…and then, someone else will get rich later this year in San Francisco, Seattle, Philadelphia, Miami and Minneapolis if papers in those cities close, as they are rumored.
By now, you’ve heard that the Rocky Mountain News in Denver is publishing its final edition today. Owner E.W. Scripps is closing Colorado’s oldest newspaper, two months shy of its 150th anniversary. I write those words with a deep sigh, as I used to work for the Rocky, and consider my experience there essential to my development both as an online journalist and online entrepreneur.
For a little over three years I edited the Rocky’s website, and I remain darned proud of the work a tiny staff did during that period. But what does the Rocky’s closing have to do with someone getting rich? Hundreds of journalists just lost their jobs!
Yes, and hundreds of local advertisers just lost the publication that they were using to connect with local readers. Those advertisers have budgeted the money they would have spent, some have even written checks and will await reimbursement from the Rocky for ads never run.
With the economy tanking, some of those advertisers, I suspect, will just bank the money and forget about the ads. But smart businesses will not. They still need to reach local consumers.
Like lottery money falling from the sky, that advertising cash will land somewhere. The Denver Post will pick up some, I’m sure. So might local TV, radio and direct mail vendors.
But with thousands of now-former Rocky readers looking for a new daily news source, there’s a huge opportunity here for someone to get rich. Just put some of those readers together with some of those advertisers, using a fresh new online publication, and without the capital and corporate overhead, JOA obligations and debt that’s weighing down so many newspapers across the country.
Perhaps Scripps could have done that with rockymountainnews.com. But, according to Rocky website editor Mike Noe’s Twitter feed last night, JOA partner MediaNews (owner of the Denver Post) wouldn’t let them, undoubtedly eyeing a newspaper monopoly in Denver for itself. Still, Scripps retains its ownership of the Rocky’s masthead, archives and URLs and is offering them for sale to any interested third party, without the entanglement of the JOA that bound Scripps.
A new online news publisher need not capture all of the Rocky’s former readers, or advertisers, to do well. If a former Rocky reporter, or a small group working together, managed to claim just a few advertisers and a few thousand daily readers, they easily could clear more money than they did working at the Rocky. (Heck, I’m making more from my websites than I ever did working at the RMN.)
Yesterday, on Twitter I urged the Rocky to run today in print the URLs of its reporters who will maintain their own blogs and websites, so that Rocky readers can continue to follow their favorite writers, and to help these former staffers start building the readership that they’ll need to create profitable websites. I don’t know yet if they did that or not. But I would urge Guild leaders at other troubled newspapers to think about getting that into their contracts – if the paper goes down, you print our members’ URLs on the last day.
Unfortunately, I fear that most Rocky staffers will not build or become part of profitable Denver-area news websites. But long odds are not impossible. The Rocky has a long history of online innovation, and with Noe’s assistance and the leadership of editor John Temple, that attitude has spread throughout the newsroom, in ways that it wasn’t allowed to when I worked there.
The Rocky was one of the first newspapers in the United States to embrace user-generated content, with reader-driven interactivity in entertainment, features and opinion sections as far back as 1998.
In the late 1990s, the Rocky had what might have been the industry’s first proto-”podcast” – a local studio recorded voice actors reading the paper’s top stories before dawn each weekday, which we made available as an MP3 download on the site. There was no RSS back then, so people had to come to the site each day to download the file. And there were no iPods, either, in fact, we promoted that people could “listen to the paper on their Diamond Rio.” (You may consider yourself a true Geezer Geek if you remember that early MP3 player.)
And in 1999, we live-”blogged” the aftermath of the Columbine school shootings, before we, or anyone else, knew what a blog was. We just posted fresh line-by-line updates to the site’s homepage as we got them from any sources we could find, not waiting for a staff writer to flesh them into a traditional, narrative story.
In the years since I left, the Rocky’s developed rich, reader-driven prep sports applications, as well as gorgeous interactive narratives, driven by a Pulitzer Prize-winning photo staff that has embraced multimedia. (Click around “Best of the Rocky” on rockymountainnews.com.) And it helped build one of the industry’s first large-scale efforts at reader-driven “hyperlocal” news coverage.
There’s a hell of a lot of online talent at the Rocky Mountain News. And a healthy amount of advertising dollars to support it. And readers who want to follow that talent. Just because Scripps, cut loose from its cash-cow cable networks and outmaneuvered by MediaNews in its JOA, couldn’t make enough money off that combination does not ensure that some enterprising Rocky staffer (or staffers) can’t make a go of it.
I’m rooting for them. Someone’s going to land that former Rocky advertising money. Why shouldn’t it be a Rocky alumnus?
And journalists in Seattle, San Francisco and those other newspapers on the brink – ask yourselves this, looking ahead to the day when your paper might close: Why can’t *I* be the one to get a piece of those ad dollars in my community?