Why you should care about the loss of the Rocky

Final Edition from Matthew Roberts on Vimeo.

Since I found out the news yesterday - that the Rocky Mountain News in Denver was suddenly closing - I wondered why it mattered to me. Why did it stick in my head all day and all night? Why could I not get the images of these people, none of whom I know, getting the terrible news out of my mind?

On Saturday, February 7th, I too got a call that I had expected for several months but was still surprised at how sudden the end came. My company was "ceasing operations immediately". We were in limbo. On Wednesday, I was called back to work, but barely made it home before receiving another phone call. It was over. I was released - along with around 2500 co-workers. If cameras had been in the bathroom, where I closed the door to take the call without my kids hearing my shock, I probably would have had the same pained look as the people in the video above. You know it is happening, but you tell yourself over and over that it cannot happen.

Of course, I got a rare second chance. One week ago today I got another call - I was coming back to work for the new owners. I have no idea what the future holds. Many of my co-workers are still gone (more left today). In the world of printed media, we are all just waiting to see if we will evolve into something sustainable or just vanish.

It ends just like that. The week before 2/7, I had multiple conference calls and a whole list of to-do's and follow ups. In a moment, it was all gone. The plug was literally pulled just like that and none of those items mattered anymore. When I returned, there was no need to restore all of my computer archives. Most of the people I worked with were gone.

There was a time in college where I wondered if I should be a journalist. I took some courses and survived one semester on the college paper. But, I convinced myself I had too many credits to start over in something new, so I abandoned it. I ended up in media through the distribution route and ended up still being a writer of sorts. I have always loved newspapers. Losing the Rocky Mountain News is a huge blow for newspapers. It's the biggest casualty in a long line of losses and it won't be the last. To think people are satisfied getting their news in generic, bland nuggets on the Internet is truly sad. Newspapers have long been the glue that unites communities. The internet is exactly the opposite - it is a solo endeavor. I can connect to my friends yet never see them. I read one line snippets of their lives and actually believe I know them. What is worse is that our kids will grow up not even seeing a need to doubt this type of connection.

When I was in elementary school, The Tennessean was in the driveway in the morning and the Nashville Banner was there in the afternoon. Very few driveways did not have the paper. There was no internet and only 3 or 4 TV channels. Today, I don't believe the Tennessean comes to one house on my street. I cancelled it two years ago after going back and forth over the decision in my head for months. I felt guilty. I felt sad. It was a terrible decision for someone who loves newspapers. The delivery person kept missing the house over and over. I called, probably 20 times. I was not worth keeping, I guess. Today, The Tennessean is in the death spiral. It is the same one the Rocky found itself in. Layoffs=less local reporting = more wire stories (which I can get free on the Internet). Then, back to more layoffs to deal with the loss of subscribers. And slowly, the paper falls in on itself.

We should all feel the loss of the Rocky. We don't need to wait for it to come to our town - it's already here. The Nashville Banner vanished over a decade ago. The Tennessean is a shell of its former self. So, more and more people are turning to the Internet - via laptops and cell phones. And, with each failing newspaper, America loses a bit more of its identity. Content (which is what the internet is full of - including this blog) does not replace journalism. We will continue to dumb down our society and we will continue to lose the skills to speak and write. This loss of communication will result in a loss of power. Are we not already seeing the effects on our economy and on our morale? Do we elect leaders because of integrity or do we now elect based on what they sell us - not much different than how items like detergent and toothpaste is sold to us?

Great ideas will go unshared - great ideals will go uncelebrated. Communities will not know what to rally around and will not know what to fight against.

We are strangers in our own neighborhoods - sitting in front of our computer screens fooling ourselves into thinking we are "connected". Our dying newspapers are a reflection of what is happening to each and every one of us.

Who will wake us up? Who will warn us before it is too late? Or, is it already too late?