Image: last front page of the Rocky Mountain News
AFP - Getty Images
The last front page of the Denver, Colorado, newspaper the Rocky Mountaiin News on Friday.
updated 2/27/2009 5:50:42 AM ET 2009-02-27T10:50:42

Questions about the future of the Rocky Mountain News had become so common, the newspaper's staff put up a handwritten paper sign on the news desk that said, "We don't know."

On Thursday, someone wrote over it in heavy black marker: "Now we know."

Colorado's oldest newspaper, which launched in Denver in 1859, printed its last edition Friday, leaving The Denver Post as the only daily newspaper in town.

"Goodbye, Colorado," read the headline on a 52-page commemorative edition wrapping the regular newspaper. "STOP THE PRESSES," read the front-page headline inside.

The E.W. Scripps Co., which owns the News, said Thursday the newspaper lost $16 million last year and the company was unable to find a viable buyer since announcing a sale Dec. 4.

"Today the Rocky Mountain News, long the leading voice in Denver, becomes a victim of changing times in our industry and huge economic challenges," Scripps CEO Rich Boehne said Thursday.

The News is the latest — and largest — newspaper to fail in a recession that has been especially brutal for the industry amid falling ad revenue.

Four owners of 33 U.S. daily newspapers have sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the past 2 1/2 months. A number of other newspapers are up for sale.

'It's hard losing the best job in the world'
In the newsroom Thursday, News editors chose a photo for the front page of the final edition as Publisher and Editor John Temple hugged a tearful photographer.

In another corner, interactive producer Duncan Taylor blared an aria from "The Magic Flute" from his computer, a running dig at photographer Judy DeHaas' cell phone ring.

Dennis Schroeder, a News photographer for 25 years, said some of his colleagues were angry but others were relieved that Scripps executives decided on the newspaper's fate after weeks of uncertainty.

"It's hard losing the best job in the world," he said.

The special section highlighted some of the newspaper's best work, including Pulitzer Prize-winning stories and photos. The final edition had a print run of about 350,000 copies, up from the regular daily circulation of 210,000 and 457,000 on Saturdays.

"It's very rare that you get to play the music at your own funeral, so you want to make sure you do it well," Temple said.

Scripps' Boehne said the News' 230 editorial employees would be paid through April 28. The Post said it will hire 10 News staffers, including five columnists, four reporters and the editorial page editor.

One of those reporters, Lynn Bartels, said she would miss sitting beside her News colleagues. "The Rocky is the most amazing family," she said.

Bartels held a box of tissues over her head and called out, "This is for everybody."

Time capsule opened early
A handful of employees gathered outside the newsroom to open a 1985 time capsule cut out of a wall. The capsule, with News memorabilia inside, said on the outside: "To be opened in April 2059 on RMN's 200th anniversary."

Scripps said only one potential buyer came forward for the News, "and that party was unable to present a viable plan."

Scripps has owned the News since 1926. The newspaper will close just two months short of its 150th anniversary.

"Good grief — that's a piece of heritage we're losing," said Diane Scott, 56, of suburban Englewood.

Mike Hankinson, 25, of Denver blamed the format. "It's the paper. People go online now," he said.

Since 2001, the News has shared business operations with The Denver Post in a joint operating agreement between Scripps and The Post's owner, MediaNews Group Inc.

MediaNews said Rocky Mountain News subscribers will get The Post for the length of their subscriptions and The Post will return to seven-day publication starting Saturday. Under the JOA, The Post published Sunday through Friday and the News published Monday through Saturday.

"The Rocky will forever be remembered for its vital role in the city's history and the city's success," said William Dean Singleton, chairman and publisher of The Post and CEO of MediaNews. "Although we competed intensely, the talented staff of the Rocky earned our respect with each morning's edition."

Singleton, who is chairman of the board of The Associated Press, has said Denver could support only one newspaper. "I'm not just confident that we'll survive. We will survive," he insisted Friday.

'Plan to unwind the partnership'
Scripps said it has been working with MediaNews on "a plan to unwind the partnership" since mid-January, the deadline for offers.

The future of the Denver Newspaper Agency, the entity that handles the two newspapers' business operations, was unclear. The agency is a 50-50 partnership of the News and The Post. It employs about 1,800 people.

Scripps and MediaNews Group also are partners in Prairie Mountain Publishing, which publishes the Camera and Colorado Daily in Boulder, the Broomfield Enterprise and other Colorado newspapers. Scripps said it would transfer its 50 percent interest in Prairie Mountain to MediaNews later this year.

Scripps said it will retain ownership, and still offer to sell, the Rocky Mountain News name and the newspaper's archives and Web site.

Ed Atorino, a newspaper industry analyst at The Benchmark Co., said that indicates the News could become an online-only venture at some point.

"Online newspapers seem to be doing pretty well," he said. "It's a very low-cost business."

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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