I had a hard time believing it, when the Denver Daily News closed back in June.
The free daily seemed to be growing and doing well. I was thinking its chances of survival were greater than The Denver Post’s.
Then it was gone, with no real explanation of why it bit the dust so suddenly.
Westword’s Michael Roberts interviewed Denver Daily News publisher Kristie Hannon at the time, and she told him that, in terms of profit, the newspaper “had seen ups and downs.” Hannon told Roberts and other media outlets, it didn’t look like the Denver Daily News was sustainable.
I wondered why. Was it in the black? Was it really headed off a cliff before long?
You might ask, who cares? The paper had about 25,000 readers, 20 people on the payroll, and just three workhorses in the editorial department.
But, still, the Denver Daily News, usually ran daily stories about local politics, at a time when this type of content is in shorter and shorter supply.
When you think about it, on a daily basis, the Daily News was easily among the top ten media outlets in the entire state, if not the top five or so, covering the legislative session. Correct me if I’m wrong, please.
So it would be nice to know whether the DDN model, of a free print daily, mostly with original and wire-service coverage of news and sports, is anything close to viable in Denver.
Michael Roberts tried to get at this question in his interview with Hannon back in June, when the newspaper closed:
WW: Is there still a market for a print publication like the Denver Daily News? Or are such projects cost-prohibitive in today’s market?
KH: I know the price of print just increased again last week, and I don’t know if there is an end in sight for that. Competing against the Internet in that regard (print costs) is tough, but I believe ROI in this print format is far higher than most other mediums when you really do the math. As far as profitability, it’s tough to make a buck.
It was tough, it turns out, but possible.
I asked Hannon this month to talk to me more about why the DDN closed, and she agreed with me that it was worth clarifying that her newspaper was in the black when it closed, and she thinks a DDN type of newspaper could succeed.
“There were months that we lost money, but it wasn’t significant because other months would make up for it,” Hannon told me.
The newspaper was treading water in a tough economy, and Hannon was done. She declined to say whether she and owner, Jim Pavelich, who owns the Palo Alto Post, tried to sell the Denver Daily News before shuttering it. (Pavelich, who’s developed successful newspapers but has been accused by former employees of not caring much for journalism, closed the Vail Mountaineer the same day.)
“You get to a certain stage,” Hannon told me, “and you say, does this make sense? As a business model, and personally? I was running myself into the ground.”
Hannon may have been running out of steam, but at least her editorial staff wasn’t.
“That’s the nature of the business,” said Tad Rickman, former Denver Daily News’ Editor, who often worked from dawn till dark during his decade at the newspaper. “I didn’t mind putting the hours into it.”
He says the long hours were about the same at the Lafayette News, which he left in 2001. He’s currently looking for work.
Hannon says that even though the paper ran on cash and was in the black, the future looked bad, especially with print costs rising.
“It was swimming upstream,” she told me. “We didn’t see the growth component.”
“The future always looks bad,” said Peter Marcus, the former assistant editor of the Denver Daily News, who’s now freelancing for the Colorado Statesman. “The future never looked good for that newspaper. For a decade they were beating the odds. They were doing it. But it sounds like they didn’t want to put up a fight.”
Like Hannon and Rickman, Marcus is happy to have worked at Denver Daily News, and he doesn’t fault the owner for selling the newspaper.
But he thinks management should have, among other things, given the staff notice of the closure and published a final issue, as a show of respect. As it was, the newspaper was shut down with no notice at all, he says, not even a news release on the day of the shuttering.
“They didn’t even archive the stories,” he points out. “ The website exists, but it’s blank. For some reason they decided to delete the entire legacy of the Denver Daily News. To me, that’s the epitome of the disrespect. They don’t care that the stories have disappeared. But for us, it matters.”
That’s undoubtedly part of the reason the Denver Daily News survived for 10 years and maybe why someone will give it another shot someday.