By: Ed White Geoff Larcom has covered higher education, written columns and led sports coverage at The Ann Arbor News. His final assignment: the newspaper's own obituary after 174 years.
The only daily newspaper in this college town -- daily circulation 45,000 -- is rolling off the presses for the last time on Thursday and going out of business. It is being replaced by AnnArbor.com, an online news site that will produce a print edition twice a week, on Thursday and Sunday.
"This will be our last edition. Farewell Ann Arbor. Hugs all around," said Larcom, 51, when asked what the opening paragraphs of his story are likely to say.
Ann Arbor, 45 miles west of Detroit, is home to the University of Michigan, a highly educated population and a relatively stable economy. But the News, like other newspapers, says it has been losing money as advertisers abandon print and readers seek information online or elsewhere. Daily papers in Seattle and Denver have closed this year and many others have reduced their print editions.
"You know that guy Craig?" News publisher Laurel Champion said, referring to craigslist.com, which has been getting many of the ads that normally would fill a newspaper's classified section.
"The seven-day-a-week print model just is not sustainable here," she said. "We have very low home ownership. The population is transient and young. Those demographics have worked against us."
Indeed, Wednesday's paper was just 20 pages, including a full-page ad promoting AnnArbor.com, the new media company created by News owner Advance Publications.
Champion said more than a dozen newsroom employees have been hired at AnnArbor.com. The afternoon paper had 272 employees at its office and printing plant when it announced it was closing.
Ed Petykiewicz, editor since 1988, had announced his retirement three days before the News announced its demise in March. He had planned to leave before Thursday but stayed through the end as other managers departed.
"There's a camaraderie in a newsroom that's very special," he said.
He listed some of the paper's best journalism, including an award-winning series last year about athletics and academics at the University of Michigan, and stories in 2003 about how Eastern Michigan University failed to disclose the true cost of a home for its president.
Some readers worry that the watchdog role will disappear along with the News.
"I don't fear it -- I'm certain," said lawyer George Feldman, 61. "The Ann Arbor News hasn't been a paper I've read for national or international news. It covers city hall, the universities, who's building what. It had a lot of things wrong with it, but it was our local newspaper."
Charles Eisendrath, who runs a fellowship program for journalists at the University of Michigan, said a mainly online news operation with staffers receiving smaller salaries "looks like something on the cheap."
"The real test will be for the community," he said. "When it realizes collectively that it needs to know more about itself, (another) news operation will fill that gap."
Champion, who will be executive vice president at AnnArbor.com, pledged that some things won't change.
"What's not being lost is the principle of local journalism. What's changing is the platform," she said.
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