New paper planned for Hamtramck

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It’s been one hell of a news week in Hamtramck. American Axle, one of the city’s biggest employers and taxpayers, announced plans to shift the majority of its operations to Mexico. A member of the city council is being investigated on charges she lives outside the city, and a sworn deposition from her was scheduled this week. The governor even dropped into town to talk about efforts to use stimulus money. And in this time of crisis, an election is looming over this city within a city, with a primary in August, just months away, and the mayor and half the council seats up for a vote.

As if all this weren’t dramatic enough, Tuesday morning, word got out that the 74-year-old town paper, The Citizen, had shut down the night before. Amid all this news, Hamtramck’s paper of record suddenly wasn’t there to provide the local coverage it’s known for. The broadsheet disappeared just in time for many locals to ruefully appreciate it in its absence.

Of course, not everybody in this hard-drinking town is shedding tears. We heard at least one vocal critic at a Hamtramck bar condemn the paper’s sales staff for vigorously renewing annual advertising contracts just as the rag was about to go kaput. According to insiders, the paper was in dire financial straits in the months leading up to the closing, and at least this one beer-drinker thought the renewals were a shabby way to take somebody’s yearly advertising budget with them before likely filing for bankruptcy.

So it’s interesting that, despite the black eyes, the paper still had enough goodwill in the community to foster talk of reviving it, either as The Citizen or as something else. When we heard that the paper’s now-unemployed editor Charles Sercombe was meeting with stakeholders at Hamtramck’s Café 1923 Wednesday night, we motored over for the news. There, on the sunny back patio of the coffeehouse, Sercombe announced to a handful of council members, newspaper folk — from reporters to cartoonists — that he had been tentatively retained to head up a new community newspaper, scheduled for publication starting one week from Friday.

Tentatively called The Hamtramck Review, it’s backed by Michigan-based publisher Mike Wilcox, whose company publishes two papers in outstate Claire. Wilcox is no stranger to Hamtramck, having bought The Citizen in 2002 and sold it in 2007, and Sercombe says Wilcox’s old sales connections have already lined up advertisers, with competitive ad rates.

Some questions remain to be hashed out, such as whether the new effort will be a paper of record, qualifying for legal notices, which Sercombe says mean “a large chunk of money.” Other challenges include running a newspaper with low or no overhead, and finding a smaller office for a leaner operation.

But Sercombe seemed pleased to have good news for the moment, the announcement of a new newspaper. In this day and age, that itself is news.

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