“For suddenly he was thinking … that if he was not a writer, he was not real, that he did not exist.”
— Robert Penn Warren, in “Flood”
As Coloradans listen to the echoes of a great voice gone suddenly silent, the words of Robert Penn Warren ring quietly and persistently for me in the void.
Warren remains the only writer to have won Pulitzer Prizes for both poetry and fiction, but that isn’t why I love his work. That, without doubt, is because of his tendency to make journalists and storytellers his heroes, and because of his belief that all great tales are ultimately about individual journeys to a place of hope and redemption.
While a Colorado without the Rocky Mountain News is a painful and empty development for the loyal readers of that newspaper, it is a devastating story for those of us who spent years in that news room and who ache for our colleagues there.
As a longtime veteran of both Denver newspapers, I can tell you that the differences between them have not been exaggerated. And while I was very proud to work at both, there’s no doubt that the Rocky was more quintessentially Colorado in its content and presentation, more a friend to its readers than simply a source of information and entertainment.
The sense of losing a friend was very strong last week as the Colorado Press Association convened its annual convention in Denver and I convened my Metro State class on How to Get a Media Job. Indeed, hope and redemption never seemed in shorter supply as I faced the eager young journalism students who dream of a career telling stories and fighting the good fight.
Yet despite Thursday’s news that the Rocky was about to print its final edition, aspiring journalists packed the CPA’s student job fair to interview with editors from across the state, armed with resumes, published work — and a lot more hope than could be found in the room before their arrival.
These students are not naïve. They know the challenges faced by print journalism as revenues and readers dwindle. They know how hard it will be to get a start in this industry. And yet they love the craft so much, none of that matters.
One young woman left her home in China and came to an unfamiliar place where she has no family and no support system, trading everything she knew to learn more about what she could never fully explore in her own county — the role of a free and aggressive press in making democracy stronger and more vital.
“It is all I want to do,” she said, her English formal but her message more raw and deep than my own feelings could fathom on that bittersweet day.
At my own class, a local news crew arrived to chronicle the terrible irony of a college course on finding jobs starting on a day when so many jobs had disappeared. And yet irony — so popular among the often-cynical storytellers in the journalism trade — didn’t stand much of a chance in that classroom.
“Our generation will figure it out,” said Dan Williams, a young journalist who must have learned about the word “persistence” long before he was even old enough to spell it.
When Dan and his classmates filed out of that room, the irony some of us saw there earlier had been transformed into something very different. Some would say it looked a lot like hope.
Whatever those young journalists left behind, it will someday become part of a story about redemption for American journalism. The dedication and grit that filled the Rocky news room will play a big part in the story too, albeit long after that beloved newspaper’s final deadline.
Doug Bell is the editor of Evergreen Newspapers.