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Thursday, March 23, 2006

Commentary: The Examiner, real newspaper or ephemera?

(Posted 23 Mar 2006)
Regular readers of my blog and associated mailing list know that I maintain the area's most comprehensive online resource relating to homicides in Prince George's County, as well as summarize and aggregate news about selected topics including education and county politicians. I do this both to try to provide relatively current news, and to try to develop a historical record that can be used as an aid in researching the records of our local officials.

I rely on the local print and broadcast news media for source material. Generally speaking, the Post, the Gazette, and county press releases are the most useful to me. Times coverage of local county news is relatively worthless for my purposes. Until this month, the Examiner has been somewhere in between most of the time since it began publication.

In the past, I relied heavily on the Examiner's predecessor, the Prince George's Journal. The Journal was what I would call a newspaper of record in the historical (as opposed to legal) sense. Until shortly before its demise, the Journal provided relatively good coverage of county crime, schools. and politics. Of great value was the Journal's easily searched online historical archive of local news going back some twenty years or so to when the Journal first started daily publication.

When the new owners took over and began publishing the Examiner, they merged the Journal's formerly separate Montgomery and Prince George's County editions into a single Maryland edition of the Examiner. At the same time, they killed the Journal's wonderful historical archive. In my opinion that was a barbaric act that made me fear that the Examiner was to be an ephemeral handout rather than a serious newspaper of record for the county.

Looking at the positive side, the Examiner did hire reporters to cover the county again, for example Anna Bailey, who continues to report on county affairs and often has stories or additional facts not found in the other papers.

Until recently, the Examiner was one of the first sources I checked daily. It was worth the effort, even though I could not use the paper edition of the Examiner (see below). Nevertheless, the Examiner's web pages, both the HTML version and the PDF copies of the print edition, supplemented by their indexing in the Google and Yahoo news services, made it relatively easy for me to find news stories and editorials and other commentary about Prince George's County affairs.

If you look back through my blog, or the mailing list archives, you will see that I often posted snippets summarizing their news stories and editorials, with links to the full pieces on the Examiner site, and when appropriate references to reporters.

Unfortunately, the Examiner has recently made itself much less useful as a resource for current and historical news about the county.

It is hard to be certain, but they seem to have cut back on staffing and reporting on county news. The report who covered covered homicides for most of the past year has been reassigned and the Examiner is now reporting a on a very low percentage of county homidcides and other crimes--really no bvetter than the Times has been.

Even worse, the Examiner has made major negative changes in its presence on the web.

The basic HTML pages have been totally redesigned. Local news and commentary are now harder to find, and when they can be found, are more clicks away from the home page than formerly.

There does not appear to be any way to search the site for just local news--either DC area or just the county--and search results are not complete. Any search seems to cover and return hits from all the newspapers in the Examiner chain. For example, a search for "homicide" today brought up dozens from around the country, but not of our local ones. A search for new school CEO "Deasy" resulted in just one local hit, even though the Examiner has published far more than one story about him in the past 30 days.

All my links to specific stories are now obsolete, they all point to the new home page. It appears that all older stories have been purged, just as the Journal's archives were purged earlier.

The PDF images of the the Examiner's print edition have also vanished. There is a link to them on the Examiner's home page, but it leads to an error message, and has for days. The error message gives an e-mail address to contact the webmaster, but e-mail to that address counces with a "connection refused" error message.

Finally, the Google and Yahoo News services have stopped indexing the Examiner, apparently sometime before March 6.

I mentioned above that I could not use the paper edition of the Examiner. When the new owners took over, they terminated Journal subscriptions and redlined much of the county for their new distribution system. Although they seem to have claimed that the redlining was based on economic factors, I can't help thinking that there was also a racial consideration. I live in a stable, middle-class, single-family residential area, inside the Beltway, that is about 87% African-American. Not only does the Examiner refuse to deliver in this neighborhood, they also refuse to regularly stock the very few street boxes around the area. They have, in effect, thumbed their noses at much of their potential audience.

It has been reported that the Examiner has recently made some major new hires, including a new editial editor and a former Times correspondent. These changes seem to be at the expense of local news. In any case, it is hard to understand the point of hiring potential opinion makers when the company's policy seems to be to make it diffcult to find or read its content and all but impossible to provide any knd of stable citation to that content.

So, my answer to my question, is that especially for local news, the Examiner is looking much more like a high class ephemeral advertising throwaway and much less like a serious newspaper of record.

Before finishing this posting, I asked the Examiner to comment on several of the points I raise. Their reply:
  • Admitted some problems with the website and said to keep checking back.
  • Gave me false information about how to access PDF images of the print edition.
  • Ignored the inability to contact the webmaster.
  • Ignored the problem of all old stories disappearing.
  • Ignored completely the question of distribution of the print edition.
It certainly was not what I would consider responsive to my concerns.


  1. Their new editorial page editor is Mark Tapscott of "Tapscott's Copy Desk" blog. As a fellow blogger, he may agree with you on the transparency and searchability issues. Perhaps you should engage him at his blog and send him a link to your post.

    Thanks to DCRTV Dave for pointing to this post!

  2. Don't you think it is about time we audit the Baltimore criminal statistics? Sign the petition today at http://www.auditbdp.com.

  3. They're giving away daily newspaper for free. I was no business student, but that doesn't like a recipe for profitability; who advertises in the Examiner, anyway? It only seems natural that they were drop all the beat reporters first. I've always thought it was a rag, but I'm a sucker for a free newspaper and will continue to pick it up on the way to my workplace.

    PS - I live in PG and they deliver a free edition to my driveway every saturday, so you may be correct about the race thingy. My neighborhood also contains mature single-family residences, but is largely white still. It is also outside the beltway - that may the examiner's "red-line."

  4. I have to wonder about wheter the examiner will make it by or not. I did see a website that someone emailed me the other day www.thesunlies.com that makes me think that they have a chance. The Baltimore Sun for lack of a better word just plain sucks.