LOS ANGELES -- The feisty but financially hemorrhaging Herald Examiner, once the nation's biggest afternoon daily newspaper, said 'SO LONG, L.A.' Thursday with the same boldness that had been its hallmark.
A front page note signed by Herald Examiner Editor Maxwell McCrohon said: 'Los Angeles, you've lost a friend. We've lost 700,000 readers and friends. And we're sad about that. Goodbye, good luck.
Inside, an editorial cartoon showed the newspaper's stylized eagle, which had long kept vigil at the top of Page 1, weeping.
An executive of the parent Hearst Corp. told a stunned newsroom Wednesday that the paper, whose roots go back 118 years and embrace fabled, eccentric media baron William Randolph Hearst, had less than 24 hours to live. Many staffers wept and hugged each other.
News spread through City Hall, where the paper was known for its scrutiny of public officials.
Police Chief Daryl Gates called the announcement 'an incredible loss.'
'They're a pain in the ass, but it's like one of those things the doctor prescribes that you don't like but you know is absolutely good for you,' Gates said. 'In spite of not digesting them very well, they were very good for us.'
While not directly mourning the paper that pounded him relentlessly in recent months over his questionable financial affairs, Mayor Tom Bradley said the closure 'limits the choices for Los Angeles readers.'
Robert J. Danzig, vice president and general manager of New York-based Hearst Corp., told employees the multi-media giant that operates 11 other newspapers made the decision 'with great regret.'
Hearst announced months ago the paper was for sale and rumors abounded it would fold if no viable buyer appeared. None did and the paper, which was reportedly losing about $2 million a month, closed.
'Although operating at a financial deficit for more than two decades, there was never a deficit in the quality and the vigor of its editorial commitment to the people of Los Angeles,' Danzig said. 'It has been a losing business, but a winning newspaper.'
The paper reported its own demise in its Wednesday afternoon edition in a story headlined, 'Herald Examiner closes.' Shortly after midnight, Thursday's edition rolled off the presses with a banner headline bidding, 'SO LONG, L.A.!'
In his front-page note to readers, McCrohon said the paper 'tried to be a friend to the ordinary Los Angeleno. To speak for him and her because we had the power to be heard and the will to be tough and outspoken when we needed to. We were sometimes brash in defending them but never cruel.'
Danzig said the paper has lost money since 1967, the first year of a decade-long strike during which circulation dropped by half. He said the decision to cease publication immediately was made in order to give the Herald's 730 full-time employees an opportunity to find other jobs.
Management said all employees not needed to shut down the newspaper will be placed on paid 'job search leave of absence' for 60 days and a placement company has been hired to help them find employment.
'It's like everybody got punched in the stomach,' said Ellis Conklin, an editor. 'Everybody's having a hard time breathing.'
Industry analysts say Angelenos are less likely to read newspapers than the residents of any other major metropolitan area. The Los Angeles Times dominates with a circulation of about 1.1 million a day and a virtual lock on major advertisers because of its huge paid circulation, but the Times and the Herald Examiner combined were read in only 30 percent of city households.
The Herald Examiner was once the nation's largest afternoon daily with a circulation of more than 700,000 in 1967. When it died, circulation was 238,000, the 42nd largest paper in the country.
The closure of the Herald Examiner leaves the nation's second largest city with only one major newspaper -- the Times. The San Fernando Valley-based Los Angeles Daily News serves northern suburbs and there remain several smaller suburban dailies. The Orange County Register, with growing competition from the Times, serves the Orange County area.
The Times, in an editorial, said the Herald Examiner will be missed.
'The Herald Examiner's serious role as an aggressive commentator on issues of lcoal importance will not be easily filled,' the Times said.
The loss of the Herald Examiner leaves fewer than 20 American cities with commercially competitive newspapers.
The paper is a descendant of Hearst's Examiner, founded in 1903, the Herald, founded in 1873, and the Evening Express, which first published in 1871. The Herald Examiner was born in 1962 when Hearst merged the morning Examiner with the afternoon Herald-Express, publishing as an afternoon paper.
The paper had a scrappy, colorful style and used big, catchy headlines to attract readers, 80 percent of whom bought it from newsstands.
The Herald emphasized graphics and entertainment news, and its sports section was highly regarded with such nationally known columnists as Mel Durslag, who recently celebrated his 50th anniversary with the paper.