A sequel in the offing for Denver’s newspaper readers? Probably not

rmnAll us old school journalists felt our hearts skip a beat at the recent news that Denver billionaire Philip Anschutz may want to resurrect the Rocky Mountain News, the Denver daily newspaper that ceased operation in 2009 after nearly 150 years of publication.

Another Rocky II?

As first reported by the Denver Business Journal, Anschutz has prepared an online prototype newspaper and is asking visitors what they think about the possibility of being able to once again hold the venerable tabloid in their hands once again. (BTW, survey takers are teased with the possibility of winning a $500 gift card, just in time for the holidays. Nice timing…) The tabloid prototype includes local, regional, national and world news, opinion, sports, business and features sections.

But most comments on social media – and in the Journal’s story and others – quickly brought heart beats down to normal again. Seems most people think the move is just a ploy by Anschutz to force the owners of The Denver Post, Digital First Media, to bring down its asking price. The company put the only remaining Denver daily and other newspapers it owns across the country up for sale last year. Digital First also operates the Boulder Daily Camera and several other Colorado newspapers.

Anschutz also owns the Colorado Springs Gazette and his Clarity Media Group operates The Washington Examiner magazine and website, the Weekly Standard magazine in Washington, D.C., and Examiner.com, a nationwide news and information web media service. Separately, Anschutz Corp. owns The Oklahoman, the daily newspaper for Oklahoma City.

Last RMNRyan McKibben, president and CEO of Anschutz’ Clarity Media Group and no relation to this writer, told the Journal that no decision had been made to restart the Rocky, partly depending on the results of the company’s research.

In a Colorado Springs Gazette story on Anschutz’ interest in seeing the Rocky resume publication, McKibben sounded an optimistic note.

“This is the business we’re in,” McKibben said. “We own newspapers, we own magazines. Clarity Media Group is a media company and that’s what we do. We have a newspaper 60 miles away (The Gazette). We like newspapers.”

Others in the Denver media world sounded more cynical, including the author of this blog on the Denver Westword alternative weekly website, after he viewed the online prototype:

“If Anschutz and company were really serious about putting a new Rocky on its feet, it’s tough to believe their reintroduction of the well-remembered tabloid would look like the work of an overburdened intern given 24 hours to turn the project around.”

The concept was also called “ludicrous” in the blog and the author noted that another popular notion is that Anschutz wants to buy the Post and replace it with the Rocky. Other comments are that the new paper’s editorial stance would tend more conservative, presumably reflecting Anschutz’ personal views more closely, than the Post’s editorial positions.

I’m not totally familiar with the fine details of the financial end of the newspaper business, but I know enough to realize things haven’t improved very much – if at all – since the Internet arrived and siphoned off crucial advertising dollars, leading to the loss of thousands of jobs and the closure of countless publications across the U.S. I was a victim of that downsizing myself in 2009.

This interest by billionaires in old-school newspapers includes Amazon.com’s Jeff Bezos’ purchase of The Washington Post last year. In a story in the New York Times, Bezos talked about his reasons for buying one of the country’s oldest – and most honored – newspapers.

“I didn’t know anything about the newspaper business, but I did know something about the Internet,” Mr. Bezos said. “That, combined with the financial runway that I can provide, is the reason why I bought The Post.”

It’s possible Anschutz is of the same mind as Bezos. And you could argue that if anyone can make a go of a newspaper in this day and age, someone with deep, deep pockets might be the one.

Still, I won’t count this chicken before it hatches and I have a copy of a revived Rocky Mountain News in my delighted hands. I’d agree with others, that the chances are much better that Anschutz uses the threat of a competitor to force the owners of the Post to reduce their asking price. Then we’d have to see the end product.

As with so many things in life, it may be that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. Sequels often fail to rise to the level of the original. Others do, though, and I’d say “Rocky II” was a worthy successor to the original, back in the day. As with so many things, time will tell.

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