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The Last Rocky Show

After 150 years of publishing, the Rocky Mountain News printed its final edition on Friday. The Rocky became the first major U.S. metro daily to fold since the Cincinnati Post did so in December 2007.

The final front page of the Rocky, a retro remembrance:

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Columbia Journalism Review invited former Rocky staffers to express their feelings. The reaction ranged from relief, sadness, introspection to anger. What is most admirable, however, is that however they felt, they put out one heck of a final edition, as any good journalist should:


Final Edition from Matthew Roberts on Vimeo

Editor John Temple offered a few final thoughts on why Denver will cease to be a two-newspaper town:

(T)here's plenty of fault to go around. It costs more to produce two newspapers than one, because you have to pay for two newsrooms. Also, producing two newspapers introduces more complexity to the daily operations of the agency and adds more costs to its operations. That might have been OK at a time when newspapers typically were highly profitable, but became an enormous challenge when they were not.

A JOA is an unwieldy bureaucratic structure not suited to success in today's rapidly changing media environment. A JOA has been a way for Congress to keep two voices alive in a community. For newspaper owners, historically JOAs have been the equivalent of annuities. They calmed a competitive situation and spun off cash on a predictable basis.

But not anymore.

Rocky Mountain News to Fold

Denver's Rocky Mountain News will print its final edition on Friday, announced its parent company E.W. Scripps. The Rocky will become the first major U.S. metro daily to fold since the Cincinnati Post - also a Scripps paper - closed down in December 2007.

Scripps CEO Rich Boehne, in announcing the closure to a stunned newsroom Thursday, cited the economic difficulties all newspapers are currently experiencing. "Denver can't support two newspapers any longer," Boehne told staffers, some of whom cried at the news. "It's certainly not good news for you, and it's certainly not good news for Denver. ... This moment is nothing like any experience any of us have had. The industry is in serious, serious trouble."

Denver Post, the other half of the joint operating agency, wasted no time in scooping up a few of the Rocky's high-profile writers and columnists, according to the internal memo sent to Post staffers. Noted editor Greg Moore:

Obviously, we have only a short window to win over the Rocky readers. These moves will help. These hires represent less than 5% of the journalists at The Rocky. I plan to do all I can to integrate them into our paper and culture as quickly as possible and I am counting on your help. This all happens at a time of great uncertainty and personal sacrifices in our business. I know. But opportunities like these do not come along very often. And neither do the challenges. It will take the effort of all of us -- those of us who have been here for a while and the newcomers -- to make a go of it. I really need you to be focused on the challenge ahead. So please, be welcoming to our new colleagues and let's roll up our sleeves and put out the best, most interesting paper possible.

In our slide show published yesterday, the Rocky was placed No. 2 among the most troubled newspapers. Its readers quickly reacted to the demise of the 150-year-old paper, until now Colorado's oldest continuing operating business.

The Dominos Are Falling Fast

In "End Times" The Atlantic's Michael Hirschorn fancifully speculated the demise of the New York Times. While he made a few salient arguments, the fact remains that it's preposterous to think the Times would fold in 2009.

Not so, however, for a number of U.S. newspapers. At least a dozen major metro dailies are certain to close down this coming year, the question is only who'll be first.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer is on life-support. With no buyer in sight, the paper could close as soon as March. Ditto for the Rocky Mountain News in Denver. You can add the Tucson Citizen to the list now as its parent company Gannett just announced that if no buyer is found, the paper will close on March 21.

Also Friday, the Minneapolis Star Tribune filed for bankruptcy, becoming the second newspaper publisher in as many months to do so, following the filing by the Tribune Co., owner of the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times. But even with the Chapter 11 filing, the Star-Tribune might outlast its Twin Cities rival, the St. Paul Pioneer Press, who is apparently in worse financial straits.

Writing in his blog 24/7 Wall St., Douglas McIntyre listed five newspapers most likely to fold: The Miami Herald, Star-Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, New York Daily News and New York Observer. Yes, the newspaper landscape is changing so fast that the P-I and Rocky Mountain News didn't even make the list.

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Next to go?

The Herald is at the top of McIntyre's list because of the combination of the failing health of its parent company McClatchy and the gloomy real estate market in South Florida:

The Miami Herald is already for sale. It is owned by McClatchy, a company which simply may not make it. McClatchy had operating income of $40 million last quarter, but its debt service was $34 million. In addition, McClatchy revenue dropped 16% for the quarter. Based on the figures the company has posted over the last several months, the top line is dropping more rapidly, especially at its Florida and California properties. Classified sales are down over 30% in these regions. For the six months ending last September, daily circulation at the Miami paper was down 11.8% to 240.000. A large daily newspaper operation that covers a huge metro area is simply too expensive to run with this enormous audience loss. The Herald won't be sold. There is too much risk here for a buyer. The most likely fate of the paper is that it will be merged with the Ft. Lauderdale paper or some other media in south Florida.

McClatchy, the nation's third-largest newspaper chain, made a questionable decision to purchase Knight Ridder in June 2006, one that could prove fatal. Its stock, valued at around $40 a share at the time of the acquisition, was at 81 cents when the markets closed on Friday. With 32 dailies, including the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Kansas City Star and Sacramento Bee in its fold, a McClatchy collapse may bring a catastrophic meltdown to an industry already on thin ice.