Denver’s Newspapers – “For God’s sake, let us sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of…” goats – Redux

“But there is no joy in Mudville – mighty Casey has struck out.” Casey at the Bat – Ernest Lawrence Thayer

News this morning that the Rocky Mountain News is defunct, on the block for sale or, more likely, well, death, is not something that provides joy, or even a pleasurable I told you so. This, the 150th anniversary of the paper’s founding, urges many of us to take a little trek into nostalgia where this feisty tabloid was and will remain a significant part of Denver’s history. But, still, probably sooner than later, the Rocky will indeed be relegated to the detritus of what was, rather than what is.

I’ve posted–probably ad nauseam–about, not specifically the Rocky, but, rather about the beginning of the end for the Rocky…the Denver Newspaper Agency formed by the Joint Operating Agreement that created the same. And, really having nothing much more to say about the inevitability of the Rocky’s demise, I simply provide a dated (March, 2008) post that may, if you’re interested, provide some background, personal experience, history with regard to the death of…goats. (Some links may not still be relevant or even work, but, if you’re brave enough to wade through it, links and all, there is contained therein some modicum of reasonable explanation for, yes, again, the inevitability of the Rocky’s demise.)

“So they char the inside of their bodies in order to scrape up news which can go out to the machine, that enormous machine, that intellectual leviathan which is obliged to eat, each day, tidbits, gristle, gravel, garbage cans, charlotte russe, old rubber tires, T-bone steaks, wet cardboard, dry leaves, apple pie, broken bottles, dog food, shells, roach powder, dry ball-point pens, grapefruit juice. All the trash, all the garbage, all the slop and a little of the wealth go out each day and night into the belly of that old American goat, our newspapers…

“So great guilt clings to reporters. They know they help to keep America slightly insane.”

Norman Mailer

I catch the daily feed from the Denver Business Journal which, understandably, does not slink (rather, it appears to celebrate) from reporting on the demise of the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News. The Denver Post is owned by MediaNews Group, Inc., the principal owner being William Dean Singleton. The Post and the News are both published by the Denver Newspaper Agency under a joint operating agreement (JOA) that was established following the approval of the same in January, 2001, by none other than the Attorney General of the United States at the time, Janet Reno.

One of the latest reports from the Denver Business Journal noted:

Denver-based newspaper company MediaNews Group Inc. has been placed on a “negative” watch status by Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services.

S&P on Jan. 24 had lowered the corporate credit rating of privately-held MediaNews to “B” from “BB-minus,” citing “heavy debt levels” and “limited cushion in bank covenants.” The rating was lowered from BB to BB-minus in June 2006.

In explaining the negative-watch announcement, S&P analyst Emile Courtney cited “ongoing concerns regarding operating trends in the newspaper sector, which we believe will continue to drive meaningful [earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization] declines for newspaper companies” this year.

Ahem… “…ongoing concerns regarding operating trends in the newspaper sector…”

The Denver Business Journal also reported:

The Denver Newspaper Agency, publisher of The Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News, sustained a decline in revenue in the fiscal year ending June 30, to $386.3 million from $419.1 million the previous year and $433.2 million the year before that, The Post’s owner reported Friday.

The DNA, which publishes the two dailies under a deal between the newspapers’ owners, reported net income for the 2007 fiscal year of $12.3 million, down from $21.8 million the year before.

…The figures were contained in the annual report of Denver-based MediaNews Group, the privately held company that owns The Post. The report was filed Friday with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Companywide, MediaNews Group ad revenue decreased 6.6 percent in the last fiscal year, not including additional revenue from several newspapers it acquired during the year, the company said. It said the only category to record an increase was Internet advertising, which climbed 7.7 percent.

The company’s circulation revenue also dropped by 5.6 percent during the fiscal year, again excluding newly acquired papers.

MediaNews Group did not separately report newsroom expenses at The Denver Post in its annual report. However, the report said that the company sustained a combined loss of $10.4 million on its JOAs in Denver and Salt Lake City in the fiscal year ending June 30, an improvement over the $23.3 million loss reported the previous year.

Back in May, 2001, Patty Calhoun over at Westword wrote a piece with regard to a Denver Charter Amendment (1B) (that the insufferable bureaucrat–now who could that be??–wrote and carried through the City Council approval process with the assistance of the City Attorney’s Office), that took the newly formed Denver Newspaper Agency to task for opposing the said amendment. The amendment provided that the City no longer would be restricted by Charter language to publish public notices exclusively in newspapers. She noted, in part:

While Denver has been posting official notices on its Web site (denvergov.org) for some time, the city’s interest in exploring advertising alternatives exploded after the DNA quoted its new ad rates: The 83 cents a line the city had paid to put legal notices in the News was being jacked up 360 percent. And although that increase was lower than what some stunned retail advertisers were reporting, it still seemed ridiculous to George Seaton, director of purchasing for the City and County of Denver. So even as the city negotiated with the DNA — which ultimately dropped the city’s rate to $1.88 a line — Denver officials moved quickly this spring to get Amendment 1B on the ballot.

“The Charter and Revised Municipal Code of the City and County of Denver is currently riddled with archaic and restrictive language that requires the communication of the city’s ‘official’ business to be conducted only through daily newspapers,” Seaton explained in a letter to the editor that neither daily saw fit to publish. “This archaic language surely harks back to Denver’s first Charter of 1904…an era when daily newspapers were certainly the prime method of mass communication. Times and technology have, of course, changed since 1904. We cannot continue to rely upon century-old mandates that have been outgrown by the fantastic and exciting advances in communication technology.”

From radio to television to the Internet, these advances have been an indisputable boon to communication — but no bonus for daily newspapers, which have been dying off with regularity for the past few decades. The News avoided almost certain death when it declared itself the “losing newspaper” in Denver’s longstanding newspaper war and entered into a joint operating agreement with the Post last year, a move that brought us the DNA.

Belaboring this subject, I’ve posted twice on the saga of what I believe to have been the proverbial straw that broke the back of Denver’s daily newspapers. Or, perhaps a better way to characterize it is to say the proverbial straw that broke OUR backs with regard to Denver’s daily newspapers. Those posts are here and here.

The Post and News are struggling to find their way, to establish a credible presence in “… the fantastic and exciting advances in communication technology.” Before that happens, methinks, William Dean Singleton and his minions necessarily need to rise from their repose on the ground, let go of their sad stories of the death of the old goats and walk toward the light where, it occurs to me, all of the rest of us happen to be.


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One Response to Denver’s Newspapers – “For God’s sake, let us sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of…” goats – Redux

  1. doog says:

    George, I neglected to post on this when I first read it, just wanted to say how good your writing is – I always enjoy it. Your attention to historic detail and nuance is much appreciated. Please keep it up. Here’s hoping all’s well in your home. Best wishes!

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