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Friday, February 27, 2009

Requiem for the Newspaper

Requiem for the Newspaper

I’m sure I don’t need to provide the thousands of links to stories of the Rocky Mountain News closure. All day I’ve been browsing photo galleries of sobbing staff, packing up their desks. I spent nearly 45 minutes browsing columns written by some of the most talented the Rocky Mountain News had to offer, discussing the highlights of some of their 20+ year careers. I felt as if I were watching some sick 24 hour channel of live funeral home footage. I couldn’t look away. Every picture of an employee packing up their desk, hugging co-workers, staring at the scrolling marquee outside the Rocky Mountain news announcing the closure ,affects me in ways I hope I never forget. I want to tell my grandkids about this, the beginning of the death of papers.

I’m not from Denver, but Sallie and I visited Denver for a few days two years ago. It was still a time when some newspapers were making money. Sallie was mere months from having a journalism degree, and Denver was one of our top choices to move. We walked about the gorgeous downtown area discussing where we would take visitors, where we could live, how often we would visit the mountains, how we couldn’t wait for our first blizzard. We still had hope for the newspaper industry. We still had hope that exactly what we wanted to do was only a mere few months away.

Even though I’m not from Denver, I have that sickening sad feeling in the pit of my stomach. Not only is this closing further proof of a self-destructing economy. Not only does this put more of the information elite, brethren of Sallie and I, on the streets and in jobs they never would’ve imagined being at. It hurts the very soul that burns beneath the fragile skin and bones that make our bodies.

Last night, a defeated sounding Sallie said, “I’ll never get to work for a newspaper again.”

She didn’t say, “I’ll never work for a newspaper again” like she was angry at the industry for laying her off last year. She said, “…never get to…” meaning it was a privilege and dream to work for a paper. It was a dream that the economy, internet, bad business decisions, and greedy executives all conspired together to take from her and the thousands others that have already lost their jobs. I think the most heartbreaking thing is that there’s not a single thing any of the writers, reporters, editors, HR people, payroll, press operators… all the way to the janitors could’ve done. To some, yes this was just a paycheck, but going to Mizzou you quickly find out that to most the newspaper is a dream.

I couldn’t help but think about the Ben Folds Five song, “Fred Jones pt. 2.” It was one of the first Ben Folds songs that hit me. I even wrote a short story based off the song. The lyric that comes to mind is the beginning of the song.

“Fred sits alone at his desk in the dark
An awkward young shadow waits in the hall
He clears all his things and he puts them in boxes
Things that remind him, life has been good.

Twenty-five years, he’s worked at the paper
He’s forgotten, but not yet gone

And I’m sorry Mr. Jones
…its time”

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