Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Reflections from Rocky Mountain News copy editors, designers, clerks and imagers six months after the paper's final edition

The following are comments I received from former Rocky Mountain News staffers in response to this question in my survey about life six months after the paper published its final edition: Do you have any comments you'd like to share about your experience post-Rocky Mountain News?

These responses came from staff who were in the bargaining unit - the Denver Newspaper Guild - who worked in the newsroom as editors, imagers, technical staff, editorial assistants. You can also read a collection of responses from staff who were in the bargaining unit and worked as reporters, columnists, photographers and videographers and a collection of responses from non-bargaining unit managers. To read a story summarizing the results of the survey, click here. To read the e-mail survey I sent former staffers, click here.

“Despite an impossibly positive outcome for me in the wake of the Rocky's closing, I still mourn the loss of the organization and am saddened that my time there was cut so short. The Las Vegas Sun is a better place for me as a web nerd, but I know there was much I still had to learn from the incredible staff in Denver. There was something transcendent about that newspaper and its staff.
“Everyone loved what they did and was exceedingly talented in their field, and the quality of the product never ceased to reflect these truths, even to the bitter end.” - Danny DeBelius, Web designer

“No matter how bad things might seem, enjoy the time you have because life is good. I spent too much time during the first few months freaking out about the situation and failing to fully enjoy the free time I had. I kept telling myself to let it go. I mean, look at all the awesome uninterrupted time I got to spend with my kids. The job stuff will work itself out, but I will always look back at this time and remember how incredible it was to be around so much during this time in their lives. Plus, I got to spend almost the entire summer at the pool.
“The main thing the paper closing showed me is that it is way more fun to do things that you want to do. I loved working at the Rocky because it was such a special place filled with amazing people doing amazing things. Once that was taken away I had a great opportunity to figure out my priorities. It’s very exciting to reboot your professional life and take such an active role.
“One last thing I'd like people to know, the Post has been an incredibly welcoming environment. People are genuinely sad about the Rocky closing and I get a lot of people asking me how friends they knew at the Rocky are doing. I think they realize what a crappy time it was, and maybe even a slight change in the wind could have led to a different outcome.” - Brian Clark, assistant design director

“As Joni Mitchell sang, ‘You don't know what you've got till it's gone.’ That becomes more apparent with each passing day -- not just over the loss of my livelihood, but with the loss as well of a significant part of my identity -- journalist -- and my association with the people who shared that identity with me. For a lot of us, it wasn't just a career, it was a calling. It's hard to imagine anything taking its place. I'm fortunate in that I'm closer to retirement age than many of my colleagues. I know that whatever I find to do to help pay the bills will be only temporary, which makes the transition a bit easier.
“As to the ‘whatever I find to do to help pay the bills,’ at this point it isn't anything. I remain jobless, though not for lack of trying. I continue to apply for just about anything I'm remotely qualified to do -- and many for which I'm way overqualified -- but it hasn't led to anything so far. I know the economy is partly to blame, as is the sudden glut of highly skilled people in the job market. I can't help but think that age is a huge factor as well.
“In the meantime, I'm trying my best to enjoy this period of "funemployment" -- traveling, visiting family, doing fix-up projects, camping, riding and running, and just kicking back on the deck with book in hand and glass of wine nearby. So, while I mourn the loss of what I (we) had, I'm doing my best to stay positive and to appreciate the good fortune I do have: a wonderful wife who is employed and whose health benefits are available to me, a supportive family and friends, and a cluster of former colleagues with whom I keep in touch (thanks in large part to Facebook and e-mail) and who keep me centered. Miss you all.” - Tim Burroughs, copy editor

“Being unemployed sucks. Period.
“Losing my job has pushed me to do things that I wouldn't have done because I wouldn't have taken the chances. Now I am, and the path keeps opening up before me. By next spring, I hope to have my new store open in the Brighton area catering to cyclists in the north Denver, Brighton, Thornton, Lafayette areas. I wouldn't have tried it if the Rocky didn't close.” - Jay Quadracci, assistant photo editor

“It feels like I've been busier than when I was working full-time. I put in a lot of time with InDenverTimes.com and now RockyMountainIndependent.com, revived my blog, cranked up my volunteer involvement with trail-building, started a weekly woodworking class to build custom furniture for the house, kept up my long-distance running, and continue to look for work.” - Bob Findlay, copy editor

“It's only been six months, but it feels like three years since we left the Rocky. Something about the prolonged circumstances of the sale and the closing, the WARN period, the attempts to starting something in the aftermath, it feels like years of ups and downs instead of just a few months.” - Steve Foster, assistant sports editor/interactive

“I often compare myself to a resident of the Ninth Ward. I miss my old home, but I try not to think about or pine for it too much. Because it's gone. I'm sure journalism's equivalent of Brad and Angelina will try to rebuild some sort of equivalent in due time, but that will take too long and won't come close to replicating what was my professional home - complete with the hassles, stains, stench and Massaros wandering about - for two decades. The analogy is harsh, but it helps to move forward if you acknowledge that you can't go back.” - Michael Mehle, assistant features editor

“I think disheartening is the word that best sums up my post-Rocky life. Maybe I was delusional about landing another job in journalism. Delusional in the sense that I thought it would have been much easier. Delusional in the sense that I thought employers in journalism – journalism even in the broadest sense of the word -- would have been eager to hire someone with 35-plus years in the field. Therein lies the problem. So far I’ve found no one eager to hire a battle-scarred veteran. Even without stating your age in a resume, logic and first-grade math tell the employer that at the other end of the resume is a fossil. Too much experience is almost a detriment. Why hire an old-timer when you can get a novice at bargain-basement prices? At this point I honestly have say that my heart just isn’t in it anymore and I’ll probably look for full-time work outside journalism. In addition, my post-Rocky experience has been one of anxiety and frustration in dealing with medical insurance bureaucrats and unemployment insurance bureaucrats. Most, if not all, of us in the newsroom took the shutdown very hard. But having spent nearly 30 years at the Rocky, I’m still not having a very easy time coming to grips with the closure. It’s one thing to go out on your own terms. It’s something entirely different when you don’t have a say as your job -- and a 150-year-old institution -- comes to a fiery conclusion. On a positive note, I’m still playing hockey. It’s tough on the body, but it’s good for the soul. Sorry for rambling, but this has been somewhat cathartic.” - Mark Christopher, copy editor

“Some days are good; some not so much. I walked by the building today, looked up and thought: This sucks. I still feel sad, not only that my job is gone, but that the Rocky Mountain News is gone. On the other hand, retirement or semi-retirement is not so bad. In some ways I was ready. I'm still exploring options and may decide next year that it's time to find at least a part-time job. For now, I'm having a pretty good time.” - Kathye Thomas, copy editor

“Not much to say except that after 37 years as a journalist, this was an awful way for it to end.” - Richard Lord, copy editor

“I am sorry for the loss of the Rocky - which was the better product in Denver - but not especially sorry for myself. I feel sympathy for those journalists and readers who had a deep love for, and personal sense of loss in, the closing of the Rocky - especially those for whom it was a financial loss as well as a professional loss.
“Thanks to the settlements from Scripps, I have been able to step back and take a larger, longer look at journalism and photojournalism in these unstable times without a strong vested interest in any particular product or medium. It has been great fun working and sharing with former Rocky colleagues in creating the Independent - whether it ultimately succeeds or not. If it doesn't, I will continue the process of reinventing and rediscovering myself through other means.” - Andy Piper, designer

“Like many of us, I have had days - probably more than I care to admit - when I've been sad or angry or lost or confused about losing the Rocky. I miss my friends - the best damn journalists I've ever worked with. I miss the craziness of deadline. I miss leafing through the regional edition then having to wash the nearly fresh ink off my hands and start all over again for the next edition. I don't know if I'll ever work in another newsroom again - that's not melodrama; that's reality. The number of employed professional journalists is dwindling and the industry is evolving. What I believe will remain a constant is the importance of newspapers to communities. Employed or unemployed, it is our responsibility to raise awareness and continually advocate for a free press. To that end, I've decided to pursue a master's degree in education so that I can contribute to a new generation of writers and editors. It was an incredible gift to be able to spend the summer healing; reacquainting myself with family, friends and neighbors; floating in the pool; and reading books I was too tired to pick up after a long day of working with inches upon inches of copy. I'll forever miss the Rocky, but I'm ready to store away this special time in my life, wash just a little of the ink off my hands and start all over again.” - Melissa Pomponio, designer/copy editor

“Every week we still see e-mails from former readers and subscribers who send their best wishes for the success of INDenverTimes.com and online journalism, as well as the Rocky family in general. This business is still fun, and I wish more of us could be involved.” - Steve Haigh, copy editor/designer

“It appears that writers/reporters have had a slightly easier time finding new positions, inside and outside journalism. For editors and designers like me, not so much. The few journalism jobs that are available seem to be seriously undervaluing these skills, which are critical for an off- or online publication seeking to establish a reputation for quality, trust and user-friendliness.” - Cindy House, copy editor/designer

“Having the time off has given me the chance to get out and about a little bit. I've done various short trips around Colorado, a road trip to Lake Tahoe and one to Glacier National Park by way of Teton and Yellowstone national parks. And of course, shooting some photos along the way.
I like to use the term coined by Liz Nayadley – Funemployment. My dog seems to be enjoying my time off. Hopefully something job-wise works out fairly soon – but then again, ski season is fast approaching.” - Vern Slocum, imager

“Before I joined the Rocky, my newsroom roles had been leadership-oriented, both in the newsrooms and in the communities they served. My role at the Rocky was small and contained, but it was deeply satisfying in other ways. As the Rocky's story unfolded, I started to look at how public policy and economics are affecting the news industry as a whole. I see rich opportunities to rethink revenue models and ownership structures, and the policies that support them. I Want My Rocky has partnered with a handful of organizations or projects, including Free Press, to quantify the crisis in journalism and work with other journalists, the public and policy makers to find solutions to the problems that have led us here. In the process, I've re-engaged a skill set I didn't use at the Rocky but wish I could have: writing, advocating, leading and organizing. It's been an exciting time but rather perilous as I attempt to reform my personal revenue model!” - Kim Humphreys, copy editor

“Finding work has been more challenging than I expected.” - Scott Gilbert, copy editor

“I still think I'm a newspaper guy at heart, and that's a tough itch to scratch these day.” - Mike Rudeen, copy editor

“While I had been freelancing part-time for the (Pikes Peak) Bulletin before this job came open, I had no formal interview for the editor position. My bosses were impressed with my resume, especially my stint at the Rocky, and I was just given the job. I'm damn proud to have the Rocky on my resume.” - Anthony Welch, designer

“Denver is a really hard market for creative freelancers. I'm going to continue trying to make things work, but I may be facing a career change in the future. I'm hoping that's not the case.” - Matthew Roberts, multimedia producer

“I love my kids but I miss my Rocky! The tots are cute and all, but they are more demanding than a news editor on Election Night. It's been six months since I slotted a hed, trimmed a story or raided Marty's file cabinet for chocolate. I still have dreams that we are open but stuck in that nightmarish dead zone of "are we going to shut down or not?" I miss newspapering so much that I have applied for jobs from Alaska to Florida. (Yes, Alaska. It can't be that cold, can it?) I want to work with folks who understand "TK" and "-30-" and my sense of humor. I want to beat the pants off our competition and savor it all day long. Most of all, I want to be part of a team of professional journalists again. The Rocky is the second major newspaper that was shot out from under me. Call me a fool but I'm ready to saddle up again.” - Dianne Rose, copy editor

“I feel lucky with my post RMN experience. I got this job (teaching English in South Korea) lined up about a week before the final edition was printed so I was fortunate to move from one job to the next without much hassle. I was shocked and disappointed when the RMN was so abruptly closed, but I still follow the local news from the other side of the world on a daily basis.” - Gary Damrell, preps/sports clerk

“Mixed feelings -- I really needed a break, but not for this long! However, no matter what, I was planning on finishing my novel and marketing it, so it's a great opportunity to fulfill that goal.” - Christina Guerrero, city desk editorial assistant

“I miss the everyday challenge of coming up with ways to visually tell a story. Every day I felt like I was learning things about the world as I was sifting through stories and coming up with ideas for page design. Each day that I came to work was a new and different challenge, and there was never a dull moment. I definitely miss many of the people I worked with.” - Amy Speer, designer

“I miss the energy and enthusiasm that our Rocky staff provided for breaking news and projects that made me never lose sight of protecting our democracy and public service to our readers. For a majority of my over 20 years with Scripps and the Rocky, leadership from the top on down was a terrific experience. After being associated with two newspapers that won Pulitzers, my career is complete and ended it with pride.” - Dean Lindoerfer, designer

“I realize after leaving the Rocky that I will never experience anything like I did working there. The intensity, the people and the feeling that what we did was important. Sure there were ups and downs - nothing is perfect, but the dedication kept things going.” - Liz Nayadley, imager

“I began working for the Rocky when I was still in high school. Up until its closure it was the only work experience I'd known as an adult. Once the Rocky closed I realized that I no longer wanted to work in journalism despite the fact that I was finishing up my journalism degree. It's odd, but I've never felt so liberated since the Rocky's closure, as if I was beginning a new chapter in my life. I'm sure for many former Rocky employees that's a scary feeling. But I'm so proud of the Rocky and the people who worked for it that I still hold my head high because I get to tell future employers that I was apart of greatness.” - Jonathan Garcia, part-time preps clerk and part-time interactive assistant

“Honestly, I miss the people more than I even expected, the common bond we shared about putting out the best paper we could every day. I also miss the atmosphere of the newsroom, especially on those days when major news is breaking. There is nothing like that, and I know nothing could replace it. “ - Gerry Valerio, assistant sports editor/preps

“It is terrible not being able to work in a journalism field you were born to do. It is compounded by the feeling that The Rocky was taken away from us and such a great paper fell victim to a Scripps company that showed a willingness to take chances and trust their journalists, but did not have the patience or courage to ride out a bad economic situation.” - Jon Perez, designer

“I LOVE the web site I've started, but it's extremely difficult in this economy to convince advertisers to support an online product. Even though advertisers are cutting way back on their newspaper ad budgets, they're not shifting all of that savings to web-based advertising. It's ironic; web-based information sources are taking a deep cut out of newspaper profits, but advertisers aren't placing a commensurate priority on supporting internet sites. At least that's what I'm seeing six months out.” - George Tanner, copy editor

“I'm disappointed the paper closed and I lost my job, one that I'd worked hard for years to land, and I'm disappointed I've been unable to land another journalism job in the Denver/Boulder area. I'm still trying.” - Bruce Leaf, copy editor

“No. 1. It was a jolt to suddenly have no income after pretty much holding down a job since I was 15. With that went a new feeling of no longer being "relevant," if you will, since my dedicated years in newspaper journalism no longer seemed to matter. So life post-Rocky has meant taking a hard look at the future.
“No. 2. Just last night I was at a happy hour with perhaps 20 former Rocky people, which I think speaks to the good feelings that existed in the newsroom and how former colleagues are trying to keep those connections. We all still lament the loss of the Rocky and the energy it brought not only to us, but to the city. “ - Shirl Kasper, copy editor

“I am going to school to become a physical therapist assistant, moving from the "toy department" (sports) of a newsroom to the toy department of the medical community. It will be a rewarding career, getting to help people back on the path to physical wellness. I miss being in the newsroom and being in the Rocky's sports department. It's still hard for me to believe the Rocky is gone. I feel fortunate to have gotten to work at the Rocky but also fortunate to be a student at Arapahoe Community College.” - Todd Burgess, designer/copy editor

“If it was not for the standards of storytelling, the immediacy of the web, the quality of visual media and the influential leaders of the Rocky, I would not have landed this current job here at The Fund. I feel like I owe everyone in the newsroom a job for teaching me by example by doing what they all did - really well. When we were closed, I was in a panic and went back to my first job in Colorado at Castle Pines Golf Club because it was easy, relaxing, good for my health( and did not require an application, resume and/or someone not calling you back). I never really expected to find a job that was not service or golf related and I was actually preparing to find my place in the freelance world with Aguilar Media - which is on the back burner, but still simmering.” - Jaime Aguilar - imager

“One of my part time jobs? Teaching journalism at CU. And here's what I tell the students. What's journalism? It might not be a paper product. But the roles of the journalist remain the same, and a good writer/reporter/editor will always be in need. Those roles? To enlighten. To inform. To entertain. To be a sleuth. To make people laugh. To make people cry. To document a little piece of history, whether it seems insignificant at the time, or is clearly a moment people will talk about for years.” - Maria Cote, assistant features editor

“I'm enjoying the chance to travel, and the time to consider what direction I want to take next in life.” - Amy Burke, web producer

“It would compromise my severance agreement with Scripps, which I see was profitable the last quarter. But beyond that, it's been miserable.” - Chuck Hickey, copy editor

“The job hunt is so different than just nine years ago. I like the ease of applying online but am frustrated by the lack of response. I would like to know why I didn't make the cut.” - Paula Lentini, designer

“Being unemployed has been very hard. I was always used to being very busy in my life and now I felt like I had nothing going on.” - Chris Schmaedeke, sports editorial assistant

“It has been a more difficult adjustment than I would have believed at the start of the year. I am now 60, so unless I plan to move out of the city or the state for a newspaper job, I have pretty much concluded that my journalism career is over. I now find myself in this quasi-retirement state (I'm on my second part-time job) feeling as if I'm too young to call it quits in the workplace and not having the energy to continue the daily grind. I'm still sorting it out, but my feelings -- call it mental exhaustion -- might have something to do with the emotionally charged battle we all fought during the last months at the Rocky, and then the battles we continued fighting after the paper closed. Even during the best of times the job could be stressful, but the last three months at the paper took its toll. I am lucky to have a wonderful wife with a full-time job, so we're not facing eviction or the poorhouse. But for me, it's been a struggle to adjust to this life-changing event, and to accept the fact that a Denver institution that I worked at for so many years no longer exists. I eventually will get over it. I just have to stop looking back.” - Hereward Bradley, copy editor

“I loved being part of the of the newsroom. I don't think I could ever find another job that could ever match that of the Rocky. The rush of the city desk and the way everyone worked together was unbelievable. It truly was my home away from home and I miss my Rocky family.” - Karen Ziegler, city desk editorial assistant

“I'm glad that I'm still in "communications" and glad that my experience as a journalist helps me do my current job better, but knowing that I probably won't ever work in a newsroom again is tough.” - Alexandra Foster, copy editor




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