DENVER — With backing from three entrepreneurs, staffers of the recently shuttered Rocky Mountain News plan to start an online news publication if they can get 50,000 paying subscribers by April 23 _ what would have been the News' 150th anniversary.
The local venture, InDenverTimes.com, would go live on May 4 if backers meet their subscription goal.
The site would offer some news free, with advertising revenue footing part of the bill. Readers who buy subscriptions starting at $4.99 a month for a year's commitment would get extra features, including columns, interactive features, feeds to mobile devices and customizable content.
"Great journalism can still be good business," said Kevin Preblud, one of the three entrepreneurs behind the venture. He owns a local service company and is on the board of the Cherry Creek Arts Festival.
The E.W. Scripps Co. shut down the News last month, citing losses that reached $16 million last year.
All three founders have roots in Denver. They said that although they never considered buying the News from Scripps, they couldn't imagine the newspaper dying.
Besides Preblud, the other founders are Brad Gray, a founding partner of the executive search firm McAleer Gray and co-founder of the Wi-Fi company Wayport Inc.; and Benjamin Ray, who co-founded the digital marketing agency Xylem Digital and whose grandmother and father were both in journalism.
The announcement comes the same day Hearst Corp. said it would cease printing the Seattle Post-Intelligencer after a final edition Tuesday and switch to an online-only format.
Ray said In Denver Times wouldn't have to sink substantial costs into printing and distributing a traditional newspaper. Its budget, he said, would mostly go to the 30 former News writers, editors and a cartoonist who would be on the staff.
Gray said it's clear successful newspapers will need a new financial model.
"Somebody had to step into the breach and try to be that," Gray said.
The Denver Post is the only remaining major daily in print in Denver. Publisher and Chairman William Dean Singleton was in a meeting and was not immediately available to comment on the announcement by In Denver Times, according to his assistant.
Singleton is also chairman of the board of The Associated Press.
Details on compensation at the new venture, how video and photography might be collected and who would be hired as an editor have yet to be decided, but Gray said staffers could make a living off the new venture if it goes launches.
Steve Foster, former News assistant sports editor for interactive, would be managing editor.
The co-founders wouldn't say how much they already have invested, how much they expect to invest or how much advertising they might need. They said they have discussed taking their online-subscription model to other cities if it works in Denver.
Organizers said they had 110 subscribers within the first hour that In Denver Times started taking orders, most of them for a full year. Ray said 50,000 pledges should be enough to sustain the publication for a year.
The News had a weekday circulation of about 210,000.
Shortly after Scripps announced Dec. 4 that it was putting the News up for sale, News presentation editor Kim Humphreys called staffers together to discuss what was next. From that came the Web site IWantMyRocky.com, where they could rally community support. Former News staffers have been donating their time to generate stories for that site.
Foster said the group had talked casually with other entrepreneurs interested in a new Denver publication, but the ones launching In Denver Times are the ones most interested in the scale of publication that the former News staffers wanted to keep alive.
Skeptics have asked whether readers will pay for content, but "collectively we need to prove them wrong," Ray said.
Former News reporter Tillie Fong is among those who would be hired at In Denver Times if enough subscribers sign on.
"I want to be a journalist. This is 'what I want to be when I grow up,'" she said. "When the Rocky closed, it was traumatic, shocking. It was a hard blow. It was a death. This is sort of like a phoenix."
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