‘Like Playing Music at Your Own Funeral’


The Rocky was founded in 1859 by William Byers, one of the most
influential figures in Colorado history. Scripps bought the paper in
1926 and immediately began a newspaper war with The Post. That fight
ebbed and flowed over the course of the rest of the 20th century,
culminating in penny-a-day subscriptions in the late ’90s.

Perhaps the most critical step for the Rocky occurred in 1942, when
then-Editor Jack Foster saved it by adopting the tabloid style it has
been known for ever since. Readers loved the change, and circulation
took off.

In the past decade, the Rocky has won four Pulitzer Prizes, more
than all but a handful of American papers. Its sports section was named
one of the 10 best in the nation this week. Its business section was
cited by the Society of American Business Editors and Writers as one of
the best in the country last year. And its photo staff is regularly
listed among the best in the nation when the top 10 photo newspapers
are judged.

Staffers were told to come in Friday to collect personal effects.

“I could say stupid things like ‘I know how you feel.’ I don’t,”
Boehne said. “We are just deeply sorry. I hope you will accept that.”

Via Dan in comments. And just in case anybody’s confused, or for those of you who just got here: The “I’m killing journalism” thing is a running gag, right, but the joke isn’t that I want journalism dead. Or newspapers dead. Or even TV news dead. Or that I delight in journalism’s troubles. If anything, I want newspapers as alive and vibrant as they were two decades ago, when I first fell in love with them, and my anger at journalism today is at the squandering of resources, rampant greed, and unnecessary fatalism that has led us to this moment. Not at journalists. Not at newspapers. Not at anybody in Denver who’s hurting tonight.

I’ve closed a newspaper. It was like going to a funeral, every day, for seven months, the funeral of someone you loved dearly, every single day. And every day I got up and somebody was picking over our bones and we had no way to answer back because we didn’t have a paper anymore. We came in for some of the cruelest criticism I’ve ever been subjected to, and I’ve been told I’m a shitty writer and that people hate my ferrets, okay, so. Every day it was like going to a funeral for your best friend and hearing everybody there call that guy an asshole while you’re still trying to figure out how to live without him.

I would not wish that experience on the person I hate most in the world. There is no journalistic sin that deserves that punishment, so when I say I’m killing journalism, I’m not being cute. I’m being angry. That’s where my anger at this situation comes from. It comes from knowing that it didn’t have to be this way:

After Friday, the Denver Post will be the only newspaper in town.

Asked if pubilsher Dean Singleton now walks away with the whole pie, Boehne was blunt.

“He walks away with an unprofitable paper, $130 million in debt and
revenues that are down 15-20 percent every year,” Boehne said.

Asked if Singleton would have to pay for the presses now, Boehne
added, “We had to kill a newspaper. He can pay for the presses.”

If I yell and bitch that I’m obviously killing journalism, it’s because I want people to realize there are problems here deeper than the Internet, deeper than a few people having modest financial success in a new medium. Those problems would persist if the entire Internet disappeared tomorrow, and until we solve them, I can publish all the cat macros and Happy Obama photos and cock jokes I want, but it won’t make a damn bit of difference to Scripps’ bottom line, and the sooner everybody takes their eyes off I Can Haz Cheeseburger and starts looking at where $130 million got flushed to, the sooner I can stop reading stuff like this:

Several employees wanted to know about severance packages, or even if they could buy at discount their computers.

It’s nauseating. There aren’t words.


10 thoughts on “‘Like Playing Music at Your Own Funeral’

  1. The shrinking advertising revenues aren’t helping things, but as I’ve noted elsewhere, the big thing is that for a while it made good sense to build newspaper chains. Revenues were predictable and money was cheap. You could pay cash or structure a loan and repay it. With a strong stoc price, you got the carry the whole thing on your books at purchase price as an asset. Now it makes no sense to run a newspaper chain. Newspaper revenues are falling, money is more expensive, and stock prices are weak so you’ll have to take a big hit on your books. I’ll bet that $130 million wasn’t spent upgrading the coffee maker in the news room or hiring some guy to figure out why trash collection is run by the mob. It was spent building a newspaper chain.
    It is still possible to run a newspaper at a profit, but the money isn’t going to be what it used to be. Investors might be lucky to clear 8% in a business where 20% or 25% was the norm. Supermarkets clear 1% to 2% in profit, but they are tightly run, and they have to know their customers. Too many newspapers are miles to the right of their readers, and let’s face it, coverage is often awful. You have to go to the internet for any international news and anything national or business that isn’t a silly sound bite. Newspaper readers are self selected. Most of them can read.
    My guess is that we’ll be seeing new newspapers emerging, even new paper newspapers, but they’ll be more tightly focused.

  2. As long as the likes of Sam Zell and Brian Tierney and the beancounters at ConHugeCo™ who know nothing of newspapers and care less are running things and demanding 40% profit margins we’ll be seeing the epitaphs of plenty more newspapers over the next few years.
    Then again, maybe they’ll just figure out a way to shut down the internets. Yeah, that’ll do it.

  3. Kaleberg makes some excellent points. Funnily enough, the best-functioning, best newspapers I know of (the Toronto Star being one example) are not part of a chain, have fantastic coverage of pretty much everything, invest in real journalism, and aren’t afraid to spend money to make money. The Star has had more extensive international bureaux than a lot of ostensibly national papers (and keep in mind, the TorStar is supposed to be a local paper) for years upon years, and does a lot of really in-depth stuff, the kind of thing that would take up most of a reporter’s time for months on end. It’s also, surprise, surprise, a fairly liberal paper. As far as I can tell, it’s survivably profitable.
    Contrastively, take the National Post (please!), which is chain-run (by part of Lord Black of Whinyasstittybaby’s company), has very little in the way of actually original content other than the right hand spin it puts on the stuff off the wires and its opinion and editorial columns, doesn’t give a damn about much of anything international unless it’s pro-megacorporation or sucking the US right’s collective dicks, and is miles to the right of the Canadian public at large. It has consistently lost money since the day it was founded.
    I should clarify that the NatPo basically exists for no other reason than to catapult the right wing propaganda. It’s essentially Canada’s answer to theWashington Times.
    Interestingly, they also publish a sub-paper called the Women’s Post, which I’ve been vaguely curious about in a sort of “let’s see whether I can see the bodies” car-wreck kind of fashion, but have so far resisted the temptation to pick up despite its being distributed free. I get enough patriarchal propaganda shot at me just by existing; I don’t really need to go looking for it.

  4. This unwillingness to look at the deeper veins lying beneath ALL of our society is certainly playing itself out in microcosm amongst these papers that are closing up and just cannot point their fingers at themselves.
    It’s callous and cruel to say “fuck ’em if they can’t take an ‘Athenae killing journalism’ joke”, and yeah, that burns pretty brightly in me…but the problem really comes when so, so many are taken down with these former print institutions.
    All of it is just awful, but nothing is more awful than the repeated refusals to take a good, hard look at how that money is REALLY moving, and how good journalism, like most professions, also needs to have good doses of responsibility mixed in. Responsibility not just to readers and advertisers, but to employees on very basic levels, for crying out loud.
    And as for the cock jokes of which you speak, it IS Bill Hicks Day. Gotta at least promise some purple-veined dick jokes, ya know. 😉

  5. The Rocky was the crown jewel of the Scripps – Howard chain a few years ago. There was a lot to complain about, but it was the paper I read and I finally dropped the Denver Post because I was just not reading it. And I still don’t read the Sunday Post much of the time. The Post publishes(d) the Sunday paper under the JOA.
    I guess I am going to have no choice but to read the Post now.
    I am pretty sad about this.

  6. One of the ace sportswiters at the RMN started out with our Illinois weekly as a summer stringer covering the men’s softball league. He was a really good writer then and has become a great one. I was introduced to the RMN reading his stuff and really enjoyed it. It’s so sad when a newspaper dies; the towns where that happens have no idea how much they will miss it until it’s gone, and by then it’s too late. Generally. In this day and age of everyone having a newsroom on their home computers, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that new papers could be started.
    Weeklies in our area have started up in recent years as the biggies closed down and otherwise bastardized individual weeklies and chains. Starting a daily from scratch, though, is a daunting task. But I keep wondering if someone couldn’t do it if they had the right model and a real commitment to providing real local news; I think it could be done.

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