by Tribune Co, whose media stable includes the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune, and January's filing by the owners of the Star Tribune in Minneapolis. Other publishers could seek bankruptcy protection in the coming months, too, as advertising prospects for 2009 remain bleak. Hearst Corp announced earlier this week it will close or sell the San Francisco Chronicle if it can't reduce expenses dramatically within the next few weeks. Last month, Hearst laid out plans to close the Seattle Post-Intelligencer if a buyer isn't found before April. And Gannett Co is looking for a buyer for the Tucson Citizen in Arizona.
"People are in grief, and they're very, very upset trying to process all the emotions that go with it and trying to recognize that we will be putting out our final edition tomorrow," said News publisher John Temple.
But that edition, he declared, is "going to be spectacular." Friday's newspaper will include a 52-page commemorative section, with a print run of about 350,000 copies. The News had a daily circulation of 210,000 and 457,000 on Saturdays.
"It's very rare that you get to play the music at your own funeral, so you want to make sure you do it well," Temple said. Scripps' Boehne said the News' 230 editorial employees would be paid through April 28. The competing Denver Post said it will hire 10 News staffers, including five columnists, four reporters and the editorial page editor.
Since 2001, the News has shared business operations with the Post in a joint operating agreement between Scripps and The Post's owner, MediaNews Group Inc.
"The Rocky will forever be remembered for its vital role in the city's history and the city's success," said William Dean Singleton, chairman and publisher of The Post and CEO of MediaNews. "Although we competed intensely, the talented staff of the Rocky earned our respect with each morning's edition." Singleton, who is chairman of the board of The Associated Press, has said Denver could support only one newspaper. "I'm not just confident that we'll survive. We will survive," he insisted on Friday. Dennis Schroeder, a News photographer for 25 years, said some of his colleagues were angry but others were relieved that a decision was made after weeks of uncertainty.
"It's hard losing the best job in the world," he said. Employees gathered outside the newsroom to open a 1985 time capsule cut out of a wall. It contained copies of the Rocky and Post, a book of employee signatures, a map of Denver and books from Rocky cartoonist Ed Stein and the late columnist Gene Amole. The capsule read: "To be opened in April 2059 on RMN's 200th anniversary."
Scripps announced on Dec 4 it would try to sell the newspaper. Only one potential buyer came forward, "and that party was unable to present a viable plan," the company said.
Scripps has owned the News since 1926. The newspaper will close just two months short of its 150th anniversary.
The future of the Denver Newspaper Agency, the entity that handles the two newspapers' business operations, was unclear. The agency is a 50-50 partnership of the News and The Post. It employs about 1,800 people.
Scripps said it will retain ownership, and still offer to sell, the Rocky Mountain News name and the newspaper's archives and Web site.
Ed Atorino, a newspaper industry analyst at The Benchmark Co, said that indicates the News could become an online-only venture at some point.
Gov Bill Ritter was attending a Colorado Press Association convention luncheon when the shutdown was announced. Ritter said he hopes newspapers survive and people aren't forced to rely on anonymous bloggers on the Internet to get their news. "You can argue all you want with an editorial writer, but at the end of the day, you can call him. You can find him and call him and you can talk to him, and you can't do that on a blog," the governor said.