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John Temple on Why The Rocky Mountain News Won’t Go the Way of the Albuquerque Tribune

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As noted in this August 29 blog entry, E.W. Scripps, owner of the Rocky Mountain News, recently made the decision to sell another of its newspaper properties, the Albuquerque Tribune. After word of the move broke, some folks in the Rocky newsroom wondered if the move portended ill tidings for their paper, another of Scripps’ western-region properties that, like the Tribune, is part of a joint-operating agreement with a crosstown rival. Although Rocky editor/publisher/president John Temple, who worked at the Tribune before relocating to Denver, mentioned the woebegone broadsheet in his September 1 column, he didn’t discuss it at length. While chatting with Westword for the September 6 Message column, however, he went into greater detail, eulogizing the Tribune even as he offered reasons why he doesn’t believe the Rocky will share the New Mexico publication’s fate.

“Everybody who worked there knew it was probably inevitable this was going to happen at some point,” Temple acknowledged. “The paper produced some fantastic journalism, and some great journalists have gone through there. It’s been an incubator of a lot of good ideas. But being a p.m. newspaper is very, very difficult in today’s world.”

That’s right: The Tribune delivered in the afternoon, and as Temple accurately points out, “that’s not a viable model” these days. Moreover, Temple stresses, the Trib’s agreement with the morning Albuquerque Journal “isn’t a fifty-fifty JOA with an independent agency,” as is the pact linking the Rocky with the Denver Post. “The Journal runs the business, meaning that the Tribune’s editorial competitor is controlling all of that.” The size of the news hole varies in Albuquerque as well, and so, too, does the amount of advertising. “Major advertisers would only buy ads in one paper, and once that happens, one paper isn’t seen to be important for commercial reasons,” he argues. “That diminishes a paper’s value, because advertising is an important reason people read newspapers.”

Due to these factors and others, the Tribune was only printing about 11,000 copies per day toward the end – a little over one-tenth as many as the Journal. In contrast, the Rocky and the Post are at similar circulation levels, and by at least one significant measure, the Rocky is in the stronger position. Temple boasts that his tabloid “has a stronger paid circulation weekdays than the Post and has maintained that seven years into the JOA.”

As Temple sees it, “the Albuquerque JOA wasn’t exactly a failure. It lasted almost eighty years, and during that time, the Tribune contributed enormously to New Mexico life and the public good in the state.” Nevertheless, he concedes that “it’s very sad to see talented journalists potentially losing their jobs and to see a voice that has had many flashes of brilliance be silenced.”

The Rocky, for its part, shows no signs of quieting down. – Michael Roberts

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