Newspaper Profits Win Out Over Racial Progress

Reporting on last week’s closure of the 150-year-old Denver Rocky Mountain News, Juan Gonzalez and Amy Goodman (Democracy Now!, 2/27/09) give us the financial backstory behind the fact that “the newspaper industry is going through a major, major upheaval in these last few days”: “A lot of the papers ended up being bought in recent years, and their owners took on heavy debt to buy these papers out, and now they’re finding now that the debt, the burden of the debt, plus the declining ad revenues, is creating major problems for them.” That said, Gonzalez tells why he is “especially troubled by the Rocky Mountain News“:

When I was president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, we started a whole program to change the coverage of Latinos and hire more Latinos around the country, and the Rocky Mountain News was the first paper that we worked with back in 2003.

And it was extraordinary, the change that the paper made in its coverage of the Latino community in Colorado, in its hiring. It started out with a mere, I think, 11 Hispanics in the newsroom, out of 204. Within a year, they had more than doubled the number. They changed the coverage. We held town meetings in the community, and the community was telling us, yes, this paper was finally changing.

And it even hired the first Native American journalist at that paper. And that’s especially important, because those who don’t know Colorado history won’t know that the Rocky Mountain News has a notorious history back in the 19h century, when it really stoked a massacre, the Sand Creek Massacre, of scores of Native Americans, and it’s always been hated by the Native American community because of that long history. But even there, the Rocky tried to make changes.

While calling it “really tragic that that paper has been lost to the people of Colorado,” Gonzalez also is careful when answering Goodman’s question, “So, you’re saying in a lot of these cases the newspapers actually are not failing, they are profitable?”: “Yes, well, when the Knight chain… was bought out by McClatchy, and, of course, the Inquirer and the Daily News in Philadelphia were part of that deal–the chain was making 15 percent profit a year. It just wasn’t making enough for to satisfy the shareholders.”

Read FAIR’s magazine Extra!: “‘Wall Street Does Not Like Newspapers’: CounterSpin Interview with Ben Bagdikian” (5-6/06).