The Washington Examiner will cease its daily print edition in June, to be replaced by a free weekly opinion magazine designed to appeal to Washington’s academic and political elites.
The demise of the eight-year-old free tabloid is another reminder of the cost of producing and publishing a local daily newspaper, and a free one at that, in an era of growing digital dominance.
“It was a noble effort, a tight, good read,” said Brian Kelly, editor of U.S. News & World Report. “But the economics never made sense. It’s another case of a media business model that didn’t make sense from the first day — a free publication that nobody wanted to advertise in.”
The Examiner will cease publication June 14, and the new opinion weekly will launch June 17 in a marketplace already crowded with free and pay publications appealing to high-end Washington decision-makers, including Politico, Roll Call and the National Journal.
The restructuring will mean that 87 employees of the newspaper, including local sports and news reporters and editors, as well as business-side workers, will be laid off, according to a spokesman for Clarity Media Group, the paper’s owner. The company is retaining 38 employees and will add 20, according to the spokesman.
The company will continue its Examiner.com Web site and RedAlertPolitics.com, a site geared to right-of-center audiences.
“As a result of research and analysis conducted over the past year, we have determined that there is an opportunity to bring our style of investigative journalism and keen analysis and commentary to covering national government and politics,” Clarity said in a statement.
Denver-based Clarity is owned by Philip Anschutz, an energy and entertainment billionaire who reportedly will launch a new company in the Washington area to publish the new magazine.
Anschutz purchased the local chain of Journal Newspapers in October 2004 and renamed it the Examiner after the San Francisco Examiner, which Anschutz had also purchased. The plan was to create a national chain of Examiners. The precipitous drop in print advertising in the ensuing years wreaked havoc on the newspaper industry.
The Examiner was a free, six-day-a-week print publication that had a circulation of 150,000 on weekdays and 225,000 on Sunday. It concentrated on suburban Washington news and sought to appeal to upscale commuters on the Metro Red and Orange lines.
The publication drew complaints from some homeowners who were annoyed at having to scoop up the unrequested newspaper from their front yards in the morning.
Clarity also owns the Weekly Standard, a Washington-based conservative magazine that appears 48 times a year and was once owned by media mogul Rupert Murdoch. It also owns the Gazette, the second-largest daily newspaper in Colorado, with a daily circulation of 74,172 and a Sunday circulation of 85,718.
The new company will expand into event and business conferences, which many other media organizations, including The Washington Post and Atlantic Media, have pursued as traditional print advertising has evaporated.
Examiner Editor Stephen G. Smith, Executive Editor Mark Tapscott and Jennifer Peebles, managing editor of digital, will stay on, as will several business-side executives.
Clarity also owns Examiner.com, “a network of local Web sites in 244 markets across North America,” according to the statement.
The new magazine will focus on “political thought leadership” and aim for an audience of 45,000 among Washington insiders.
“I wish them well in a very crowded marketplace,” Kelly said.