27 February 2009

Rocky Mountain News closes; chalk one up for the cynics

I wrote this for Radio Sweethearts, but wasn't quite comfortable posting it there.

I knew this particular bit of bad news was coming; Scripps has been trying and failing to sell the ailing Rocky Mountain News since December. Scripps has been suffering huge losses at the paper.

I say that I saw this coming, but the actual announcement of the closing comes as something of a suckerpunch.

The news comes as so much of a suckerpunch that I need to emphasize my editorial independence on this one. No one else knows that I'm writing this - until it's up.

It's fair to neither the employees of the Rocky Mountain News nor to their families that no one was told that tomorrow (Friday) will be their last day until today. And rather than simple "life isn't fair" unfair, this treatment of employees borders on injust.

Kerry works at the Commercial Appeal, another Scripps paper. She works for the online department - she and her immediate co-workers are/will be the saviors of the newspaper industry. If, that is, they aren't beaten to within an inch of their morale's life by incidents like this happening within their employer's parent company.

I strongly believe that the Commercial Appeal is going to weather the storm, a statement I can make only after having met the stalwart crew of the online department, because they're doing what they believe in, because they care too much, and most of all, because the paper has never missed an issue.

The people I know there are too damned stubborn to be the people around for the Commercial Appeal's first missed issue.

But I can't say that I don't worry. The morale of employees at any business directly affects the morale of their families. I try to stay positive, knowing that Kerry is in a position which will remain vital to the newspaper industry throughout this awkward pubescent transition to the industry's new world, but the simple fact that she's aware of the possibility of another suckerpunch causes me to worry, too.

I don't have the heart to look up any public radio reportage on the Rocky Mountain News' closure, because I'm afraid that it's all going to be tinged with the sense of superiority that comes from working in any other form of media.

I'm looking at you when I say that, Bob Garfield. You know, there was a battle between radio and television, too. Just like the one between newspapers and the internet. Guess what? TV won. And you still have a job - two, actually, in radio and print. Your living depends on dead media.

But if radio can evolve and find a market in a TV world, then surely newspapers can do the same in an internet world - this not taking into account the fact that much of the internet experience is already based on the newspaper model, an advantage that few commentators have noticed, and few small-town daily newspapers seem to have realized either.

My thoughts and prayers - such as they are - are with the employees and families of the Rocky Mountain News. If you people are anything like the people I know at the CA, you'll pull through and end up in a better place.


Randal Cooper said...

It's terrible news, but if there's a bright note it's that folks will continue to be paid until April, at least.

Small comfort, I know, but it's (slightly) better than "Hi, you're fired."

Richard Thompson said...

Great post. A couple of things:

*Like Randal notes, the Rocky employees will get paid until sometime in late April.

And they did have an idea that this was coming. When they learned that the paper was being sold, they were told that Scripps was searching for a buyer and that they had a month or so to find one. Well, time ran out and the rest is what it is.

Also, the online department at the CA won't be the savior of the paper because they aren't the ones creating most of the content that goes on the site nor are they the ones hitting the streets to get advertisers to buy ads. I'm just sayin, it just helps to have some perspective because online departments have been, and will probably be, impacted by cuts like everyone else.

No one is really safe anymore. With that said, I share your optimism about newspapers. Nicely stated.

Bob Garfield said...

It mystifies me that you persist in blaming the messenger. As you correctly observe, I myself have two media jobs and neither is safe from the chaos surrounding us. I take no pleasure as a prophet of doom. I do, however, take some pride in not letting my heart censor my brain.

Matthew TRISLER said...

@Randal and Richard: I missed somewhere that they'll be paid through most of April. I'd heard about their severance packages, but missed the contents.

I apologize for leaving that out.

@Richard in particular: I realize it's the content producers and ad revenue that will keep people (and funding) coming to Web end of the paper, but it wouldn't be possible or practical without the online department working to make the experience as pleasant, easy, and convenient as possible.

@Bob: I blame, yes, but I don't intend to shoot.

I'm not blaming the messenger for the message. The message is what it is.

I mean no offense, Bob. The truth is, I tend to use you as a convenient metaphor for media's pop prognosticators as a whole.

I mean, actually, to point out that you're working in one medium that's been through a great deal of strife already. But radio pulls through.

What I really want to know, Bob, and this is why I'm glad I called you out, is which lessons can we learn from the struggle between radio and TV that apply to the newspaper's struggle with the internet?

Matthew TRISLER said...

Clarification: I said "I blame, yes, but I don't intend to shoot.

"I'm not blaming the messenger for the message."

I meant to add that I do blame the messenger for tone, and I do so out of hyperbolic petulance.

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