After 2 Months, D.C. ‘Examiner’ Publisher Leaves to Start Free Daily

By: Joe Strupp

Just two months after helping to launch the new Washington Examiner, publisher James McDonald is leaving to start his own free newspaper.

“I thought to myself that there is a lot of opportunity out there [in the free-paper market], and it is not an opportunity that will be there forever,” McDonald told E&P. “I want to take advantage of it.”

The new Examiner publisher is Herbert W. Moloney, who had been COO of Vertis North America. He could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

McDonald, 42, helped start the new Examiner, which published its first edition on Feb. 1. Owned by billionaire Philip Anschutz’s Clarity Media of Denver, the Examiner took over what was the Journal Newspapers, a group of dailies outside of Washington, D.C., and turned them into the new, home-delivered freebie.

Anschutz also owns the free San Francisco Examiner and has trademarked the Examiner name in more than 60 other newspaper markets.

McDonald had served as publisher of the Journal group, which he joined in 2004 after four years at the free Metro newspapers in Philadelphia and New York. He said he stayed on with the Examiner with plans to continue running the paper, but became more interested in owning his own free daily as time went on.

“Nothing happened there that really changed things,” he said. “I found that what I really wanted is ownership. I had ownership in the Journal [papers] when we sold them, and I agreed to stay on to launch the Examiner.”

McDonald would not say where his free paper would be published, but he hopes to have it set up within three to six months. He said Anschutz is not involved in the venture, and it will not compete directly with either of Anschutz’s Examiners.

“It is going to take me some time to put the financing together and get the plan together, and, when the timing is right, we will announce where and when,” McDonald said. He declined to say how much of an investment the paper will need, or how much of his own money he is putting in initially.

“Hopefully it will turn into several [free newspapers],” he added. “I have a couple of [locations] on my radar screen, but I am not confirming anything yet.”

When asked what he thought of the Washington Examiner, McDonald said only, “I’m not here to say what is right and wrong with the paper,” adding, “I think the Examiner is doing well, and it has a lot of challenges going on and they will be overcome.” He declined to elaborate on which challenges he meant. The Examiner has been criticized by some for delivering copies to residents who did not want them, while also ignoring some poorer neighborhoods.

Ryan McKibben, Clarity CEO, said in Tuesday’s Washington Examiner that McDonald, had done a “phenomenal job … in transitioning the Journal Newspapers in to The Washington Examiner, expanding suburban deliveries and taking the Examiner into the District [of Columbia].”

McDonald predicted that he would not be the last entrepreneur to join the free daily newspaper market. “I believe newspapers should be free,” he said. “That model is the model of the future.”

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