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 TheAtlantic.com. 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.
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.