When I heard the Rocky Mountain News in Denver was running their final edition last Friday, the first thing I thought was: what about the guys on the Nuggets beat?
Where do they go from here? Chris Tomasson and Aaron Lopez are wondering the same thing.
Tomasson and Lopez, who started covering the team about a year apart from each other, were both kind enough to share their experiences about working a dead beat for a folding newspaper, the memories along the way, and what the future holds….
Yet, even with so much unknown, Tomasson and Lopez never stopped putting in work….even breaking news in the final hours of their time at the Rocky.
Has it started to sink in that the Rocky Mountain News has closed?
CT: It’s started to sink in a little. We had a farewell party Saturday night and you saw all the Rocky people there, and that’s when it started to sink in. Thursday was such a whirlwind trying to save all the emails and files before they came for our computers – and I was just running around, so it’s definitely started to sink in.
Can you just give a quick background on your time at the Rocky and on the beat with the Nuggets….
CT: It’s one in the same – six-and-a-half years and took over the beat in September 2002. Survived the infamous 17-65 Jeff Bzdelik season 2002-03, when they averaged fewer points than any team since the shot clock – excluding the lockout season –and I’ve been covering the playoffs ever since then.
What has it been like – knowing the paper had been for sale and would eventually shut down – heading to work with the writing on the wall?
CT: I still handled my work as professional. The harder you work, the more you took your mind off of it. So that wasn’t a problem. We knew from the start that it didn’t look good. There were periods of semi-optimism when we continued to linger because they initially set a deadline of mid-January and as that passed, we got into February we figured they must have done something to stay alive. So we tried to think positive thoughts. But in the last week or two, they said they would tell the Rocky their fate my March 31. It sounded like it was over, although we thought we would linger through March.
Where were you when you received the news the paper was closing?
CT: I was in a very appropriate place, where I’ve been much of my life: standing in the hallway waiting to interview players. I had my computer on – but not on the internet – I was transcribing audio and waiting for some players to come out after an off day. Somebody called me and gave me the news. They said, did you hear the news? I thought someone got waived or some big NBA news – because it was getting close to that March 1 date when players could be waived. But they were like, you better call your office. Then I knew what the news was.
On a beat- and as much as you see them – did you talk to George Karl, the players and management to let them know what was going on?
CT: They kind of knew it was coming. George offered some nice sentiments to me at one point. Several members of the front office gave me their best wishes and what have you. And when the news finally came down, they were very gracious. With the state of the newspaper biz – combined with a declining economy – it doesn’t sound like this will be the first we will hear of a major paper shutting their doors. We are trying our best to stay optimistic, but there is so much so much doom and gloom out there it is difficult.
Our situation was understandable, because of how many two newspaper cities are left. Most people thought one day Denver would be down to one paper. But I’m still in the ‘I’ll believe it when I see it mode’ when a city like San Francisco or San Diego – another newspaper that is trouble – that has no newspaper in their major city. If that day comes, that will be a very, very sad day.
How hard has this time been Chris?
CT: It’s been tough just with the uncertainty out there, but I’m just trying to stay positive. Most likely I will finish up the season going to some Nuggets game, getting into some freelance and certainly I want to stay in the business. I think I can be an asset to a printed publication or online situation – so I’m trying to hope for the best at this point.
Could the Rocky have survived? Did they cash in the chips too early?
CT: Not knowing all the financial situations – but we heard the rumblings that maybe we would have stuck it out, that the (Denver) Post would have folded. But I’m not wishing any ill will on them. If they would have folded, it would be the economic situation with one of the two having to go. Scripps (who owned the paper) had to answer to stock holders, so that is another difference between the two companies. It’s just unfortunate this whole thing happened, and what’s happening to newspapers in general.
What are you going to miss the most about working for the Rocky and being on the Nuggets beat?
CT: I will miss the daily adrenaline. Obviously with the trade deadline passing, just not as major. The March 1 cut down date, and it’s been an exciting season with the Nuggets and with Chauncey Billups changing things around. There seems to be much more positive energy hanging over the team this year. So you just miss the daily challenge. Every day is a challenge and you are wondering what you are going to put in the paper the next day. Now there is no next day.
Is there a story that epitomizes your time on the beat?
CT: Ah, I’m going to have to think about that one. Go on to the next one – I’ll have to think about that one.
What if I told you that was my last question….
CT: Okay, I’ll tell you what I’m going to remember. I wasn’t there for all the long suffering years of the Nuggets, but my first season on the beat was 2002-03 – which I talked about before when they went 17-65. Some people think that was the least talented team in the history of the NBA – and that is being extreme. But I remember that next year when they got Carmelo Anthony in 2003 – o4.
They played Sacramento and it was a night they clinched a playoff berth. And Michael Jordan was there watching Carmelo Anthony – Lionel Richie was there – there just happened to be all these stars coming out to watch him. And they finally clinched the game – and Bzdelik, the embattled coach who many thought if they didn’t clinch the playoffs he would be fired – he was running down press row yelling, ‘yes, yes, yes.’ It was that excitement at the time. The team – at that point – hadn’t made the playoffs in nine years. So there is a memory for you.
There is such a fine line between writer and player – and where those relationships land – but are there particular players you became close to that you will miss more than others?
CT: We’ve had a pretty good cast of characters – or cast of players I should say – overall in Denver. I kind of remember those guys were just like regular guys. Two kind of stick out – actually I’ll single out three guys.
One was Mark Pope. He was perhaps the best interview with my time with the Nuggets. The guy was just extremely witty. He rarely played in his years with Denver. One rare time, he got in and it was the first points he’d scored in a couple years. It was against the Bobcats. He was kind of holding court in front of his locker after scoring two points. The game was a route. Reporters were trying to latch onto something to write about. He said, ‘yeah, Emeka Okofur of Charlotte, I posterized him. Wait a minute, make that ‘Pope-sterized him’.
Another guy I’ll remember was Eduardo Najera (now in New Jersey). He was just a regular good guy and if something was on his mind, you could just sit and banter with him at his locker.
And then another guy I will put in that category – a current guy – is Anthony Carter. Real good guy. A guy who took the tough road to the NBA. He’s thankful for what he has. Like I said – a lot of good players, a lot of great interviews. I’ll remember those guys that are like regular guys.
So much was made of “blogs” and where they factor into pushing print media out the door. Now, the poor economy and lack of advertising is piling on – but what are your thoughts on “blogs” in general? Perhaps the difference of working for a paper, while also running a “blog” as part of you writing….and is that a forum you plan to explore to keep your name out there?
CT: It’s certainly a possibility. I’ll have to get some more computer expertise to see how that all works, but basically the name is “blog” but I differentiate between the people who are there, at the games, in the locker rooms talking to people. You can call it a “blog” you can call it being a reporter – whatever you want to call it.
I think people need to be there at the game in order to form an opinion, or at least talk to a few people before you make sure your opinion isn’t idiotic. Whatever you want to call it – I don’t have any problem with that. What I see is the perforation of the internet – people who are never at the games, they are just sitting in their study in their boxer shorts and just ripping on players or what have you.
Because the thing about me, if I write something critical I’m there in the locker room the next day. I’m not running and hiding from anybody. I have to be pretty careful that I have my facts straightened-up and in order. For “bloggers”, you’re not going to get that. You are going to have people taking shots from afar. And if it goes on the internet the way things do these days, it may not be accurate and that’s the impression that is out there.
Aaron Lopez – who covered the Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche since joining the paper in November 2001 – briefly shared his thoughts via email on his time at the Rocky Mountain News.
What’s your plan going forward now that the Rocky has officially closed its doors?
AL: I will try to freelance as much as possible. Thankfully I know a lot of people at Kroenke Sports [Enterprises] and in the Denver sports scene, so hopefully I can make a few bucks here and there while looking for permanent work.
Where were you when he got word?
AL: Heard about it today (Thursday) about noon while eating lunch with my 5-year-old son. One of my co-workers called me with the news.
What has it been like the past few months knowing where things would likely end up for the paper? Was it hard to work your beat?
AL: We’ve known this day was probably coming for some time, but I tried to stay professional and do my job as best I could on a daily basis.
I was looking forward to traveling to Indianapolis and Detroit with the Nuggets next week. I wanted to see how Chauncey Billups was welcomed back to the Palace after five months.
Oh well. I’m now like every other Joe Sports Fan. I’ll have to watch it on TV and read about it on the Detroit web sites. I won’t be reading about it in The (Denver) Post because I refuse to get a subscription.
Update: Be sure to check out Chris Tomasson in his debut over at Pro Basketball News….
Much thanks to Chris Tomasson and Aaron Lopez for their help and efforts with this interview during this difficult time….
pic via: edsport