Rocky Mountain Bye: 150-Year-Old Denver Daily Dies

Front page of Rocky Mountain News-Feb 26 2009The Rocky Mountain News, one of two newspapers serving the Denver metropolitan area, will print its last edition on Friday, marking the first closing of a major metro daily newspaper this year.

E.W. Scripps, the owner, said it was unable to find a buyer for the newspaper, reflecting the misfortunes of the newspaper industry and the economy in general. Other regional dailies are sure to follow, as revenues plummet beneath the weight of a secular shift in media consumption and a sharp cyclical downturn.

In addition to the 200+ newsroom staffers out of a job, the demise of The Rocky Mountain News is real blow for Colorado and the country at large. The newspaper, founded in 1859, documented the changes and upheavals of the Wild West era, a witness to settlement and statehood, cattle barons and outlaws, and the wars against native tribes. Long after its closure, its archive will be a valuable resource to academics and history buffs. It is also believed to be the oldest continuously operated business in Colorado.



But its venerable past could not save The Rocky Mountain News from the vagaries of the present. It always faced the challenge of competing with another newspaper, The Denver Post, in a relatively small city. Then--like virtually every other regional daily--the paper was hit hard by competition from the Internet, which undermined all its major ad categories and sapped readers from the more profitable print edition.

Over the course of the last couple of years, average weekday circulation declined 20% from 263,425 in September 2005 to 210,281 in September 2008, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations. Finally, a steep economic downturn knocked the legs from under the industry, sending revenues into an apparently irreversible freefall.

A number of big regional daily newspapers have been teetering toward doom in the last couple of months. The final blow is being delivered by the global credit crunch, with banks leery of lending money to buy or recapitalize even low-risk properties, let alone distressed businesses like newspapers.

Last fall, the New York Sun closed after the publishers could not find new sources of funding. On Tuesday, Hearst warned it will close the San Francisco Chronicle unless unionized and non-unionized employees make significant concessions, including layoffs. In January, Hearst said it is will try to sell the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, but will close the paper if it does not find a buyer by mid-March.

A number of newspapers have been on the auction block for months, with no buyers coming forward. McClatchy has been trying without success to find a buyer for the Miami Herald. The San Diego Union Tribune and the Austin American-Statesman find themselves in a similar predicament.

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