- The Washington Times - Friday, April 24, 2009

DENVER | A coterie of former Rocky Mountain News reporters has gone back to the drawing board after breaking with its financial backers in an effort to launch an online newspaper.

INDenver Times, a subscription-based and fully staffed Internet newspaper, was scheduled to launch May 4 until Thursday, when organizers announced that they failed to reach their goal of 50,000 paid subscribers. The site reportedly had sold only 3,000 subscriptions.

Without that subscription base, the site’s financial backers - entrepreneurs Brad Gray, Kevin Preblud and Benjamin Ray - have opted to reconfigure the project with a scaled-down staff. Meanwhile, a newsroom group led by former RMN reporters plans to pursue investors interested in keeping the original plan for a fully staffed news product, said business writer David Milstead.

“The backers remain interested in online journalism at a lower starting cost, so they’re retaining the brand name and the site going forward,” said Mr. Milstead in an e-mail. “It remains unclear which ex-[Rocky Mountain News] staffers will continue with them.”

About 30 former RMN reporters had been contributing articles to the Web site since its initial start-up March 16. Mr. Milstead said that he, Managing Editor Steve Foster and “a number of other staffers will explore the original concept and seek new backers. In all likelihood, any new venture will have a new name.”

The struggle to resurrect the spirit of the Rocky Mountain News represents one of the first efforts to convert a major metropolitan newspaper from print to online-only in the face of a steep nationwide decline in advertising revenue. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer ceased its print operation March 17 and moved to an online-only product after its owner, the Hearst Corp., failed to find a buyer.

Thursday’s announcement came on what would have been the 150th anniversary of the Rocky Mountain News, which closed Feb. 27 after its parent company, E.W. Scripps Co., reported losses last year of $16 million. The Denver Post is now the city’s only major daily print newspaper.

Mr. Preblud didn’t say how many reporters the Web site would retain, but acknowledged that keeping 30 staffers was impractical without a larger subscription base.

“We have confidence in the future of online journalism and will continue to explore alternative business models,” Mr. Preblud said in a statement. “There is a long list of online media outlets that are working hard all over the country to create a new paradigm that will transform local journalism.”

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