The Common Denominator Ceases Publication

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I guess we should/could have seen this one coming…After all, their website as basically been out of commission since May…

The Common Denominator is closing its doors, namely due to its mounting debt, but also, as the below note from Editor & Publisher Kathy Sinzinger indicates, due to some plain ‘ol frustration:

  • “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.”

  • “Though I’m now beyond broke…”

  • “From the start, it’s been a constant struggle, with frequent
    tangible setbacks outweighing the occasional intangible rewards.”

  • “…a small fry in a sometimes predatory pond of
    Big Media…”

  • “…competing in the marketplace becomes nearly impossible when
    the playing field is uneven…”

  • “At this point, the financial burden — for The Common Denominator and myself — has become overwhelming.”

  • “I’ve also had to struggle all too frequently with
    landlords, banks, printers, circulation agents, creditors, government
    agencies and deadbeat advertisers.”

Sinzinger says that she hopes to keep the Common Denominator’s archives available online and also hopes that “the paper’s high school athletic awards programs, which recognize student achievement, can somehow carry on.” Last, “[s]eeing The Common Denominator revived in print, perhaps under the wing of a local university, would be most satisfying.”

Sinzinger’s full note when you click below…

>UPDATE: Sinzinger writes in with a correction:

    We stopped doing regular updates on our web site on September 6, 2006, (not in May) and even published an extensive online voters’ guide for the Sept. 12th primary election. Our last print edition was published on July 24, 2006.


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.

Kathy Sinzinger
Oct. 10, 2006