Perspective On The News: The Rocky And People Of ColorBy: Sam Adams
My tenure of nearly 13 years at the Rocky Mountain News ended when the newspaper ceased operation on Feb. 27, 2009 - after 149 years of existence in the Denver community.
The closure wasn’t shocking news to Rocky employees. On Dec. 4 we learned that the newspaper was being put up for sale by Scripps, the parent company. The odds for finding a buyer – during the Christmas season, not to mention in the throes of an economic recession – were slim. And that’s being kind.
Still, the newsroom employees held out hope for a miracle. Sure, some left the sinking ship to seek employment opportunities elsewhere. Those who remained to the end refused to let the hovering dark cloud affect our abilities to produce one of the nation’s best newspapers.
On Feb. 25 it was announced that the Associated Press Sports Editors judged the Rocky’s sports section as one the top 10 (for circulation of over-250,000) in the country. The following day Rocky employees were informed by officers of Scripps that the paper no longer would be published, effective immediately.
Our final hours at the Rocky went by slowly, with anguish, anger and sadness. Within 24 hours of the closure announcement we were under orders to surrender all company-issued materials – credit cards, check books, laptop computers, cell phones, identification and garage access cards.
We cleaned out our desk drawers, emptied book shelves, boxed our belongings, shared stories and shed tears, hugged, waved and left the building.
The Rocky’s closure was an unwelcome relief – sort of like putting a suffering loved one out of his or her misery. You hurt because you’ve lost a loved one. But you’re relieved that they’re no longer in pain. And you hope that they really do wind up in a better place.
I can recall my first day at the Rocky every bit as clearly as my last.
On Aug. 30, 1996, a 30-hour trek that covered more than 1,670 miles brought me back to Denver from Raleigh, North Carolina, where I spent 20 months working as the Raleigh Bureau sports reporter for The Charlotte Observer. The Rocky recruited me to cover the Denver Broncos – a position I held for two years while working for The Denver Post prior to leaving for Raleigh.
I entered the building at 400 West Colfax Avenue, introduced myself to many new colleagues and took two photos – for an identification badge and my column. I was ready to leave, to check into a hotel for a well-deserved rest. Instead, I was asked (or told) to complete a full page NFL notes column – in two hours, if not sooner.
Right away, I’m unhappy working for the Rocky. And if I don’t hurry, the meter is going to run out and I’ll get a parking ticket on my Hyundai.
I completed the assignment with minutes to spare, left the newsroom and waited for an elevator. Someone shouted, “Hey Bill.” My name isn’t Bill, so I didn’t answer. “Hey Bill”, the voice called out again, but louder. A man walks up from behind. “Oh, you’re not Bill,” he said. “No, I’m not,” I answered. “I’m Sam. Sam Adams.”
A few weeks later I was introduced to columnist Bill Johnson. Like me, Johnson was a black man who wore eye-glasses. Other than that, we looked nothing alike. Eventually, I had the Lasik procedure, so to improve my eyesight – and to make sure no one ever confused me for Johnson again.
A year later I was promoted from Broncos beat reporter to sports columnist. The promotion allowed me to spend more time in the Rocky newsroom, where you could not help but notice the lack of black reporters and editors working for the paper. During my entire tenure I was the lone black presence in the Rocky’s sports department – except for a brief spell when a young guy worked the copy desk.
I couldn’t give you his full name, but my nickname for him was ‘Blink.’ I blinked and he showed up. I blinked again and he was gone.
Bob Jackson Sr., Mike Pearson, April Washington, Karen King, Ahmad Terry, Nichole Davis, Dina Bunn, Johnso and myself ... we represented the presence of blacks in the Rocky’s newsroom during my tenure. (Apologies if I omitted someone in our ultra-small circle.) Rocky editor/publisher John Temple often opened his office to meet with us as a group. He was aware of our concerns with the lack of blacks in the work place.
More black voices in the newsroom certainly would have improved the Rocky’s coverage. But it wasn’t the reason that the newspaper folded.
The Internet is being blamed for lowering newspapers like the Rocky in their graves at an alarming pace. There is validity to that way of thinking. In some ways, it’s a self-inflicted fatal wound.
It seems newspapers are feeding so much time, energy and resources into developing Web presentations that they’re forgetting to nourish the well-being of the newspaper itself. Opinion: The newspaper version of the Rocky starved to death. The powers-that-be weren’t creative enough to devise a plan to bring advertising dollars back to the newspaper.
The lack of advertising monies is leading to the demise of the newspaper business as we know it.
Thirteen years ago I would not have believed that we would be eliminating paper from our existence. Not just newspaper. Pay your bills online. Make your purchases online. Study classes online.
Pretty soon, the days of passing love notes underneath the desk will be gone for good – if they haven’t already been replaced by computer discs.
“Do you like me? Check yes ... or press delete.”
My answer is ‘yes’ when it comes to the question, ‘Did you like working for the Rocky?’ The newspaper afforded me opportunities to advance and enhance to my skills. Working for the Rocky also exposed me to other facets of the media – in particular, television and radio.
Initially, I wrote a sports notes column four times a week. As we delved deeper into the world of the Internet, my role expanded – and so, too, did my presence at the Rocky. Six days a week – in print and online, with columns, blogs and videos. Regular appearances on Fox Sports Net Rocky Mountain and CBS4, with a prolonged stint as a talk-show host on Sportsradio 950 The Fan (now 104.3 FM The Fan).
It wasn’t until the final days of the Rocky’s existence that I began to take a long look back – not just at my career in journalism, but changes that have taken place with the tools used today to gather news. We live in the uncut ‘now’ generation – see it now, show it now, worry about accuracy later.
No need for a pen, pad and tape recorder any more – not if your cell phone shoots photos and videos.
A number of former Rocky employees, myself included, have joined together to create an online news source – indenvertimes.com. It’s not an online ‘newspaper’. There’s no “paper” involved. Just news, with many interactive features included.
The key to this new venture is selling subscriptions. Yes, paying for news. Sounds evil. Granted it’s not a new concept.
You see, back in the day kids like me sold subscriptions for this thing called ... a newspaper. People paid for the news back then – and will continue to do so as long as newspapers are printed. The Web site content generated from newspapers comes to you as a bonus.
But those days are coming to an abrupt end. Don’t think for a minute that other online news sources aren’t contemplating the change to charge for information on their Web sites. It will happen much sooner than you might choose to believe.
In the meantime, I hope you choose to remember the Rocky as a friend in Denver’s community. Maybe we weren’t always your best friend or didn’t always give you what you wanted to read in print, or see and hear on the Internet. But you knew where to find us, and we listened to your ideas and concerns.
One hundred and forty-nine years was a long time. Too bad our friendship ended so soon.