Farwell to the Denver “Rocky”

After months of speculation we now have confirmation — the Rocky Mountain News is no more. A publication that has spanned nearly 150 years, the “Rocky” delivered its final edition early on the morning of February 27th. Parent company Scripps announced on December 4th, 2008 that it was putting the paper up for sale. In the past few years, Scripps has closed newspapers in the two-paper markets of Cincinnati, Albuquerque and Birmingham, Alabama as well.

The Rocky news subscribers will now receive the Denver Post as their main newspaper source. Media News chief executive William Dean Singleton said that he is “confident that the Post, as the only remaining major daily newspaper in Denver, will survive poor economic conditions and return to profitability.” (www.denverpost.com)

This recent cut cements my belief that the future of print newspapers is unknown and not promising. Spending on newspaper ads has dropped year after year and collectively U.S. newspapers haven’t recorded a gain in advertising since 2006, reports the Newspaper Association of America. Classified ad revenues are down as customers have shifted to web-based vehicles for their job searches. Print newspapers are struggling yet online audiences are growing steadily.

What is the next step for newspapers to gain revenue? The talk is that newspapers and news websites want to reverse the trend towards free web readership and start collecting fees for web news content. According to Cablevision Systems Corp (Newsday newspaper), they plan to end the distribution of free web content and make the news gathering capabilities a service for customers. Just today Media Life Magazine posted that Hearst Corp. (owner of 16 papers across the U.S.) announced they are considering a similar approach.

In the past, several major newspapers (Wall Street Journal, NY Times, Financial Times) charged readers for full or partial access to stories on their websites. But in recent years, news content has become widely available for free, forcing some papers to give up subscription fees. The question on everyone’s mind is “Will consumers pay for online content they can get for free?” And that answer is still to be determined.

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