Two months short of 150 years, oldest paper in state prints its last issue today

Jessica Bell reads the next to last issue of The Rocky Mountain News at the Blue Moon Bar & Grill.

Denver’s longest running newspaper, which was nearing its 150th anniversary, reads like an obituary today as Denver’s Rocky Mountain News publishes its last edition.

Citing losses of more than $16 million in 2008, E.W. Scripps Company in December put its newspaper and its 50 percent interest in the Denver Newspaper Agency up for sale. The Denver Newspaper Agency publishes the Rocky and The Denver Post, which is owned by MediaNews Group, under a joint operating agreement.

By mid-January, only one potential buyer expressed interest in purchasing the newspaper, but that party’s plan to purchase the paper wasn’t viable, Scripps announced Thursday in a prepared statement.

“Today the Rocky Mountain News, the leading voice in Denver, becomes a victim of changing times in our industry and huge economic challenges,” Rich Boehne, Scripps’ chief executive officer, said in the release. “The Rocky is one of America’s very best examples of what local news organizations need to be in the future. Unfortunately, the partnership’s business model is locked in the past.”

The Rocky’s closure comes as metropolitan newspapers nationwide are struggling with mounting losses in display advertising and classified advertising revenues. Scripps said neither the Rocky nor the Post has been paid by the Denver Newspaper Agency since the summer. 

“My dad would have been heartbroken hearing that,” said Joy Pope, learning of the paper’s closure.

Pope’s late father, Vic Depperschmidt, worked for the Rocky for more than three decades in the circulation department, starting in 1952.

“(The Rocky) was just always a part of our lives,” Pope said. “He never allowed The (Denver) Post into the house.”

The Post and the Rocky had shared weekend publications, the Rocky publishing on Saturdays and the Post on Sundays.

The Denver Post will begin publishing a Saturday newspaper, starting this Saturday, and customers can expect that coverage through the length of their subscriptions, the paper said in a news release.

The Post will include all of the Rocky’s comics and many of its puzzles.

Some of the Rocky’s writers have taken positions at The Post, including news columnists Tina Griego and Mike Littwin; and editorial page editor Vincent Carroll, among others.

Rocky employees will remain on the payroll for two months, Scripps said.

George Orbanek, former publisher of The Daily Sentinel, said he was saddened to see the paper close.

“It’s a terrible loss,” he said. “It’s a development that I never thought could ever happen as recently as a couple years ago. There are all manner of social ramifications, and absolutely none of them are good with the demise of the newspaper industry.”

Daily Sentinel Circulation Director Tracy Gettman said one man in Denver called the Sentinel on Thursday to request home delivery of this paper for himself and his friends. Gettman said the man was loyal to the Rocky, and if he couldn’t have that, he wanted to subscribe to The Sentinel over the Post.

Mike McDevitt, an associate journalism and research professor at the University of Colorado, said he is not surprised by the Rocky’s closure, “but it’s still a sad day in Colorado.”

He characterized the Rocky’s coverage as feisty and said the paper’s voice seemed to speak to the working class.

The Rocky won four Pulitzer Prizes in the past decade and, this week, its sports section was
selected one of the best in the nation, the Rocky said.

Scripps said Feb. 16 it lost $19.4 million in the fourth quarter of 2008, compared to income of $44.7 million in the fourth quarter of 2007. Scripps also owns 10 TV stations in the United States, in addition to United Media, which publishes comics such as “Peanuts” and “Dilbert.”

McDevitt said Denver was fortunate to have competing newspapers for so long, but he doesn’t think the Rocky’s closure will result in a decrease of quality at the Post. He believes the newspaper industry is hindered more by its commercialism, and print media may fare better if companies operated under a nonprofit model.

Newsrooms everywhere are shrinking while companies are burdened by a lack of revenue, and readers forgo subscriptions, turning to the Internet and other media for their news.

McDevitt said although some of his students are worried about finding jobs, journalism is still the school’s second most popular program.

“Students at this age have grown up with media,” he said. “It’s not the end of the world if the old model goes away. Those skills like reporting, interviewing and writing are still very marketable in careers outside of journalism.”


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