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Rocky Mountain News' John Temple on whether or not this week will be "boxless"

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At staff meetings he's held on Thursdays since the December announcement that the Rocky Mountain News had been put up for sale by its owner, E.W. Scripps, John Temple, the paper's editor, publisher and president, has frequently reassured his staff that a given week would be "boxless" -- meaning that employees wouldn't need to bring in boxes in order to clear out their desks. Last Thursday, however, Temple didn't use the boxless line -- and its absence was felt amid the week's developments. After all, Scripps had issued a memo on Wednesday announcing assorted cost-cutting measures, including salary decreases and changes to the 401(k) program and the pension plan. On top of that, Scripps CEO Rich Boehne said in a Thursday conference call with investors that the Rocky's future, or lack thereof, should be determined by March 31.

Temple's explanation about the missing "boxless" reference? He forgot, pure and simple. "I was just tired," he explains. At this point, though, he doesn't feel comfortable declaring a state of boxlessness for this week. "I don't actually know," he says. "This is so complicated that who knows how it's going to break down. I sort of feel like I'm living my life day by day. It's about the only way you can do it."

According to Temple, his talk at the most recent meeting centered on the Scripps memo, the conference call and the announcement of six major layoffs at the Denver Post, which he sees as "an indication of the challenges here in Denver -- the difficulty of the situation." He also entertained questions from attendees, but there weren't many. In fact, he thinks only one person may have piped up -- and he understands why.

"People have asked a lot of questions over the weeks, but unfortunately, many of them I can't answer," he acknowledges. "If someone asks, 'When are we going to know something?,' all I can tell them is, 'I don't know' -- and how long can you say that for? But I still think there's value in getting together and communicating.

"It's a very, very difficult time for people," he goes on. "And as the economy weakens, in some ways it gets more difficult. But on the other hand, we also had some people leaving for jobs" -- including Pulitzer Prize-winning shutterbug Preston Gannaway, whose departure was confirmed in the February 19 blog "Two Members of Rocky Mountain News Photo Staff Among Those Leaving Paper," as well as reporter Todd Hartman, the new media-relations manager for the Governor's Energy Office (GEO). In Temple's view, "That's encouraging on some level. It's not like there's no jobs out there."

Temple is also pleased with the content of the paper. "We've got an enterprise story that leads the paper on a Monday," he points out, referencing a Burt Hubbard article that reveals Colorado to be 49th out of 50 states in terms of financial largesse from the recently inked economic-stimulus bill. He hopes his staff will continue to do good work even as the waiting game goes on. "I keep telling people to be patient," he says. "I know [Scripps is] trying to resolve this thing. They're trying to figure this thing out."

Once they do, Rocky employees will finally know if and when they'll need those boxes.

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