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Who Killed the Rocky?


We had a death in the family this winter. She was a beautiful, gracefully aged gem, the matriarch of our entire populace. She had guided us through tragedy, triumph and turbulence with a steely resolve, steady hand and strong leadership.

The Rocky Mountain News died on Feb. 27, 2009. She was 149 years old.

By now, you know the history. The Rocky wasn’t just Colorado’s oldest paper—it was Colorado’s oldest operating business. But she didn’t die of natural causes; she could have lived another eon. Several, in fact.

Scripps Howard is a corporation. Corporations aren’t evil any more than sharks are. They are, by definition, designed to do one thing: make money for shareholders. For decades, big profit margins were the norm, and like the grasshopper of fable, no one was preparing for the long winter.

The Joint Operating Agreement E.W. Scripps and MediaNews Group entered into was the beginning of it all. It was playing “not to lose.” Instead of forking over $60 million to the Denver Post in the partnership deal, Scripps should have invested in the Rocky’s infrastructure. Without true competition to force both models into finding and developing true niches to fill, they became the same restaurant with two different cooks. When one cook failed, the other cook’s salary got cut.

Ad prices became fixed. Ad buyers were incensed and began to look elsewhere for their marketing needs. Craigslist.org came along and stole the biggest revenue-generating source either paper had: classifieds. From that point on, the only people paying for classified ads were those looking to appeal to a shrinking demographic too old to understand how to use a computer.

Shareholders freaked. The economy was tanking and Scripps had an albatross around its neck. It did what any responsible corporation would do; it panicked. If the officers hadn’t closed her down (the tax write-off on the loss would be far greater than any legitimate sale offer they received…and they did receive some), they would have been run out on a rail, tarred and feathered, and traded to Detroit for a seventh-round pick to be named later.

By the end of 2008, it was far too late. If the Rocky had been allowed to toss national coverage out the door and focus on nothing but local, local, local, she’d be here today. If the Rocky had been allowed to grow her Internet operations and shrink her print costs, she’d be here today.

For the last seven years, I filed my column every single week. The editorial departments ran leaner and leaner and still managed to put out a tremendous package. I got one raise in seven years, and I held on because I was writing for the greatest paper in the state and one of the best in this country.

This magazine you hold in your hand is doing it right. It’s privately held, for one thing. It’s increasing its Internet operations. It’s focused on covering what truly matters to its readership: the events, news and people in its community. The Rocky tried valiantly to do all the above, but in the end, corporations are blind and people are short sighted.

Now, who killed the Rocky Mountain News really doesn’t matter anymore. The simple fact is she’s gone.

I lost something tremendous on Feb. 27. But the loss isn’t my own. The loss is a blow to all of us, to our predecessors who built this state, to the pioneers and the gold miners and the oil companies and the tech sector. It’s a blow to everyone who ever lived here and was a part of the range of beautiful communities across this Rocky Mountain paradise we call Colorado.

We lost the one thing that told all of our stories. That connected all of them to all of us and would have connected all of us to those who were to come later.

We lost the News.


Lacy is an award-winning food writer and blogger. She lives in Westminster with her family. Google

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