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Rocky Mountain News, You'll Be Missed

The Rocky couldn't stand up to the Internet, the recession, and declining readership, but its passing leaves behind fond memories

It is much like a death in the family when a newspaper breathes its last. So it is for me and the Rocky Mountain News, the scrappy tab that was my professional home for most of the early 1980s. The paper, which was the choice read for pioneers more than a century ago and grew into a great read for more modern settlers as Denver surged, is being shuttered by E.W. Scripps (SSP) and published its last edition on Feb. 27.

A victim of the Internet, the recession, and declining reader interest in daily metro newspapers, the Rocky will be sorely missed—at least by some of us. It was, for decades, a beneficiary of a burgeoning market where advertising was adequate to sustain two dailies. Denver will now be, like most of America, a one-paper town. Will it be missed by most Denverites and people all across the Rocky Mountain Empire, as some marketer once called the paper's regional reach? For a while, yes. But they will get their news elsewhere, from the former nemesis, The Denver Post, and from TV and from whatever Net sources they have. And they will soon forget the old paper.

I won't. For me, and the legions of others who were privileged to work there, the paper will always be a font of wonderful memories. We regularly beat the Post in what was one of the hottest newspaper wars in the country in the Denver boomtown days when I was there. From our City Hall coverage and sports—oh, those Broncos are a religion in Denver, after all—to business coverage, we fought like gin-soaked reporters of old (though few were truly gin-soaked in the '80s, as professionalization took hold in newspapers).

Breaking Local Business News

My window on the world was the business desk. Investment scandals? We had local penny-stock brokerage firms who ripped people off long before Madoff reinvented the financial theft genre. My favorite of the era was the scandal in which a long-gone local firm known as Blind 'em and Rob 'em (more properly, Blinder, Robinson & Co.) got tied up with the administration of then Governor Dick Lamm, sullying everyone involved. Thus, to me anyway, began the era of contrite politicians and crooked moneymen (the founding head of Blinder Robinson, now deceased, went to jail eventually). What a wonderful tale it was to break and follow!

The citizens of Colorado will, of course, have one fewer outlet to break such news. They won't have a very hungry set of reporters to chase after the politicians and business leaders to keep them honest. Sadly, I believe, they will never know what they will be missing. Sure, the Post and the other media will cover stories such as those. But one can only wonder at how many tales will go undiscovered. Without the benefit of a newspaper war or the prying eyes of so many journalists, what will the bad guys get away with? Will the Internet and other news vehicles really be able to fill the gap? Regrettably, I doubt it.

But my grief at the paper's demise is, of course, also more personal. I will never forget the grizzled old managing editor, a Kentucky Colonel from somewhere in the South, who asked me in my job interview when I had last gotten into a fistfight. Here I was armed with an Ivy League master's degree, and E. Ben Blackburn—what a great name he had—wanted to know about my boxing skills! When I told him that I couldn't remember my last tussle, he said I probably lost it or else I would remember. Chances are he was right.

Odd Newsroom Personalities

Of course, he was a lot shrewder than he seemed. The question went to the heart of how well I could get along with people. It asked volumes about who I was and was the kind of question I would learn to ask on the job when I really wanted to learn about someone. The savvy question also got to whether I'd get along with the sometimes odd personalities that inhabit most newsrooms.

And there certainly were some odd folks. There was the editor who borrowed new cars from local dealers for reviews and drove them across the Rockies to California (and then never wrote a review). There was the TV columnist who sneezed so loudly he would rouse distant corners of the newsroom. There was the aging general-interest columnist who mourned the days when Denver lacked TV (it didn't get service until sometime in the 1950s, later than much of the rest of the country). And there was the other columnist who died unexpectedly and whose funeral was attended by South Pacific islanders (in full regalia), local Harley riders (also in full regalia), and politicians. His bride of pathetically few months wore red because to him she was the "Lady in Red" of country-rock fame.

All that is gone now. And while the Net certainly gives advertisers more efficient ways to reach consumers, one can only wonder where such characters and the great work they produced will find their audiences. Can they possibly flourish in the media world of tomorrow?

For those of us who cut our eyeteeth in journalism at places like the Rocky, the paper's departure is a sad affair. For the public, such losses may prove tragic.

Joseph Weber is BusinessWeek's chief of correspondents, based in Chicago.

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