Tracy Ringolsby on the death of his newspaper

The Hall of Fame baseball writer quickly fires up a blog in the wake of the Rocky Mountain News' demise. "I never felt the Internet was a threat."

Published March 13, 2009 11:00AM (EDT)

Tracy Ringolsby is a Hall of Fame baseball writer, honored in Cooperstown in 2005 with the J.G. Taylor Spink Award. But late last month he was just one of about 200 editorial employees thrown out of work in Denver when the Rocky Mountain News closed.

While much of the newspaper's staff launched to continue covering Denver and Colorado as the Rocky had done in print for almost 150 years, Ringolsby and two colleagues started a blog called Inside the Rockies. Columnist Bernie Lincicome wrestled with the idea of becoming a blogger at I Want My Rocky, but Ringolsby and fellow baseball writer Jack Etkin dived right into continuing their coverage of Denver's major league baseball team.

Ringolsby was at spring training in Arizona when the closing of the paper was announced. He told the Denver alternative weekly Westword that the Rocky's parent company, Scripps, immediately cut off all corporate credit cards and he had to pay his own way to his home just outside Cheyenne, Wyo.

Aside from the blog, which doesn't pay at the moment, the 58-year-old Ringolsby has steady work doing Rockies pre- and postgame shows for Fox Sports. He's no stranger to the closing of news organizations, pointing out that he's spent time at United Press International and the Long Beach Independent, both defunct or effectively so, and at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which is on a daily deathwatch.

"Right now, if you've been around a while," he said, "it'd be hard to say you've worked at any paper that hasn't been impacted."

On the other side of the coin, Ringolsby was there for the beginning of the now venerable prospect bible Baseball America, and his coverage of minor league prospects had a big influence on mainstream baseball reporting.

I called Ringolsby Wednesday in Las Vegas, where he'd gone to watch his alma mater, the University of Wyoming, play basketball in the Mountain West Conference tournament. We talked about the Rocky Mountain News, Inside the Rockies and the uncertain future of the news business

Let's start with the Rocky Mountain News closing. You were in Arizona. Quickly tell me that story of how you got the news and what happened next.

We were warned that they were going to have a staff meeting at noon and we pretty much knew what was going to happen. I was in the press box at Hi Corbett Field. I don't think the emotions were that much that day, at least not on my part. I pretty well spent three months getting through the emotions. Really, I think that day was kind of a relief that it was finally over.

You get to a point where you hear so many rumors and every day you hear that next week is the week they're going to do it. I don't think there was ever a serious thought that they were going to do anything but close it down. So it wasn't like you were sitting there looking for a white knight to ride in on a horse and save the thing.

It's just an ax hanging over your head for months on end.

I told Joe Glenn, who used to be the football coach at Wyoming. He said, "How do you deal with it?" And I said, "The same way you dealt with the last four weeks of your season." You go to bed at night and you hope for a miracle and you wake up in the morning and you try to deal with the reality.

So I think by the time it all happened, the pity party, the anger, the frustration, had pretty well given way to, OK, we've got to move forward now. God's going to open a new door and we're going to walk through it and we're going to figure out what to do.

And for you that new door is Inside the Rockies, the blog that you and a couple other guys started. Tell me how that came about. Were you planning that in advance or was it just kind of that day, "Let's put on a show"?

Really I have several different things going on. And you wanted to stay writing too. And Steve Foster, who was one of our assistant sports editors who dealt with all the Internet stuff, had brought the idea up a couple times and I said, "Well, yeah, I'll give it a try. But if we do it we need to not miss a beat. As soon as the paper folds, we want to be up and going." Because the longer you're away the easier it is for people to say, "Boy I sure miss the guy," but not really care.

So the paper folded on Friday and on Monday Steve's pretty much -- I think he's a pretty good whiz on that stuff because in about eight hours he'd put the site together and had it set up and the whole bit.

For me, I'm going to do 110 games, I think, on Fox TV with the Rockies, pregame and postgame, so I'm going to be around them a lot. It just seemed like a natural thing to do to still go ahead and write something about them every now and then. And Jack Etkins and I have been together since '83 in Kansas City. It's like, "Hey, Jack, if you want to stay involved in some stuff here's something and we can see where it can lead to."

I don't know that much about the Internet, so you'll have to tell me if it was good or bad, but by the end of last week we were over 3,000 hits a day.

How closely tied is it to the bigger Rocky site,

I think that kind of serves as a clearinghouse for anybody from the Rocky who wants to do something. It's kind of become the jumping-off point where if you want to find someone who was at the Rocky you go there. They're doing a pretty good job of trying to keep track of where everybody is headed to.

You say you don't know that much about the Internet and I wonder how you feel about being a blogger now. There's this trumped-up difference between we trained journalists -- professionals -- and bloggers. I wonder if you buy into any of that or care about it or how you feel about it now that you're writing for a blog.

I'm not real sure what all the technical terms are. In my mind it's a Web site. We're providing news and coverage of what goes on. I'm not going to say what's a blog or what's not a blog because I don't even understand where the terminology "blog" comes from.

There's some interaction with readers who want to ask questions and stuff. But I've seen some Web sites where they just get into being a bunch of guys sitting around screaming and yelling at each other and stuff. We don't have that kind of setup. We don't have that type of interaction created. I don't feel that much different except it's hard to take a computer screen into the bathroom in the morning.

You gotta get a laptop.

You know, the whole blog thing, I haven't gotten caught up in it, I guess, like a lot of people have. There are some sites that fans have put together for the Rockies. I read those things. There are some sites that fans have put together for the University of Wyoming. I read those things. I find them interesting. I've never been a guy who that type of stuff upsets.

Now that we're seeing some big papers fold, do you think about the future of daily journalism or local journalism? Where do you think this is going? What's going to happen if Denver or San Francisco or places like that just don't have a daily newspaper?

Well, I think I've thought about that for 10 or 15 years about what's going to happen next. And I always hoped that there'd be another seven years before it was anything I had to really be concerned about, but it didn't work that way.

I'm not saying the traditional newspaper has to be there, but for people to think that a lot of the sites where there's just an exchange of opinions or whatever are going to provide -- there's a little bit of a frightening part of what could happen because an informed public is the best public to make decisions.

I'm not saying that the media always does a great job. I'm not going to sit here and say that things don't go uncovered. But unless there's some type of news agencies out there that are looking around for information and trying to pass on information and educate readers, it's kind of frightening to think what could happen politically.

It seems to me that there'd be a vacuum there and somebody or something would step into it. I don't think we're going to go without reporting in the future.

What I've always said, like when I speak to a journalism group or something, or students, and they ask me if it's a bleak future, I say, "I don't think it's a bleak future once they figure out what the future is." Once they figure out an economic system that works on the Internet, there's probably going to be more demand for writers than there's ever been, because we're the least expensive part of the newspaper anyhow.

I never felt the Internet was a threat. I felt in the long run it was going to be a positive for our business. I was just hoping we'd figure it out before we went through a major recession in the business. We didn't. You know, we didn't, so you move on. Look, I've got a daughter who's 29 years old who I think is fairly intelligent. She's about to get her MBA at SMU. I don't know that she's ever had newsprint on her fingers, but she keeps up with what's going on in the world.

So we can't always sit -- because I'm 58 years old -- and think that everything's supposed to be done the way that it's been done my whole life. I realize that things are changing and you have to be willing to make some adjustments with it.

By King Kaufman

King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

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