By Len Lazarick
The Washington Examiner, the right-leaning tabloid, is not officially dying, but its owner announced Tuesday it is ceasing daily publication and laying off its local staff, including its Maryland reporters at the State House and in Montgomery County. It will retain its name but become a national weekly on politics.
The announcement comes just two weeks after the Gazette of Politics and Business announced it was dropping politics and scaling back its Annapolis presence.
The news about the Examiner was both unsurprising and sad. Four years ago, the Baltimore Examiner folded, leaving its State House bureau chief (me) and 100 other people without jobs. The Baltimore paper kept going for another two weeks, but the Washington Examiner will stagger on for three months, eventually laying off 87 of its staff.
More details from the competition
The Examiner’s own version simply reprints press release about the change. Erik Wemple, the Washington Post media blogger, has a full account of the Examiner demise, including a link to his own City Paper story about its 2005 launch when he was the editor there.
Wemple followed up that story two hours later with an interview with Stephen Smith, the Examiner’s current and future editor, discussing his “torn feelings” about the day.
Here is the file from Will Sommer of the Washington City Paper, including the full memo from Ryan McKibben, the same Clarity Media executive who closed the Baltimore Examiner.
Some resentment as Examiner dropped coverage
I’ve always nursed some resentment against the Washington Examiner editors. They had freely used my copy from Annapolis — not all of it, but a good bit — but never had to pay for it. When Baltimore shuttered, they abandoned Annapolis coverage, covering it by telephone at best, while expanding their national opinion section and hiring big name columnists. I figured they either didn’t like my coverage — too soft on O’Malley and the Dems? — or they didn’t like paying a reporter who made as much as some editors. Maybe it was both. All they told me was “see you later.”
The Washington Examiner did eventually begin covering the State House again in earnest the following year, but lately it’s been a revolving door of young reporters. The Examiner style was short and punchy, and a lot of people liked it. By the way, Examiner.com is an online network of “amateur” journalists who get little editing (as if you couldn’t tell) and get paid a pittance based on the web traffic they generate.
Lost state capital coverage
It was this kind of loss of state capital coverage around the country that led the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity to fund MarylandReporter.com and other web-based start-ups around the country. At the end of last year, after three years of support, they stopped funding those affiliates, while continuing to run some statehouse bureaus directly — including ones in Pennsylvania and Virginia.
MarylandReporter.com is now on its own, trying to show what foundations call “local sustainability.” We have a grant from the Abell Foundation for a series on state pensions, another grant funds post-graduate reporter interns, and other major grants are in the works.
We’re having a fundraiser
In a bit of shameless self-promotion necessary for survival, MarylandReporter.com is holding an April 4th fundraiser at Harry Brown’s in Annapolis. Like the public radio model, we are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation, and contributions can be both tax-deductible and anonymous.
As I’ve passed out invitations and told people “I’m having a fundraiser,” Annapolis insiders ask me what I’m running for. One lobbyist even said he thought my voicemail fundraising appeal was a joke.
Attempting to keep coverage of state government and politics alive is no joke. We try to do that with original reporting and our daily roundup of what coverage still exists in traditional media and political blogs. As newspapers set up paywalls to charge for their content — the Washington Post announced it will start this summer — the daily roundup becomes more difficult, but we will subscribe to these sites to continue a comprehensive view that serves readers best.
We’re not running for anything, but we are scurrying as fast as we can to escape the fate of the staff at the Examiners and the Gazettes. Please consider making a contribution or even becoming a sponsor. There is no free lunch, and no free news.