The Consequences of a One-Newspaper Town

I don’t know newly elected Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and I don’t know whether the allegations of his involvement with prostitutes are true. But I do know this: if the Rocky Mountain News were still here, we would have gotten to the bottom of the story much faster. I love the Denver Post, but I love a Denver Post being pushed by a competing Rocky Mountain News even more.

In Memoriam

They say suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem, and in that spirit let us remember that it was two years ago today that Scripps pulled the plug on the Rocky Mountain News. In that moment, 150 years of scrappy journalism was abandoned, hundreds of talented journalists and production staff suddenly were without jobs and Denver was left with one less important community voice.

Here is a behind-the-scenes look at how Scripps’ decision played out in the newsroom.

Rocky’s Flynn Accepts RTD Position

If you saw Dean Singleton cackling like a James Bond villain today, it is because highly respected former Rocky Mountain News reporter Kevin Flynn has taken a position with RTD as “public information project manager for the public-private partnership that is to build and operate trains to Denver International Airport and Arvada/Wheat Ridge, along with other FasTracks elements.” Flynn spent 27 years at the Rocky covering a host of beats, including transportation.

In Memoriam

Tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary of the final edition of the Rocky Mountain News. Here’s to all the great journalists who worked for the newspaper over the past century, and especially to those who were with it at the end. You deserved better.

Rocky’s Milstead Headed to Toronto

Denver’s loss is Toronto’s gain. David Milstead, the talented business and financial columnist for the Rocky Mountain News, has accepted a reporter position with Toronto-based Globe and Mail. Milstead would have been a strong addition to the Denver Post, but his candid coverage of the events surrounding the Rocky’s closing – and the Post’s own less-than-solid financial footing – seemingly cost him that chance.

Here is Milstead’s email announcing the news to friends and colleagues:

From: David Milstead
Date: September 22, 2009 3:44:43 PM MDT
To: undisclosed recipients
Subject: Milstead update

I will be joining the Globe and Mail, Canada’s Toronto-based national newspaper, as a reporter in its Report On Business section. I’ll be doing something similar to what I did at the Rocky Mountain News – specialty finance coverage. (No column, however.)

The Globe and Mail competes directly with The National Post, which describes itself as a national newspaper, but fails to distribute in some provinces and has suspended publication of its Monday paper. The Toronto Star and The Sun provide local news in the market.

I consider myself fortunate to find a full-time job with benefits with an excellent newspaper that has a serious commitment to business journalism. The Report On Business has about three dozen reporters; the day I interviewed, it was 20 broadsheet pages. All told, the Globe and Mail has more than 300 newsroom employees and circulates about 330,000 copies a day.

My first day will be Nov. 2.

I believed from the beginning that I would face the choice of leaving journalism or leaving Denver, and thought it more likely I’d leave journalism. I had prepared myself for that possibility, and am somewhat shocked to be heading right back into the newspaper business.

It was not our goal or preference to leave Denver, and we will miss all the wonderful people we’ve met in the last eight years. We will keep in touch.

They Could Call it ‘Shine’; That Name isn’t Being Used

Several of the more prominent backers of the ill-fated InDenver Times have stepped forward with a new, more streamlined approach: The Rocky Mountain Independent. Designed as a “daily online news magazine,” the Rocky Mountain Independent is backed by former Rocky Mountain News journalists, including Steve Foster, Cindy House, David Milstead and John B. Moore. Michael Roberts at Westword has the details (and so does Ed Sealover at the Denver Business Journal).

Rocky Staffers to Launch Online News Service

The former Rocky Mountain News reporters and editors behind IWantMyRocky announced today they will launch INDenverTimes.com, a subscription-based, online news service:

INDenverTimes is an effort to reinvent the newspaper for the Internet age, featuring many of the reporters, editors, designers and other journalists that the Denver community has come to depend on for coverage of local and national news, sports and the arts. News will be free, but the subscription will invite readers inside the newsroom as never before through news analysis, insight, online chats and other features.

Former Rocky staff involved in effort so far: Sam Adams, Tom Auclair, Lisa Bornstein, Mark Brown, Tim Burroughs, Mary Chandler, Mark Christopher, Kevin Flynn, Tillie Fong, Steve Foster, Scott Gilbert, Chuck Hickey, Cindy House, Kevin Huhn, Kim Humphreys, Jay Lee, Aaron Lopez, Gary Massaro, David Milstead, John Moore, Alex Neth, Melissa Pomponio, Bill Scanlon, Hank Schultz, Marc Shulgold, Ed Stein, George Tanner, Chris Tomasson, Bob Willis and Mark Wolf.

James B. Meadow Memorial Scheduled

Family and friends of former Rocky Mountain News reporter James B. Meadow have scheduled a memorial to “tell stories, laugh and cry and rejoice in his life well lived.” The details are:

          A Celebration of James’ Life
          Saturday, March 14, at 11 a.m.
          Colfax Events Center
          1477 Columbine Street
          Denver, CO 80206

Additionally, friends have established the James B. Meadow Tribute Fund at 1st Bank of Cherry Creek to help the Meadow family with expenses during this difficult time. All 1st Bank locations are able to accept your donations if you stop by or you may mail a check to:

          1st Bank of Cherry Creek
          P.O. Box 461050
          Denver, CO 80246

Bill Husted and P-Park

Bill Husted and Penny Parker are quickly becoming the Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez of the Denver Post. He hates her. And she hates him. But they’ve agreed to pretend to be civil and “respect each other out of a ruined friendship.” Here’s betting one of them is gone in 12 months. Not surprisingly, it is Michael Roberts at Westword who has the details.

In Memoriam

Sadly, former Rocky Mountain News reporter James B. Meadow passed away this evening. His family issued the following statement:

Dear family and friends:

It is with great sadness that we inform you of James’ passing earlier this evening. James’ condition deteriorated rapidly this afternoon and a follow-up CT scan revealed there was no brain activity.

We are humbled by your thoughts and prayers these past few days. Your outpouring of love and kindness has kept us strong during this difficult time.

We will be sending along more information as arrangements are made.

In love,

Julie and the Meadow family

Former Rocky Reporter Meadow Hospitalized

Former Rocky Mountain News reporter James B. Meadow was involved in a nasty bike accident yesterday and has been hospitalized with serious injuries. Ping Brad Bawmann of the Bawmann Group if you want more details.

UPDATE 2: James’ family has set up a Facebook page to offer updates on his condition: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=54935367583&ref=mf

UPDATE 1: Here’s the email Brad sent to friends and colleagues:

Dear friends:

At this hour, the life of my friend James B. Meadow hangs in the balance.

Please join with me in praying for his miraculous recovery. The world will be less without his friendship, masterful musings and poignant prose about life as we know it and life as we might not have imagined it.

You may know James as an astounding writer for the now defunct Rocky Mountain News. For more than 25 years he has regaled the community with his superb story telling and provocative profiles. Unlike the modern version of junk-food journalism, James writes with the eloquence of five-star dining dazzling our palates and tempting our taste buds for more, more, more.

Early Friday afternoon, James crashed during a bicycle jaunt at Chattfield Reservoir. I suspect he was celebrating the completion of his hardscrabble work for renowned photographer John Fielder and their upcoming book about Colorado’s ranching royalty. Continue reading “Former Rocky Reporter Meadow Hospitalized”

RIP, Rocky Mountain News

A profoundly sad day for Colorado – Friday will be the final edition of the Rocky Mountain News. Here’s the coverage:

ROCKY MOUNTAIN NEWS
•  Rocky Mountain News to close, publish final edition Friday
•  The Rocky tick-tock of the internal announcement
•  Scripps press release announcing the news
•  Video of the Scripps CEO announcing the news to staffers
•  Recession forced closure, Boehne says

DENVER POST
•  Friday last day for the Rocky Mountain News 
•  Through the years: A gallery of the Rocky 
•  Q&A on the closure of the Rocky Mountain News 
•  Ritter: Newspaper’s closure ‘sad’
•  MediaNews statement on Rocky Mountain News

DENVER BUSINESS JOURNAL
•  Rocky Mountain News to shut down Friday
•  Reaction to the Rocky shutdown 
•  Post to stand pat on ad rates despite Rocky closure
•  Denver Newspaper Agency renegotiating $150M loan 
•  Singleton, MediaNews seen as potential buyer for San Francisco daily

WESTWORD
•  Friday’s Rocky Mountain News will be the last 

EDITOR & PUBLISHER
•  Rocky Mountain News to close after Friday edition

TWITTER
•  Rocky Mountain News newsroom Twitter account

I WANT MY ROCKY BLOG
•  Rocky will publish last paper Friday

DNA, Unions Reach Tentative Agreement

David Milstead at the Rocky Mountain News reports that unions representing employees at the Denver Newspaper Agency have reached a tentative agreement on wage and benefit cuts that average 11.7 percent.  According to Milstead, “Today’s tentative agreement includes salary reductions averaging 7 percent, 10 unpaid days off for most workers, the suspension of the 401(k) match, cuts in sick days and mileage reimbursements, and increases in health and dental premiums.” Layoffs are still a possibility if the agreement doesn’t yield the $18 million in concessions the DNA was seeking.

Will Scripps Try to Outlast MediaNews Group?

The most interesting predictions often are the ones that have a 2 percent chance of coming true. So in that spirit, let me offer this prediction: Scripps has analyzed the numbers and realized that it can outlast MediaNews Group if it is willing to suffer another tough six months. MediaNews Group will be forced to fold the Denver Post by summer, and the Rocky Mountain News will survive as the only major daily in Denver.

Will that prediction come true? Probably not. But if the economics of being the only newspaper in town work for MediaNews Group, they should also work for Scripps. And Scripps seems much better positioned financially to ride out a tough six months than MediaNews Group. We are just two days away from mid-February, which is a full month after Scripps initially implied a decision would be made about shutting down the Rocky, and there still has been no word on its fate.

DNA Seeks $35 Million in Union Concessions

It is hard to figure out which is in worse financial shape: the Denver Post, the Rocky Mountain News or the Denver Newspaper Agency. Post publisher MediaNews Group often seems to be teetering on the brink of missing its debt payments, the Rocky is almost certain to be shut down, and now Jeff Smith at the Rocky reports that the DNA needs to cut about $35 million through union concessions, roughly double what had been reported previously.

If the Rocky Survives, Will the Post Fold?

And now it gets interesting. 

David Milstead at the Rocky Mountain News reports today that his paper’s parent company Scripps has accused The Denver Post and its publisher MediaNews Group of improperly borrowing “$13 million from their jointly owned operating agency to cover The Post’s newsroom payroll.” Rumors of MediaNews Group’s financial shaky footing have been around for months, and Scripps alleges MediaNews was forced to resort to the improper “loan” after the JOA’s banks tightened credit.

So now we know why Scripps has been silent since it announced its mid-January deadline for finding a buyer for the Rocky or shutting it down. And we also know why MediaNews Goup’s Dean Singleton has been so desperate in his efforts to ensure that the Rocky disappears. If the Rocky were to find a buyer, it might not be long before the Denver Post went under.

Update: Michael Roberts at Westword also blogged about Milstead’s article. Definitely worth reading.

Guest Commentary: Closing the News is Bad PR for Denver

By Jon Pushkin, APR and Gina Seamans, APR

jonginaThe news about the News hit Denver’s PR community like a bombshell. Partly that’s because we spend a good deal of our time building relationships with members of the media. We get to know them as people and in many case we build friendships that go well beyond the newsroom.
 
So when the finality of the announcement that the News was on life support was delivered to employees matter-of-factly by the corporate decision makers in the Scripps company, we felt their pain as though it was our own.
 
We also had another eye-opening realization that was even more sobering. That is that newspapers and the journalists who work for them are disposable. It is one thing to make a business decision to sell or close a company that is not profitable. But in this case, the surprising thing is what the people making this decision failed to see: the value in the brand is worth more than the money they will save by closing the Rocky.
 
The equity in a 150-year-old brand like the Rocky Mountain News is priceless. Maybe you tweak the business model or make some significant changes, but you don’t just discard it. The intellectual capital represented by the talented journalists who work at the News is another valuable asset that the owners fail to appreciate. Rather than asking for options or even concessions, the owners are content to dispose of that asset as well.
 
A free and vibrant press is a core pillar of public relations. The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) Code of Ethics states that “protecting and advancing the free flow of accurate and truthful information is essential to serving the public interest and contributing to informed decision making in a democratic society.” Healthy communities and democratic societies depend on the free flow of information to help the public make informed decisions about important issues. The troubling trend toward eliminating newspapers and treating journalists as expendable will have a serious long-term impact on the health of our communities.

Blogs and social media and word of mouth are important sources of information but they are no substitute for professional news organizations. They usually have a particular perspective and they generally do not cover stories in the same in-depth way that a reporter would. In many cases, the people who provide the news through those channels are not professional journalists. They are not Clark Kent or Lois Lane or Damon Runyon or Jimmy Breslin or Thomas Friedman. They are just people with opinions who like to express them in public forums with other people who share those same interests. There is nothing wrong with that, but it is not news. Too often it is just noise.

PRSA Colorado believes that the loss of the News would be devastating to our city’s culture and reputation. We call on the decision makers at Scripps to exhaust every potential buyer and to consider other creative options before they close the paper. We offer our assistance to help them explore these options and research reasonable alternatives. We stand in solidarity with our colleagues at the News and encourage them to keep the faith.
 
Disposing of a priceless brand and a valuable asset is not good business. It is just bad PR.   
 
Jon Pushkin is president of Pushkin Public Relations and a past president of the Colorado chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA). Gina Seamans is a senior counselor at JohnstonWells and president of the Colorado chapter of PRSA.

Rocky Staffers Plan Candlelight March

Rocky Mountain News staff members are planning a candlelight march on Thursday, January 29, to show support for the newspaper. Organizers hope to have 150 participants, “each holding a candle and placard representing one year of the newspaper’s 150-year history.” The march will begin at 6 p.m. at the Denver Press Club on Glenarm Place and end at the Denver Newspaper Building on West Colfax Ave. Details are here.

Andrew Hudson Sparks Debate with ‘Newspaper Tax’ Proposal

Andrew Hudson is out this week with a not-so-modest proposal to enact a Newspaper Tax to “to subsidize the operations of statewide and local newspapers.” To Andrew, propping up newspapers that are important to communities is no different than subsidies that have propped up Denver’s symphony, opera, public transportation system and NFL team. To get the dissenting opinion, check out the blog post from GBSM’s Steve Silvers, who argues that “the potential closing of the Rocky Mountain News represents the market-driven loss of a delivery product, not the wholesale elimination of news and journalism.”

What the Rocky Mountain News Doesn’t Want You to Read

It’s a Jason Salzman column that examines 1) whether the federal government could – because of the JOA – intervene in Scripps’ decision to quickly unload or shut down the Rocky Mountain News and 2) whether the local papers have ignored this angle because it isn’t in the interest of their publishers. Bottom line: Rocky publisher John Temple’s explanation for spiking the column is weak.

Is Penny Preparing for a Post-Rocky World?

I (and many others) have advocated for several years that print reporters should be laying the groundwork to go independent if necessary. Om Malik and Tom Foremski have proven that there is a marketplace for niche expertise, and, to her credit, Penny Parker seems to be preparing for just that kind of move. She has started promoting her “On The Town” blog heavily this week, and  you can expect her to continue it as an independent effort should the Rocky shut down next month.

Rocky Mountain News Staff Awards

The Rocky Mountain News announced the winners of its annual staff awards, just in time for the journalists to add them to their resumes:

  • Best Reporter – Sara Burnett
  • Best Writer – Kevin Vaughan 
  • Best Copy Editor – Scott Gilbert
  • Best Artist – Charles Chamberlin
  • Best Designer – Steve Miller
  • Best Photographer – Ellen Jaskol
  • Best Web Producer – Amy Burke
  • Unsung Hero – Lizzy McCormick
  • Best YourHub Journalist – Charmaine Robledo
  • Best YourHub Assistant – Kristin Morin
  • Best Newsroom Contributor – Kathy Potter
  • Editor’s Award – Joe Mahoney

Is There a Chance Denver Could Become a Zero Newspaper Town?

A day after Moody’s downgraded MediaNews Group, citing its “substantial”risk of default, CEO Dean Singleton today asked unions representing the Denver Post and the Denver Newspaper Agency to “reopen their labor contracts immediately” in an effort to cut costs by $20 million. Jeff Smith at the Rocky Mountain News reported that Singleton would seek concessions of $2 million from the Post and $18 million from newspaper agency.

And that wasn’t the only bad news for MediaNews Group today. The Wall Street Journal reported that the MediaNews Group-owned Detroit News has joined the Gannett-owned Detroit Free Press in considering cutting home delivery of the papers to three days per week. The remaining four days would be available only via newsstands.

Day Two Coverage – Rocky Mountain News

It is day two of the news that the Rocky Mountain News is for sale and will be shut down in January if no buyer is found. Among the coverage today:

Someone Check to See if Simmons is on Dean Singleton’s Payroll

In what might be the final nail in the coffin of the Rocky Mountain News, Denver Newspaper Guild’s Tracy Simmons tells the Denver Business Journal that the union’s contract with the Rocky would be binding on any new owner if the newspaper is sold. 

“In the event of a successor or an assignee, [the contract] is binding,” Simmons said. “You get the employees, you get the contract. So our position is that absolutely, the contract goes with the employees.”

Experts: Rocky Buyer Unlikely

Coverage of the news that the Rocky Mountain News will be sold or shut down is significant today. Among the angles:

Dusty Saunders 2.0

“Retired” Rocky Mountain News media reporter Dusty Saunders is getting more column inches than … well, name a reporter who still works there. First, Dusty names names (and salaries) on Bob Kendrick’s departure from 9News. Then, Dusty is the first to report that 9News is offering buyouts to employees older than 55 years who have 10 years or more with the station.

And if that weren’t enough, Dusty today digs into the most recent four-week rating period that were measured by “Local People Meters,” the A.C. Nielsen’s new electronic measurement technology. The results:

10 p.m. Monday-Sunday Newscasts

1. 9News/NBC – 16.8 (+0.2 from 2007)

2CBS4 – 11.5 (-2.5 from 2007)

3. KMGH/ABC – 9.9 (-1.0 from 2007)

A Newspaper Question …

San Francisco State University estimates that 1/3 of employed Americans are in “marketing or marketing-related” jobs. And the Metro Denver Economic Development Council’s calculates that there are 1.46 million employees in the Denver metro area. Combine the two, and it means that metro Denver has nearly 500,000 people who are in marketing or marketing-related positions. A half-million. So why are the Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News so indifferent about covering the business of marketing?

Rocky Reporter Reveals Man-Crush on ‘Dog The Bounty Hunter’

Check out today’s awkward “Dog The Bounty Hunter” lovefest by Bill Scanlon in the Rocky. Our favorite snippets:

“Duane ‘Dog’ Chapman … sports a look that is a cross between pirate and romance novel cover stud. A sparsely buttoned shiny black shirt allows glimpses of his pecs; he has platinum blond shoulder-length hair that never quits. He’s buff, tricked out and can look very menacing when he’s not smiling or laughing.”

 

Rocky Slammed for Twittering Three-Year-Old’s Funeral

From the You-Can’t-Make-This-Stuff-Up file: The Rocky Mountain News is taking a lot of heat in the journalism community for providing real-time Twitter updates from the funeral of the three-year-old who was killed last week at the Aurora Baskin Robbins. Twitter updates. From a funeral. For a three-year-old. Apparently the Twitter fever Rocky editors and reporters got during the DNC hasn’t yet faded.

Post Using e-Edition/Free Copies to Inflate Circulation Numbers

Mark Harden at the Denver Business Journal has taken a hard look at the latest ABC audit of the circulations of the local dailies and found that the Denver Post’s numbers aren’t quite as good as it might seem. The Post actually “trails the Rocky by about 6 percent in sales of full-price weekday copies,” but has been inflating its numbers with “sales of its discounted ‘electronic edition’ as well as copies distributed to hotel guests and sales to ‘third parties.’ “

Pressure Mounts on Post, News. Acquisition Likely?

The Denver Post’s and Rocky Mountain News’ latest earnings report isn’t going to quell rumors that one of them will acquire the other and convert it to an online-only offering soon. The papers saw their Q2 earnings drop 78 percent –- from $6 million to $1.3 million — in Q2 2008 compared to the same period in 2007. A “slumping advertising market” is to blame, according to the Denver Business Journal, which also calculated that the two papers lost money during the quarter.

Rocky To Go Web-Only Following DNC? Unlikely.

Rocky Mountain News parent company E.W. Scripps Co. officially separated into two companies: a “struggling” one holding its newspaper properties and a “more successful” one for its cable TV and online holdings. The rumor going around town all spring and summer has been that the Rocky will drop the printing presses and transition to a Web-only product following the DNC in August, but we bet that instead it will do what the Denver Post is doing –– slowly eliminating pages until the print product essentially serves only as an advertising vehicle to get people to the Web site.

MediaNews to Outsource Customer Service

Denver-based MediaNews Group, owner of the Denver Post and approximately 60 other newspapers nationwide, will outsource customer service calls to the Philippines for three of its California papers. Denver Post customer care services currently are provided by Denver employees of the Denver Newspaper Agency (DNA), the joint venture between MediaNews and Rocky owner Scripps. But if the trial is successful, expect MediaNews to put pressure on the DNA to outsource its customer service.

Rocky Wins Pulitzer … Sort Of

Colfax and Broadway was abuzz this afternoon as the 2008 Pulitzer Prize winners were announced. While the Denver Post was shut out, the Rocky Mountain News learned that reporter Kevin Vaughan was a finalist for his series titled, “The Crossing.”  And incoming Rocky photographer Preston Gannaway won “on her first day as a Rocky Mountain News photographer” for her work at her previous newspaper, the Concord Monitor.