Rocky Mountain, Bye

Rocky Mountain News staffers share their thoughts on the paper's closing

After learning that the 150-year-old Rocky Mountain News would cease operations today, we invited the paper’s staffers to share some thoughts and reflections. The invitation still stands: write to us at We will update this tribute as more thoughts arrive.

John Boogert, Internet news editor

As strange as sounds, I’m not all that sad about me personally. I’ll survive. What IS devastating to me is the loss of the Rocky to our readers and the community. Our readers love their Rocky. It can never be replaced, by the Post or anyone else.

Lisa Bornstein, theater critic

I’m the theater critic here, and my feelings are mixed. The two months of uncertainty were brutal, as many at folded papers know. We wanted the purgatory to end. And now, well, it sucks. Does it suck that a community is losing a voice? Yes. Does it suck that democracy will be in trouble with no one paid to be an independent examiner? Yes. But right now, what I’m thinking: It sucks to be me. (I’m a theater critic, I had to quote “Avenue Q.”) A degree in journalism and twenty years reporting for newspapers, and that career is over. I feel like a blacksmith in 1915. I didn’t lose my job; I lost my career. It’s not here anymore. Even if I could find a job at another paper, I believe it would just postpone the inevitable and make me that much older when I have to figure out what to do next. I’ll miss telling people’s stories and I’ll miss going to the theater, at least I’ll miss the good shows. At least now, I get to choose which shows I see.

Gargi Chakrabarty, energy reporter

Being a reporter at the Rocky has been such a thrill. Just this Tuesday, a colleague and I were on a reporting stint in the arid gas fields of western Colorado. We traveled to a “man camp” for gas drillers, perched 8,600 feet high on top of the majestic Roan Plateau. We didn’t realize the gravel road, carved out of the face of the mountain, would be so dangerous. Very soon, our vehicle was slipping and sliding on the muddy road and on-coming semis didn’t help. We climbed 3,000 feet in four miles and 30 minutes, at times tunneling through the mountain.

I wondered who’d die first: Me or the Rocky.

For the record, I outlasted the Rocky. But our story didn’t make it to the last edition.

Lynn DeBruin, sports writer for nearly 11 years

I haven’t felt this sad since 9/11. I’m not at all comparing the two, because there’s nothing that compares to 9/11. But I just remember being so confused, so sad, and feeling the need to be around people.

On that awful day, with no family in the area, I drove around aimlessly until I found myself at Swedish Medical Center, where wide receiver Ed McCaffrey had just had surgery to repair a serious break in his leg suffered the night before on Monday Night Football.

I would run into Broncos owner Pat Bowlen in the parking lot, who proceeded to chew me out for thinking about football on a day like this, until I told him, “Pat, this isn’t about football. I’ve got nowhere else to go. I don’t know where to go.”

He ended up giving me a short interview and I filed a short story.

Ed recovered and we all somehow got through that day. But life wasn’t the same.

It won’t be this time, either.

Sonya Doctorian, video journalist

It appears to me my colleagues have used their energy from today’s news of the Rocky’s closing to produce a tremendous final edition.

Tillie Fong, night general assignment reporter

I don’t think the news has really sunk in yet—it doesn’t seem possible that something so vital, so alive as it were, is gone.

I feel the Rocky‘s closing as a death—not as an institution but as a part of my life, a part of ME, that has died.

I always felt that the Rockywas this feisty little paper that reflects the spirit of the people that it serves—fiercely independent, outspoken, active, but also caring and compassionate.

I also think that the newspaper also provides a different perspective to issues and events, and a unique voice to the community that can’t be replicated elsewhere.

Maybe that’s what every journalist like to think of his or her organization, that it makes a difference in the world. But I really think the demise of the Rocky doesn’t just mean the loss of jobs for me and my colleagues, but also a part of Denver and Colorado history is also lost.

Laura Frank, investigative reporter

Since Scripps announced in December that it would close the Rocky Mountain News if a buyer couldn’t be found, I had spent a lot of time thinking about what the last day would be like. But I wasn’t prepared for what would happen at the end of the day.

I am—I was—an investigative reporter at the Rocky. I had finished everything I needed to do for the day. The story I’d spent the week working on was scheduled to publish Saturday. But there would be no Saturday Rocky. There was no reason for me to stay. But I didn’t want to leave. I didn’t want the day to end. I didn’t want the Rocky to end.

Just that day, I had received a voice mail message from a reader who planned to contact a government official after reading a story I wrote. I opened a letter from another reader who wanted me to investigate something that concerned her. I read an email from someone in another state who read my stories online, and thanked me for covering something that was important to him.

There were so many stories still to write, and no Rocky left to publish them.

As hard as it was to finally walk out the door that night, I realized the more awful moment was still to come: Saturday morning, when no Rocky arrived on the driveways and porch steps of its readers.

Here’s what we had ready to go for that day’s paper: Stories about what had happened to Colorado’s energy boom and what it meant to the state, how a government agency had allegedly misused public money, and how children in state custody were being abused.

That’s just what Coloradans will be missing on the first day the Rocky is gone. Who can say what they’ll miss the next week or the next year?

A great watchdog is dead. And more are dying across the nation. More stories will go untold. In a democracy that depends on an informed citizenry, a dead watchdog is a dangerous thing.

Paul Glaviano, copy editor

I really don’t know what many of these talented people here at the Rocky will find out there in, to reference Phil Gramm, McCain’s former economic adviser, WhinyLand. That’s a cruel side of the general collapse of the newspaper industry, of which I’ve been a part since 1966. But something most people have been reluctant to talk about is the danger this all presents for our democracy. If we think that politicians and big business special interests are robbing us blind now, just wait until the final demise of the watchdog press.

There’s been a trend for decades toward “infotainment” in the press, but a goodly semblance of watchdog fervor has remained. The public has taken all this for granted, but it costs money—revenue—to be able to hire talented and dedicated reporters and editors who can match wits with the evildoers of our society. Much of that revenue, particularly from classified ad sections, has flown to the Internet, and I wonder what will happen to vital news organizations in general. Who will watch the chicken coop?

Steve Haigh, business Web editor

It’s a little past 8 p.m. in Denver and the TV reporters and camera people have not quite all returned to their stations. Some of the reporters and editors have gone home, but most will be here late to participate in the last edition of the Rocky Mountain News. Presentation editors are putting loving touches on the commemorative edition. Most folks have been too busy to grieve and shed tears. I love this newspaper and I hate it, too, but I can’t imagine doing anything else that could give me more pleasure and fulfillment. Thanks for the opportunity to tell you how much I will miss the Rocky Mountain News and almost everyone who worked here.

Dave Kopel, media columnist

It’s been a very high-tech day, with the Rocky posting near-instant video coverage of its own death. Yet today evokes for me a picture of Italy around 450 A.D., with declining literacy, and the crumbling of what used to be the great institutions of civic engagement. As a media columnist, I’ve written often about media bias, which is a very serious problem, but which is not the primary cause of the current collapse of the newspaper business. We have a society that reads less and less, and which passively watches more and more video. Over the long term, I expect that quality coverage of national business and national politics will survive, because there will be enough highly-literate readers who will pay the premium prices necessary to support sophisticated reporting. But I am not at all confident that there are enough readers who will pay what is necessary for the existence of good coverage of local news. At a time when governments are growing more and more powerful, we are losing a crucial part of our checks and balances. “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” as they used to say. A healthy society needs someone to guard us from the government “guardians.” Newspapers have been far from perfect in performing this vital, protective civic role, but more protection is better than less. With the Rocky’s demise, Colorado is going to have much less.

Dave Krieger, sports columnist

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.

Steve Oelrich, copy editor/editorial writer

I’m worried what the loss of papers like the Rocky Mountain News, a nearly 150-year institution, means for American literacy and civic life. It can’t be a good thing. Personally, this is and will be a rough time for me and many of my colleagues. But every time I start to feel sorry for myself, I keep thinking about all those parents who drove frantically through my neighborhood on April 20, 1999, desperately trying to find a shortcut to Columbine High School where their kids were being slaughtered. Losing a job pales next to that.

John Rebchook, reporter

I started to work here on September 12, 1983. I’m 53, so I have spent almost half my life working here. I was hired as a real-estate reporter because they needed a warm body. I knew nothing about real estate or business, having only covered crime, politics and poor people in the first four years of my career. When my predecessor told me that brokers would be some of my best sources, I thought, what do stock brokers have to do with real estate? I didn’t even know there was such a thing as real-estate brokers. I now have the dubious distinction of covering real estate and business longer than any reporter in Denver’s history. Along the way I also have covered cable TV, mutual funds, banking, and the airlines, all in addition to real estate. I’ve been at dinner parties when people have sniffed to me that they don’t read the business section because it is boring. “You’re right,” I tell them. “Business is about money. And no one cares about money.”

Jason Salzman, media critic

How classy of E.W. Scripps to give the Rocky an extra day to publish a last edition.

Scripps could have shut down the paper yesterday and saved a little money. After all, if the 150-year old newspaper had been printed for, say, a week longer, to give itself and its readers time to reflect about journalism and their community, think of all the money Scripps would have lost.

Anyway, the point is, the Rocky is a business, and that’s the way it is. But unlike other outfits, its death leaves an information gap that’s widening as other news outlets cut back too.

It’s a blow for coverage of the day-to-day stuff of our community, especially our local government. There are still lots of sources of national news, but local news is in serious decline.

So, as a condolence gift for the Rocky’s death, don’t send flowers to Editor John Temple or Mike Littwin or Vince Carroll.

Do something to support a Denver news outlet that actually gathers local news, not just aggregates it or opines about it.

Think about subscribing to the Denver Post, and buy a subscription for a friend. It’s actually a great cause, even if the Post’s owner, MediaNews, is no less greedy than E.W. Scripps. Anyway, to mark the death of the Rocky, do something to support local news reporting.

Darlene Trujillo, commentary department

Working at the Rocky Mountain News has been the best job I’ve ever had. I’ve been in the newsroom when many memorable moments have happened throughout the past fifteen years. There’s nothing like being at 400 W. Colfax or 101 W. Colfax as information starts streaming in and our reporters start streaming out. Columbine, 9/11, presidents dying, space shuttles exploding, elections and extraordinary moments that everyday, wonderful people allow us to capture will be with me forever. And sometimes you’re just stopping in to pick up a paycheck, find out an escalator has just collapsed at Coors Field and end up working till midnight to help re-do the paper so we have the breaking news on the front page.

I also have the privilege of working with many, many wonderful and talented people. I think in terms of the newsroom I’m an “oldie but goodie.” With fifteen years under my belt the people I work with have become like a second family. When I was pregnant with my first baby, I would sometimes use my lunch hour to take a catnap in the women’s locker room on an old, vinyl couch that someone had put in there. I remember one time I woke with a start because I had been sleeping for about two hours. I raced up to the city desk and asked my co-worker why she hadn’t called me to wake me up. “Things were slow so Deb said to let you sleep,” she said. Thanks, Deb (Goeken)!

I have the privilege of reading most of the letters to the editor and I have been so touched by the kind words that people have written. I’ve been touched to read how long the Rocky has been a part of their lives and how much they will miss the Rocky.

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Rocky Mountain News staffers is a contributor to CJR.