Friday, February 27, 2009

Newspapers: Rocky Mountain News closes; who's next?

The Rocky Mountain News published its final edition today, less than 24 hours after Scripps announced it was closing the 150-year old Denver paper.

It's a disastrous time for daily newspapers and, by extension, American democracy, as daily newspapers still do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to keeping tabs on the people and institutions that shape our lives. The fewer papers there are, the less news there is for television, radio, magazines, and the blogosphere to interpret, repackage, criticize, or to comment or follow-up on.

The Hearst Corporation recently announced that it may close both The Seattle Post-Intelligencer and The San Francisco Chronicle (a paper I write for as a foreign correspondent). The Tucson Citizen is expected to close in March. Here in Maine, the Portland Press Herald and its two sister dailies are also threatened with extinction if their sale to Maine Media Investments cannot be completed.

The Washington Post, New York Times, and Wall Street Journal are all losing money, while the American Society of Newspaper Editors has canceled its 2009 convention because "the challenges editors face... demand their full attention."

So what is to be done? One idea that's gaining currency: turning some newspapers into endowed non-profit organizations (see this too), a model that's created top-notch reporting at the Poynter Institute's Saint Petersburg Times. "Enlightened philanthropists must act now," warns one commentator, "or watch a vital component of American democracy fade into irrelevance."

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