Rocky Mountain News editor John Temple on the future of the paper: "We have no idea"
In the February 2 blog "Rocky Mountain News' John Temple Expects Something Related to the Sale of the Paper to Happen Soon," Temple, the tabloid's editor, publisher and president, foresaw an imminent update from parent company E.W. Scripps, which put the Rocky on the block in December. "The pressure, the intensity of the situation is mounting, obviously," he noted, "and I hope that we hear something either by the end of this week or into the following week." He added, "If we get to the end of next week and we haven't heard anything, that would surprise me."
Well, surprise, surprise. It's now several days past the latest point by which Temple (and plenty of other press observers) thought some kind of development would have taken place. And while he's certainly pleased that the paper lives on, he is faced with a new challenge: what to say to his staff at their Thursday meetings in the absence of new information. During this past week's session, he says, "I just told everybody to be patient and talked a little bit about what I talked about in my column" -- "Living With, Learning From Uncertainty," published February 14. "I talked about how they had to take control of their own lives, how important that was." However, he steered clear of making any more predictions -- because, he concedes, "we just don't know. The decisions about what's going to happen are in the hands of people other than myself -- the hands of the owners and the Justice Department and, to a lesser extent, perhaps, the banks and the unions. We're not in control, so we just have to let events play out just as we have so far."
This week, fortunately, Scripps executives may be forced to address the Rocky situation in at least a basic way. On Thursday, February 19, Scripps will report fourth-quarter operating results during a conference call scheduled at 9 a.m. eastern/7 a.m. mountain. Temple doesn't know for a fact that the Rocky's on the agenda: "Perhaps they'll be asked about Denver," he says. "Perhaps they won't." But at least interested parties will have access to the information immediately. Scripps will webcast the conversation, and a press release about the call accessible here explains how media members and the general public can jump on the phone line, too, albeit on a "listen-only basis."
In the meantime, Temple goes on, "We just keep trying to plan for the months ahead. You can see that we're at spring training [for the Colorado Rockies in Tucson], and we were at the [NBA] All-Star Game -- and we did a special report in the paper this morning ["Rooted in the West," about the unique character of assorted jobs in this region]. And we're planning our spring garden section -- all these things where we have no idea what the eventual outcome will be."
Some at the Rocky speculate that Scripps hasn't moved ahead with a plan to close the paper in part because it's waiting to see how negotiations between the Denver Newspaper Agency, the Denver Post and assorted unions being asked for huge give-backs turn out. Temple isn't among them, though. "I don't know what that has to do with anything other than the viability of whatever the future looks like at the DNA and the Post," he allows. "That's where the critical issue with the unions is."
As for morale in the Rocky newsroom, he says it remains pretty much where it's been in recent weeks. "I think people have a good, sick sense of humor," he says. "We try to laugh about the ridiculousness of some of it."
In the meantime, Temple says, approximately a half-dozen staffers at the paper have left the Rocky in favor of other jobs, with several of them landing positions in the journalism industry despite the current downturn in the business as a whole. In his view, "it's positive that they've found opportunities. It's indicative that there are a lot of talented people here."
Those who remain on the job continue to wait and wonder, just like Rocky readers -- and their boss.