Back in December, when IWantMyRocky.com debuted, John Ensslin, one of numerous Rocky Mountain News employees who helped launch the project, described the website as "more of a rally-the-troops kind of thing, where people can post their comments or even videos."
Although the site succeeded in that respect, the enthusiasm and camaraderie it helped foster wasn't enough to keep the Rocky in business. IWantMyRocky.com didn't vanish in tandem with the tabloid, though. Instead, remaining staffers used it as something of a prototype for INDenverTimes.com, an ambitious attempt to create an online newspaper supported by subscribers who ultimately failed to sign up in numbers large enough to make this dream come true -- at least thus far. And now, it's mutating again. According to Rocky and INDenverTimes vet Kim Humphreys, who's running IWantMyRocky in association with Mel Pomponio, one of her ex-Rocky colleagues, and Tracy Simmons, the Denver Newspaper Guild's former Rocky rep, IWantMyRocky is currently a nonprofit corporation in the midst of filing for federal tax-exempt status, with plans to combine media reportage and analysis with efforts to advocate for the struggling newspaper industry as a whole.
"That's goal number one for us," Humphreys says. "To build a coalition, a network of people who understand what's going on and get involved in spreading the word and encouraging lawmakers and broadening the dialogue about what's happening and what some of the policy solutions might be."
Already, IWantMyRocky.com has formed partnerships with other likeminded organizations back east, including Massachusetts' Freepress.net, which describes itself as "a national, nonpartisan organization working to reform the media," and the Washington, D.C.-based Media & Democracy Coalition, an outfit that strives to "facilitate collaboration among diverse organizations; help build organizational capacity to increase the number of groups working to reform our media landscape; share information and resources; and create opportunities for joint mobilization on key media reform policies." In respect to the latter mission, Humphreys is especially interested in pushing for legislation that might make it harder, or at least more expensive, for firms to deep-six existing dailies.
"I think when a major corporation closes a newspaper -- and without naming names here," she begins, laughing, "the corporation recognizes a tax benefit by way of writing off that capital loss. So there's an economic incentive to shutter a paper as opposed to passing it along to another buyer or a community nonprofit. For various economic and JOA-related reasons, that didn't work for us. But a while ago, FreePress started looking for policy solutions in bankruptcy law -- a tax law that would incentivize in the other direction and encourage owners to keep these properties open in some way."
Such campaigns require the sort of engagement with officials and government representatives that can be uncomfortable for journalists like Humphreys. "It's difficult for a lot of us to cross that line -- to write letters to our congressional delegation, or to the governor or the mayor," she concedes. "And the same thing applies with getting involved in the business operation of our news organization. We've always enjoyed a strong boundary between the newsroom and the business office, for very important reasons. But our business offices are failing us, and when that happens, we're sometimes the last to find out.
"I'm hearing the term 'entrepreneurial journalist' more often these days," she goes on. "When we started INDenverTimes, one of the investors said, 'You need to get out there and be entrepreneurial. Get out there and sell this thing.' I threw up the red flag, saying, 'We need to be separate from that.' But my thinking has changed, grudgingly."
At this point, Humphreys admits that IWanyMyRocky is very much "a work in progress," and while she feels that its transition has been extremely organic, she understands why it might confuse some people, beginning with its moniker. "I hope the IWantMyRocky name doesn't trip people up and doesn't confine us in our scope and our ability to work in other communities and possibly in other media," she notes. "The Rocky is gone, but our intention remains the same. There are other newspapers and other media properties in trouble right now for many of the same reasons the Rocky was in trouble. So our effort to save one newspaper locally is evolving into trying to save other newspapers with similar problems nationally."
Even so, Humphreys wants to reach out to locals as well. "We're also working toward building coalitions in our community with people and organizations that understand the impact of the decline in the ranks of fulltime journalists," she says. "Like the art gallery on Santa Fe that can't get anyone in the press to come to a show because all of a sudden there's one less major reporter, one less newspaper, one less resource." To that end, she wants to start what she describes as a "'What's Missing?' newswire" on the site that would allow people to post information about incidents or events that aren't being covered due to the shrinking number of reporters beating the bushes. "It wouldn't be negative," she emphasizes. "It would just be a way of saying, 'Here's a story idea available to you if you're a freelancer or a student journalist or a professional journalist who's fortunate enough to still be in a newsroom.'"
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To round up recruits, IWantMyRocky recently sent out its first team-building/fundraising letter; it's reproduced below. In Humphreys' view, this proactive approach is vital for IWantMyRocky and the newspaper industry as a whole. "We can no longer be objective about our right to exist," she says, "and we have to take a role."
As most of you know already, we have re-launched IWantMyRocky.com as a news and advocacy site for journalism and a place for readers to find former Rocky staffers. We're excited to report that the Web site is just one component of a larger project: Last week, I Want My Rocky officially became a nonprofit corporation.
While we do still want our Rocky, IWMR is about much more than just one newspaper.
We want our Tuscon Citizen and our Ann Arbor News and our Seattle Post-Intelligencer, too. We want all the Newses and Journals and Chronicles and Posts that are in peril nationwide, under threat of closure or weakened by deep cutbacks. As we fought for our Rocky, we learned much about the systemic problems that have led our great news organizations to the brink. We took many lessons from our defeat, and even on Feb. 28 it was clear to us that we would use what we learned. We knew the fight was not over.
Today, we are writing to ask for your help as we launch I Want My Rocky as a nonprofit advocacy organization.
Here's the goal: IWMR is working to stem losses in journalism and hold the bar high on journalistic integrity as the industry's transition progresses. We've partnered with other organizations û including Free Press and the Media and Democracy Coalition to lend strength and volume to efforts already under way. As far as anyone can tell, we're the first organized group of journalists to join a steadily growing cadre of interest groups working on the issue at policy levels.
Here's our two-part approach:
* Peer-to-peer outreach: We're reaching out to journalists nationwide with a message that it is imperative to get involved in the policy and business spheres as they apply to our industry. As you know, this represents a major cultural shift for journalists; with good reason, we've long respected boundaries between newsrooms and business offices, and especially newsrooms and political offices. But the fact is that corporate owners and publishers have well-trodden paths to policy makers, and we're living the consequences of their agendas. As journalists, we serve not the bottom line or the corporate shareholders, but the public interest. And the reality is that we need to defend that interest on all fronts. No one else is doing it for us. Simply put, we cannot be objective about our right to exist.
* Public outreach: We're working to stitch together a broad coalition of groups and individuals who recognize the value of high-quality, robust journalism and recognize what is being lost. As the coalition gains mass, we hope to advance a public discussion about the value of journalism, its unique role within the nebulous media landscape and the need to defend it in this time of transition. Ultimately, we hope to contribute to efforts to establish a national policy agenda around journalism and change the outcome for other great institutions now facing the same fate as the Rocky.
Here's how you can help: In addition to your ideas and insights, we're asking that you contribute financially. While IWMR officially is incorporated as a nonprofit, it does not yet have its federal tax-exempt status. That process can take up to six months, and until it is complete, we are limited in what we can raise through grants and foundational support. Our initial goal is to raise $1,000 to cover the costs of incorporation and federal filing fees. This is the uncomfortable part for us; none of us is used to asking for anything more than information. But we'd like you to consider making a small contribution. Even $10 or $20 would be most helpful.
Send contributions to I Want My Rocky, 1559 S. Bellaire St., Denver, CO 80222.
Thank you so much for your support and encouragement throughout this process. We lost the paper; we hope you'll help us save the news.
Kim Humphreys and Mel Pomponio