Happy trails, Rocky Mountain News
EW Scripps Co’s decision to shut down Denver’s Rocky Mountain News as of Friday offers an interesting lesson about the value of news.
But first, a bit of background: It is not the first U.S. daily to fail as the economy falters. Scripps already put down two other papers in recent memory (Albuquerque, New Mexico and Cincinnati, Ohio, its home town). Having said that, it’s the biggest daily that I can think of to go under since the newspaper apocalypse crept in like Death in the Bosch painting. Not just bankrupt like Tribune’s papers, the Minneapolis Star Tribune or The Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News and the whole Journal Register stable — and not just threatened with closing like Hearst has done with the San Francisco Chronicle and Seattle Post-Intelligencer. It’s really over.
When it goes, William Dean Singleton’s Denver-based MediaNews Group will still publish the Denver Post. Still, half the printed news that Colorado residents have been used to reading will be gone.
Now, a source of mine who was involved with trying to keep the Rocky Mountain News alive, pointed out that sacrificing the paper means that Scripps is less likely to have to shut down its entire business, which would mean other papers from Redding, California to Memphis, Tennessee to Florida’s Atlantic coast. It also reflects, he said, Scripps’s ultimate commitment: shareholders.
Shareholders don’t like seeing what’s happened to their newspaper stocks. Some have lost 98 percent of their value in the last 12 months, because advertising is going away and might not come back as strongly as it once did.
No one wants to lose money. But what kind of value is lost when the news disappears? If it were on a balance sheet, it would have to be listed as an intangible. Wall Street cannot account for it. The New York Times and others call it the value of their brand, but we’re still talking in murky terms.
There is value in news to the community that reads it, even if it’s online and they won’t pay for it. That value does not translate to shares, however, and certainly can’t be used as collateral or as a moral defense against banks that want the newspaper publishers who borrowed money from them to pay it back.
Hopefully someone will recognize the value that the staff at the Rocky Mountain News provided to its readers, and hopefully someone will find a way to pay them to do what they do all day long. Until then, we can only say adios to the people who tried their best to make it work. Happy trails, Rocky Mountain News.
PS: You can print out this little essay, switch up the names and cities, and apply it to the next city to lose its paper. Those days are here.