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The Life and Death of Phil Anschutz's Examiner.com

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When Examiner.com debuted just over eight years ago, it was ballyhooed as a bold effort to harness the power of citizen journalism with the financial support of the ultimate deep-pocketed investor, Denver-based billionaire Phil Anschutz.

The site's impending death should be much quieter. Michael Roth, a Los Angeles-based spokesman for Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), the wing of the operation that specializes in concerts and other events, notes that "we did not put out a statement" announcing Examiner.com's demise. And while the plug-pulling is impending, its last day appears to be a moving target. An e-mail sent to contributors — they're referred to as "Examiners" — says the operation will "close down on or around July 10, 2016."

Why? The note to Examiners states that "media consumption has transformed dramatically over the years and our content initiatives have shifted with business priorities."

Roth adds that "the online advertising landscape has changed and our overall business has changed. It was a business model that was no longer working for us." As a result, Anschutz and company made the "difficult decision" to shut down Examiner.com even though, according to Roth, the site has been attracting "fifteen million unique visitors a month."

That sounds like a big number, but it's actually lower than the total during parts of the last decade. In July 2009, as we reported at the time, a survey by comScore counted seventeen million uniques, which an Examiner.com release boasted was more "than Huffington Post, not to mention NPR and the Drudge Report combined."

As for the content, it ran the gamut in terms of both subject matter and quality — a flood of material for which Examiners were paid based on the number of page views each piece generated, along with other related factors. Few of the writers collected enough for their work to make a living, but Roth emphasizes other benefits.

"We've not only provided an avenue for our contributors to display their journalism," he notes, "but many of them have gone on to get offers to write for additional publications. So we created a great platform for them."

In recent years, however, the concept started to show cracks. In a 2012 post, we reported that senior staffers had been laid off at Examiner.com's Colorado headquarters — and two years later, the site was folded into AXS, another Anschutz project that was described at the time as "AEG’s digital ticketing and media platform."

AXS has grown since then to include a music-related television channel whose principals include Creative Artists Agency, CBS Corporation and onetime-American Idol host-turned-media mogul Ryan Seacrest — and along the way, it supplanted Examiner.com as an AEG priority.

"We've shifted our content focus to AXS.com and growing that platform," Roth confirms. "AXS.com will continue to provide information about a lot of the shows we're promoting and selling through the site, as well as some other lifestyle content.

"We're still going to have hundreds of music and live-entertainment contributors to AXS.com," he continues, "and I'm anticipating that some of our Examiners from Examiner.com will be applying for jobs, and perhaps many of them will stay on."

This same message was passed along to another Examiner by Justin Jimenez, AXS.com's vice-president for editorial and content. A note from Jimenez sent yesterday reads in part, "Effective immediately we will no longer be accepting new submissions. However, you will still have access to your contributor portal to see your work and earnings, as well as publish to AXS if you have been accepted as a contributor there.

"Please take adequate steps to preserve your work," the letter continues. "Examiner.com is not responsible for saving contributions, nor do we guarantee access to the contributor portal. Any amounts you have earned pursuant to the Examiners Independent Contractor Agreement and License you entered into with Examiner.com will be paid to you according to our usual payment schedule and the terms of the Examiner.com Payment Policy."

And so what began as a new journalism experiment ends with disappearing content and bookkeeping.

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