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The Rocky Mountain News publishes its last paper today (Friday).
Rich Boehne, chief executive officer of Rocky-owner Scripps, broke the news to the staff at noon today, ending nearly three months of speculation over the paper’s future.
“People are in grief,” Editor John Temple said a noon news conference.
But he was intent on making sure the Rocky’s final edition, which would include a 52-page wraparound section, was as special as the paper itself.
“This is our last shot at this,” Temple said at a second afternoon gathering at the newsroom. “This morning (someone) said it’s like playing music at your own funeral. It’s an opportunity to make really sweet sounds or blow it. I’d like to go out really proud.”
Boehne told staffers that the Rocky was the victim of a terrible economy and an upheaval in the newspaper industry.
“Denver can’t support two newspapers any longer,” Boehne told staffers, some of whom cried at the news. “It’s certainly not good news for you, and it’s certainly not good news for Denver.”
Tensions were higher at the second staff meeting, held to update additional employees who couldn¹t attend the hastily called noon press conference.
Several employees wanted to know about severance packages, or even if they could buy at discount their computers.
Others were critical of Scripps for not seeking wage concessions first or going online only.
But Mark Contreras, vice president of newspapers for Scripps, said the math simply didn’t work.
“If you cut both newsrooms in half, fired half the people in each newsroom, you’d be down to where other market newsrooms are today. And they’re struggling,” he said.
As for online revenues, he said if they were to grow 40 percent a year for the next five years, they still would be equal to the cost of one newsroom today.
“We’re sick that we’re here,” Contreras said. “We want you to know it’s not your fault. There’s no paper in Scripps that we hold dearer.”
But Boehne said Scripps intended to keep its other media, both print and in broadcast, running.
“Scripps has been around for 130 years. We intend to be around another 130 years,” Boehne said. “If you can’t make hard decisions, you won’t make it.”
After Friday, the Denver Post will be the only newspaper in town.
Asked if pubilsher Dean Singleton now walks away with the whole pie, Boehne was blunt.
“He walks away with an unprofitable paper, $130 million in debt and revenues that are down 15-20 percent every year,” Boehne said.
Asked if Singleton would have to pay for the presses now, Boehne added, “We had to kill a newspaper. He can pay for the presses.”
Reaction came from across the nation and around the block.
“The Rocky Mountain News has chronicled the storied, and at times tumultuous, history of Colorado for nearly 150 years. I am deeply saddened by this news, and my heart goes out to all the talented men and women at the Rocky,” U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet said in a statement. “I am grateful for their hard work and dedication to not only their profession, but the people of Colorado as well.”
At the Statehouse, Rep. Joe Rice (D-Littleton), said the paper would be missed.
“The Rocky Mountain News has been a valued institution in Denver,” he said.
“It’s a sad, sad day.”
Long-time Denver real estate agent Edie Marks called the Rocky a voice of reason, moderation and common sense.
“I think that it was the fairest newspaper, the most diverse, and am important part of my daily life,” she said. “I’m going to miss it tremendously.”
On Dec. 4, Boehne announced that Scripps was looking for a buyer for the Rocky and its 50 percent interest in the Denver Newspaper Agency, the company that handles business matters for the papers. The move came because of financial losses in Denver, including $16 million in 2008.
“This moment is nothing like any experience any of us have had,” Boehne said. “The industry is in serious, serious trouble.”
Didn’t Obama sign the trillion dollar stimulous bill in Denver? What did that do for the Rocky?