June 13, 2024

RIP Rocky Mountain News

The Rocky Morning News, Colorado’s oldest newspaper, closed its doors Friday. On their front page they have this incredibly touching video:

Final Edition from Matthew Roberts on Vimeo.

The closing of a large institution like a daily newspaper is an incredibly sad event, and my heart goes out to all the people who suddenly find their lives upended by sudden unemployment. Many talented and dedicated employees lost their jobs today, and some of them will have to scramble to salvage their careers and support their families. The video does a great job of capturing the shock and sadness that the employees of the paper feel—not just because they lost their jobs, but also because in some sense they’re losing their life’s work.

With that said, I do think it’s unfortunate that part of the video was spent badmouthing people, like me, who don’t subscribe to newspapers. One gets the impression that newspapers are failing because kids these days are so obsessed with swapping gossip on MySpace that they’ve stopped reading “real” news. No doubt, some people fit that description, but I think the more common case is something like the opposite: those of us with the most voracious appetite for news have learned that newsprint simply can’t compete with the web for breadth, depth, or timeliness. When I pick up a newspaper, I’m struck by how limited it is: the stories are 12 to 36 hours old, the range of topics covered is fairly narrow, and there’s no way to dig deeper on the stories that interest me most. That’s not the fault of the newspaper’s editors and reporters; newsprint is just an inherently limited medium.

As more newspapers go out of business in the coming years, I think it’s important that our sympathy for individual employees not translate into the fetishization of newsprint as a medium. And it’s especially important that we not confuse newsprint as a medium with journalism as a profession. Newsprint and journalism have been strongly associated in the past, but this an accident of technology, not something inherent to journalism. Journalism—the process of gathering, summarizing, and disseminating information about current events—has been greatly enriched by the Internet. Journalists have vastly more tools available for gathering the news, and much more flexible tools for disseminating it. The replacement of static newspapers with dynamic web pages is progress.

But that doesn’t mean it’s not a painful process. The web’s advantages are no consolation for Rocky employees who have spent their careers building skills connected to a declining technology. And the technical superiority of web will be of little consolation to Denver area readers who will, in the short run, have less news and information available about their local communities. So my thoughts and sympathy today are with the employees of the Rocky Mountain News.