Denver Bar Association
September 2009
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Life After the Rocky

by Sue Lindsay

My career in journalism ended as it began – when the newspaper I was working for folded. The sad closure of the Rocky Mountain News just shy of its 150th anniversary was anticipated after E.W. Scripps announced it was giving up its Denver newspaper market last December. But the fact that the Rocky’s closure hung over the heads of the staff for three months made it no less painful for us or for the readers we left behind.

This was the second newspaper closure for me. My first job in journalism, as a features and consumer reporter for Chicago Today, the Chicago Tribune’s afternoon paper, was a triumph for a new journalism school graduate, but it lasted only two years before the paper shut down in 1974 during the last major recession.

As a legal affairs and courts reporter for the Rocky, I always thought that one day I would grow up and get a real job. Judges and lawyers I covered over the years encouraged me to go to law school. I planned to do that — one day.

But then there would be a great story. A dismembered body would be found in an apartment. A public figure would do something stupid. Corruption in high places would be found. The fire of the chase was ignited, I would find out information that no one else knew, I would tell the world about it — I fell in love with journalism all over again.

Rocky Mountain News courts reporter Sue Lindsay packs up a box with some of her personal belongings at the newspaper’s offices Feb. 26 in Denver. Getty Images / Marc Piscotty

The court beat was hard work and fun. I loved telling the stories of the crazy things people do for love and money, the sad stories behind the crimes and lawsuits. I saw judges twirl around in their chairs in exasperation. I saw a defendant wanted on an FTA emerge from a filing cabinet to present the judge a red rose along with his apology. I was there when a man just convicted of murder attacked prosecutors, causing alarmed spectators to flee the courtroom. I found myself the last person standing in the gallery, dutifully scribbling in my reporter’s notebook as deputies subdued him with stunguns before carrying him out head-first to jail.

Since the Rocky’s demise, staff members have scattered. Very few have remained in journalism. A few have found good jobs with corporations or as government spokespersons. But the pickings are slim during the worst economic times since the Depression. Many former Rocky staffers are unemployed or underemployed. One member of our Pulitzer-Prize winning staff of photographers is a seasonal landscape worker for RTD. Another tried his hand at a Chinese fast-food restaurant. Some have headed back to college for degrees in health and other fields seemingly immune from the gangrene that is eating away our profession.

We have to use our skills in other ways. We are told our skills are highly valued and "transferable," but some of us took it personally when a recent job posting for a university public affairs director stated "newsroom experience may be included but may not be the other experience listed."

Well. That’s a hard row to hoe for a career journalist during a time of dying newspapers and media cutbacks. Our reputations, years of expertise and stacks of journalistic honors mean little when we are applying for jobs that we never have done before.

Those great stories that kept seducing me back to the zany world of journalism delayed my plans for law school a bit too long. But my career apple isn’t falling far from the tree. I decided to use the legal knowledge I absorbed from years on the court beat (and hours sitting on back-breaking courthouse benches) by launching a new career as a legal investigator.

Investigation is a job I have done as a journalist for years. I can find people who are trying to hide. I can get people to talk to me and spill their innermost secrets. I can take the jumbled pieces of a puzzle and shape them into a coherent whole. I can produce well-written reports — and do it on deadline. All those things I did daily as a reporter can help an attorney put a solid case together.

The support I have received from lawyers who were former sources has been gratifying. But I also notice it now sometimes takes a while for my calls to be returned, now that my call is just one of too many they receive each day and they know I’m no longer under deadline pressure for the morning paper.

But courthouses and the legal system have always been my second home. It feels right. I love the drama of a trial. The chase and satisfaction of landing a good interview is still there. Now, if I can just get that attorney to call me back …

Contact Sue Lindsay at suelindsay@comcast.net.


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