While many of the now-displaced staffers of the Rocky Mountain News ruminated fondly about their experiences over the years, I found it interesting that two sportswriters were among the few offering openly bitter critiques about the demise of the Denver paper, which published its final print edition and stopped updating its website on Friday.
Sports columnist Dave Krieger, among the handful of fortunate Rocky staffers to be hired by the Denver Post, hurled some heavy unbridled invective at Scripps Co. executives in a final salvo rounded up by the Columbia Journalism Review:
“Honestly? The corporate suits come in and cry their crocodile tears, then whiz on home to continue collecting their seven-figure salaries, pleased to have rid their shareholders of the albatross that was a helluva newspaper. Scripps is in the best financial shape of any newspaper company in America, save the Washington Post Co. Dean Singleton, who survives in Denver, is in far worse financial shape, in much deeper debt, but he fought for the market and Scripps didn’t. Scripps turns tail and runs because it is as committed to the public service of journalism as teenagers to this spring’s fashions. It has learned it can make more money in niche cable television channels. It has every right to make that call. It’s a free country. But the question is whether everybody left in the journalism business is simply in it to make a buck. Certainly, for a while there, it was a really good buck.
“Gannett taught everyone how to make margins that were out of sight. But now that it’s a struggle, is there anybody left with the heart of a journalist? Or are they all just profiteers, happy to move on to more profitable schemes when the going gets tough? Journalism has a constitutionally protected role in our Republic. We need people in charge of it who are more than profiteers. Yes, I know. Times are tough. The old model doesn’t work. I get all that. Nevertheless. We need publishers with vision and conviction and courage and it’s beginning to look like all we have are profiteers born on third base.”
Denver Broncos beat writer Jeff Legwold said the company “quit on us; they quit on everyone in the newsroom.” Both he and his wife, a Rocky reporter (pictured below in a video centerpiece featured on the last homepage of the Rocky Web site), are now out of work, along with more than 200 newsroom employees.
With the Seattle Post-Intelligencer teetering on the brink of a similar fate there’s been plenty of “future of journalism” discussion in that region. Like Denver, Seattle is one of few remaining two-newspaper cities in America and both have been operating under Joint Operating Agreements that are artifacts of a pre-Web news economy. The Denver Post and the Seattle Times aren’t in great shape, either. Major metropolitan dailies everywhere have been taking the biggest hits in the last few years as newspaper revenues and circulation have plummeted.
I can understand Krieger’s rage because so many of us who’ve worked for newspapers have been learning how long the industry has been in decline, and how belatedly it has come to the Web. I’m happy he’s still got some job security in that business, and that he’s not having to scramble to pay the bills like so many of his former Rocky colleagues.
But as one paper has closed and others are certain to follow, it should be fairly obvious that it’s imperative to think differently about what it means to be a journalist in this age. Having the heart of a journalist is fine and necessary, and those instincts and values should not be scuttled in a rapidly changing media environment. But we also need to have a better practical head to grapple with the future of our profession.
It’s easy to launch a tirade at heartless corporate media executives and accuse them of not caring about the journalistic product. But journalists, whether they work in newsrooms or not, need to get real about the business that they’re in, and get on top of how it’s changing.
For starters, it’s time to get rid of the aversion we’ve long had to the business side of a news operation. This is a notion that died hard for me — I frequently snorted that the ad people should sell the ads, and we’ll write the stories, and that’s just fine by me. After making my online migration four years ago, I saw clearly that this attitude can no longer prevail.
Former Seattle-area newspaper journalist Mark Briggs, now a new media entrepreneur, advocates that journalists tear down the news-business wall in remaking their careers and the work they do:
“Smart, ethical professionals with good values practicing serious journalism can build trust with an audience just like monolithic corporate news companies did.
“The wall isn’t what matters. It’s the work that makes the difference.”