With the Rocky Mountain News closing its doors after 149 years, many of us in the Denver metropolitan area are wondering with sadness what life will be like now that the Mile-High City is not a two-newspaper town.
Reflecting today on my personal experiences with The Rocky, I thought back to my first media interview and giggled. That was over 20 years ago, and the lucky journalist was Marty Meitus, The Rocky's food editor. Her story was about diet and heart disease, fresh lifestyle fodder back then. Given my family history of heart disease, the topic was one of the precise reasons I chose to study nutrition. So just a few months out of graduate school, a newly minted registered dietitian, I was prepared to tell her everything I knew about good cholesterol, bad cholesterol, artery-choking foods and the joys of low-fat living. I even prepared several pages of background notes for her. OK, with my what-must-have-been-obvious-to-Marty inexperience, I hadn't yet figured out that one of the fastest ways to frustrate a reporter is to overload her with trivial information. Key messages? What key messages? Oh, and the newsroom! I had never been in a newsroom before. I tried not to gawk too much as we made our way to her desk, which was piled high with cookbooks, sent by publishers anxious for a review. At that moment, I figured out that maybe, just maybe, she wouldn't get to my background paper. Light bulb! I was going to have to help her do her job by boiling down the complicated stuff to make it understandable, interesting and relevant.
I grew up studying music and participating in performing arts, so I'd had plenty of stage experience. But doing an inteview with a journalist was somehow different. I was a nervous wreck. Yet with Marty's get-to-the-point attitude, we both survived the experience. I really don't know how she managed, but with her usual prosaic flair, Marty created a newsworthy, entertaining article out of my ramblings, even if it was interspersed with my sometimes-dorky quotes along the lines of, "Dad's been following a lowfat diet ever since his heart attack, and he's happy as a clam." Brilliant. I was off to a rousing start with my career in food and nutrition communications.
Well, almost 1,000 interviews later, I've learned just a few things along the way about partnering with the media. And being a good sport, Marty has continued to rely on me as a resource over the years.
Circa the time of that interview at the start of my career, the Internet was the NSFNET and was mostly the domain of a scientific cabal. The rest of us were living in our isolated 512k microcomputer DOS worlds, unless we were desktop publishers. Then, we had Macs. Even a fax machine was a new novelty. Very few of us had cellular phones and if we did, they were heavy bricks. No iPods, Podcasts, tweets, digital recorders, Facebook, blogs...well, it was a different communications realm with much less media ownership consolidation but also many fewer ways to access information.
Growing up in Chicago and moving to the Denver area in my early 20s, I have been accustomed to living a in two-newspaper town for most of my life. Yet, I must admit that I have canceled all my print newspaper publications over the past couple years, thus am one individual contributing to the demise of daily papers. My reasoning has little to do with the cost of subscriptions but rather the environmental impacts of mounds of paper being produced, printed and delivered, even if ultimately recycled.
I'm all for the revolutionary concept of paid online subscriptions as a means of upholding the important role of the press as the Fourth Estate in a free society. Yet, as John Temple, editor and publisher of The Rocky, explained February 27 in what is ostensably his final opinion piece for the paper, Why Denver Can't Support Two Newspapers, competition between The Post and The Rocky over the years, most certainly resulted in undervaluation of subscription and advertising rates. So what happens now that we have the 100,000-plus-publication Internet? Have we really been reduced to a future of permanantly free media? It will come with a high price.
OK, no I'm not going to start charging for this blog. But, hey, don't you think I'm worth it? And making no comparison between my occasional musing here and journalist professionalism of The Rocky, the talented and dedicated individuals making up the former newsroom team of the Pulitizer prize-winning paper are certainly worth it.
So long, Rocky. It's a sad day for those seeking varied reporting and opinion on local restaurants, rising-star chefs, regional agriculture and foodways, and state politics. It's a sad day for the Fourth Estate.