Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Reflections from Rocky Mountain News reporters, photographers, artists, videographers and cartoonists 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 as reporters, columnists, artists, photographers and videographers. You can also read a collection of comments from staff who were in the bargaining unit and worked in the newsroom as editors, imagers, technical staff, editorial assistants and a collection of responses from non-bargaining unit managers. Click here to read a story summarizing the results of the survey and here to read the e-mail survey I sent former staffers.

“I feel like the cadaver being asked by the funeral director, how did you like the flowers?” - Bernie Lincicome, sports columnist

“I'm truly enjoying my new life. I love working for myself and discovering a different world out there. I'm fortunate to have had the experience at the Rocky to set me up for this new life, and couldn't have had such a great start at my own business if it wasn't for the Rocky and its great reputation. The Rocky has meant so much to the public, and I'm benefitting from that. I know that our separation package has allowed me to work for myself with a more calm and confident approach--I think that makes a difference in my interactions with clients.” - Ellen Jaskol, photographer

“After almost 22 years at the News, and 39 years in the business, life post-Rocky has had its wrenching moments. I miss my public voice, and covering issues and people I thought were important for the community to learn about. I am heartened when I hear people say they miss the News, and I think the city has suffered because of the loss of a strong news and information voice that seemed to care more about what is going on here than, shall we say, other media outlets. I also think I am really lucky to be in a situation where I am learning new skills every day and working with a great group of people. It’s just been one of the oddest years of my life. I hate to rush the year, but I’m ready to kiss 2009 goodbye.” - Mary Chandler, art and architecture writer

“Like so many people, I simply miss the Rocky, its folksiness, the camaraderie that was its hallmark. I am fortunate that I simply got to change floors and keep essentially the same job. Thing is, even though the Rocky is gone, I still kind of feel like a traitor. Maybe it is just part of the mourning process of losing something that was a part of my life for over a dozen years, of feeling a deep sense of survivor guilt with so many former colleagues out of work, why I can't seem to delete "The Rocky" from my laptop's list of favorites”. - Bill Johnson, local columnist

“After 31 years at the RMN, the closure -- the announcement of the possibility, the waiting, the swiftness when it finally happened -- still seems surreal. I'm fortunate to have found something fairly fast (I was hired by CU in mid-July) in this area, and in a position that allows me to write. I feel like I've walked away from the crash, but I hurt for so many good people that haven't found anything yet.” - B.G. Brooks, sportswriter

“After the closing of the Rocky I went to work right away putting together 3 web sites, one to host cartoons, another to host my portfolio, and another site with tips, techniques and insight into the creative process. That's been a blast to do and I think has some real potential. I also put together promotional materials for my freelance business, attended a few conventions relating to the freelance industry and I'm slowly adding clients to my list. It will take time. The market is obviously challenging right now. But I am optimistic about it rebounding in the 2nd or 3rd quarter of 2010. I'm also seeking to move more into the world of Children's product development: children's books, animation and graphic novels. I'm continuing to pursue avenues for my sports content in various ways. More than anything else I'm enjoying the creative freedom to create whatever I want and work on my own time frame (late, late nights for me) to meet deadlines. I'm nowhere near making what I made at the Rocky and I know lifestyle changes are on the horizon. I also know I must come up with ways to pay for health care and the myriad of expenses that come with day to day living and, at times, it seems somewhat daunting. But it's no use worrying day to day. I'm confident a path will come clear as time rolls on. While I miss the Rocky, and my many friends who were a part of producing a great paper, I prefer to look ahead rather than behind. You can't get to second with your foot on first.” - Drew Litton, cartoonist
Go to http://www.drewlitton.com for my sports cartoons.
Go to http://www.littoonzstudios.com for my portfolio
Go to http://creatorsincubator.wordpress.com for creative tips, techniques and insight.

“I tell people, ‘I make less money and have less ‘security’ than before, but I'm happier.’ I didn't realize the wearing-down I was feeling, as the Rocky wore down. I'd pick up the Rocky from my driveway, and as it got slimmer and slighter, I realized ---- but only afterwards ---- that I was starting each day with this growing uneasiness, like, geez, this is my livelihood; but how can it survive? In the last few years, I tried to think of other things I wanted to do, but my mind was a blank. I really loved working for a newspaper. But it had become like seeing somebody you love waste away. Today, I'm glad for the new opportunities. It feels absolutely right. But there's still this stab of loss that happens when I least expect it -- like somebody on the radio will quote something from the Post and I'll think, ‘Damn it, where's the Rocky?? We should be there!’ or I'll hear the name of somebody I've interviewed over the years, or something will happen on my former beat and I'll just reflexively think -- ‘OK, how am I going to cover that?’
Over time, I've come to be grateful to have the Rocky as part of my past, and glad to have seen it through. In a weird way, it was a real privilege, not to mention historic, to be there for the end of a 150-year-old institution, which had been loved by so many people. Now, on to a new day.” - Jean Torkelson, reporter

“I am grateful to have been part of such a great paper. In my three years at the Rocky, I contributed to most of the departments and got to know great people who cared about their craft. My greatest joy was to be part of the team that developed the video presence on the Rocky’s Web site, and who can forget working with Sam Adams on a weekly sports video column? By surrounding myself with great talent, I became a better multimedia journalist.” - Laressa Bachelor, videographer

“I was fortunate to get a decent amount of freelance work during the Nuggets' deep playoff run. However, you spend as much time trying to get paid for freelance work as you do on the work. I also was part of the failed InDenverTimes venture. We began with great optimism, but were hit hard with reality when we got only about 3,000 subscriptions, well short of the hoped-for 50,000.” - Chris Tomasson, NBA reporter

“I'm very fortunate. I received and accepted an offer for my current job (managing editor of the Carolina Journal) a few days after the Rocky closed. My wife and I had to sell a house, move across the country, leave a network of friends we had quickly and actively developed.
“But we're happy here. I'm nourishing my roots. I do not miss the combination of certainty and uncertainty accompanying every day at the paper from early December until the end of February. By late December, I was fairly certain the paper was going to close. But I didn't know when, and I had convinced myself that I would probably leave journalism rather than leave Denver to seek another job in dailies unless an ideal opportunity came along. It did. So again, I'm very lucky.” - Rick Henderson, editorial writer

“During nearly three decades in journalism, I found the Rocky had the best team-work of any newspaper for which I'd worked. It was just an unofficial credo of the Rocky that you put your ego aside, dived and helped your colleagues do the best possible journalism.
“Of course, I'm saddened that this scrappy, historic newspaper was taken down by a perfect storm: a double-tsunami of nose-diving revenues in the changing newspaper industry and the Wall Street and housing industry collapse.
“Often, my Denver neighbors tell me with genuine sorrow how much ‘We miss our Rocky.’ I wish Scripps had fought to make the Rocky the top paper in the 2000 JOA negotiations. It could have bought the Rocky, which remained the circulation leader to the end, time to continue evolving toward a Web-based platform.
“We had a helluva team: great thinkers and writing voices, dogged reporters, stunning photographers and gifted designers.
“It burns me that a great ride was cut short.
“But Rocky journalists continue to do strong work -- on the Web, at other newspapers, in broadcasting and at myriad new venues.
“My hope for accountability journalism and the open, healthy democracy it nurtures, is that a new generation of technology-savvy, multi-media Web journalists will create a thriving forum to muck-rake, inspire and outrage local communities. Without local reporters digging out the real story, our democracy will suffer.
“Best of luck to everyone in the Rocky family, it is an honor to have worked with you.” - Alan Gathright, reporter

"I think we obviously all have a lot to offer in other fields and that was reaffirmed in the process of interviewing for something new. The Rocky's closing, while wrenching for me and all of us, offered me the opportunity to make a break into something totally different. Leaving journalism doesn't mean I can't make a difference in some way. I decided to pursue a leadership role because I hoped it would allow me to have a significant impact as quickly as possible, as well as a little more control over my future success. I'm not as much of a fan of the phrase, 'When one door closes, another one opens,' as much as I like the saying, 'What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.' One thing has become clear to me over the years: 'Change is good.' I wouldn't have come to the Rocky if I hadn't been looking for a new opportunity. If I hadn't been at the Rocky, I wouldn't have been out learning new things and meeting new people. All of the relationships I developed in Denver made the transition easier. That ability to quickly develop new relationships and get up to speed in new areas - two of the things you need to 'do' good journalism - are some of the things I hope will help me in my new adventure. Two weeks in - so far, so good!" - Joanne Kelley, reporter

“It was a wake-up call to figure out whether to turn right or left or maybe to go forward or shift into reverse.” - Jim Benton, sports reporter

“It's been a very difficult transition. Obviously, it's hard to move to a new country; there are certain romantic aspects to living in Italy and the food is great, but at the end of the day, everything is harder.
“There's not a day that goes by that I don't miss The Rocky and being a journalist. I loved everything about the place—my cluttered, map-filled desk, the new building's HVAC system that seemingly targeted Mark Christopher and would blow super-chilled air on his neck, cranky colleagues on deadline, Dean Lindoerfer—never giving up the faith—wheeling by in yet another Bronco's jersey, Nancy Mitchell working the refs (read Armando Arrieta) about who chopped her story. I could go on and on.
“My wife keeps asking me why—when people query me as to where I'm from and what I do—I say I'm from Denver, Colorado (when I was born and raised in Kansas City) and a journalist. I reply, "Because I am and I am." The Rocky is a hard habit to break, I guess.
“It's just so hard to see journalism "contract" and graphics almost disappear. I understand that the Atlanta Journal Constitution laid off its entire graphics staff while the Houston Chronicle slashed a mere 50% from its stable, to name just a few. Not only is it a severe body blow to lose your own job but it is doubly wrenching to see a profession that is so important to society and that you love so much fade away. This time, I don't know if these lost jobs and the talented people that defined them are ever coming back.” - John Sopinski, graphic artist

“Today is the six-month anniversary of the last edition of the Rocky Mountain News. When I was a student at the University of Denver, Chancellor Maurice Mitchell shared with me his theory of the evolution of media. He believed that the more intimate medium would inevitably supplant the less. Thus, the extremely portable 35 mm camera led to large format magazines like Life and Look, which replaced the text-based magazines like Colliers. Television, in turn, ruined the large format mags. That conversation took place more than 40 years ago, but I’m convinced Mitchell was right. It took a while, but 24-hour cable news and the internet have taken their toll on newspapers. Those of us whose careers have been cut short by the demise of the Rocky and the cutbacks at other papers have been justifiably critical of newspaper management for not responding aggressively to the reshaping of the media landscape, but I wonder if we haven’t been a little too harsh. Buggy whip manufacturers may well have seen the end coming when the automobile arrived, but it’s hard to know how they could have saved their industry. The truth is, there’s no way for newspapers to recover the ad revenue lost to other venues, or to reclaim their power with readers who have access to so many other choices. I find myself wondering how the health care debate would play out if newspapers were still the dominant news source, and equally, whether this country ever would have passed Social Security or Medicare if the shouting heads of cable tv and the insidious disinformation of the internet had been in play then. The sad truth is that, even if newspapers, with budget cuts, restructuring, and more aggressive use of social networking tools and video, find a way to remain profitable, they have lost forever their pre-eminent position as public persuaders. I’ve seen this coming in my own journalistic niche. When I first joined the Association of Editorial Cartoonists, our annual meetings were attended by senators and congressmen eager to have out ears. We routinely were invited to the White House when we convened in Washington. The men and women in power feared our pens. Now they fear Jon Stewart. I don’t know what the future holds for our profession. Perhaps the printed word will rise again in triumph. Or maybe the New York Times or the Washington Post or some unexpected player will create a new, hybrid multimedia form of journalism that will have the power newspapers used to wield. And maybe in that mythical medium my caricatures will again make the movers and shakers quake. They’d better hurry. I’m not getting any younger. To see more cartoons like The Future of Newspapers?, have them delivered to your email, join the discussion, and more, visit EdSteinInk.com” - Ed Stein, cartoonist

“Soon after the Rocky closed, I attended a living history event with my children at the Colorado History Museum. A wonderful storyteller dressed as Augusta Tabor enlightened us about life in 1859 as she and her husband crossed the prairie and arrived in what was then known as Denver City. She spoke of her family's struggle to survive and riding a ferry across the Platte River before heading into the mountains to search for elusive riches in mines. As I listened to her story, I thought of the Rocky's humble beginnings and how intertwined the Rocky is with Denver. And all I could think was, "What a waste. What a waste that we threw away so much history." I'm still sad that our paper died before a new model could emerge to save it. I have come to believe that for-profit corporations can no longer be entrusted to run newspapers.
“While I am personally doing well and look forward to reinventing myself, I am very sentimental about all the interesting people I interviewed over the years and all the great stories we told. I miss chatting with funny, brilliant colleagues like Mark Wolf and Mike Littwin. And clearly, I am still grieving over the demise of newspapers.” - Katie Kerwin McCrimmon, reporter

“I miss all the great people at the Rocky, as well as speaking with and reporting about the great people in Colorado. But I was ready for a change. And the Rocky's unfortunate demise helped bring about that change. I like working for myself and working from home. On the plus side: I set my own hours and have more time with the family. I'm also writing about a topic I feel particularly passionate about: food. I've done this type of work before and the challenge is managing the times when I have too much client work and the times when I don't have enough. Finally, I enjoy having my hands in a few different pots: journalism, blogging, marketing and book editing.” - Roger Fillion, reporter

“I feel very lucky to have a lawn mowing business to fall back on right now. After watching talented people with families to support lose their job at the Rocky and seeing the disappointment in my father's eyes when he lost his job after 19 years, it has emphasized the importance of having a plan 'b' or even 'c' in life. Having witnessing this difficult experience at such a young age will help me as I propel into the future.” - Brian Lehmann, photographer

“I did not know whether I would continue in journalism after the Rocky closed. But my book, Columbine: A True Crime Story (Ghost Road Press, 2009), was released one month later, which allowed me to focus full time on interviews, a book tour, and other book promoting. It was however sad not to have the support of the Rocky during the release of the book. Two days after my last book signing in Houston, I started my job as associate editor at Denver Magazine.” - Jeff Kass

“It’s up to me to create options, day by day. The Rocky gave me a great platform from which to launch what's next. Something's always next!”- Sonya Doctorian, video journalist

“It's been an interesting six months. At one time I was working for six different outlets: an online travel magazine, colorado avid golfer, colorado triathlete magazine, AP, Denver Post, as well as a private promotions company that commissioned a golf story. plus I was shooting photos for real estate friend. luckily all have paid up., save the Post. go figure. they send a bill but not payment. I've also found work with Australia AP while covering U.S. Women's Open in my hometown. And don't forget writing for free for InDenverTimes while covering the Masters. It hasn't been easy. I must have called two dozen outlets before i got one to bite on a great story about half brothers bonding in Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon. Nobodies has any freelance money these days, even some of the bigger publications who have expressed an interest. When the Post finally called back 10 minutes (but one week) after i sold the story I talked then into more of a follow focusing on local brother I haven't ruled out a few books. Or maybe it's time for those photography classes or even cooking school, which makes sense if you know my obsession with the food network. The good part is freedom to explore, take time to travel, golf and enjoy life a little more. Be sure to include that i have a website, which is up though still under construction it's lynndebruin.com with emails at ldebruin1@gmail.com” - Lynn DeBruin, sports reporter

“In some ways it seems much longer than six months. We've talked about this, but I'll say it again: The loss of the Rocky has made me realize how much value there is in an organization of such caliber. The whole truly was greater than the sum of its parts. For the future of journalism, I think we're going to have to find ways to recreate that collaboration and depth -- even if it doesn't exist in traditional newsrooms.” - Laura Frank, reporter

“Enjoying the next and final phase of my career. Steadily building freelance business ... .assignments have taken me to Norway and Chicago ...Enjoy the process of landing assignments ...At 57, this is what I want to do.” - Clay Latimer, sports reporter

“I'm trying new things that I also enjoy involving helping the less fortunate.” - Hector Gutierrez, reporter

“I want everyone to know how special we had it at the Rocky. I miss my former work life and my former colleagues. We had a truly professional operation that we should all be proud of. I enjoy my new job but I am sad about the trajectory of journalism and about the loss of the Rocky. It is a true blow to a healthy vibrant democracy.” - Myung Oak Kim, reporter

“Grad school has been both harder and more rewarding than expected.... Oh, yeah, I also got married in May... my wife, Kate Szrom (a sometimes Rocky freelancer) is also working on her M.A. here at Syracuse.” - Wes Pope, videographer

“I didn’t have to reinvent myself, but rather repurpose my skills. It’s been strange adapting to the culture of a large corporation after being in a smaller dynamic workplace with daily deadlines.” - Charles Chamberlin, assistant design director/graphics

“I have relocated to Boston and work from home for an energy-related company. As much as I loved working at the Rocky, I am not sure I want to re-enter the newspaper industry at this point.” - Gargi Chakrabarty, business reporter

“I'm fortunate to be doing many of the same things on the ‘outside’ as I was at the paper. I'm in touch with a lot of the folks from the paper and working on some projects with a few of them. I have much more time for my family. It's tough to ask for more than that.
“The downsides are that I'm no longer doing a lot of things that I really enjoyed and was fortunate to do at the paper. I miss the daily pace (sort of), the energy of being around really sharp, creative and energetic people and not knowing exactly what was behind Door #1 on any given day.
“Even the worst days at the paper (and there were a few, eh) were still days spent working for a good newspaper. There's no denying that was a pretty sweet deal. If the paper were to magically start again tomorrow, I'd jump back into the mix. At the same time, this is a very interesting time given the tools available to create multimedia and the environment for independent producers is probably as strong as it has ever been. I'm anxious to see how I can make a place for myself in that world. As soon as the learning curve flattens out a bit more, I think I'll be even more excited.” - Joe Mahoney, Assistant multimedia editor

“It's nice not working for the ‘man.’” - John Rebchook, real estate editor

“I feel very lucky to have full-time employment after six months. I still miss reading the paper and being around the newsroom and my friends and colleagues. But I do think we're starting to see our abilities applied at many new venues, and hopefully that's a good thing for us and the community.” - Jay Dedrick, feature writer

“The experience of the last six months has taught me how important journalism is to me. You really come to appreciate the things you love about the job after it's been ripped away from you. I'm lucky to have landed at The Gazette. However, had that not materialized, I would have gone where ever I needed to go to keep practicing this craft.” - John Ensslin, reporter

“When I explain my journalistic history to new sources, even six months after the closing, I am constantly met with the comment, ‘I'm so sorry. We were Rocky readers and we really miss the paper.’ Such comments remind me that even though I only worked there for 7-1/2 months, I will always be a ‘former Rocky reporter,’ a title of which I am very proud.” - Ed Sealover, reporter

“I can't say how badly I wish we were all doing what we love best, still working for the Rocky. And my loathing for Scripps grows stronger each and every day, not just for closing the paper but for all the damage the decision continues to inflict on real human beings and their families, especially in these economic times.” - Rick Sadowski, NHL reporter

“I spent 18 years in news, and I had the time of my life. When I moved to Colorado last summer, I immediately fell in love with the staff and the energy that was the Rocky. I remember telling my husband I wanted to retire here. Little did we know that that would be forced on us just seven short months later. Losing the Rocky was losing a career and an identity. It was losing a passion and, really, a life. But I was lucky. The Rocky put out its last edition on Friday, and I started my new job on Monday. Since then, I have learned all about social networking and marketing, and I have written a manuscript that will be published in a nursing publication. I have transferred my skills to a new passion that can benefit others. I think I will always miss what news used to be and that energy that you only find in a newsroom. But we have to play the hand we're dealt in life. I made some great friends at the Rocky, and I hope they continue to be part of my life for many, many years. Personally, I have embraced a new lifestyle, one that is more about family and less about daily deadlines. I have made my peace with the Rocky closing. And I am happy with my new life. I wish the same for everyone in the Rocky family.” - Judi Villa, police reporter

“I loved working for the Rocky and doing Rocky Preps. I'm just glad I can still do something in high school and motors ports. My best wishes to all out there - hang in there.” - Scott Stocker, prep sports and motor sports reporter

“Overall, my post Rocky life is good. I will say it took time for the reality of the Rocky closing to sink in for me. That may be because I have worked part-time for so many years - since our daughter was born and she's now almost 7 - that I wasn't used to being in the newsroom every day anyway. I still feel a hole in my gut since newspapering has been a major part of my identity as an adult. I am very glad now that I started teaching a couple years ago and expanded my skill set. I really enjoy teaching and working with students at CU. I have also forced myself to learn lots of new skills. I've created a Wordpress blog for my class, just bought a Flip camera, and signed on to Facebook and Twitter. All that is fun, but I'm still pondering how to best use my skills in this environment. I am lucky that my husband has a full-time job so I can mess around and find a good fit for myself. One tough part for me has been the lack of a regular schedule. But I'm getting better at juggling my various gigs. I am writing for EdNews Colorado with my former Rocky colleague Nancy Mitchell; I've been meeting with some folks here in Boulder as we attempt to create an in-depth news/neighborhood social networking platform; I've got a couple freelance gigs with CU and a Colorado bank. The thing I need now is a white board so I can stay organized! My life still feels more fragmented than I'd like it to be, but as time passes, certain things fall away and other things are beginning to gel. Thanks for asking about us.” - Julie Poppen, reporter

“I am disappointed that both Scripps and the guild seemed caught off guard by the change in Colorado law that made ex-RMN staffers ineligible to collect unemployment for the period their "separation" payments were deemed to be in lieu of wages. I can't argue that we are as deserving of unemployment as other workers who did not get separation/severance. It's just that had the process been completed just a couple weeks earlier, we would have received different treatment. - David Milstead, finance editor

“I spent a couple of weeks in Japan, traveling with my mother. Also spent some time visiting my siblings in California, and attending workshops on job seeking in Denver. But mostly, I'm finding it difficult to stop being a journalist - hence my stint with InDenverTimes.com and RockyMountainIndependent.com, even though I'm not getting paid. I will have to find a paying job soon - just not sure if I can find something that will be as fulfilling as being a journalist. In many ways, much of my identity has been based on being a reporter, and now, I'm trying to figure out if there is something else that I would like to be. In the meantime, I've been following stories and blogs about the newspaper industry with great interest, and wondering if there is still a place for me in the media business.” - Tillie Fong, reporter


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