The Ann Arbor News hits the streets for last time

After 174 years, the last edition of The Ann Arbor News rolled off the presses Thursday with a three-word headline: "Farewell, Ann Arbor."

The only general circulation daily newspaper in this college town has gone 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.

The 12-page front section of the News was dedicated to the history of the paper and the transition to AnnArbor.com, which is also owned by Advance Publications. That site goes live Friday.

"The devastating transformation of the newspaper industry and the severe economic impact on the News forced the painful decision to close our newspaper," publisher Laurel Champion wrote in a front-page column. "But I hope you will remember us for many, many reasons."

Photographer Brian Reynolds was at the printing plant in Pittsfield Township — which printed an extra 12,000 copies of the paper Thursday — to pick up final copies for the newsroom. He wore a black shirt with the News nameplate on the front and a message on the back: "No News is bad news."

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?" 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.

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."

The Michigan Daily, produced by students at the University of Michigan, is published Monday through Friday during the school year and weekly during the summer.

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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