Goodbye Rocky Mountain News

I’d be remiss if I didn’t spend a little time observing the end of an era. Starting tomorrow, Denver becomes a 1 Newspaper Town, as the Rocky Mountain News published their last edition today.

To commemorate (or commiserate), the Rocky put together a well-produced video talking about the course that brought them to the end. I would suggest taking some time to check it out:

I feel badly for the staff at the Rocky, those are no longer have jobs and have to worry about how they’re going to take care of their families.  I want to put that out there, as this is a horrible situation and you never want to see anyone lose their livelihood under these circumstances.

At the same time, the failure does require some analysis. I’m not an economist or a newspaper expert, but I wanted to share some of my thoughts:

One of the things that bothers me about the economy is the tendency for people to scapegoat the recession.  While there are things genuinely affected by the economy, it’s simply not that simple.  I believe that in the cases of some businesses, the current economic climate exposes and accelerates failing business models.

Circuit City serves as a good example of this.  It’s been known for sometime that Circuit City was losing market share and wasn’t keeping up with their competitors.  Some say it’s due their sales atmosphere, others say that circuit city failed to grasp the changes in the electronics retail climate (e.g. Geek Squad vs. Firedog).  Today’s economy may have expedited their fall, but the writing has been on the wall for Circuit City for some time.

I see newspapers going through the exact same thing.

If you watch the video, they reference circumstances that threatened the Newspaper industry: classifieds and blogs.  As well done as this video is, when Jeff Legwold starts criticizing bloggers he demonstrates the industry’s failure to grasp new media.  It’s easy to paint bloggers with a broad brush of unreliability.  The importance of speed in news & blogs comes with its own set of problems, but rather newspapers spent a great deal of time grandstanding and criticizing, when they should have been adapting to this model.

Technology improves, media changes. The printing press has enjoyed a centuries-long dominance of media, a dominance which slowly eroded due to the radio, then television, and now the Internet.   Things evolve, and businesses must change.  I’ve subscribed to the daily and weekly newspaper before, only to find that those quickly stacked up in my recycle bin, going unread.  Why? Because our generation consumes media differently, and in some ways more efficiently.  It’s easy to vilify Craigslist as a mean dog that ate all of your lunch, but newspaper industry’s failure to recognize the changes and opportunities is what brought this about.  This is not unlike the music industry’s reluctance of digital music, ultimately crippling their power and influence.

Does the printing press still have its place in media?  Yes, but no where near the prominence that it’s enjoyed over the centuries.  The newspapers that will succeed are the ones that will embrace this, as an opportunity to scale down their overhead, migrate to delivering their content to new media, and letting go of old business models.

In the case of the Rocky, it quickly became obvious that their parent company wasn’t willing to invest the time and resources to allow them to do this.  They ignored the writing on the wall until it was painfully obvious, then set up the Rocky for failure.  Scripps Media put the Rocky on sale on Dec 4, giving a 2 month deadline for the sale of the paper. Most people couldn’t sell a house in 2 months during this time (especially in this climate).  This goes back to my original point – the economy isn’t the cause of the decline, it simply accelerated the effects of poor business model and decisions.

My prayers are with the employees of the Rocky Mountain News today, and hope that they will continue to be able to apply their skills through meaningful work.