What it’s like when a newspaper dies

Many of us who are part of the news business in some way or another (photographers, reporters, designers – the list appears to be endless) wonder whether and how newspapers actually will die.

Friday last week, Denver’s Rocky Mountain News, Colorado’s oldest newspaper, published their last edition after almost 150 years in print. Despite having still about 210,000 subscribers in the end, the publishers opted for closure. They did not see a future for the paper, put it up for sale in December and wanted a buyer within short time (i.e. within the next months). Even in a healthy business climate, this would have been challenging. But given todays sad state of newspapers, this was Mission Impossible from day 1.

But despite all this, the Rocky Mountain News staff did a great job covering their last few days, before the end. It certainly was quite painful to them. On their homepage, they released a great, and sad, 22-minute video documentary featuring interviews with some of their colleagues. The clip outlines some of the major challenges the paper was facing. And it asks serious questions about the way society will develop when newspapers die – their investigative reporter Laura Frank wonders: “If the Rocky is gone, who is going to ask the questions now? Because the blogs aren’t asking them…”

Final Edition from Matthew Roberts.

But the video clip is not the only piece that reflects on the reasons and the consequences of this bold move:

Official blog post with live coverage
John Temple: Why Denver can’t support two papers

Bill Johnson: When a paper dies, there are no winners
Mike Wittman: Not just closing doors, but dying

Go, and browse their website. It’s heart-breaking to see the many tributes, statements and comments, big and small, from staff and readers. It seems to be unfair, and it probably is. But the market is cruel. It does not leave room for weak businesses, or weak business models.

In the light of the closure, the newsroom staff put up a supporters web site called iwantmyrocky.com. It acts as an alumni pool of the 2009 staff of The Rocky. Here, you can read how the individuals experienced the situation, and what they (plan to) do now.

Their team of photographers and photo editors can also be found:

Dean Krakel, Director of Photography
Ken Papaleo, Photojournalist
Barry Gutierrez, Photojournalist
Judy DeHaas, Photojournalist

Let’s just wish all of them, and their colleagues, that they find a new job soon. And if you have a photo assignment in the wider Denver area, I bet none of the photographers will reject any serious offer.

As sad as it may sound, I believe we will see more cases like the Rocky Mountain News. In fact, we should get used to it, and not just in the U.S. – it will happen in other parts of the world, too, and soon. It is inevitable. And the consequences for the society are still very much in the dark.

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