Friday, February 13, 2009

A sad end to Denver journalism

Tomorrow, Friday, February 27, 2009 the Rocky Mountain News will publish it's final edition at the end of nearly 150 continuous years of providing Colorado and the West with great journalism. It's demise cannot be attributed to one cause, although a rotten world economy didn't help. Declining advertising revenues, information drifting to the internet where viewers expect to get their news for free, circulation drop all figure into the mix. This cocktail of economic arsenic is not happening only to the Rocky. In months to come other papers will likely disappear and many others will be reducing expenditures by terminating the jobs of the journalists and ad sales persons, reducing the number of days the paper is published, cutting retirement benefits and wages of those left to produce the content, probably by candlelight.

The Rocky Mountain News was the first newspaper I ever laid my hands on as a boy growing up in north Denver. When I was 14 I got my first job as a newspaper carrier. A delivery truck dropped the bundles of papers in front of my house at 4 a.m. My clock radio came on at 4:05 a.m. The hit song of the day in January 1960 was "Teen Angel" which always seemed to be playing. My paper route which had 120 customers was in a working class neighborhood and so the paper needed to be delivered by 6 a.m. so it could be read before people went to work. In good weather that was pretty easy. In the winter my dad would help me by driving the route in the car when the snow was too deep to pedal through.

Sometime during the three years I kept the job I began actually reading the paper and looking at the pictures. I thought it would be a cool job to be a newspaper photographer. In fact, a very talented newspaper photographer, a father of a classmate, Julia Moldvay, lived up the street from me. Albert Moldvay worked for the Denver Post and eventually was hired by National Geographic where he went on to cover numerous international stories for the magazine. I remember him showing me his cameras once and holding one of the first 35mm SLR cameras the Post photographers were using.

My interest in news photography lay dormant during my high school years and actually didn't surface until my junior year at the University of Colorado when I took two photography classes from Bob Rhode in the J-school. The Rocky and the Denver Post were around the campus and I always enjoyed every copy I could find.

My parents constantly sent me clipped articles from the Rocky during my two-year stint in the Peace Corps (Malaysia) so I could read what was going on in Denver.

I worked in Denver five years alongside the photographers from the Rocky and the Post. At that time there was a chain of weekly papers, the Sentinel Newspapers, and I had the freedom there to do things I don't believe I would have had at either of the dailies, but the important part was that I could learn by watching how other photographers worked. This was rather important because I really had no experience to go on. Barry Staver, Bill Wunsch, Dewey Howell, John Sunderland, Bill Peery, Steve Larson, David Cupp all had encouragement for me.

The Rocky matured over the past years into a strong example of what a newspaper could do with photojournalism. With commitment from management, leadership from photo editors and amazing talent by the photographers the paper published some of the most riveting stories ever seen in newsprint.

I can still recall the smell of the ink coming off the bundles and hear the sound of the paper hitting a customers front door, a perfect strike from my bike seat. How could I ever imagine that the Rocky would suffer this demise on those cool summer mornings as I pedaled down Berkeley Place with the newspapers stuffed into bags wrapped around my handlebars.



George Waldman said...

A sad day today for all of us. For me, who also grew up reading the Rocky (mostly the Post though), who had Bob Rhode as a teacher at CU, worked as a photographer at the now dead Colorado Springs SUN, watched Post photographers work and saw their work and yours, Jay. Especially sad for those who are losing their jobs today. I know how that goes and have learned to live where I can grow my own food.

rob kerr said...

Beautiful Jay. Rarely in your shoes, I do share that the newspaper that I had a paper route for, The Journal, was closed by The Oregonian and marked the death of evening papers. Your comments reminded me of that change...despite the huge differences in time.
Raising a coffee mug or stein to the newspaper institution!
-rob kerr

Kent said...

Jay, thanks for the memories of news papering in Denver. I also had a paper route as a kid.

Stewart Bowman said...

Wow Jay, your story brings back a lot of memories of my experience in the industry too. That's cool that you got to know Moldvay at an early age.

My first job, aside from farm chores, was delivering the Louisville Times, the PM sister paper to the Courier-Journal, after school.

I too remember admiring the great photography I saw in the papers I was delivering by shooters like Barney Cowherd, Bill Strode and others. I thought there was something magical in the way they saw our world.

When I ended up working there later myself with you and the other great photographers at the CJ & Times back in the late 70's and 80's, it was like I'd died and gone to heaven. I still feel extremely fortunate to have lived that life experience during some of the greatest years of photojournalism.

When I'm asked what I did for a living by someone I meet today, I smile and just say I was a newspaper photographer. To fully answer their question, I'd have to write a book. We all would. What a great profession it was.

I never dreamed I'd see newspapers suffer the way they are now. It is sad beyond words.

Thanks for the post.