Denver Post veteran Steve Lipsher learns small-town papers not immune from print-journalism downturn

In an item included in a May 2008 Message column, longtime Denver Post staffer Steve Lipsher talked about his decision to leave the beefy broadsheet in favor of a news-editor gig at the Summit Daily News, a 12,000-circulation free daily based in Frisco. His love for the mountains was one motivation for the move, and so was his sense that papers in smaller communities may be better positioned to survive the current economic climate than metro pubs. "The chain I'm joining is Swift Newspapers, and a lot of their small community newspapers are actually gaining circulation and holding their own with advertisers," he said. "If you're an advertiser in places like Summit County, they're the only game in town."

Unfortunately, the Summit Daily News wound up having to downsize every bit as drastically as have larger newspapers across the country -- and Lipsher was laid off in the most recent wave. His goodbye column, "A Few Final Words...," which appears today, begins with the sentence, "These may be the last words I'll ever write for a newspaper," and ends with this request: "Please write me at slipsher@comcast.net if you hear of any jobs!"

Lipsher also responded via e-mail to a request to talk about his situation. Click "Continue" to read his forthright observations:

The Summit Daily News hasn't been as immune to the economic downturn as we'd like to think, and the entire Colorado Mountain News Media chain (Aspen Times, Vail Daily News, Glenwood Post-Independent, Rifle Citizen, Sky-Hi News, etc.) has been going through some pretty major cutbacks since last fall. When I started at the Daily last May, enticed by the prospect of being an editor of a small-town newspaper with a young, enthusiastic staff, it seemed like this would be the best place to hide out and remain in journalism and do some fun, interesting work. I was the one person in the newsroom who brought big-city newspaper experience, and my aspiration was to one day ascend to editor in chief. I never got that opportunity. Although the downturn clearly has affected tourist-oriented businesses, it was the dramatic falloff in real-estate advertising that really seemed to shake these papers, and they've all gone through wave after wave of layoffs and other reductions, including cutting back on publication schedules in some cases. There's talk of trying to create a universal copy desk, and I know for a fact that the papers are going to a smaller web, I believe in June, to save paper costs. When I started, we had sixteen people in the newsroom. Now that I'm gone, it's down to eight. With each passing month, we'd get word that we had seen yet another huge drop-off in advertising and an announcement that we were going to lose so-and-so or such-and-such benefits (to date, it's been a reduction in salary of 2.5-10 percent, a loss of the 401[k] match, a loss of the cool "recreation pass" benefit that allowed us to apply $750 annually toward the activity or gear of our choice, and, in the case of managers, mandatory furloughs). It's been really tough: All those who remain after each cut back have been asked to pick up the slack and work even harder, only to question whether they, too, are expendable. In my case, I guess I was.

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