Friday, February 27, 2009

Rocky Mountain News Shuts Down Amid Ad Slump

The Rocky Mountain News on Thursday became the largest-circulation daily to close its doors in the newspaper-industry crisis, after publisher E.W. Scripps Co. failed to find a buyer for the 150-year-old Denver paper.

The closure of Colorado's oldest newspaper, which prints its last edition Friday, makes Denver the first of what could be a string of major metropolitan markets to lose a daily. Tumbling advertising revenues have endangered one or more dailies in Philadelphia, San Francisco and Minneapolis, among others, and two publishers have filed for bankruptcy protection in the past week alone.

"Most of us thought it was a matter of time," said Bernie Lincicome, a Rocky sports columnist since 2000. "Nobody buys newspapers."

In early December, Cincinnati-based Scripps said it planned to sell the Rocky and its 50% stake in the Denver Newspaper Agency, a joint venture that handles the business operations for both the Rocky and its similarly sized rival, the Denver Post, owned by MediaNews Group. Scripps gave prospective buyers until mid-January to submit bids, but only one potential buyer emerged, and that party didn't present a viable plan, the company said.

Mark Contreras, Scripps's senior vice president of newspapers, said fast shrinking advertising revenues and readership ultimately meant "the model with two major metro dailies in a market the size of Denver was not sustainable." The Rocky had average weekday circulation as of Sept. 30 of 210,281, compared with the Post's 210,585.

Like a lot of cost-cutting measures by newspapers, joint ventures like Denver's haven't done enough to stem the industry's losses. Both Seattle and Tucson, Ariz., which operate as two-newspaper cities under a similar business arrangement, may lose a paper within weeks.

The Rocky's demise ends what is regarded as the country's oldest continuous newspaper rivalry. Fresh off the Rocky's announcement, the Post said it would publish an extra day -- Saturday -- begin delivering to all Rocky subscribers and poach some of the newspaper's star writers.

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