The headline on today’s final edition of the 150-year-old Rocky Mountain News reads: “STOP THE PRESSES.”
I recall walking into a grocery store in Denver a few years ago on a Sunday morning and seeing piles of thick newspapers, both the tabloid Rocky and the broadsheet Denver Post. What struck me was the price: 25 cents. That was the heyday of one of the most brutal newspaper wars in the country. At one point the News was offering subscriptions for a penny a day.
In 2001 the two newspapers entered into a joint operating agreement, similar to the one between the Review-Journal and the Las Vegas Sun a decade earlier. The two papers shared certain expenses and produced independent dailies. It was not enough.
Joint operating agreements are allowed under the Newspaper Preservation Act, which basically exempts newspapers from anti-trust laws in a futile attempt to preserve multiple editorial voices in communities.
I was at the Miami News 20 years ago when we published our final edition under a JOA with the Miami Herald. Our offices on the sixth floor of One Herald Plaza looked out over Biscayne, affording the night shift crew a scenic sunrise for the final headline that read: “Farewell, Miami.”
The Cox sisters of Atlanta, owners of the 92-year-old paper that was once the dominant paper in the city, renegotiated the JOA. In exchange for what was reported to be 10 percent of the Herald’s profits through the year 2021, the paper was shut down, eliminating the expenses associated with its operation. I’m not sure whether 10 percent of the Herald’s profits right now would buy a cup of coffee to go with the morning paper.
JOAs have failed in San Francisco, Honolulu, Shreveport, Knoxville, Tulsa and Pittsburgh. They are failing in Detroit, Seattle and Tucson. Two newspaper cities are the exception and a few major metropolitan areas might soon find themselves with no printed newspaper at all, perhaps San Francisco and/or Minneapolis.
I spent 10 years at the Shreveport Journal before departing for Miami. In its final gasps, the Journal was an editorial page printed with the Gannett-owned morning Times.
Newspapers have been the record keepers, the instant historians, the watchdogs over government.
Wrapped around the Rocky’s front page today is a 52-page commemorative edition with a headline reading: "Goodbye, Colorado."
Goodbye to 228 newsroom jobs.