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.