The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

It’s the end of the line for Washington Post Express

A final copy of the free commuter paper, The Washington Post Express, is seen at a Metro Center Station in downtown Washington on Sept. 12. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

I’ve always known this day would come, but I’ve chosen to think of it the way you might contemplate the death of the sun. Sure, it’s inevitable, but no need to worry about it today.

But time has flown. And the end is here. This is the final edition of Express.

While in some ways our 16-year run has felt like the blink of an eye, it was — in the time scale of today’s media environment — an eternity. When we launched in 2003, there was no such thing as an iPhone. It would be another year before Harvard students would start using a novel social network called Facebook to keep tabs on their classmates. No one was tweeting anything — or Insta-gramming or Snapchatting. And most of us still mocked our CrackBerry-addicted friends who just couldn’t wait till they got to work to check their email.

How quaint.

Into that environment came Express, a lively, attractive, quick-read newspaper — kind of a print precursor to the way news is now fed to us on our devices. We filled a need that nothing else filled at the time — the need to be informed, entertained and pleasantly distracted while slogging to work.

The response was tremendous. It wasn’t unusual in those early days to see two-thirds of riders on a rush-hour train reading Express. At our peak, we were distributing close to 200,000 copies a day. The appetite for Express was so great, in fact, that we more than once considered printing an afternoon edition.

This Monday morning, as I rode the train to work, I was struck by a very different observation. Three people on my crowded Blue Line train were reading Express. (Thank you!) One man had his nose in an old-fashioned book. Almost everyone else was staring at a phone.

It’s tough for a printed product to survive against those odds, and while we held out much longer than might have been expected, the forces that aligned against our survival were, at the risk of straining my metaphor, as irreversible as those within a dying sun. And so, here we are.

I’m immensely grateful to you, our readers, for allowing us to be a part of your mornings for the past 16 years. I’m equally grateful to the women and men who have greeted you daily, rain or shine, with a smile and a hand-delivered copy of this paper. I’ve received many, many kind emails over the years from readers whose days have been brightened by one of our cheerful hawkers. I know they will be missed.

I’m grateful as well to the advertisers who took a chance on us in our early days and to those who continued to see the value of our work right up to the end.

Above all, I’m grateful to the many talented writers, editors, designers and sales staff who have worked to produce Express and whose energy, creativity, humor and joyful insistence on originality made this paper as much fun to produce as I hope it was to read.

I’m proud of the years we’ve spent delivering news in the nation’s capital. Reliable journalism is needed today perhaps more than ever before. That we won’t be here to help deliver it anymore is, in a word, heartbreaking — but I’ve heard there’s another newspaper in town that does a pretty good job of it.

Whether there or elsewhere, I hope you will continue to read.

The man with the vision

Any farewell would be woefully inadequate without a note about Chris Ma, our founding publisher. It was Chris who persuaded The Post to take a chance on a free publication at a time when it, like papers everywhere, was desperate to hold on to paid subscribers. It was just one of his visionary ideas. Chris’ job as a VP at The Post was to foresee where the industry would be years down the road. He passed away in 2011. It’s tough not to wonder if he might have seen the path to continued viability that eluded the rest of us.

Read more:

Express, commuter newspaper published by The Washington Post, shuts down after 16 years

15 times ‘Express,’ D.C.'s commuter paper, got sports completely right

The last column: Some final notes on D.C.-area sports