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After the Rocky Mountain News reduced its once-extensive stock listings to a single page, business editor Rob Reuteman spoke with dozens of unhappy readers -- and few were reassured to learn that the data is still available on the Rocky's website.
"I was talking to ninety-year-old guys who've been subscribing for 44 years," Reuteman says. "And they're not getting on the Internet."
Backing up Reuteman's thesis: The Rocky received approximately 150 complaint calls during the week of February 7, when the stock-listing announcement was made, and around 35 more the following Monday morning, as opposed to just fifteen or so e-mails. This contrast suggests that computer-literate people weren't nearly as cheesed off as were older members of the Rocky's demographic pool, who refuse to become entangled in the World Wide Web.
A similar split was evident in an even louder uproar about a week earlier, after the Rocky slashed its daily television listings; today the paper only prints schedules for twelve local stations, skipping popular cable channels. In the era of digital cable and satellite TV, the majority of viewers use remotes that provide on-screen listings, explains Rocky editor/publisher/president John Temple. Some folks, many of them seniors, are left out of this equation, but Temple says, "You've got to ask yourself, 'Where are we in that cycle? And is it time to change?' And my answer was and is 'Yes.'"
Of course, the newspaper industry's own transition precipitated the listings alterations. Americans are increasingly obtaining their news online, with sites such as the Rocky's generating impressive traffic. Yet these eyeballs don't pay nearly as well as the ones that scan physical publications, and with Internet revenues failing to make up for shortfalls in traditional ad sales and the cost of newsprint skyrocketing, papers are losing pages. A January 28 Rocky article commemorating the five-year anniversary of the joint operating agreement linking the two Denver dailies noted that the news hole -- the amount of space allotted for editorial content -- was reduced by 5 percent last year and will dip by the same amount in 2006. Media organizations around the country (including this one) have attempted to make such downsizing less noticeable by migrating some listings to the Internet, even though such information is a big reason that people still pick up newspapers.
The shrinkage of the Rocky's stock listings mirrors this phenomenon. When Temple became editor in 1998, the paper ran seven and a half pages of stock tables, but by last year, five of those pages had vanished. Reuteman says most individuals who phoned to gripe after previous cutbacks were upset that specific stocks they followed were gone, so employees simply reinstated them and removed others. Now that there's just one page of listings, however, this approach won't work. And while the people who bent Reuteman's ear generally understood the economics behind the reductions, 54 of them canceled their subscriptions anyhow.
Reuteman hopes these readers will return soon, but he understands that change is hard. "I've heard the sentiment that 'I don't have the Internet, I don't want the Internet, I'm not going to get the Internet, I hate the Internet,'" he says.
That does not compute.
Yours, mine and ours: On February 4, days before the stock-listings hubbub, Rocky business types dug themselves a hole over coverage of Colorado's Newmont Mining Corp. Near the front of the section, the paper printed a pro-Newmont piece penned by Patrick Moore, a onetime Greenpeace bigwig turned environmental pariah who consults for the company. The piece's deck identified Newmont as "the world's biggest gold producer" and noted that "an Indonesian court dismissed a case alleging pollution against the firm." But a New York Times reprint that appeared a few pages later shared details of an ongoing Indonesian trial focused on none other than Newmont.
Contradictory? You bet. The trial highlighted in the Times offering was criminal, while the one alluded to in the Moore deck was civil -- but both dealt with essentially the same subjects. Moreover, the civil dispute continued despite the dismissal, which happened in November 2005. On February 15, Newmont wound up paying Indonesia $30 million to squash the civil litigation.
It gets worse. On January 21, the Rocky had printed a piece from Bloomberg News with a deck stating that Newmont had lost its status as "the world's biggest gold producer" because of an acquisition by a rival company, Barrick Gold Corp. And much of Moore's submission was actually culled from a rebuttal to a New York Times series that's been sitting on the Newmont website since October 2005.
The journey that led to this train wreck began with the best intentions, Reuteman says. Moore's representatives sent in the essay, and after Reuteman double-checked the author's Greenpeace background, he agreed to use the piece on the Rocky's "Business Talk" page, which specializes in opinion (although it's not specifically marked as such). The "Business Talk" page had been pre-printed prior to the arrival of the Times article about the criminal case, but Reuteman decided to run the latter anyway, to deflect potential charges of favoritism. "I don't want to be accused of being on one side or the other," he asserts.