Rocky Mountain Independent, online magazine experiment, folds

Weeks-long rumors of the end of the Rocky Mountain Independent journalism experiment have been confirmed. On Thursday evening the three-month-old website announced to subscribers that it would cease producing content Monday, October 5. The RMI was founded by more than a dozen former editors and writers at the Rocky Mountain News, Denver’s storied tabloid-format newspaper, which shuttered in February.

The “online magazine” as it referred to itself, enjoyed the good will of local news-readers, who lamented the close of the Rocky Mountain News. The new magazine also seemed buoyed by the camaraderie and shared purpose of the journalist-investor staff, cast-offs in the storm-tossed sea of digital-era journalism. But the former newspaper writers struggled from the beginning on the web, the relatively large number of staff posting a well-designed product that was also cumbersome and roaming in a medium that rewards lean efficiency and focus.

RMI showcased high-end photography and in-depth features untethered to the news cycle. It covered politics and culture and sports. The mission statement said the editors were seeking to tell stories that were being left untold in a media environment that produced work that “seems to be about the same thing wherever you turn, shorter and shorter stories about fewer and fewer topics.”

The lofty vision smacked of a past (or future) era, as if the new online writers had never been committed online readers. RMI appeared to have sprung onto the web fresh from the 1990s, unconsciously or semiconsciously modeling early internet journalism efforts like San Francisco-founded Salon, whose magazine-style writers burned through barrels of capital for a decade before finally landing on a formula that updates content hourly with “shorter and shorter” stories and fully embraces the blogosphere in its practice and tone.

Although RMI depended on subscribers, the majority of content was available for free. Paying members received access to contributor journals and chats.

RMI editors reportedly informed freelancers several weeks ago that they would no longer be paying for content. InDenverTimes, an earlier online outlet started by former Rocky Mountain News staffers, quoted yesterday’s email to Rocky Mountain Independent subscribers:

“Our experiment has ended, and we would like to thank all of you who became members of the web site to support us. We have put everything we’ve made into producing content, but the economic reality is that we cannot produce enough content on that budget to justify charging a membership fee.”

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