Rocky Mountain News Reboot Plan: Warning Shot to the Post or Real Deal?

Yesterday, the Denver Business Journal reported that gazillionaire Phil Anschutz, whose properties include the Colorado Springs Gazette, was "exploring the possibility of reviving the Rocky Mountain News, the Denver daily newspaper that shut down in 2009 after nearly 150 years of publication." But while a teaser for a new Rocky is online, along with a prototype edition, most observers think something other than an actual revival is in play, with popular theories involving the Denver Post, which has been on the market for several months amid turmoil at its parent company, Digital First Media.

See also: Denver Post Officially for Sale

As we've reported, the Rocky's website lingered online for years, frozen at the moment of its February 2009 death. But a few months ago, things began to change -- and now, the site is active again, in a manner of speaking. Stories are being updated on a single page, but the links to stories like Colorado marking two years of legalized recreational marijuana and a man stuck in a restaurant wall connect to other news organizations: CBS4, Fox31, the Gazette.

Meanwhile, the banner item reads: "Check out a FREE prototype of the Rocky Mountain News and tell us what you think!"

Can't imagine there'll be a lot of raves. The layout and look of the sample edition is slovenly and amateurish, as if the template was a third-rate community paper as opposed to a major metropolitan daily. Here's a look at page two.... well as page three.... ...and a random pick from the sports section: If Anschutz and company were really serious about putting a new Rocky on its feet, it's tough to believe their reintroduction of the well-remembered tabloid would look like the work of an overburdened intern given 24 hours to turn the project around.

Beyond that, there's the matter of economics. While Denver supported two competing dailies for decades, times have changed to the degree that such a concept seems ludicrous on its face. No wonder speculation is rife that Anschutz decided to publicize the possible return of the Rocky as a way of pressuring Digital First Media to sell the Post to him at a reasonable rate rather than getting into a head-to-head battle that would hurt everyone.

Also popular is the notion that Anschutz wants to buy the Post and replace it with the Rocky. I suspect he feels more kindly disposed to the latter, which had a conservative editorial policy that better fits his worldview; the Post has been drifting rightward in recent years, but memories of its more progressive period linger.

Here's the take one former Rocky staffer shared with us:

Negotiating ploy. Trying to drive down the price of the Post. He owns the Gazette, so he wants into the Denver market. Namely, he wants the presses up on Washington.

Talk that he would either buy the Post and shut it down and resurrect the Rocky with a Gazette-leaning editorial stance. Or buy the Post and just put the Rocky nameplate on it and rebrand it that way. Guessing he's got lots of cash in hand with the stock market surging like it wasn't six years ago.

Either way, it wouldn't be the "Rocky" if he just renames it and the Post people are putting out the product. I took the survey at the end of the prototype -- which looks like crap and is being widely panned by my Rocky friends on Facebook -- and there are a lot of questions that are directed about the Post.

If I'm at the Post, I'm not sleeping well. Because either the Rocky comes back and the Post gets buried. Or the Post gets rebranded and there will be changes all over the place that they won't like.

John Temple's quote to the Denver Business Journal is spot on:

The Rocky "is more than a name. It's an attitude. It was a group of people committed to something they believed in. I love the Rocky Mountain News. But 'bringing it back' from the dead is going to take more than adopting the name and the tabloid format. All power to them, though. I hope they adopt the attitude of the paper's founder, William Byers, and go for it."

You can slap the name on it. But if it's just the Post with the Rocky name, nothing changes.

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.

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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