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Rocky Mountain News intellectual property sold -- but former owner E.W. Scripps isn't saying who bought it

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On February 26, the day before the first anniversary of the Rocky Mountain News' final edition, we published an item about the status of the paper's intellectual property -- most importantly its name and web address. Rich Boehne, CEO of E.W. Scripps, the Rocky's owner, had revealed that this material was for sale during the press conference about the tabloid's impending demise, and shortly thereafter, Texas investor Brian Ferguson announced his interest in purchasing it -- something he's reiterated regularly over the past year.

Two weeks later, Scripps spokesman Tim King reveals that the intellectual property has been sold -- but that's about all. In his words, "The E.W. Scripps Company no longer owns the name or URL of the Rocky Mountain News. By agreement with the buyer, I'm not at liberty to disclose the terms of the sale or the identity of the buyer."

What the hell?

Presumably, the main reason an individual or business would want to buy the Rocky's intellectual property would be to use it to launch a new physical or online news product. (After all, the archival material -- another potential source of revenue -- has already been donated to the Denver Public Library.) And it would seem difficult to maximize such an investment in secret.

Nonetheless, King won't reveal anything about the purchaser -- whether it's a commercial enterprise, a nonprofit institution or whatever. And he makes it clear that Scripps is under no obligation to do so -- ever. "The buyer will make himself known on his time schedule," King says.

As for Ferguson, he was informed that he hadn't won the right to the Rocky name and website yesterday. Here's his response, delivered via e-mail:

For the last two years we have been in the market for quality newspaper assets. During that time we've won some and lost some. It's no secret that we were always interested in making an aggressive bid for the Rocky Mountain News and were actively preparing contingency plans in the event we were able to successfully acquire the Rocky's assets. Today we learned that another buyer has been entrusted with care of those assets. Our hope is that the buyer is as in love as we were with the Rocky and its rich history. From what I know of the leadership team at Scripps, I trust that they would only sell the property to a buyer who has the proper respect for the assets.

Where's that leave fans of the Rocky, as well as Colorado news consumers in general? With an even deeper mystery...

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