Scripps puts Rocky Mountain News up for sale, cites economic downturn

Denver’s oldest newspaper — and Colorado’s oldest continually operating business — is up for sale, the parent company of the Rocky Mountain News announced Thursday. “The decision to seek a buyer for the Rocky would have been unthinkable until very recently,” EW Scripps Co. CEO Rich Boehne said in a statement, pointing to a worsening economic climate that has led to $11 million in losses so far this year.

Scripps announced last month it was eliminating 400 jobs throughout its chain as advertising revenue tumbled — down 18 percent in the third quarter alone, costing the newspaper industry $2 billion — but that hasn’t been enough to stem losses at the Rocky. The newspaper has operated under a federally sanctioned Joint Operating Agreement with Media News Group, owner of the rival The Denver Post, since 2001. The papers shared publishing facilities and ad sales but ran two separate newsrooms.

“[The] operating conditions have become increasingly difficult in Denver, as is the case in all major metropolitan newspaper markets,” Boehne said in the statement. “Our 50 percent of the cash flow generated by the Denver Newspaper Agency is no longer enough to support the Rocky, leaving us with no choice but to seek an exit.”

The company will take offers through mid-January, Boehne said. If no buyers emerge, Scripps “will examine its other options for the future of the Rocky Mountain News and its interest in the Denver Newspaper Agency.” That means “it will consider shutting down the newspaper,” the Rocky reported Thursday afternoon.

“Newspapers around the nation have been particularly hard hit for years, and this downturn is impacting newspapers as badly as any industry, but nobody should be writing the Rocky’s obituary just yet,” Gov. Bill Ritter told the Rocky. “I’m hopeful the community will continue to benefit from the Rocky for years to come.”

When contacted about the Rocky News, Denver Post publisher Dean Singleton said he plans to “wait and see what happens. I am not sure there’s much I can say. This is not my story.”
Although The Denver Post is also bleeding money, Singleton declined to say what measures the newspaper was taking to stem its losses.

“We are committed to Denver,” he said.

The U.S. Department of Justice would have to approve any sale of the Rocky to The Denver Post, given the JOA.

It’s a buyer’s market for troubled newspapers, Editor & Publisher reported Thursday.

The Rocky Mountain News is one of several metros up on the auction block. The Copley Press is selling The San Diego Union-Tribune and other properties; Cox is also trying to unload several newspapers, including the Austin American-Statesman. Landmark Communications pulled the Virginia-Pilot in Norfolk off the market on Wednesday due problems with buyers lining up financing.

The news came the same day another newspaper chain’s layoffs reached 2,000 employees. Gannett, which operates 85 newspapers across the country, will be cutting 10 percent of its workers, on average, at all of its daily papers except the Detroit Free-Press and USA Today, E&P reported.

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Ernest Luning

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