Vail Valley Voices: Requiem for the Rocky Mountain News |

Vail Valley Voices: Requiem for the Rocky Mountain News

Don Cohen
Vail, CO, Colorado

On Feb. 27, the stretch of asphalt from the garage to end of the driveway was a silent walk down death row to the gas chamber.

I knew what was at the end. Shrouded in an orange plastic bag lay the corpse ” The Rocky Mountain News.

From childhood to today, picking the Rocky up off the drive had unthinkingly become a half-century-long tradition. Through a fittingly cold spit of snowflakes, I walked back into the house, my mind cinematically melding 50 years of images into a time-lapse montage of porches and driveways on Poplar Street, Bellaire, Cherry Creek Drive South, Oneida, Olathe, Nassau and now, Snaffle.

For five decades, each morning the world unfolded in front of me in newsprint. The Cuban missile crisis, Kennedy’s assassination, the Beatles’ first Colorado visit, the daily death toll of Americans in Vietnam, Armstrong on the moon, Nixon’s resignation, the Broncos’ first trip to the Super Bowl (and the two winning games years later), Columbine and, of course, 9/11.

A few editions of the Rocky have been saved in a plastic bin in the basement to commemorate not only momentous world events but personal ones for our son and any grandkids that might be born into the future.

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Saving a paper is an act of creating your own personal time capsule. Encompassed in every edition is a snapshot of who we were, what we were doing, what we were shopping for and what we were interested in.

The Internet may now be the most efficient way we hear of news, but its infinite size lessens context and, despite all its breadth, narrows our field of vision. Stories that you might never read might catch your eye on a wide page but can be too easily overlooked when reduced to a tiny underlined link on a Web page.

The other reporters in the Denver media covered the story with sadness and reserve. Survivor’s guilt? A presage of their own careers? And why were the on-the-street interviews with longtime readers tinged with tears and sadness? Businesses close, landmarks fall under the wrecking ball, a few moments of wistful nostalgia are noted, and life rolls forward. Why was this different?

While newspapers are business enterprises animated by the lifeblood of commerce, to their readers, they are a civic institution. But even more deeply, to many they are a teacher, interpreter, interlocutor, inquisitor and entertainer. Steady readers embrace the newspaper as family and learn to allow for the quirks, likes and disagreements of the many voices that, in whole, become the chorus.

Spending most of my career in corporate media, journalism always felt like a close first cousin. And so it was with great excitement and pride that by the age of 15, I saw our son, Andy, focus on journalism as a career. He edited the Husky Howl at Battle Mountain High School, graduated from the journalism school at CU, started as a news producer in El Paso, Texas, and now produces the 6 p.m. news for the NBC station in Albuquerque.

In him I see the thrill, the passion and the drive to see, to understand and to explain. There’s the immense pressure of the deadline and the even greater pressure of telling the story well and getting the facts straight.

Four hundred miles to the north, and closer to home, I think of several of the up-and-coming young reporters at the Vail Daily: Melanie, Chris and Dustin. Like Andy, they’re moving their careers forward in a smaller market. It’s a great place to hone their craft, as in a small community, the feedback is more immediate and sometimes uncomfortably personal. That’s what makes community journalism so vital.

These young talents are at the beginning of their career arcs and one, or maybe more, might find themselves looking back decades from now over a body of work and a hard drive of memories of a life spent in pursuit of being engaged in the world.

To them I hold up the career portrait of Dusty Saunders and offer a toast to a journalist’s life well-lived.

In the Rocky’s final edition, there was a column from Saunders. He walked into the Rocky with his journalism degree from CU more than 55 years ago. He wrote more stories and articles than any other writer/reporter in the paper’s history. While our paths often came close to intersecting, I never met Dusty but have called him by his first name since I first started reading his coverage of television in the early 1970s. For three decades, I relied on his industry knowledge and trusted him to tell me which TV programs were worth watching and which were not.

In his next-to-last paragraph, he summed up the wisdom, rage and sadness of the Rocky’s end in one word: “Dammit!” And that’s all it took for me well up with tears. A final defiant declaration carried away by the chinook winds off the divide and across the open expanse of the eastern plains.

Don Cohen, executive director of the Economic Council of Eagle County, can be reached at dcohen@economic

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