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Rocky Reboot Plan Could Lead to Death of Daily Journalism in Denver, Source Says

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Yesterday, we shared speculation about a possible Rocky Mountain News reboot by gazillionaire Phil Anschutz, with speculation suggesting that an online prototype was a ploy in negotiations to purchase the Denver Post, which has been up for sale since September.

After our post went live, we were contacted by a knowledgeable source with ties to both the Rocky and Clarity Media Group, the Anschutz Entertainment Group branch that's handling the project. The source believes the company wants to bring back the Rocky as a version of Anschutz's Examiner newspapers, two of which have failed. But if the firm ends up with the Post, he predicts dire consequences for journalism in Denver.

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

As we've reported, a teaser for a new Rocky is online, along with a prototype edition that looks slapped together rather than lovingly assembled.

As for Anschutz's actual plans, here are theories shared by one former Rocky employee:

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.

Our aforementioned source with Rocky and Clarity ties feels differently. "First off, there is no way in hell the Rocky prototype and Rocky exploration is Anschutz looking for negotiating leverage in buying the Post," he maintains. "Anschutz leaves all those decisions to Clarity President Ryan McKibben, who quite frankly has no business running a free weekly.

While Anschutz "might give the final decisions to go forward at quarterly meetings," the source continues, "I promise you whether or not Clarity launches the Rocky in Denver is small potatoes to him and inconsequential. That's why Anschutz, who is a very smart man, allows McKibben to remain. Because it really doesn't matter to him."

The source describes Clarity as "a money suckhole playground for McKibben," with the focus on "cheap distribution of ad-filled papers. The journalism being done is never considered."

In the source's view, "the new Rocky prototype is very similar to the failed Clarity-owned Baltimore Examiner and San Francisco Examiner freebie experiments. And they were really proud of those papers. The Washington Examiner still survives solely to espouse conservatism in the nation's capital. What they are doing with this Rocky research and prototype is exactly what they did with their Examiner papers, which were evidently laughed out of their respective cities."

What if Anschutz does buy the Post? The source hopes he puts a separate publisher in charge or allow it to be taken over by the parent company of The Oklahoman, another Anschutz property.

A final word from the source: "If Clarity assumes control over the Post, it will really mean Doomsday for daily newspapers in Denver. We won't be talking about the absurdity of starting up a print product in today's climate. We will be talking about the death of daily print journalism in Denver."

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.

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