The Bear Stearns of News

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Here’s a video from Rocky Mountain News worth watching:

Final Edition from Matthew Roberts on Vimeo.

Here’s my take on it:

Viewpoint – Rocky Failure Affects Everybody

About a week ago one of Denver’s major newspapers rolled it’s last page off the press. A sad day, considering Utah’s Deseret News was also in its infancy when Rocky Mountain News printed its first page. In fact, “the Rocky” was going to celebrate its 150th birthday in just a couple months.

Between the crashing advertising market and declining classified revenue, 2008 wasn’t kind to the Rocky Mountain News. In January, its parent company, the E.W. Scripps Company decided to sell after 83 years.

The waited a month to find a buyer. No takers. The big suits told the staff it would be printing its final issue the next day. The paper that survived the Great Depression of 1929 would not survive the Great Recession of 2009.

It’s sad to watch a Denver icon collapse. It’s much like a community patriarch dying. A video tribute on the paper’s web site is almost too depressing to watch. Even more depressing – my nagging question: Could “the Rocky” be a sort of “Bear Stearns” omen of a news industry collapse?

Last fall when as we watched the first investment giant fail, I assumed it was only an isolated incident. It’s reasonable that one financial company might collapse in a retracting economy.

But Bear Sterns turned into a primary domino. Soon other unsinkable titanic names like JPMorgan, AIG, and Merrill Lynch started cascading, too. By Christmas is appeared as though the entire Wall Street banking system had effectively crashed. A cash problem still continues now.

As I watch the tribute to the Rocky Mountain News, I can’t help but see an eerie similarity. I want to be optimistic and believe “the Rocky” is the exception (and everyone else will “pull through”). But I am very worried about some signs I am seeing.

News also has its titanic names: The Tribune Company, which owns a dozen papers, is filing for bankruptcy. The New York Times just took out a huge loan against its new building. Even locally, our pioneer paper, the Deseret News, has let some reporters go. While all of them seem unsinkable now, will they all still be printing in, say, six months? A year? It seems impossible that the New York Times could ever go out of business. But if someone had told me a year ago JPMorgan would one day teeter on the edge of evaporation, I would’ve thought they were crazy.

As a broadcast journalism student, you’d think I’d be happy to see the “competition die.” After all, the television or radio station I hope to work for someday fights for the same ad dollars.

But I am terrified of a world without newspapers. If the news world fails like the financial system, we’ll have something much worse than a credit crunch – we’ll have an “information crunch.” I don’t need to explain how that could be very bad for the free world.

And don’t expect T.V., radio, and or favorite cable news channel to pick up what newspapers leave behind.

Having done a small amount of TV and radio reporting, I am beginning to realize how much we rely on newspapers. Only they have the resources to extract the juice from a boring public meeting or make sense of a long, rambling government document. They are the ones who fill the Associated Press wires with stories.

No television station could afford to let two of their reporters spend weeks looking into a suspicious burglary. But the Washington Post could. And it eventually toppled President Richard Nixon.

Newspapers are a fixture of broadcast story meetings from KSL 5 to CNN in Atlanta. They always have been. I hope they always will be.

Thankfully, Colorado still has the Denver Post for the time being. But what happens when a one-newspaper town loses its only paper? I’m not exactly sure, some city will probably find out this year.