Grand Junction's Daily Sentinel is the very sort of newspaper that seems to be doing well -- or at least not tanking -- in today's challenging print-journalism environment. Thanks to the energy industry and the success entrepreneurs have had at marketing the area as a retirement mecca, the economy is rolling along -- and the older demographic means more traditional newspaper readers per capita. But even these attributes weren't enough to prevent Cox Enterprises, the Sentinel's parent company, from putting it up for sale.
I can't pretend to be objective about the Sentinel. I grew up in Grand Junction, and when I was old enough, I got a job delivering what was then and remains still the Western Slope's largest daily newspaper. I vividly remember those Sunday mornings when an over-protective mama bird would swoop and dive at my head when I walked past her tree to drop three copies of the broadsheet at the Mesa College library. Of course, as the years wore on, I ridiculed the paper as the Daily Senile, because I found it to be woefully out of touch with anything resembling contemporary reality. When it ran an article attacking KMSA, the college radio station for which I worked as a student, I penned an angry and incredibly overwritten response that probably made no sense at all. But they printed the whole damn thing -- because that's what hometown newspapers do. As much as I lambasted the Sentinel, I also relied upon it. The paper had been there my entire life, and I saw no reason to believe it wouldn't remain in place long after I'd moved on.
In recent years, the Sentinel has gotten some competition from a number of rivals, most notably the Grand Junction Free Press, whose coverage of the Sentinel sale announcement was more measured than I anticipated. In contrast, the Sentinel piece by publisher Alex Cox is both impassioned and blunt. "This is a difficult announcement and a dramatic change of course for the Daily Sentinel," he writes. "As publisher of this paper, I have the honor of being the steward of 115 years of newspaper heritage in Grand Junction. Furthermore, I carry in my heart 110 years of Cox heritage, which found its beginnings in the newspaper business in Dayton, Ohio, in 1898." However, as he points out, "the world is changing dramatically -- more so now than most can recall. The evolution of Cox has produced a company that is increasingly invested in other businesses. This announcement is a part of that evolution."
No doubt some firm will pick up the Sentinel, as well as most of the other publications Cox decided to peddle -- most notably the Austin American-Statesman. Grand Junction is too good a market to abandon entirely. Even so, the move is one more indication that those newspapers we once thought of as permanent parts of the landscape are more vulnerable than we ever realized. -- Michael Roberts
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