Today, the Rocky Mountain News printed its final edition. Just two months shy of 150 years of continuous operation, the presses have stopped forever at Colorado’s oldest newspaper.
It’s the latest sad symbol of an industry that is slowly dying. In this age of instant Internet access and wireless connections everywhere, people are turning away from print to get their news.
Or as Bernie Lincicome, sports columnist for the News, wrote in his final column: “The best newspaper is dead and for no good reason, save the spine to fight on, a battle lost to lessers and to a marketplace diverted by ease. The world today can be held in the palm of the hand, with all the news and sounds and motion a tap away.”
The world is changing, and unfortunately those changes are killing daily newspapers.
Dave Krieger, another Rocky sports columnist said:” I still don’t get how a newspaper with 200,000 paying subscribers and hundreds of thousands more readers on the Web cannot make a go of it.
Obviously, I’m not an MBA. Not our fault, the suits say. Business model’s fault. So who came up with the business model?”
New Business Model
That’s the problem. There’s a new business model, and it’s different than the old model. Who knows, perhaps newspapers got it wrong right from the start, when they decided not to charge readers for access to the content on their web sites.
The world is flat. We live in an on-demand society, and people want their news right away. They can’t wait for tomorrow’s paper. That’s old news now.
As a result newspapers across the USA are suffering. Advertising rates are falling. Circulation is declining. Good people are losing their jobs. And papers like the Rocky Mountain News are being forced out of business.
But something is being lost in the transition. The in-depth story, the catchy headline, and especially quality reporting and eloquent writing are lost for the ages every time a paper dies.
Endings are difficult. They can make grown men cry. In his farewell, Lincicome compared the demise of the Rocky Mountain News to some of the sad finales he’s witnessed in sports through the years:
“My most vivid memory is the last fight of Muhammad Ali, in Freeport, The Bahamas, a shadow lurching and gasping in the ring, and then finally slumped in his makeshift dressing area, a cinderblock men’s room reeking of urine, facing the finish, a weeping young John Travolta at Ali’s knee.
“Martina Navratilova, exiting Centre Court for the final time, stopped to pull up a piece of sod. Jack Nicklaus posing on the footbridge on the 18th hole at St. Andrews, stubbornly dressed in a sweater vest in fashion when he was.
“Joe Louis, the great Brown Bomber, became a prop to various promoters, and I cannot see old films of him in his prime without recalling the last time I saw him, poking around a post-press conference dining room looking for left over coffee in discarded cups still warm enough to drink.”
Where else are you going to find writing like that. I worked with Bernie Lincicome for three years at the Fort Lauderdale News and Sun-Sentinel. The rule for editors working Bernie’s copy was simple: don’t touch the prose, outside of spelling and fact checks. No rewrite required.
I was fortunate enough to work with some other great writers during my 10 years in the newspaper business—writers like Robert Cormier, my mentor, a fellow columnist at the Fitchhburg Sentinel and Leominster Enterprise. Cormier was also a novelist, the author of successful teenage books like “The Chocolate War,” “I Am the Cheese” and “After the First Death.”
And while in Fitchburg, an old New England industrial town, I was fortunate enough to work with a colleague like John Helyar, author of “Barbarians at the Gate” and “The Lords of the Realm.”
And later in Fort Lauderdale, my colleagues included writers like Gene Wojciechowski (now at espn.com), and Bill Plaschke (now with the Los Angeles Times), and editors Fred Turner, Jeff Otterbein and Tom Christensen.
Finally, I’d be remiss if I failed to mention that many of my incredibly, multi-talented colleagues in IBM communications got their start in the newspaper business.
Without newspapers, some day soon we may find ourselves asking the question—where have all the writers gone?
See Related Blog: The Endangered Art of Sportswriting