Rocky Mountain News: Marking anniversary of its death four years ago today
|Post editor Greg Moore.|
"This is not a day that anybody wanted to see," Singleton said. "The newspaper owners, back in 2000 -- we agreed to the JOA because we wanted to preserve two really good newspapers for a really, really long time." Unfortunately, "the newspaper model started to change" shortly after the JOA went into effect, and the current recession, which he called one of the worst anyone in the room had witnessed, made it increasingly clear that Denver could no longer support two dailies, no matter how good they might be.
"The Rocky Mountain News is an outstanding newspaper with an outstanding editor and an outstanding staff," he declared. "For 22 years, I've read it every morning" -- and the first time in that span he won't be able to do so will sting, in part because the relationship between the publications had improved in recent years. According to Singleton, "We went from clawing each others' eyes out during the newspaper war to being very good partners and very good friends" -- albeit ones who competed in a "fierce" manner from an editorial standpoint.
Of course, that rivalry carried over to readers, as Singleton is well aware. "We'll work hard to convince the Rocky's readers that they can be comfortable with the Post," he said. "Some of them won't, but we hope most of them will." Approximately 14,000 people currently receive both the Post and the Rocky, so their newspaper allotment will immediately be halved, and part of their investment refunded. But Rocky-only subscribers will begin receiving the Post as of Saturday -- "and we'll continue giving it to them until they tell us otherwise," he vowed.
As was the case with Boehne, questions for Singleton from the assembled reporters prompted more intriguing responses than his opening address. For instance, his concession that the Rocky might have been the surviving paper if things had gone a bit differently will no doubt irritate those Rocky loyalists who've always thought Scripps blinked first. He also said that he began having discussions with Scripps executives about the end game "several weeks ago...when it became clear that there wasn't a credible buyer."
In regard to MediaNews's widely reported money problems, Singleton brushed them off with his usual defiance. When asked if the Post would live on, he said, "I'm not just confident it will survive. It will survive." He then took Channel 9's Greg Moss to task for emphasizing the difficulties newspapers are facing without also citing the similar troubles afflicting broadcast media. "We tend to write about ourselves more than TV stations talk about themselves," he maintained. "Your ad revenue is down more than ours is, but you don't report about it every day" -- and neither do radio stations, where the same is true. He closed off the subject with the words, "The newspaper industry will survive and thrive -- and I hope your business will, too."
Not that Singleton pretended all was swell in his accounting department. He conceded the importance of working "with our unionized employees" and asking them "to participate in the recovery" -- which led to a tentative agreement with the Denver Newspaper Agency for a contract featuring cuts estimated at 11.7 percent. Once those pacts are ratified, he said he would finalize a deal to refinance an enormous loan for the DNA's printing facilities, which went on line a few years ago. When asked for details, he deferred, saying, "We're a private company" -- a status that he's repeatedly used to his advantage. But under questioning from the Rocky's business expert, David Milstead, he described MediaNews as "leveraged" and said that the Hearst Corp., his partner in many of his more than 100 newspaper properties in the U.S., holds more than half of its debt in at least one major financial category.
Other odds and ends: The Post's page count will increase, at least for now, and it will run all of its comics along with those that have appeared in the Rocky. Leaving a story out of the paper might be problematic, Singleton said, but "you leave a comic out and you're dead."
A short time later, Post editor Moore took his place in the spotlight, but since he's a much more concise speaker than those who preceded him, he didn't stay long. He discussed adding members of the Rocky staff to his own in a way that made the Post stronger and didn't step on the toes of his own long-timers. He said there would be changes in the Post, but not so many that it would seem as if he was trying to create a third paper in a market where two had previously existed. And he scoffed at the notion that a lack of competition from the Rocky would hurt the quality of the Post's work. That concern didn't even make his top-four list of worries, he allowed. And what were those top four worries? "None of your business," he said firmly, triggering one of the assembly's few big laughs.
The meeting wound down from there, and as the executives left through a side door and other reporters hurried off to file their stories, I encountered Adrian Dater, the Post's must-read hockey writer. Dater had the day off, but he'd come down because he'd wanted to witness this sad bit of history. If Bartels is a fierce Rocky partisan, Dater fits the same description at the Post, and nothing made him happier than coming out on top in head-to-head battles with his tabloid foes over the years. But on this day, he felt no sense of triumph. He's recently been reading about the history of the Denver newspapers -- about how the Rocky was once printed on a hand-cranked press on the side of a dusty road during an era two centuries removed from the one we're in now, and the idea that it will soon cease to exist couldn't help making him feel melancholy.
He isn't alone. And that feeling will only grow more acute in the coming days.
Here's the Rocky's farewell video.
More from our Media archive: "Highlights from the goodbye-to-the-Rocky Mountain News press conference."