The same week the San Antonio Express-News cut nearly a third of its newsroom, one of Denver’s daily newspapers, the Rocky Mountain News, closed its doors forever.
You might ask, as some readers have, so what?
Newspapers are far from perfect. But I’ll let Laura Frank, an investigative reporter for the Rocky, explain why the death of a newspaper matters:
Since Scripps announced in December that it would close the Rocky Mountain News if a buyer couldn’t be found, I had spent a lot of time thinking about what the last day would be like. But I wasn’t prepared for what would happen at the end of the day.
I am—I was—an investigative reporter at the Rocky. I had finished everything I needed to do for the day. The story I’d spent the week working on was scheduled to publish Saturday. But there would be no Saturday Rocky. There was no reason for me to stay. But I didn’t want to leave. I didn’t want the day to end. I didn’t want the Rocky to end.
Just that day, I had received a voice mail message from a reader who planned to contact a government official after reading a story I wrote. I opened a letter from another reader who wanted me to investigate something that concerned her. I read an email from someone in another state who read my stories online, and thanked me for covering something that was important to him.
There were so many stories still to write, and no Rocky left to publish them.
As hard as it was to finally walk out the door that night, I realized the more awful moment was still to come: Saturday morning, when no Rocky arrived on the driveways and porch steps of its readers.
Here’s what we had ready to go for that day’s paper: Stories about what had happened to Colorado’s energy boom and what it meant to the state, how a government agency had allegedly misused public money, and how children in state custody were being abused.
That’s just what Coloradans will be missing on the first day the Rocky is gone. Who can say what they’ll miss the next week or the next year?
A great watchdog is dead. And more are dying across the nation. More stories will go untold. In a democracy that depends on an informed citizenry, a dead watchdog is a dangerous thing.