MediaFile

EW Scripps CEO: Storytellers are journalism’s future

I spoke late last week with the chief executive of EW Scripps Co, the company that got its share of hisses and boos for shutting down the Rocky Mountain News this past February.

Rich Boehne, a journalist back in the day, is in charge of navigating a chain publisher of U.S. newspapers through the most difficult time that it ever has had, not to mention all the employees of the papers that the company owns. And let’s not forget the local television stations that Scripps also operates.

Boehne and I talked about the future of newspapers for a story that I was working on about the Project for Excellence in Journalism’s 2009 report on the state of the news media. I included some of his remarks in a story that I wrote about ideas that the report had for saving newspapers, but our conversation ranged beyond the story at hand.

Here are some thoughts that Boehne shared with me. I prefaced a few of them with paraphrases of my own questions to save you the trouble of reading the whole transcript.

Here is Boehne speaking about how newspapers will persevere despite a decline in advertising revenue that is making some of them less viable than they ever have been before.

Your newspaper died? People don’t care

I hope I’m not violating any journalistic obligations toward objectivity by calling the following piece of news from the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press rather depressing.

The group said that fewer than half of Americans, 43 percent, say that losing their local paper would hurt civic life in their community “a lot.” Just 33percent say that they would miss reading the paper a lot if it went away.

And that’s the good news! According to the study, 42 percent of respondents answered “not much” or “not at all” when asked if they would miss their papers. That’s not the kind of news that inspires folks at papers threatened with shutdown like the Tucson Citizen, Seattle Post-Intelligencer and San Francisco Chronicle, not to mention ones that have shut down like the Rocky Mountain News.

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.