Word that the Rocky Mountain News has gotten a temporary reprieve from its owner, E.W. Scripps, which is collecting offers to buy the paper through Friday, shouldn't be interpreted as a sign of renewed stability in Denver daily newspapering. No matter what happens with the Rocky and the Denver Post in the coming days and weeks, it's clear that the joint-operating agreement linking the two papers hasn't provided the sort of decades-long guarantee of print competition that was promised.
Of course, JOAs are wavering or failing at a steady clip these days -- and Rick Edmonds, business analyst for Poynter Media, believes the concept is all but in the grave. In a column entitled "Newspaper JOAs Reach End of the Line," he writes that pacts in Denver, Detroit and Seattle are in freefall for predictable reasons: "All six of the papers have divided markets that naturally could support a single paper, not two. Newsprint got very expensive in 2008, and there has always been the duplicative cost of having two newsroom staffs essentially covering the same set of things. So, again, market forces have overwhelmed the intent of prolonging the life of weakened papers." As such, he believes that the Newspaper Preservation Act of 1970, which formalized newspaper JOAs, will go down as "a modest monument to unintended consequences and ineffectual government intervention. Is it an object lesson in not letting government near newspapers and their troubles (let alone the considerable First Amendment complications of any entanglement)?"