Ann Arbor News Prints Final Edition

08/23/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — The Ann Arbor News hit the streets Thursday for the last time in 174 years, a victim of the struggling newspaper industry, and will be replaced by an online news operation built from scratch by the same owner.

The paper's 12-page front section was dedicated to a history of the News and the emergence of AnnArbor.com, a free Web site that will go live Friday and also publish a print edition on ad-heavy Thursdays and Sundays.

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, has been losing money as advertisers abandon print and readers seek information online or elsewhere.

The final headline on the afternoon paper: "Farewell, Ann Arbor."

"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.

The demise of the News was announced in March by the Newhouse family's Advance Publications.

Champion, who will be executive vice president of the new company, visited the suburban printing plant to thank employees and see the final edition. The $39 million plant, just eight years old, prints The New York Times, the Jackson Citizen Patriot and the twice-a-week AnnArbor.com.

An additional 12,000 copies of the News were printed Thursday.

Meanwhile, on the seventh floor of a downtown building, staffers at the online news site were pecking away on laptops on the eve of the digital launch. Nearly two dozen are from the News or have local news media experience, said Tony Dearing, chief of content.

He acknowledged that a "majority took a pay cut to join us," but he disagrees with anyone who fears holes in local news coverage.

"We're dead serious about journalism," said Dearing, 52, former editor of The Flint Journal, another Michigan paper owned by Advance. "Traditional newspapers are contracting. What we're seeking to do here is get out of that model and get into a growth model."

He said AnnArbor.com will be "hyper-local," focusing on neighborhoods and tapping dozens of bloggers for information on books, food and culture. The Web site will be "shaped by input from the community," Dearing added.

Kristen Roberts, 38, said she's subscribing to the print edition of AnnArbor.com, which starts Sunday. She has lived here for 20 years and finds it "mind-boggling" that the city will be without a seven-day-a-week newspaper.

"I have a hectic lifestyle. I have a feeling that I won't have the time to go online," she said at a coffee shop. "It will be more time-consuming compared with having a paper on your dinner table that you can pick up and put down."

In his column Thursday, Ed Petykiewicz, editor of the News for 21 years, said some readers felt "guilt" that the paper went out of business.

"That's not the case," he wrote. "How could you have helped when we never told you that we were bleeding? Our problems were revenue and expenses. Too little revenue, too much expense. ... We were on the wrong side of our business ledger."

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