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2009-02-27

Rocky Mountain News Ends Publication in Latest Casualty of Ailing Newspaper Industry

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The Denver-based Rocky Mountain News is publishing its last paper today. On Thursday, parent company E.W. Scripps announced the newspaper’s closure after saying it’s failed to find a buyer. The closure comes just two months before the Rocky Mountain News would have marked its 150th anniversary. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s a pretty amazing story, Rocky Mountain News closing up. You’ve got the Minneapolis Star Tribune in bankruptcy. The Chicago Tribune, the Philadelphia Inquirer, San Francisco Chronicle is in deep trouble, even the New York Times.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Yeah, the newspaper industry is going through a major, major upheaval in these last few days. A lot of it is not necessarily because the papers are losing money, but a lot of the papers ended up being bought in recent years, and their owners took on heavy debt to buy these papers out, and now they’re finding now that the debt, the burden of the debt, plus the declining ad revenues, is creating major problems for them.

But I’m especially troubled by the Rocky Mountain News, which is a newspaper that I know very well. I know the editor and — longtime editor and publisher there, John Temple. And as you know, Amy, when I was president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, we started a whole program to change the coverage of Latinos and hire more Latinos around the country, and the Rocky Mountain News was the first paper that we worked with back in 2003.

And it was extraordinary, the change that the paper made in its coverage of the Latino community in Colorado, in its hiring. It started out with a mere, I think, eleven Hispanics in the newsroom, out of 204. Within a year, they had more than doubled the number. They changed the coverage. We held town meetings in the community, and the community was telling us, yes, this paper was finally changing.

And it even hired the first Native American journalist at that paper. And that’s especially important, because those who don’t know Colorado history won’t know that the Rocky Mountain News has a notorious history back in the nineteenth century, when it really stoked a massacre, the Sand Creek Massacre, of scores of Native Americans, and it’s always been hated by the Native American community because of that long history. But even there, the Rocky tried to make changes.

And so, it’s really tragic that that paper has been lost to the people of Colorado. And my best wishes to all of the journalists who are now looking for new jobs from the Rocky.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you’re saying in a lot of these cases the newspapers actually are not failing, they are profitable?

JUAN GONZALEZ: Yes, well, when the Knight chain went under and — or not went under, was bought out by McClatchy, and, of course, the Inquirer and the Daily News in Philadelphia were part of that deal — the chain was making 15 percent profit a year. It just wasn’t making enough for to satisfy the shareholders. And so, newspapers, for the most part, are still profitable; they’re just not as profitable as they used to be. And in this day of maximum — of shareholders looking for maximum return, that’s not good enough these days.

But, you know, I think the reality is the technology for the delivery systems of news is changing. Every technological development brings an upheaval, and it was true for the telegraph, it was true for radio, it was true for television, it was true for cable TV. And now, with everything merging to the internet, the question, not only for newspapers, but also for television and radio stations, as to how they will continue to hold viewers and readers is one that everyone is grappling with. But I see it more as an opportunity than the doomsday scenario that other people have, because I think eventually things will sort themselves out, as everyone merges to the internet.

AMY GOODMAN: And in the interests of disclosure, my weekly column appears, or I should say appeared, in the Rocky Mountain News and also in places like the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which itself is also in deep trouble.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Yes, also in trouble, as well. Yes.

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