This can be a Rocky business

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 28, 2009

Although I never had a “journalism” class in college, I have been in this business long enough to learn a few un-written rules of the profession. One of those rules is that you never make yourself the story — readers care about the news, not about what journalists go through to find the news.

For every rule, however, there is an exception. And yesterday was one of those exceptions.

Yesterday, the Rocky Mountain News of Denver, Colo., printed its final edition. The newspaper’s corporate owners said it just could not compete with the Denver Post, and closed its doors just 55 days shy of its 150th anniversary.

It is an unfortunate thing, because by most measures, the Rocky Mountain News (or Rocky, as it was affectionately known) was a fantastic paper. It won four Pulitzer Prizes, including two in 2006. The newspaper was certainly losing circulation and advertising revenue, but so was the Post.

It was eerie to read the Rocky’s Web site Thursday, the day the news broke. Like any competent news gathering organization, the site covered its own layoff announcement from all angles. One photographer even managed to snap a picture of a staffer who was holding his young daughter as he listened to the announcement from Scripps Co. CEO Ricky Boehne. That picture told the story, “How will families be affected by this layoff?” more than any amount of words would have ever done.

In this Internet age, the Rocky even had video of the announcement, and allowed readers to blog their responses to the story that the newspaper was closing its doors. There were certainly a number of “good riddance” type posts from those who believe that newspapers are just worthless left-wing propaganda rags (yet still, strangely enough, enjoy posting on their Web sites), but there were also many appreciative comments.

Some would look at the fate of the Rocky and say it is proof that newspapers are doomed. They argue that newspapers are a business model of the 20th century that will have no place in a 21st century world.

But I still believe there will always be a place for the newspaper. There will always be stories of interest that the nearest television station or blog cannot, or will not, cover. There will always be a place on the refrigerator for newspaper clippings hung up by a proud parent. There will always be that Americana feeling of a newspaper that goes perfectly with a cup of coffee and breakfast.

There will always be a place for journalists who report the truth — both good and bad — and do everything they can to give the readers what they want and what they need to know.

As long as we can keep doing that, we’ll be all right. R.I.P., Rocky Mountain News.