Thursday, February 26, 2009

Death of a great newspaper

I fully understand that on the sympathetic-o-meter, newspapers are somewhere between the IRS and telemarkters. Nevertheless, today was a sad day for this industry and a harbinger of more to come.

The Rocky Mountain News in Denver announced that Friday's edition will be its last after 150 years. The CEO of Scripps, which owns the paper, called the newspaper a victim of a terrible economy and general upheaval in the newspaper industry. The Rocky has been for sale for three months.

It certainly wasn't because it wasn't very good. In the past decade, the Rocky has won four Pulitzer Prizes, more than than all but a few of the nation's top papers. Its sports section was named the one of the 10 best in the nation by the Associated Press Sports Editors earlier this week. Its business section and photography staff are recognized by their peers as among the finest in the country.

There will be others to follow. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer and San Francisco Chronicle could fold soon. As more people get their information online, and certainly that includes a newspaper's free online website, the printed product is changing almost daily and papers are doing things that had always seemed unthinkable.

The Detroit News prints just three days a week to cut costs, knowing that more readers are going online. The Dallas Morning News and Fort Worth Star-Telegram, always fierce competitors, are now pooling their resources on many fronts, including splitting up beat writers and rescources for their four major pro sports beats.

Why should you care? No reason to feel compelled to unless you have relatives working at the Rocky. But the big picture is that the print product is dying, and that means the best medium for local coverage, to inform and entertain and prompt discussion, to be the watchdog on what's happening in your backyard is gradually eroding.

There's generally more relative information, more explanation of the day's happenings on one page of a newspaper than there is in an entire often-shallow sound-bite-driven television newscast. That's just the differences in the medium.

There will always be a hunger for local news. Our page hits have never been higher, but the way it will be delivered, and the way in which the public wants it, is changing by the hour.

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