The Media

A Dark Day

It's another in a long line of awful days for journalism, and thereby this country, with the announcement today that tomorrow is the final issue of the Rocky Mountain News, Colorado's longest-running newspaper, Denver's longest-running business and one of the best newspapers in the country.

This is slightly personal for me. I spent a week there, covering for the Rocky the Democratic National Convention. It was personally and professionally one of the best weeks of my life. They did good work there, and the closure is a big blow for one of the nation's best cities.

On a baseball note, this seems to leave the fate of one of baseball's best writers, Tracy Ringolsby, up in the air. He wasn't one of those immediately picked up by the Denver Post, so it seems that, beginning tomorrow, he will join the dozens of other Rocky employees in searching for jobs in an industry that is collapsing all around them. All around us.

24 replies on “A Dark Day”

Bad times. My girlfriend is in book publishing and she can’t find a job because the industry is a third of the size it was 5 years ago. The dying medium, along with the economy, has really destroyed it.

It is a truly sad day. When researching my book on the Spalding World Tour, I relied on the wonderfully purple prose of the Rocky Mountain News, which covered the event with gustp. This particular passage, describing a fantastic catch by hall-of-famer Ned Hanlon, was such a favorite that i quoted it in its entirety:
“He got the ball just where he wanted it, and the way he lit into it was simply appalling. It took off into the azure, coursing toward far center, that was truly enchanting. During the silence that followed it grew beautifully less in size, as did Hanlon in his mad race into the far center field. It was a race in mid-air and on terra-firma that was supremely exciting. On and on sped the winged sphere over the kid’s grandstand, and on went Hanlon, his legs oscillating with the rapidity of a jig saw until the ball lowered almost to earth, when the fleet-footed flyer fairly flew up into the air, gathered in the battered bun and fell in a heap upon the ground, not without holding the ball, however. The excitement knew no bounds. Yells, cheers, huzzahs and vehement exclamations of exultant joy knew no end. The vast audience were on their feet in a deafening pandemonium. Such a scene was never before witnessed in Denver, and doubtful if anywhere else.”
A truly sad day.

In 2003, when I was the city editor for a 15,000 local daily in the Chicago suburbs, we launched a Sunday edition, which had been conspicuously absent and sorely needed. Within a year that Sunday edition was outselling the two biggest competitors in the market, the Daily Herald of Arlington Heights and the Chicago Tribune.
Then new management came in, mucked it all up and last week, nearly three years after I was laid off by this shortsighted management team, the paper announced that it would cease publication of the Sunday and Monday edition, preferring instead to post breaking news on its Web site.
The sad thing is, despite this cop-out retrenching explanation by the new publisher, it didn’t have to happen. Corporate just didn’t want to invest in a a paper that was in a highly competitive market, and instead tried to make decisions from an HQ outside the market. The decision was nothing more than a sell-out. And it was very painful to see a successful product that I worked hard to help launch get thrown into the trash heap because corporate never committed to making it work.
(By the way, a member of the management team that laid me off was one Chris Krug, who very nearly got his lights punched out by Woody Paige when the two worked together at the Denver Post. Krug tried to get everyone on the Post sports staff to do it his way and was run out in about a year. Then he comes back to our company and bullies and backstabs his way to the top.)
My point is this, large or small, the newspaper industry continues to take a beating. I doubt this is the end.
p.s., corporate journalism doesn’t work. The newspaper industry began the fail the minute there was a profit margin with high expectations in the ledger.

Chris Krug, who very nearly got his lights punched out by Woody Paige when the two worked together at the Denver Post.
Anyone that upsets Woody Paige is a good guy in my book! All joking aside, it’s a shame the way things are turning out. There’s an entire generation of people that get 100% of their news free on the internet, and in another few decades newspapers will cease to exist entirely. In a short time people will be saying “Can you imagine they used to print articles all together, and sell them? The nerve of such people, to waste paper and then dare to charge people for information that is otherwise free.”

It is, YF, because this community, which once thrived on the ubercompetition among the newspapers, now has virtually nothing.
Me, I found a better job. Lower paying, but we’re making due. I’m not a bucket of stress anymore, and I don’t work for those SOBs.

“Anyone that upsets Woody Paige is a good guy in my book!”
There is the temptation so see it that way, ath, even seriously. But you only know about Woody. And to know Weasel Krug is to hate him. He’s a sychphant to the publisher and a slimy, backstabbing bully to everyone else.

Ringolsby is way too good to be unemployed for long. If the Post is dumb enough to let him float, he’ll either choose to retire or another baseball market will benefit. Immensely.

I believe you Bill. I’ve learned the hard way that it’s MUCH better to have a job that you enjoy (with less pay) than one you hate (with more pay). I worked for a company called Ferguson Enterprises for 3 years until I was 20, then got an offer to go down the street to Symantec for literally twice the pay. I did it for two stressful years (unrealistic deadlines, 18 hour days), and then the branch closed down in 2006 so I lost my job. I went back to Ferguson, and even though I make way less I’m far happier. The branch closing down ended up being a blessing in disguise.
On a lighter note: Paul’s article about Big Papi got a mention on

Bill’s story is sadly representative of the newspaper industry at large, which I fear is now in an irreversible tailspin brought about by the bad and panic-driven decisions caused by public ownership when revenues began to slip from merely hugely profitable to simplt profitable. Costs were slashed, drastically reducing the quality of the papers, leading to less revenue, leading to cost cutting, leading to quality decline, leading to less revenue, etc. The boards and CEOs and stockholders were preeminent, and they are losing everything, and they deserve it. Unfortunately, a lot of good people, their families and the people of this country who need and deserve a source of information at least somewhat insulated from the screaming of the Internet and cable television are all losing, too. It sucks. Instead of investing further in their newsrooms and transitioning quickly to the Internet — and making people pay for the service there, too — the corporations slashed and burned their newspapers to oblivion. There’s no reversing this now. One day, we’ll wake up and wonder where newspapers went. That will be the darkest day.

maybe the governement will step in a take part ownership of the newspapers? :)
Aren’t these major newspapers getting any of the gazillion dollars a day the rest of the country is getting? I mean, if they can put aside a half million dollars to study foot odor in that last bill, one would think they could put aside some money for long standing great newspapers.
Also, I grew up in Colorado, so this hits as a hard one, since this used to be delivered to my house.

Or, and this is a much better solution, maybe the Dems will start taxing the internet, thus making it unaffordable to have in the home, then the newspapers will pick right back up again. Right?
I’m just kidding. This really is a terrible story, if not for the newspaper, but definitely the folks who work there and depend on it. Colorado is not the best place to find work.

That is true, ath, but there is a big part of me that still bleeds ink. I do miss recording day-to-day life in central Kane County, Illinois, and I miss the camaraderie of the daily deadlines, even though I have been able to fill much of that void.
I have come to believe that my old industry is siffering its current plight because of a lack of talent and critical thinking at the top.
Newspapers have evolved, but not quickly enough, most glaringly when it comes to adjust to the Internet.
But there have been other problems that those ooutside the industry don’t understand, such as ink and paper costs that have gone though the roof.
Anyway, I gotta get back to work.

Brad, there is no way the newspaper industry can go hat-in-hand to D.C. to beg for money and then have any credibility left when it comes to how it reports on the federal government.

Right on, Bill. My sarcasm didn’t really come through in the post. I was just joking around.
It was more along the lines of “it’s a spending spree!!! Get in line and get yours today!” kind of tone.

But, if you think about it, the current party would like nothing more than to be part owner of the papers and have some kind of leash on what they write! haha.

Brad, the current party? Wasn’t the last president the one who just about stopped talking to the press and his followers the ones who complained nonstop about media “bias”?
I’ve come to believe the big mistake newspapers made was providing their content online free of charge. If you were making chairs and you sold them in one location and were successful, then opened a second shop in a more convenient location and offered them for free, you might have trouble turning a profit, even if it was cheaper to make your chairs at the second shop.

From what I can tell, the ink-based news was more or less forced to cannibalize themselves by offering their content free. They were playing catch-up to get an on-line presence, were met with staunch resistance to paid web subscriptions, especially back when the web versions were so inferior, and the web ad revenue didn’t rise far enough to off-set the paper advertising losses, which were being eroded by their own web ads anyway. It’s hard not to see it being almost inevitable as soon as people started reading the news at work, instead of on the subway (to give one example).
I’m almost relieved that I decided not to make use of that Journalism degree (BU ’00) after all.

PS, to Paul – The sad irony is that newspapers’ websites (which became free) have in many cases actually surpassed their print editions (which still cost money). If the current New York Times website (to name one), existed back in 1998, people would have been lining up to pay for it.
Seems like they should hand out the free editions on the street, which would lure people to the awesomeness of the website – with a subscription wall, naturally.

Ringolsby is on XM right now and says he’ll increase his participation with, will do consulting with and PR work with the Denver rodeo. So good for him.
FSP, yeah, people in the industry have been using a version of this line — “More people are reading newspapers than ever before” — for some time, mostly I think in an effort to convince themselves that there is light at the end of the tunnel. The fact is having gobs of readers does you no good when they’re not paying for it. Papers made a big mistake by being scared off pay-for-read Web sites when the numbers dropped off back in the day (more decisions driven by short-term profits and not long-term planning, thanks to the pressures of public ownership), but they should have held on. The Wall Street Journal has never made its site available for free and managed to be successful with it. Every paper has a built-in monopoly on local news that could make any Web site — even with a nominal fee — profitable.

I think there’s an incorrect perception that the Wall Street Journal is successful, when it’s still struggled to survive for the last 10 years. They’ve been steadily closing plants and laying off employees long before the current economic troubles. Hell, they even closed another plant this week. They may be doing a little bit better than others in the industry, but that merely makes them awful instead of horrible.
I think a problem is that even if printed papers/journals had charged online fees from the get-go, they still would have been met with a lot of resistance. Why pay for the Wall Street Journal when you have CNN, the Huffington Post, and countless other news websites for free? I think the decline of the industry was inevitable, no matter what measures were taken at the onset of the internet age.
It’s the same reason XM and Sirius have never made a profit since they were created: there are too many free alternatives for them to get a large enough customer base to be profitable. Even when the economy is strong too few people are willing to pay for something that they just don’t have to.
Another thing to consider is that most of these newspapers/journals were expecting to coast along thanks to ad revenues, and the net ad bubble eventually burst. The old flat-monthly-fee model for ad space was eventually replaced by the pay-per-click model, which was replaced by the pay-per-purchase model, which frankly doesn’t work. I run a website design company, and one of our oldest customers has a sex advice website. She used to make $9,000 a month from ads, but in the last 4 years that has dwindled to about $800. A lot of companies were expecting ad revenue to carry them on the internet the way they do in the printed industry, and that has since then fallen apart. This wasn’t just newspapers/journals, but pretty much everybody.

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