The Arizona Guardian, a local political news site once held up as a possible model for a declining news industry, has gone belly-up.
As of today, the Guardian's site is off the air, sounding the death knell that it has been "terminated."
The site launched in January of 2009, backed financially by Democratic political operative Bob Grossfeld and staffed by ex-East Valley Tribune journalists Paul Giblin, Mary K. Reinhart, Dennis Welch and Patti Epler. The group garnered some nationwide attention, in part because Giblin and another Trib staffer, Ryan Gabrielson -- with guidance from Epler, their editor -- won the Pulitzer prize that year for a Trib series about Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
The wisdom of the Guardian's business model was questioned from the beginning: It forced subscribers to pay a hefty fee for the privilege of reading the site's news stories and opinion columns. Revenue was supplemented by ads that included at least one of Grossfeld's clients, the United Food and Commercial Workers labor union.
The team broke some good stories -- not that many saw them with that pay wall -- and covered a hectic period of Arizona politics that included budget breakdowns and Arizona Senate Bill 1070.
Giblin soon left the outfit for a gig with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan. Epler moved to Alaska, then Hawaii. The Arizona Republic picked up Reinhart as a reporter.
A woman at Grossfeld's firm, the Media Guys, tells us that her boss hasn't been associated with the Guardian for at least six months and that Welch had taken over in the interim.
"That's news to us," she says, when informed that the Guardian site had gone dark.
Channel 3 News (KTVK-TV) recently hired Welch to work as its political editor. A report about his move mentions that he was "owner and editor" of the Guardian.
Though perhaps not noticeable to many Valley residents, the light shed on happenings at the State Capitol has now dimmed by a few watts.
Grossfeld just returned our call and told us that Welch took over around the first of the year. He described the difficulty in retaining both subscribers and a core of frequent advertisers. Losing Reinhart and Giblin also was tough, he admitted.
"Given the early estimate that we wouldn't last a week ... it was remarkable that we kept going as long as we did," Grossfeld said.
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Welch also called us back later: He said the site was still making money, but his new gig at Channel 3 makes more financial sense for him.
"This was a great opportunity so I took it," he says of the TV job.
He expects the Guardian's website to be functional again later this week, but only so its paid subscribers can access the old content. Welch plans to produce a newsletter under Guardian name that will be distributed to the site's subscribers, but he says the site will no longer be updated with fresh news.