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The Common Denominator ceases publication
With much regret and great personal disappointment, I am sad to announce that I must discontinue publication of The Common Denominator.
When I started this newspaper more than eight years ago, it was born of the idea for a "hometown paper" for all the people of the District of Columbia, with our residence here being what we hold in common.
I wanted it to be the District's "newspaper of record" -- a place where readers could find the information that some local papers in other communities still provide. It would serve citizens across the city with reporting and opinion focused on local public policy and events, news about their neighborhoods and meaningful facts from the public record.
I also tried to build The Common Denominator into a self-sustaining and job-creating business -- a locally owned community asset -- with wide circulation and a strong base of local advertisers.
From the start, it's been a constant struggle, with frequent tangible setbacks outweighing the occasional intangible rewards.
Operating a small business can be difficult under the best of circumstances. Being an independent, working-class entrepreneur in the newspaper field -- a small fry in a sometimes predatory pond of Big Media -- made it all more difficult.
But competing in the marketplace becomes nearly impossible when the playing field is uneven. At The Common Denominator, I realized how uneven it could be -- in terms of limited capital access, usurious interest rates, restricted circulation opportunities and oft-demanded personal financial guarantees.
While a supportive community of loyal readers offered much-appreciated encouragement and occasional monetary assistance over the years, the company's debts continued to grow. My repeated attempts to secure long-term financing have proved unsuccessful. At this point, the financial burden -- for The Common Denominator and myself -- has become overwhelming.
I never expected this enterprise to be easy. But I certainly did underestimate the challenges of being an editor and publisher. While running a newsroom, I've also had to struggle all too frequently with landlords, banks, printers, circulation agents, creditors, government agencies and deadbeat advertisers.
I've been detained by the U.S. Capitol Police for taking photographs. I've been robbed outside my office. My car has been stolen; my tires have been slashed. The paper's news boxes have been repeatedly vandalized, robbed or stolen outright.
But there also have been gratifying experiences. Though pride may be a sin, I can point with some satisfaction to what The Common Denominator has achieved, or aspired to, over the years:
*It has trained scores of young people in urban journalism, many of whom have gone on to careers in the field, and published the work of veteran D.C. writers who didn't have a regular print outlet.
*It championed "sunshine" legislation and open-meeting policies to help the public know what their elected officials are doing.
*It went where others wouldn't or didn't go for stories and circulation. By shining a light on and giving voice to residents of low-income neighborhoods, it prompted competing news organizations to pay attention.
*It exposed the secretive business group known as the Federal City Council, which for decades has set a private agenda for public policy in the District.
*It won awards from the regional press association in every year of eligibility, including first place honors for investigative reporting, editorial cartoons and coverage of the closing of D.C. General Hospital.
*It helped the Smithsonian's Festival of American Folklife assemble its featured program on the District and participated in the festival's public forums.
Though I'm now beyond broke, I hope to salvage something of this eight-year endeavor for the lasting benefit of the community at large.
I continue to seek a way to ensure, at a minimum, the survival of The Common Denominator's searchable online archives as a free resource. I also hope that the paper's high school athletic awards programs, which recognize student achievement, can somehow carry on.
Seeing The Common Denominator revived in print, perhaps under the wing of a local university, would be most satisfying.
The community's need for local news and alternative ideas is great. The need for a local newspaper also remains great in a city where new electronic media are flourishing but many neighborhoods are still largely unplugged and highly dependent on the printed word for detailed coverage.
In any democracy -- but especially in the limited democracy we have here in the District -- knowing how the government works is vital to the democratic process. This was the central driving force in my quest to create a "hometown newspaper."
Many thanks to the loyal readers and advertisers who helped make The Common Denominator possible over the years. Thanks also to the educators and students who cooperated with the paper's school programs, and to the sponsors of The CD's awards programs.
Special thanks to the many staff members, contributors, interns and volunteers who helped produce The Common Denominator and get it onto the street. And heartfelt thanks to my longtime associate Lottie Hunter, a source of stability through tumultuous times.
Oct. 10, 2006
Copyright 2006 The Common Denominator