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The sun sets on the Rocky Mountain News

The 150-year-old daily newspaper is the victim of declining advertising revenue. Its final edition will be printed Friday.

February 27, 2009|Nicholas Riccardi

DENVER — The Rocky Mountain News announced Thursday that it would print its final edition today, becoming the latest casualty in the steady decline in the economic viability of newspapers.

Richard A. Boehne, chief executive of the E.W. Scripps Co., told staff members that the paper, just two months shy of its 150th birthday, would close effective today.

The move will leave the Denver Post as the city's lone daily newspaper.

"It's a terrible tragedy for the paper and for everybody involved, and a very sad day for Denver," Boehne said at an afternoon news conference.

Scripps announced in December that the paper was for sale, and it allowed a month for prospective buyers to come forward. One suitor emerged but backed out after discovering that it could cost as much as $100 million to keep the publication going, Boehne said.

The closure of the paper, known to locals as the Rocky, had long been expected but still hit the 228 newsroom staff members hard.

"I've been likening it to the death of an elderly, ill relative," said copy editor Hank Schultz, a 23-year newsroom veteran. "You prepare yourself and prepare yourself, and when it happens it's still a shock."

The paper's weekday circulation was 210,000; as recently as 2000, it boasted a circulation of 446,000.

Other newspapers in two-paper towns like Denver are on the brink of closing as the Internet drains the industry of its traditional advertising base. The owners of the Tucson Citizen and Seattle Post-Intelligencer have said the papers will stop publication if no one steps forward to buy them.

Buyers are scarce for newspapers, which are almost universally distressed. The owners of four newspapers filed for bankruptcy protection this week alone.

Tribune Corp., which owns the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune and six other dailies, filed for Chapter 11 in December.

Since 2001, the Rocky Mountain News had been published jointly with the Denver Post. The newspapers shared back-office and printing operations but had separate newsrooms.

William Dean Singleton, whose MediaNews Group owns the Post, said the papers had lost money for three years and it was inevitable that one would close.

"The economy and the changing newspaper model made it impossible to have two newspapers," Singleton said.

MediaNews, which owns the Los Angeles Daily News and several other California dailies, is privately owned. Moody's Investors Service has downgraded the company's bonds to junk status and warned that the firm could default on its debt. MediaNews is seeking wage cuts in its newsrooms, including in Denver.

Nonetheless, Singleton said he was hiring 10 columnists and reporters from the Rocky Mountain News and adding pages to showcase their work.

At the Rocky Mountain News, some people were frustrated that Scripps, one of the few newspaper companies in good enough financial health that its bonds are rated investment-grade, did not hold on and try to outlast the Post. Boehne said it wasn't feasible.

Denver dignitaries mourned the end of a local institution.

"We have lost an important voice in our community," Mayor John Hickenlooper said.

At the Rocky Mountain News, reporters were worried about their futures and that of their profession.

"The fewer news outlets there are, the fewer stories there are," said reporter Sara Burnett, 35. "There are all these stories out there, and these are stories that are never going to get told."

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nicholas.riccardi@latimes.com

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