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Ann Arbor News to Close

It's the sign of the times, particularly in the beleaguered state of Michigan. On Monday, Ann Arbor News announced that it will be ceasing publication in July, going entirely online as AnnArbor.com.

Ann Arbor News began publishing in 1835, two years before the state of Michigan was admitted into the union. Now owned by the Newhouse family, it's one of the few papers still publishing in the afternoon during the week and mornings on Saturday and Sunday.

Its current web site, mlive.com, is a top 1,000 site with traffic that outstrips much larger Detroit papers, the Free Press and News. The reason for such robust web traffic is simple - mlive.com (and Ann Arbor News) covers the University of Michigan and its powerful athletic programs, whose football team is the winningest in history with a national fan base from coast-to-coast. There is little doubt that while the paper is losing money, ownership wants to maintain the web presence, which may be achieved without as much cost.

The demise of the paper, however, brings back a flood of memories for this scribe. I got my first job as a paper boy for Ann Arbor News, while a sophomore at Huron High School. I'd come home from school, go to the curb where the bundles of papers were dumped off and fold and stack them into the bag hanging from the handlebar of my bike.

I'd usually take a little time to read the paper before navigating through the snow and ice to deliver them. My job also required me to collect subscription fees and also solicit potential subscribers. I won a contest once for being the top-producing paperboy and was invited to the downtown office to receive a plaque. My real reward (get this, it'll never happen today with all the health-police around) was four flats of Pepsi-Cola, 96 cans that I stored under my bed and lasted me all winter.

This was the job that endowed me with a sense of ownership, for the first time. I might be 15, but I was operating as an independent contractor, with obligations and incentives attached to my performance. Those were the heady times when even young boys (and girls) were entrusted with certain responsibilities that seemingly would not be granted to the succeeding generations. It was a bygone era quickly fading into history books.

Of course, newspapers probably will cease to exist sooner than later. With it, the term "paper boy" will be filed away with other anachronisms such as typewriters, cassette players, VCRs and Atari game consoles.