The coming demise in June of the daily print version of the Washington Examiner is bad for the Washington region and worse for what it says about the direction of America.
The Examiner is a free daily tabloid that covers local news in D.C. and its suburbs in Maryland and Virginia but is most well known for its scathing critiques of the Obama administration and big government. As of June it will move to a website and weekly print magazine focused on national politics.
According to a statement from Ryan McKibben, the president of Clarity Media Group, which owns the Washington Examiner, “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. The re-positioned Washington Examiner will meet that demand.” That’s one way of looking at it.
Almost 90 current employees will be laid off in the process and its readers in the D.C. region of the country will lose great local coverage of politics and other news. That should leave Washington-area politicians happier and residents more likely to hear press releases fabricated as stories on nightly TV news, a dangerous trend going on around the country.
But more importantly the Examiner’s new direction speaks to the problem with America: the rise of Washington as the nation’s epicenter of wealth. In essence the paper is saying it can’t make money as a newspaper so its new business model is to become one of the many feeding the ever expanding beast of government.
The company’s press release said as much: “The target readership for the print weekly will be 45,000 government, public affairs, advocacy, academia and political professionals in Washington, DC and state capitals.”
It is not surprising as the Washington Examiner is only following the pack when it comes to orienting a publication to the desires of those who make a living either directly or indirectly from government. The niche it’s entering is as crowded as Cancun beaches on spring break. Politico is one of the most prominent publications in the genre that has cropped up in the past decade as Washington Gucci-fied and has been very successful gilding its brand on cable news.
But the fact that the Washington Examiner would turn that direction is ironic for a paper that prides itself on assailing big government, as the new business model takes for granted that the leviathan will prosper and special interests with it.
It is especially so as the original Examiner model was designed to hold state and local government across the country accountable to the people. The company registered the Examiner name in dozens of locations to make it possible to open papers in many cities and still operates Examiner.com, a network of local bloggers. (Full disclosure: I worked for the Baltimore Examiner as editorial page editor from 2006 to 2009, the three years the paper existed.)
But those plans were made before the recession hit and before Washington solidified its status as the end all be all. The shift of money to Washington has been fast: In 2000, four counties around D.C. were the wealthiest in the country. Today, seven of the 10 make that exclusive list.
I don’t begrudge Clarity for wanting to make money. But I wonder how one more publication targeting Washington’s elite, even one impugning the Capitol’s ways, will help to shrink government when the target audience depends on it growing. Meanwhile, the number of reporters covering state houses around the country has dropped precipitously and made it easier for those in power to sculpt the news. It won’t be long before governors and other officials around the country launch their own portal like Vice President Joe Biden did with “Being Biden.” According to the site, “In this audio series Vice President Biden will tell the story behind a photo – of where he was, why it matters to him, and how the experience fits into the broader narrative of this Administration.”
The website is funny in an absurd way, but it won’t be laughable if his and others like it become the “news.” America needs more accountability, not more public relations, which is why those from all political stripes should worry when another paper stops the presses.