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After nearly two months of being publicly for sale, the fate of Washington City Paper remains in the great realm of the unknown. But I can tell you what I do know: I’ve had the results of a large and complicated Freedom Of Information Act request on my desk for a few months now. FOIA requests can be a real pain for the government employees who have to round up documents when the public asks, and this request was extra cumbersome, but a city office did the work, and I have my stack of paper.
Furthermore, I find nothing so satisfying as spending a Friday night alone on my couch with a pile of government documents and a highlighter. Journalism has made the big screen recently, but reporting is most often a tedious and time-consuming exercise.
Being a newspaper for sale, though, is kind of like having a part-time job on top of your already-more-than-full-time job—at least it is when the sale is as public as ours. In this the same period of time, we’ve confronted a stream of disquieting stories about local news outlets. LA Weekly and Nashville Scene had major layoffs. Here at home, DCist shuttered, and City Paper loved DCist.
Never mind that plenty of local newspapers and news sites are doing very well. (Few are writing those stories.) The situation creates distraction in an environment where 100 percent focus is imperative.
But back when City Paper first went up for sale, my staff and I talked about the best-case scenario—what City Paper could do if the sale proved to be an opportunity to rethink its business model and coverage and grow again. I had a vision, given the local news landscape of D.C., within about a week.
The vision is pretty basic: City Paper should be D.C.’s hometown newspaper, providing a regular stream of articles on politics, housing, the city’s rich arts scene, food, crime, courts, sports, education, some lifestyle stuff, feature stories, and, most important, investigations. There you have it: a newspaper. As my middle school math teacher liked to say, “Keep it simple, stupid.”
I don’t know whether City Paper will come out on the other end of this sale in a position to grow into that vision. But either way, D.C. deserves a dedicated local newspaper.