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Newspapers: No news is bad news

Another local paper’s obituary has been written. This Sunday the presses will roll for the last time for the Baltimore Examiner as it joins the throng of local dailies across the country that have either been severely injured or fatally wounded by declining readership and plummeting advertising revenue.

Launched in 2006, the right-leaning Examiner was called a rag by some, while others hailed it as a savior from the more liberal Baltimore Sun.

I arrived at the Examiner shortly after its conception. A senior in high school, I was offered an internship working with the editorial page editor, Marta Hummel Mossburg. After school I trekked into the city and got to work, digging up dirt for staff editorials and writing my own columns.

I witnessed the newspaper business in action and saw my name in print. I met the former publisher, Michael Phelps, who described his philosophy of producing a newspaper with short articles that would simply brief readers. I used the cubicle belonging to Michael Olesker, a former Diamondback sports editor and long-time Baltimore columnist. I had cops dub me a “stupid kid” and a state congressman praise my work. Mossburg became a great mentor, and continued to publish my work long after I left. Frank Keegan, the editor in chief, told me to give him a call if I was ever looking for a job after I graduated.

What has happened to the Examiner is a disturbing yet unsurprising trend. In 2008, the blog GraphicDesignr reported that more than 15,608 newspaper jobs were slashed; it’s not even three months into the new year and already more than 2,300 people have lost their jobs.

Despite the many Web sites and television news outlets, the quality reporting that originated from the men and women who used nothing more than a steno book and a tape recorder has yet to be surpassed by the blogosphere or TV’s talking heads.

While national papers such as The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal will likely survive the online world, it’s local papers that are bleeding to death. And those papers are the most important. They tell us about our city and hold our local officials accountable. Their reporters live in our neighborhoods – not in Washington or New York. We know their faces not from talk shows, but from little league games and school board meetings.

What Baltimore loses on Sunday is a balance in its news; the city will once again be dominated by the 172-year-old Sun. Despite a small staff, the Examiner broke stories and produced a paper that gave the competition a run for its money.

Monday morning, the sun will rise and life will go on. But we should be weary. As more local newspapers cut staff members and sacrifice content for profit, we will all suffer. The offices at 400 East Pratt Street will lie vacant, but the repercussions of a dying breed of reporters have only begun to be felt.

Justin Snow is a sophomore history major. He can be reached at snowdbk@gmail.com.

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