It’s not news anymore when a newspaper closes. But it’s especially sad that Scripps has killed the Rocky Mountain News. Today was its last edition.
(I’m not going to link to the RMN, because God only knows how long the links would be live.)
For many years, it was the strongest newspaper between the Mississippi River and California. It was the scrappier and more fun of the two papers in Denver, an energetic voice of the Rockies. It was 156 years old, and Scripps — the one-time owner of UPI that did so poorly by its crown jewel — decided it wasn’t worth the financial drain. The thing is, the RMN wasn’t even the weaker of the two papers.
After the jump, there’ll be two pieces from RMN writers. Full text, because the links will probably expire sooner rather than later. The first is from a sportswriter. The second is an awfully good obit, explaining why newspapers are important — and how a great paper gets that way.
Dave Krieger writes:
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.
And a gem from Jim Sheeler:
We stood in the parking lot of a mortuary in Reno, Nev., as the cars whizzed by on the busy road nearby. A few feet away, a pregnant, 23-year-old war widow slept near the flag-draped casket of her husband – their last night together before the next day’s funeral.
If anyone would have stopped – simply slowed down – they could have seen one of the most touching moments of pure, distilled love I’ve ever witnessed. All anyone had to do was look at the giant picture window of the mortuary, as a lone Marine watched over the sleeping woman. Instead, the headlights of the cars continued and, through my tears, I stared at them through the blur.
I stood in the parking lot with photographer Todd Heisler, and we looked back into the window. The sleeping widow reminded us why we were there.
We could make people stop.
I have a quote taped near my computer. It has hung there long since I started writing for the Rocky Mountain News, penned by a man who searched out the lives in the shadows.
“I don’t write stories to show how people are different. I try to show how people are the same.”
Rocky columnist Greg Lopez is one of the many people I never met whose lessons I will never forget. The people I would later meet in the newsroom would continue to shape every word I wrote – every word I will ever write.
When I arrived at the Rocky, I was known primarily as an obituary writer. I wanted to tell the stories that might be lost. I wanted to tell them for the last time.
Despite the hundreds of life stories I’ve told – after all of the tear-smeared drives returning from funerals – this remains one of the most difficult.
We’re not trained to write obituaries in first person.
Walls of journalism prizes hang in the newsroom, but they’re not the real rewards. For those of us privileged enough to spend time with the true storytellers, satisfaction comes from life lessons learned in living rooms and backyards, in cemeteries and rolling plains.
A few years ago, I stood in the basement of a Boulder war hero – a man who had participated in the Doolittle Raids on Tokyo during World War II. After spending the morning with Bill Bower, I asked him why his medals weren’t displayed. He said he didn’t even know where they were. And then he told the story:
“One day, I came home to find that the children had taken out all the medals and were playing with them, and had kind of torn them up.
“At first I was angry with them, but then I realized something: that’s all the medals are – things for little kids to play with.”
The old man then looked at me.
“Why be known for the medals,” he said, “when you can be known for the kids.”
The Rocky’s offspring will live on in the stories – nearly 150 years’ worth – clipped and pasted in scrapbooks, hanging on refrigerators, yellowing in museums, lingering in countless minds. Their power is one that, for a few minutes or a few hours, takes the readers to places they’ve never been, places they need to go.
The Rocky Mountain News was not a building. It was not a printing press. It is what we all are: a collection of stories.
For me, those stories included a trip to the eastern plains, where a 76-year-old man drove his 103-year-old father to a special spot, and described a sunset for the man who couldn’t see. I remember Thanksgiving in the subsidized apartment building where most people had no family, so they created their own. I still hear the gravelly, warbling voice of 110-year-old Mamie Legg as she sang on her birthday, and the feel of the rice-paper skin of her hand on my own.
“People come in here, and they ask, ‘Why are you still alive?’ ” she said. “I tell them, ‘I guess I’m here so I can talk to you.’ ”
At their best, they were the stories that showed how we are all the same. They were the kind of stories that could put readers in a crumbly parking lot near a dark, busy street and allow them to look in the window at a single, tiny scene that was both beautiful and haunting. And maybe, if just for a moment, make them stop.
Tomorrow, the headlights on the dark street will continue. This time, we’ll all be left staring into the blur.