Early reaction to news that the Rocky Mountain News has been put up for sale

Categories: Media

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In the hours since the development spotlighted in today's blog "Rocky Mountain News Put Up For Sale" first broke, I've had the chance to speak with numerous staffers at the paper. The majority chose to talk on background, and with only a couple of exceptions, they had similar reactions to the press release from E.W. Scripps, the Rocky's owner, that's included in the piece linked above. By putting a mid-January deadline on offers to buy the paper, Scripps is signaling that the for-sale announcement is merely a token gesture, they believe. As such, they feel that the folks there don't really expect a potential buyer to step up and are already preparing to shutter the joint early in the first quarter of next year.

Moreover, there's a sense among multiple Rocky staffers that the Denver Post is in financial trouble, too -- perhaps even worse than its crosstown competitor. This scenario suggests that the two papers have been engaged in a staredown for quite some time -- which explains an on-the-record rhetorical question from reporter April Washington: "Why does Scripps always blink first?"

Rocky reporter Lynn Bartels (pictured above on a happier day) doesn't offer an answer -- and she steers clear of speculating about what may have led Scripps to make this move. Instead, she focuses on the human cost of a Rocky closure, with occasional asides that smack of gallows humor. "Last week, I lost my dog," she points out. "She got out of my yard, and I haven't found her since. And when I was crying to someone about it, I said, 'I can't imagine anything being worse than this.' And lo and behold, something comes along to put it all in perspective.

"The thing that's always been great about the Rocky -- and people who come from other places say this, too -- is that it has such great camaraderie," she goes on. "A lot of people are really good friends here. It's not the kind of snakepit you always hear about, where reporters are backstabbing the people next to them. It's kind of a one-for-all, all-for-one kind of thing."

As an example, Bartels recalls an anecdote from 2003, when she was covering the mayor's race for the paper. "I gave one of the candidates' spokespersons a ration because they were giving the Rocky one press release, and they were giving separate press releases to three different Post reporters," she notes. "And the spokesperson said, 'We have to do that. The Post reporters compete against each other. You compete against the Post.'"

Of course, Bartels realizes full well that the print-journalism business has been going through the roughest of patches -- but like several of her colleagues who chatted with Westword, she saw it as a positive sign that the Rocky had been exempted from Scripps job cuts announced earlier this month. (That story was told in the November 7 blog "The Rocky Mountain News Dodges Scripps Layoffs -- For Now.") It made her feel better about having helped convince former Colorado Springs Gazette scribe Ed Sealover to take a Rocky job offer in July. Now, Sealover and plenty of others may be faced with the sort of financial challenges far too many Americans are experiencing these days.

"We have a new cops reporter [Judy Villa] who's the sole breadwinner for her family," she says. "We have a couple of people working in the business department who are married. And I know nobody's paying my mortgage for me. Who knows? For all of us, this may end up being a great turning point. But this is one of those times where you wish you rented and didn't own, so you could put everything in storage and move in with somebody and have some time to deal with what's going on."

In her view, "Denver has always benefited from being a two-newspaper town. If you were mad at one, you could always cancel it and go with the other one. There were two different views, two different opinions. And it'd be really sad for Denver to lose those two voices." -- Michael Roberts

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