Thursday, February 26, 2009

I Read the (Rocky Mountain) News Today, Oh Boy

The Rocky Mountain News will be publishing its last edition tomorrow, leaving Denver as a one (major) newspaper town. And, while I’m not predicting this, with the Denver Post having tremendous difficulties as well, it’s not inconceivable to think that 12-18 months down the road Denver could be a zero newspaper town. The demise of The Rocky should presumably help the Post short term, with additional advertisers and subscribers probably coming their way, but that may not be enough to overcome the recession and their current business model.

This is sad in so many ways, not the least of which is that I believe newspapers (not necessarily the format, but the concept) are critical to a democracy. And I felt that The Rocky was doing better than most newspapers at trying to incorporate the web into their operation (obviously not profitably, though). It will be interesting to see how this all shakes out here in Colorado.

In the meantime, this spurs some questions for me. I am not particularly knowledgeable about newspapers or their business model, so I can’t really comment on that. But I wonder what this means for K-12 education, particularly here in Colorado.

What should this mean for how we teach students here in Colorado?

How does this affect where and how they find news information, and how do we as educators help them do that?

Will teachers in Colorado make the connection to their own classroom practice? Both in terms of the way publishing and audience is changing, but also in terms of how the status quo is not guaranteed to continue – and that outdated models can and will be replaced.

And, in light of Kathleen Bates Yancey’s (and the NCTE’s) call for a reexamination of writing in the 21st century, how will all teachers (not just Language Arts teachers) respond?
Perhaps most important, seen historically this 21st century writing marks the beginning of a new era in literacy, a period we might call the Age of Composition, a period where composers become composers not through direct and formal instruction alone (if at all), but rather through what we might call an extracurricular social co-apprenticeship.
NCTE is calling for teachers and students to embrace writing “authentic texts in informal, collaborative contexts” where there “isn’t a hierarchy of expert-apprentice, but rather a peer co-apprenticeship in which communicative knowledge is freely exchanged.”

Does this describe your classroom?
We have to move beyond a pyramid-like, sequential model of literacy development in which print literacy comes first and digital literacy comes second and networked literacy practices, if they come at all, come third and last.
How are you developing not only print, but digital and network literacy practices in your classroom?

Yancey’s article helps us “understand an increasingly important role for writing: to foster a new kind of citizenship.” In an age when newspapers are failing (at least in a business sense), this is going to be critical not only for our students, but for our democracy.
We need to become serious about helping students becomes citizen composers instead of good test takers.
Are your students on their way to becoming citizen composers?

Your thoughts?

Update 2-27-09: The Rocky has a "Final Edition" video up, I'm embedding it below. Also, John Temple has an article where he tries to explain some of the economics of why Denver can't support two papers.

Final Edition from Matthew Roberts on Vimeo.


  1. This makes me infinitely sad, but what I wonder is (here's a librarian talking) what happens to the digital archives? Who owns them now?

  2. @Jude - Initial indications are that they plan to sell their content.

  3. Print journalism is becoming more and more like the auto industry for me. It's a tragedy to see so many of them disappear, but what of the signs that this was happening? What of the shifts that could have been made? Although, I don't know of many in that biz that are making the shift successfully.

    What you do bring out for me that stops me in my tracks more than that, however, is the Yancey piece. NJ has recently revised all of its standards, and we are looking at a major revision of the English curriculum K-12 here. How do I pull the ideas that Yancey lays out into the discussion that needs to occur with that department? I find even when groups like the NCTE lay it out in such a way, English teachers are reluctant to give up the canon and the pedagogies associated with it. I know this well; I was one.

    Thanks for the links to Yancey's article. I am going to pore over it some more tomorrow.


  5. @Patrick Higgins - I'd say you open the discussion with your Language Arts folks just like that. Have them read the article, perhaps frame it with the problems newspapers are having (perhaps not), pull a few selected quotes from the Yancey article to highlight, and then say just what you said here. It's worth a shot.

  6. This suggests to me how important it really is that teachers help students to tie together all the writing they already do outside of school (be it texting, twitter, or facebook) to the knowledge that they are developing in school. These two arenas should be building a coherent skill set for young people and can help them see that they are already participatory members of communities and even something as abstract as "the larger culture."

  7. Seems like there is also a collaborative tie-in to economics, given that our current system hasn't fully adjusted to embrace a digital economy. Maybe some students and future leaders will come up with answers to economic survival that so many new technology ideas seem to be without.

  8. On a related note, Business Week calculated that it would be cheaper (by about $300 million) to buy every one of their subscribers a Kindle than to keep printing paper copies.

    Print journalism seems to think their value is in wood pulp, rather than ideas. Or at the very least, they know how to charge for wood pulp distribution, and not how to charge for dissemination of high-quality information and ideas.

    Regardless, it is already necessary for students to critically evaluate the source of all information. Gone are the days when you could blindly believe reporting from even so reliable a source as the NYT. Or Rocky Mountain news.

  9. I do not know if there was anything that could have been done to save the print edition, other than moving towards an online platform.

    It is interesting to see the effects of both societal and information sources shifting... it hits journalists and everyone in media, from Rupert Murdoch to the staff of the Rocky Mountain News.

    One great thing to keep in mind, content writing and effective communication skills are valuable tools, always in demand. I am sure that everything will work out for the staff of the Rocky Mountain News!

    Great Post