Friday, February 25, 2011

Rocky Mountain News Journalists Two Years After the Newspaper Closed

What's the impact of a single day when a business is closed and all its employees are let go?

That's a question we might have pursued at my former newspaper, the Rocky Mountain News — if we had still been publishing today.

It was on Feb. 27, 2009, when Colorado's oldest newspaper printed its final edition and itself became part of the story of the destruction of the Great Recession and the demise of the newspaper industry.

Two years later, I surveyed the 194* full and part-time members of the staff who were there on its last day to learn how their lives had changed. Of that group, 146, or 75 percent, responded to a questionnaire I sent them. (You can read my account of what happened to those of us at the Rocky on its last day at Read what staff who are still working as journalists told me. Read what those who've left the profession wrote. And read about what happened to the Denver paper's owner.)

Perhaps the most depressing finding is that 98 out of 146 respondents, or 67 percent, said they were earning less today than they made at the Rocky. Fifty-six of those 98, or 57 percent, said their income was "much less." Only 27, or 18 percent of the people who responded, said they were making more, and those people were more likely to have left journalism.

Perhaps the most surprising finding was that despite the general decline in income, roughly the same amount of people reported that their life was better today than that it was worse. In fact, of those who responded to the question, more said it was much better (12) than much worse (5).

Of course, it should be noted that my findings don't reflect a random sample of the staff. Those who responded may not be typical of the total population. For example, those who are depressed about their current position may be less inclined to answer — we don't know unless we ask them, and I've tried without success. It should also be noted that those who did respond were answering their former boss, which could have affected their responses. (I was editor, president and publisher of the Rocky.)

Here's a summary of what those who did respond told me:

  • 92, or 63 percent, are working as journalists
  • 53, or 36 percent, have left the profession
  • 1 declined to say
  • Of the 92 working as journalists
    • 44 said they are at newspapers (Some who said they were at newspapers were working solely on their websites, but they identified their employer as a newspaper.)
    • 2 are at wire services
    • 17 are at websites
    • 17 are freelancers
    • 10 indicated "other," such as at a TV station
    • 2 did not specifiy
  • Of those who said they had left journalism
    • 6 said they had retired
    • 4 were unemployed
    • 4 were students. (Some journalists also said they were students, but they identified first as journalists and cited a journalism job as their primary activity.)
    • 34 had a full-time job
    • 8 had a part-time job or jobs.
    • (The total is higher than the number of respondents in this category, 53, because some said they were working and students.

(To put these numbers into context, a study of Americans who were unemployed in August 2009 and re-interviewed twice about their job status over the next 15 months found that about one-third had found replacement jobs. The percentage of respondents from the Rocky who are working is 92, and even if none of the other former employees had found a job, the percentage wouldn't drop below 70.)

  • Of the 92 who said they were still working as journalists:
    • 2 reported they were earning much more
    • 13 earn somewhat more
    • 9 make the same
    • 34 earn somewhat less
    • 30 make much less
    • 4 did not say
  • Of the 52 who said they had left journalism
    • 4 reported earning much more
    • 8, earn somewhat more
    • 4 make the same
    • 8 earn somewhat less
    • 26 make much less
    • 2 did not say
  • Money is a factor in how people feel about their life today, but there are plenty of people who are making less money who said their lives are better than when they were with the paper. Twenty-seven people said they make more money now than before the Rocky closed. Of those, 10, or 37 percent, said their lives are better. Three, or 11 percent, said their lives are worse. Ninety-eight people said they're earning less. Of those, 27, or 28 percent, said their lives are better, while 30, or 31 percent, said worse.
  • 43, or 30 percent of respondents, left the Denver metropolitan area, nearly all to find work
  • In response to the question, "How would you describe your life today versus before the Rocky closed?
    • 12 said much better
    • 32 said somewhat better
    • 46 said the same
    • 30 said somewhat worse
    • 5 said much worse
    • 21 did not answer the question

In addition to the survey, I also asked people to share anything else about their experience they wished. A few themes emerged. Those are explored in related stories.

* The stories of Rocky journalists still working as journalists.

* The stories of Rocky journalists who left the profession.

It's also worth noting what happened to the finances of the company that shuttered the Rocky to help it survive the recession. Today the stock value of the E.W. Scripps Co. (SSP) is roughly eight times higher than when it closed the paper.

Read story about the two Denver newspaper owners two years later.

In a strange twist, part of the paper and its website lives on, in a ghostlike domain. In the about us section, one paragraph still reads, "The News lives because of its refusal to die."

Perhaps that's still the case.

The paper, or its spirit, lives on in many of us who were associated with it, as you'll see from the stories its former journalists shared.


I want to thank my colleague at Honolulu Civil Beat Michael Levine for his assistance with the research for this set of articles.

* I did not survey seasonal sports clerks or regular freelance contributors.


  1. Thanks for this. I did a similar post about my former colleagues at the New York Times News Service. It's always nice to see how peers are faring in this difficult time for our profession.

  2. There doesn't seem to be a live link to the advertised stories

  3. Thanks for pointing that out, dswhipple. They were at the top of the story but I had forgotten to include them where I had left placeholders at the bottom. One weakness of blogger is that you cannot link to unpublished related stories. Oh well, I appreciate your help.

  4. Hello John,

    My best wishes to you and all the brave folks at the Rocky who participated (involuntarily) for this valuable (but heartrending) ‘experiment’. I started my career in journalism but, along the way, moved into technology and marketing. Still, journalism is close to my heart and I am impatient to see what kind of phoenix will rise from the ashes of the old newsprint.

    When I saw the headline of this article on Twitter, I jumped. What can be a more perfect (but painful) way to shine a light into the future of journalism? But when I got to the last words, I felt you have only given us a teaser. If I can be so bold, let me call on you to shine the light farther. I know you are busy with CivicBeat (BTW, I do LOVE the reporter-hosts concept!), however, you don’t get to choose when duty calls. You have a unique vantage point and I call on you to share it with all of us.

    What is your personal reflection on the Rocky (given 20/20 hindsight and the last 2 years of developments)?
    - What might the Rocky have done differently? (sorry, I know this is brutal to ask.)
    - What advice would you give other regional papers? What about the nationals?
    - Do you think Murdoch’s “The Daily” is innovative enough to be successful? Does it address enough of the challenges that have hamstrung the traditional papers?
    - Go out on a limb and tell us what we might be reading in the morning on Feb 27, 2021 and how it will be different from what exists today (is it going to be the CivilBeat?). :)

    For those who can’t help hearing the journalism siren call, please summarize for us:
    - Which are the transferrable skills ex-Rockies have found most valuable in their new pursuits?
    - Which new skills did they need the most?

    Anxiously awaiting your reply,
    Nicole Yang (

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