Ann Arbor News to close in July
By Jim Knight
March 23, 2009, 9:18AM
Editor's note: This story is being updated throughout the day.
The Ann Arbor News will close in July after publishing as the city's daily newspaper since 1835, publisher Laurel Champion announced today.
Heavy losses in revenue drove the decision. Champion said the current "business model is not sustainable." Advertising revenue slumped more than 20 percent in January compared to the same month last year.
"This isn't about abandoning local journalism, it's about serving it up in a very different way," Champion told employees, as she visibly fought back tears.
A new Web-based media company called AnnArbor.com LLC will be launched later this year. In addition to publishing continuously online, AnnArbor.com will publish a print edition twice a week.
Champion, who will be executive vice president of AnnArbor.com, told News employees they can apply for positions with the new company, although job losses are inevitable. A total of 272 people work for the newspaper at both its main downtown Ann Arbor office and its Pittsfield Township printing plant. The newspaper has a daily circulation of nearly 45,000.
"We have an extremely talented staff at The Ann Arbor News, and they have done a tremendous job through very difficult times," Champion said in a letter to readers. "There is nothing they did or didn't do that would have sustained our seven-day print business model."
Employees gathered in a first floor conference room at 9 a.m. on Monday to hear Champion's announcement. There was an audible gasp when she told workers that the newspaper would close, and some people could be seen wiping tears from their eyes.
Champion said she was told only in the last month that Newhouse, the parent company of The News, had decided to close the newspaper. A few top managers were informed of the decision in the last few days, but the majority of employees found out Monday.
Afterward, reporters, editors and photographers appeared dazed as they huddled in groups to discuss the news. Ed Petykiewicz, editor of The News, looked visibly shaken as he paced the newsroom. Several times he could be seen removing his glasses to rub his eyes.
On Friday, Petykiewicz announced he would retire from The News this spring after more than 20 years with the company.
Sports reporter Dave Holzman said the announcement was shocking.
"It's devastating. I didn't really see this coming today," he said. "I thought there would be a final day for the paper ... but I really didn't think it would be this soon." He said he had expected the paper to continue publishing for a couple of more years."
Holzman, 47, has been with The News for 19 years.
"It's been my life for a long time. I can't remember what my other job was before this."
Many people in the community said they were shocked as well to hear the news, which was quickly picked up by area radio and tv stations, along with other media outlets.
"My biggest worry is is there going to be an adequate amount of news that will get out to the community," said Ann Arbor City Council Stephen Rapundalo. "It is a serious concern of mine."
"I sort of have tears in my eyes," said Joan Lowenstein, a former City Council member who currently serves on the Downtown Development Authority board. Lowenstein is a lawyer who once represented The News.
"First of all, citizens find out about government from reading the newspaper, but government officials also find out what is happening with the citizens by reading the newspaper.
"You lose that kind of mirror as a government official. Citizens will lose the ability to follow all kinds of information."
Employees at The News will be given a severance package that includes one week of pay for every year of service and some extended medical benefits. Meetings were scheduled on Monday and Tuesday for current News employees to meet with Matt Kraner, president of AnnArbor.com, to discuss the new company and its job openings.
Champion said it is likely that some of The News' staff will be offered positions with the new company, and that readers could expect to see content from some familiar writers.
Kraner, formerly chief marketing officer of The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, was named president and chief executive officer of AnnArbor.com, and Tony Dearing, former editor of the Flint Journal who also served as business editor and managing editor of The Ann Arbor News in the 1990s, was named chief content leader.
Champion described AnnArbor.com as an innovative, community news and information service. AnnArbor.com also will produce a twice-a-week newspaper, published on Thursday and Sunday and a total-market coverage product once a week.
The Ann Arbor News will continue publishing a daily newspaper through July, she said.
Champion said AnnArbor.com will be more than a Web site with articles. For example, social networking features will allow for real-time conversations, reporters will be equipped to report news as it happens, and reader input will drive features on the site.
Community forums about AnnArbor.com will occur Thursday, April 2 at the Campus Inn at 2 p.m. and on Friday, April 3 at Weber's Inn at 10 a.m. Information on additional forums will be posted on AnnArbor.com.
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