And then there was one. In this city, which has more reporters per square mile than any other place in the world, only one daily newspaper will roll off the presses after Aug. 7, when the Washington Star closes its doors.
Unless a last-minute backer appears, the paper will be one more example of an afternoon daily doomed by a dwindling readership and a sea of red ink. The loss of the Star, already being lamented by other journalists, including competitors, follows a now-familiar trend that has gobbled up 316 afternoon papers since 1970 .
"It's an unrelieved tragedy," says William L. Green Jr., ombudsman for the Washington Post, which has been expanding its leadership and profits even while its competition was sinking deeper into debt. "It deprives the city of a second newspaper perspective," says Mr. Green. "It deprives the Post of competition that has sharpened the skills of the news staff every day."
Press critic Ben H. Bagdikian expressed little surprise at the announcement, made by Star owner Time Inc. July 23. "What's happening in Washington is part of a trend that's been going on for a very long time," he says, pointing out that 98 percent of the nation's cities now have monopoly newspapers.
Only three years ago Time Inc. bought the already fading Star with bright promises of $60 million to put the paper back in the black. It even launched a new morning edition to compete head-on with the mighty Post.
But circulation has steadily sunk, even after Time took over. The Post readership now outnumbers the Star by a 2-to-1 margin daily -- and even more on Sundays -- and the Star has captured only 25 percent of the local advertising market.
A faithful Star staff voluntarily took pay cuts and worked shortened weeks to keep the paper afloat before Time bought it. Now its 1,427 employees will have to find new jobs, although Time has said it will assist them.
The Star editorial staff includes such luminaries as Mary McGrory, Jack Germond, Jules Witcover, and Eileen Shanahan.
Many who mourn the end of the 128-year- old Star point to the evening TV news programs as the chief culprit. The public, goes that theory, already is saturated with news in the late afternoons.
Others say the fall of the Star is one more proof that once a paper becomes dominant, the forces of economy will inevitably squeeze out the competitors.
"What has happened in most newspaper cities is that one paper has gradually gained dominance," says Reg Murphy, who recently became publisher of the Baltimore Sunpapers. "Once the imbalance sets in, it's very hard to correct because the failures feed on themselves."
Mr. Murphy, who traveled to a number of cities checking problems with afternoon papers for the Hearst newspaper chain, adds that the so-called "PMs" are sometimes healthy, especially in suburban areas. And a number of big cities still have dominant afternoon papers.
Mr. Bagdikian, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley, agrees that the Star was not doomed merely because it came out in the afternoon. However, he says, it would have taken many years and many millions of dollars to win the battle with the Post. "It took 20 years to make the Post the dominant paper," he points out.
There is almost universal concern about the loss of a second-newspaper viewpoint in the nation's capital.
"It is especially hurtful in the capital, where our national leaders need multiple and preferably competing sources of information," says Michael J. O'Neill, editor of the New York Daily News and president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors.
Mr. O'Neill, a former Washington correspondent, says he can recall when the Star's late "red streak" edition was the "best paper" in Washington.
Others doubt the closing of the Star will have great effect on how well the capital is watched and reported on. Bagdikian observes that most correspondents in the city have relied primarily on other newspapers a nyway.