When I first moved there in 1992, I thought Denver was pretty small to be a two-newspaper town. If I recall correctly, the whole Denver metro area had less than two million people. It didn't have pro baseball or hockey teams yet, though they were on the way. It didn't have much in the way of public transportation. Culturally, the offerings were thin. You were either a native or you weren't. And if you weren't -- 'Well, what the hell you doin' here?', was often asked with a mixture of playfulness and resentment.
Denver was a big small town, but the journalism was dynamic. There were two daily papers, the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News, duking it out for supremacy in a market where a lot was starting to happen.
Denver boomed in the 90's, like so many Western cities. Douglas County, to the south of the city, was the fastest growing county in the entire country for a few years running. Every year, the Post would publish a story about where all Colorado's new residents were coming from, gathering statistics from the Bureau of Motor Vehicles to see where the most converted drivers' licenses originated. California and Illinois were always toward the top. As an Illinoisan, I was glad that Californians were so unpopular that natives decried the "Californication" of the state. ("Illannoyance," perhaps?)
My brother lured me to Denver in 1992 with promises of a wonderful life in a town full of opportunities, nestled at the base of the mountains (and I'd always wanted to live near the mountains). Oh, and he also lured me with the promise of being introduced to a woman he thought I'd like -- the very woman who became the One True Wife.
My brother was a reporter on the Post at the time. The competition between the "Rocky" and the Post was fierce, but there was a kind of fraternal order of journalists; they were brothers and sisters in the trenches, andit seemed like they cared about the quality of each others' work more than who was on the masthead. Many of my brothers' friends were his fellow reporters. They were an inquisitive and cynical lot, crusty but idealistic, smart but distrustful of institutions and party lines (of both the ideological and PR pablum variety).
The Rocky was the town's tabloid. It resembled the New York Post, with its outsized front-page photos and loud-mouthed, large-font headlines. I usually read the Post, but it seemed like the presence of two papers made everyone try a little harder. They'd compete for breaking stories, and in the process they'd uncover stuff that most towns of their size would never have discovered at all.
The Rocky was put up for sale recently, and Scripps, the owner, said they had to find a seller within a month. You might as well build a skyscraper on your lunch break as sell a daily paper in a month. Needless to say, no buyers were forthcoming for a struggling paper in a small two-paper town during the worst recession in most of our lifetimes.
After almost 150 years -- an eternity in the parlance of the West -- the Rocky Mountain News published its last edition Friday, February 27, 2009. Already, there is this excellent, elegiac video, which I got from my brother. If you have 15 or 20 spare minutes, watch the whole thing at one sitting. It's not just about the death of one paper. And it's not just about Denver, or the Rocky, or the economy. It's snapshot that captures the passing of the era of the newspaper as one of the major pillars of American life.