Today's on-line Columbia Journalism Review features an article titled Rocky Mountain, Bye: Rocky Mountain News staffers share their thoughts on the paper's closing. Yesterday the CJR asked Rocky staffers to send in a paragraph or so of their thoughts. There are a wide variety of reactions.
A small number of Rocky writers, including the excellent sports columnist Dave Krieger (whose CJR comment expresses his frustration with Scripps' corporate priorities) will be moving to the Denver Post. As many of you know, I've never been a full-time employee of the News, just a bi-weekly columnist; my regular job is Research Director of the Independence Institute, one of the oldest state-level think tanks in the U.S. I wish that the Ind. Inst. had a few million dollars sitting around in a vault, so we could hire some of the great journalists who will be losing their jobs.
The CJR's request for a reaction put me in a historical mood:
It's been a very high-tech day, with the Rocky posting near-instant video coverage of its own death. Yet today evokes for me a picture of Italy around 450 A.D., with declining literacy, and the crumbling of what used to be the great institutions of civic engagement. As a media columnist, I've written often about media bias, which is a very serious problem, but which is not the primary cause of the current collapse of the newspaper business. We have a society that reads less and less, and which passively watches more and more video. Over the long term, I expect that quality coverage of national business and national politics will survive, because there will be enough highly-literate readers who will pay the premium prices necessary to support sophisticated reporting. But I am not at all confident that there are enough readers who will pay what is necessary for the existence of good coverage of local news. At a time when governments are growing more and more powerful, we are losing a crucial part of our checks and balances. "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?" as they used to say. A healthy society needs someone to guard us from the government "guardians." Newspapers have been far from perfect in performing this vital, protective civic role, but more protection is better than less. With the Rocky's demise, Colorado is going to have much less.Today's final edition of the Rocky Mountain News, available, of course, for free on the web, includes a 52-page special wrap-around section about the nearly-150-year history of the paper. It would have been a great addition for the Rocky's 150th birthday, 55 days from today. But I guess the birthday edition had to come a little early, combined with the funeral edition.