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The Washington Examiner local news team says goodbye after eight years

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Local,DC,Maryland,Virginia,Matt Connolly

The Washington Examiner ended local news coverage Friday, leaving behind an eight-year legacy of public service and watchdog journalism.

Readers will remember the print edition for its aggressive coverage of crime and transportation issues, its local and regional enterprise stories and its dedication to government accountability.

"I have always been impressed by how smart our readers are and how thoughtful and committed they are to local news," said Kytja Weir, who has covered transportation for more than four years. "In covering the Metro beat, I've been impressed by how informed people are about the system."

The paper began in February 2005 with three editions -- one each for D.C., Maryland and Virginia -- before switching to Sunday-through-Friday publication with two days of home delivery in July 2008. The change allowed reporters to tackle larger, cross-jurisdictional stories and investigative projects.

That was the same month crime reporter Scott McCabe's "Most Wanted" feature began appearing. Tips from readers of the series helped U.S. marshals nab 52 fugitive murderers, armed robbers, kidnappers, sex offenders and drug dealers.

In 2009, former Montgomery County reporter Alan Suderman investigated the county's tuition assistance program, including county employees taking hot yoga classes, art classes and language classes abroad on the taxpayers' dime. The county froze the program that October thanks largely to his reporting.

On Tuesday, transportation reporter Liz Essley won the Society of Professional Journalists D.C. chapter's Robert D.G. Lewis Watchdog Award for her reporting on wasteful spending and sweetheart deals in the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, including corruption on the Dulles Rail board.

Weir's distinguished transportation coverage included stories about emergency exits in Metro stations being blocked and locked, absenteeism on the Metro board and overtime and long hours for workers, leading to reforms at the transit agency.

Through the years, these reporters and more have written hundreds of public service stories dealing with issues like taxation, overtime for government employees and comparisons of Maryland and Virginia's differing approaches to economic and social problems.

Readers also picked up The Washington Examiner for its robust sports coverage, from John Keim's "Redskins Confidential" column to scores and analysis of the Nationals, Capitals, Wizards and D.C. United.

"The reporters of the Examiner are dedicated, terrific journalists who came to work every day to tell this region's story," D.C. beat reporter Alan Blinder said. "This was a fun newsroom because there were so many great reporters doing such good work all around me."

Washington Examiner owner Clarity Media Group plans to move the paper to an online business model with a weekly print magazine. The new outlet will be focused on national political reporting and commentary.

Local leaders who had been a part of the Examiner's coverage expressed their sorrow that the paper and its reporters would no longer be around.

"The Examiner is the first paper I read every day," Ward 2 Councilman Jack Evans said. "In its history, it really provided in-depth coverage of local news that would not have gotten done otherwise. It's a tremendous loss."

Montgomery County Councilman Phil Andrews, D-Gaithersburg/Rockville, said residents would have difficulty staying as informed without the paper's dogged reporting.

"I've been on the County Council the entire time the Examiner was here," he said. "The Examiner covered many aspects of local government, which is important because local government sometimes does not get the coverage that it should."

Tina Slater, president of the Action Committee for Transit, praised the paper's attention to issues like pedestrian safety, police activities and government spending.

"If you don't have those things written about in the paper, the only people who know it's going on are the people who receive a ticket when they violate the law," she said. "When you can bring the paper home and the whole family can read it, it's a wonderful way to find out what's going on and what needs to change."

While many local reporters are moving on to new opportunities in D.C. and around the country, they will look back fondly on the stories they broke, the communities they covered and the work they were able to accomplish for readers.

"We provided a valuable service to this town," Managing Editor Michael Hedges said. "We fought the good fight."

mconnolly@washingtonexaminer.com

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