At the February 26 press conference announcing the imminent closing of the Rocky Mountain News, E.W. Scripps CEO Rich Boehne announced that the Rocky website and archives were for sale. Now, a credible bidder is stepping forward to announce his interest in the journalistic treasure trove: Texas-based investor Brian Ferguson. According to him, "We're in the process of developing a proposal to acquire the assets of the Denver Publishing Company, which owns all of the intellectual property of the Rocky Mountain News."
If Ferguson's name sounds familiar, it should. An article by David Milstead and James Paton from the Rocky's last issue revealed that the entrepreneur -- an attorney and accountant representing private-equity groups such as Midland Media Partners and TXA Exploration -- had serious discussions with Scripps about purchasing the tabloid.
At that time, Ferguson said, "We were very excited about the opportunity the Rocky presented, especially the high quality of journalism produced by the staff. We committed a significant amount of time and resources attempting to craft a successful offer for the paper." He stressed that "Scripps's management team went above and beyond anything we would have expected to help try and close a sale of the Rocky" -- but ultimately, "the complex nature of the joint operating agreement and the large number of constituencies involved prevented us from being able to adequately mitigate the risks involved in an acquisition."
Even so, it was clear from Ferguson's quotes that the Rocky meant more to him than a mere moneymaking opportunity. "Unfortunately, we were unable to deliver on our end of the bargain, and I regret that we failed both for the folks inside the newsroom and in Colorado," he told the paper -- and two weeks later, he sounds just as high on the product.
"The only reason that we're interested in the Rocky and the Rocky brand is because of the generations of work done by some insanely brilliant people," he says. "The Rocky's not just another newspaper. It's not even close to just another newspaper. It's one of the great brands in the whole industry. It's unique. It's different. It meant something beyond just having a printed paper, and that's what gives it value."
As for what he would like to do with the Rocky's intellectual property, he notes that "the first overriding principle would be to preserve and protect the century and a half's worth of work that was produced up until this year. There's a lot of talent, passion and craftsmanship that went into that work, and it needs a steward for future generations to make sure it's available for the historical record, for research purposes and for the public to enjoy."
But would he also consider relaunching the paper? Although Ferguson responds with caution, he doesn't reject the notion out of hand. "In the current environment, it's difficult to speculate on the future of any print publication," he concedes. "That said, we love printed newspapers, we know from our research that readers continue to love printed newspapers, and advertisers continue to love printed newspapers -- because printed newspapers deliver results for advertisers and deliver great content to readers."
At this point, Ferguson doesn't know when bidding for Denver Publishing will open. "Scripps obviously controls the timeline, and they've yet to communicate that to us or announce a formal process, so we're waiting to hear from them," he allows. At this writing, calls to Scripps spokesman Tim King have not been returned; an update will be published in The Latest Word after he responds. But Ferguson thinks the company simply doesn't want to rush into anything: "Scripps is very diligent, but they're also very thorough and deliberate in these types of processes. So I would imagine they're preparing a lot of materials for the process, and that takes time."
In the meantime, Ferguson is watching and waiting for the next series of developments, in which he may very well play a part. "The final chapter in the Denver newspaper saga has yet to be written," he says. "We're all hoping it doesn't end in Chapter 11. But none of us know exactly where it's going to go."
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