Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Rocky Mountain News survey: Six months after final edition, here's what the former staff is doing

What happens to the staff of a newspaper when it closes?

That's the question I tried to answer last week by sending a simple survey to the 230 or so people who were on the editorial staff of the Rocky Mountain News when it published its final edition on Feb. 27.

This is not a scientific survey. My findings are based on the responses I received and information I already had from a handful of people who didn't reply. I received 142 responses from about 200 eligible staff and 28 responses from 30 eligible managers. The paper had a staff of about 200 Full Time Equivalents when it closed. There were many part-timers, especially sports clerks, copy editors and reporters. I do think the survey gives a good picture of what has happened, especially when combined with the comments people provided. At least it did for me.

This report on what happened to the staff of the Rocky consists of this story, plus:
- Comments from reporters, photographers, artists, videographers (content generators)
- Comments from copy editors, designers, editorial assistants, imagers (the office staff)
- Comments from managers
- A copy of the survey I sent out
(I will try to replicate this survey at the one-year mark, perhaps with a more refined set of questions. If you have suggestions, please let me know.)

So, to the findings*:

  • 46 (out of 142) staff members have found new full-time jobs. 11 (out of 28) managers have found new full-time jobs.
  • 15 staff members have new part-time jobs. 1 manager has a new part-time job.
  • 64 staff members are freelancing or started their own business. 9 managers are freelancing or started their own business.
  • 11 staff members are going to school. 1 manager is going to school.
  • 8 staff members are collecting unemployment. 4 managers are collecting unemployment.
  • 15 staff members reported doing "other" things, such as traveling, taking care of grandchildren, taking time off. 3 managers reported doing other things.
* The totals do not equal the number of respondents because some people listed multiple activities. In the case of other questions, the totals don't add up because some people declined to answer.

  • 14 (out of 142) staff members who are working say their job is better than their job at the Rocky. A sizable percentage of this group were part-timers at the Rocky who now have a full-time job. 2 (out of 28) managers said their new job is better than their job at the Rocky.
  • 32 staff members say their new job is as good as their job at the Rocky. No managers reported feeling that way.
  • 23 staff members said their new job was worse than their job at the Rocky. 3 managers said the same.
  • 9 (out of 142) staff members are earning more in their new job than they earned at the Rocky. Again, a significant percentage of this group were part-timers who had found full-time employment. 3 (out of 28) managers are earning more.
  • 5 staff members are earning the same as what they made at the Rocky. No managers are earning the same.
  • 78 staff members are earning less. 11 managers are earning less.
So, what struck me about the responses?

As might be expected, the Web staff seemed the most successful in finding new work. People landed at Examiner.com, LasVegasSun.com, NapleNews.com, AssociatedContent.com and other sites.

It seems many reporters, photographers, videographers, designers and managers are finding some success, satisfaction and cause for optimism by either starting their own businesses or freelancing. This path seems more unusual for copy editors.

I'm surprised by how many people have found jobs in journalism. The Post made a bold gesture and hired 11 former Rocky staff members, who've made a significant contribution to that paper. The Gazette of Colorado Springs has 3. The Denver Business Journal 1. The list goes on. For example, we have an editorial assistant who's going to be a reporter in Tucumcari, a small New Mexico town. A part-time page designer has become the editor of a weekly near Colorado Springs. And of course, there's our former Washington correspondent, ME Sprengelmeyer, who bought his own weekly in New Mexico and is now its editor and publisher.

But clearly, the thing that sticks out most is that people are making less than they made at the Rocky. In many cases, I was told, a lot less. The financial picture for most is more difficult now than it was when they were employed at the Rocky. That's the bad news. People lost jobs that they valued, that were a part of their identity - and most are still suffering a significant financial loss. The question is whether that will improve over time.

That said, I must say I was impressed by how many people were looking ahead with optimism, building new businesses and lives. That doesn't mean people aren't struggling with their loss. Many are. But there are many examples in the accompanying blogs posts of comments from staffers and managers that show how people are looking for the bright side in their new lives. We have one reporter who always struggled with new technology who's jumped right in and already bought 9 urls as part of her new business. There's a great sense of adventure afoot.

Finally, I must say that I was gratified that many still feel as I do, that we had something special in the Rocky newsroom. I think you'll see that in the comments as well. While I think the numbers, and the following lists of new jobs, are interesting, I would encourage you not to miss the comments. They give a deep and varied portrait of the experience of the past six months.

Many former staffers and managers are now doing more than one job. Some have a part-time job and are freelancing on the side. Others have started their own business.

Among the jobs former staff members are doing:
- Working full-time and part-time for The Denver Post
- Working for The Gazette of Colorado Springs
- Working for The Denver Business Journal
- Editor and publisher of the Guadalupe County Communicator, N.M.
- Reporter, Tucumcari, N.M.
- Editor, The Record, N.J.
- Copy Editor, Montgomery, Alabama, Advertiser
- Director of Communication for a company selling a new respiratory-care device
- Internal Communications in office of the president of the University of Colorado
- Editor, MaxPreps.com
- Editor, INDenverTimes.com
- Editors, writers at RockyMountainIndependent.com
- Private investigator
- PIO for a community fire department
- Teaching journalism in Cairo, Egypt
- Teaching English in South Korea, 3
- Business editor of an English-language newspaper in Seoul, South Korea
- Freelance writing, editing, photography, design, filmmaking, web design
- Web design, Las Vegas Sun
- Web developer, Las Vegas Sun
- Researcher/writer for a major architectural firm, Fentress Architects
- Writer, University of Colorado Athletic Department
- Managing Editor, Carolina Journal, Raleigh, N.C.
- TV news
- Opening a bicycle shop
- Investing
- Writing a novel
- Marketing for a physical therapy company
- Publishing community newspaper
- Bloomberg News reporter in Sydney, Australia
- Pit boss at a California poker/card room
- Communications Director for the governor's economic recovery team
- Studying for a master's degree in documentary film and history
- Studying to become a physical therapy assistant
- Studying to become a teacher (many are doing this)
- Research and media specialist for the American Indian College Fund
- layout specialist and proposal writer
- Web developer for Naples Daily News
- Screenwriter
- Stand-up comedian
- Music writer for MSN.com
- Reporter for Spanish-language weekly, Viva Colorado
- Record store sales person
- Associate Editor, Denver Magazine
- Staffer for U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet
- Executive Director of the Colorado Association of Funders
- Health Care research/project manager for Colorado Medical Society
- lawn mowing and garden work
- help desk manager for major Web company
- raising grandchildren
- columnist for Examiner.com
- Suicide prevention worker for the Colorado Wingman Project, aimed at the Air National Guard
- Editor, Pikes Peak Bulletin
- National NBA writer for AOL website FanHouse.com

Among the jobs former managers are doing:

- Wildlife, nature, travel photo business
- Online editor (2) for AOL.com Web site, Politics Daily
- Web content coordinator for the University of Colorado School of Medicine
- Enterprise Editor for the Western United States for the Associated Press
- Senior director of projects and programs for Examiner.com
- Office manager for a major local church
- Denveralamode.com founder and freelance writer for AOL.com web site
- Freelance writing
- Director of Communications for Mayor John Hickenlooper
- Editor, Houston Chronicle
- Local news editor at The Record, N.J.
- Editorial page columnist, The Denver Post
- Albuquerque Public Schools Foundation Executive Director
- Photo editing business specializing in wedding photos
- Studying in the masters of public health program at the University of Colorado at Denver
- Assistant Managing Editor/Photo for a metropolitan newspaper (announcement soon)
- 2 social media consulting businesses

And then there's me, who's blogging, writing, consulting and speaking on journalism and media issues. And, yes, making far less than I was at the Rocky. But as difficult as it's been some days, I'm enjoying life more than ever in so many ways. I loved being part of the Rocky team and would love to be able to collaborate on that level again, but I also am enjoying my independence. My time is my own. And it's not hard to find many things to do with it.


  1. The Palm Beach Post 300, as the first wave of buyouts was called, celebrated its 1-year anniversary last month.

    You can see the West Palm Beach chapter reunion here.

    Staffers who worked in the two counties to the north held their reunion a few days later.

    I stuck around a couple of weeks after the first wave so I couldn't celebrate the anniversary of my retirement until this week. (I had moved out of the newsroom a decade ago to become telecommunications manager and needed to help make employee phones and voice mail go away.)

    Another 300+ were laid off at the end of the year when the paper farmed out its production and distribution to our former competitors. ("Former" used because of content-sharing agreements that have blurred distinctions between the papers.)

    Those of us who were ready and able to retire are very happy. I'm not so sure that's the case of younger staffers with kids in school and hefty mortgages.

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  3. There were further layoffs at The Denver Newspaper Agency after the Rocky closed. I don't know the totals. But the printing plant has picked up new work. It's printing other newspapers, which is a positive and makes sense in this new economy.

    1. And then there's me, who's blogging, writing, consulting and speaking on journalism and media issues. And, yes, making far less than I was at the Rocky. But as difficult as it's been some days, traditional afghan hat , antique choker designs , chain stitch patches , Velvet Punjabi Kurti , Beautiful Antique Tribal Ear Rings , gold head pieces , small jewelry box , winter shawl I'm enjoying life more than ever in so many ways. I loved being part of the Rocky team and would love to be able to collaborate on that level again, but I also am enjoying my independence. My time is my own. And it's not hard to find many things to do with it.

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