Former staffers offer contrasting takes on the Rocky Mountain News' troubles

In a January 21 blog, Rocky Mountain News editor/publisher/president John Temple emphasized that "the grapevine doesn't know what it's talking about" when it comes to the future of the paper, which was put up for sale in December by its owner, E.W. Scripps. Given the silence coming from Scripps, however, staffers and press observers continue to speculate about whether the paper's fate will finally be determined this week, or if a resolution is destined to drag out into February or beyond.

Included in this last group are two former Rocky staffers, Brian Crecente (pictured) and Owen Good, who've written about the tabloid's situation in recent days on the gaming website Kotaku. And their opinions aren't exactly mirror images of each other.

As reported in a June 2007 Message column about Rocky staffers leaving the paper's Spotlight section, Crecente, the paper's video-game expert, was asked to give up his beloved beat in order to cover hard news, as he'd done earlier in his career. Instead, he resigned to take a fulltime gig at Kotaku, for which he'd been doing plenty of writing on the side. Nevertheless, Crecente continued to pen occasional freelance pieces for the Rocky, including an annual roundup of the best video games, which he presented with cheekily titled "Golden Crecente" awards.

The latest of these packages anchored the January 23 Spotlight -- and as Crecente conceded in a January 23 Kotaku post, he suspected that "it might be the last with the Rocky seemingly heading toward closure. I could be wrong. I actually didn't think the article would see the light of day."

Later that day, in a Kotaku blog headlined "Newspapers, Yes, They're Still Dying," Crecente elaborated on what the paper's demise means in the grander scheme of things. Here's an excerpt:

To me newspapers are like a utility. They're like electricity or telephone service. So when I hear that a major daily paper is going to deliver only three days a week a chill runs down my spine.

It reminds me of a conversation I had with someone earlier this month about the Rocky. When I told them that the paper was going to likely go under they said "Who cares, I don't read it."

The thing is that whether she knows it or not she benefits from the paper's existence. Many local television and radio news programs lean heavily on news reported in newspapers. The Associated Press gets a bulk of its stories from member papers.

Without a paper all of that is going to dry up. And the people who step into that vacuum, I fear, won't be as interested in covering the mundane but necessary, like school board and city council meetings. They won't call the police station every single day to see what's going on or double check police-involved shootings. They won't question government. And that, that is a pretty scary thought.

Two days later, Good, who wrote about a wide array of news events during his stint at the Rocky, weighed in with a considerably harsher appraisal, entitled "A Dependent Editorial Voice." Some highlights:

I feel keenly the distress of the News' editorial staff; I'm out of work, and few have harsher words for ownership and executives when their lack of vision, their quarter-to-quarter myopia or their fear cost working people their jobs. Over the News' decline you've seen all three in play. But I wish journalists would face up to the fact that the newspaper industry in its present form is not sustainable, and quit writing so many hand-wringing odes to it, which seem only to chastise an already disaffected readership that views journalism's public service as more message than mission...

Let's face reality. The advertisers have given up. The owners have sold you out. The government is broke. I know journalism has graduate schools of professional practice, like law and business. I went to one. But that doesn't make you their peer. You're still their dependent, and you always were.

Many current staffers are no doubt torn between grief and anger, too, just like Crecente and Good. Their responses may be different, but they're rooted in the same grim reality.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts