Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

Ann Arbor News to Close in July

23. March 2009 • Juliew
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The Ann Arbor News will close in July and will be replaced by a Web-based, media company called AnnArbor.com, Laurel Champion, publisher of The News, announced in a 9 a.m. meeting with staff.

More information on mlive.com.



  1. Braindump:

    (a) New site does not have forums or comments enabled. These would have taken about 2 hours to install

    (b) The video on the homepage doesn’t play for me in Firefox/Mac

    © What will happen to the old online AA News content? Who owns it?

    (d) Will the site be moderated?

    (e) Will there be reporting? What will happen to the reporters? (“News employees they can apply for positions with the new company, although job losses are inevitable”)

    (f) The press release is a PDF download — not a web page. Way to embrace the future!


       —Matt Hampel    Mar. 23 '09 - 02:51PM    #
  2. This makes me really sad.


       —Parking Structure Dude!    Mar. 23 '09 - 03:02PM    #
  3. At least Ann Arbor has a web-based alternative in the Chronicle. I wonder how those other communities will fare? You have to wonder if the downsizing will eventually lead to the end of their local printed papers?


       —John Q.    Mar. 23 '09 - 03:13PM    #
  4. This is worse than I had expected. I had given the AA News two more years.


       —David Cahill    Mar. 23 '09 - 03:34PM    #
  5. The Chronicle is too lefty for me. I mean, how many stories on organic gardens does one city need? I love it in theory, but it needs to touch on broader topics to attract me.

    The closing of the AA News is weird. A huge loss for a city like this to without a news publication. But not so much because the paper was so terrible. It’s a shame Ed P. didn’t leave a long time ago and give the paper a chance.

    Also, the mlive website is the pits. Really awful. Someone needs to do something better. What if one of the Detroit papers reached out here and scooped up Washtenaw and Livingston counties?


       —just a homeowner    Mar. 23 '09 - 03:45PM    #
  6. Hope they’ll finally have a usable website.


       —Ted Belding    Mar. 23 '09 - 04:00PM    #
  7. It is unbelievable.


       —The Colonel    Mar. 23 '09 - 04:09PM    #
  8. This totally bums me out.


       —Nancy    Mar. 23 '09 - 04:19PM    #
  9. That’s horrible. I will miss it terribly. I hope that Jo Mathis columns, and the local coverage will continue.

    -Steve


       —EdgeWise    Mar. 23 '09 - 05:10PM    #
  10. This is terribly sad news. What will happen to the employees? The building?


       —scooter62    Mar. 23 '09 - 05:42PM    #
  11. Scooter62, I just read on the Paper Tiger No More blog (that’s a cool blog!) that the building will be vacated. If I recall correctly, isn’t the building itself historically significant? (I’m at school right now and so I can’t readily check this out :)). And I read it quickly, but I think it said that employees will get 1 week’s pay for each year worked.

    While an AANews on-line publication is a helpful suggestion, I have to wonder about older folks and lower income folks who don’t access the internet as much. And heck, I shouldn’t generalize! There are plenty of folks who aren’t older or lower income who don’t access the ‘net for news that much….


       —TeacherPatti    Mar. 23 '09 - 05:55PM    #
  12. It’s funny (not funny ha ha, funny sad), I was just listening to a podcast this morning about how “mass media” applies less and less to media now, they are increasingly niche media.

    One thing that a local paper gives gave is a standard basis for community conversation. People know knew what the major issues and conversations were because they had a shared paper to tell the community story. A proliferation of online sources and niche publications like the Michigan Daily allow more voices to be heard, but each is heard by fewer people, and therefore there is less shared understanding.


       —Chuck Warpehoski    Mar. 23 '09 - 06:14PM    #
  13. check this out….

    http://www.annarbor.com/


       —just a homeowner    Mar. 23 '09 - 06:40PM    #
  14. Well, the incredible shrinking paper edition was obviously not a self-sustaining operation. In general, I prefer online news (not least because all that paper, printing, delivery, and recycling is a waste). And once it’s the only game in town, I think online local news will get better and become much more central to the community. And I’m glad to see the online edition will be new, not just mlive.com (which never impressed me).


       —mw    Mar. 23 '09 - 08:21PM    #
  15. I particularly enjoyed last year’s multi-day expose on how University of Michigan athletes were taking easy classes. Investigative journalism at its very finest.


       —Daniel Adams    Mar. 24 '09 - 01:43AM    #
  16. I sent this message to Tony Dearing (“Content Director”) yesterday around noon after he asked the ArborUpdate team if we had any questions. I haven’t seen any replies yet — not here, on the Chronicle, or on Paper Tiger No More. I think that’s a pretty bad start for a company that hopes to understand “everything that’s going on in the community.”

    Hi Tony,

    Thanks for asking us — but I think one of the first places to start would be responding online, since that’s where your community is. I notice annarbor.com is a static website — a strange start for a company that hopes to build engagement.

    People are already asking questions and making comments on our post about the page, and answering them openly and honestly, without marketbabble, will be a great way to build trust from the start. …


       —Matt Hampel    Mar. 24 '09 - 03:05PM    #
  17. I did find it ironic that on the same day that the News announced it’s closing, they also ran a column about the problems caused when print media dies.


       —Chuck Warpehoski    Mar. 24 '09 - 09:01PM    #
  18. AnnArbor.com is having 2 input meetings to talk about their new product.

    2:00pm Thursday, April 2, Campus Inn, 615 E. Huron St., Ann Arbor

    10:00am Friday, April 3, Weber’s Inn, 3050 Jackson Ave., Ann Arbor


       —Chuck Warpehoski    Mar. 25 '09 - 03:22PM    #
  19. Ironically, I might be out of town for both of them — at a conference on Chicago neighborhood community media.


       —Matt Hampel    Mar. 25 '09 - 04:17PM    #
  20. I’m interested in people’s ideas about starting an online publication to help fill the void left by the AA News’ passing. Sabra and I are in California right now, visiting with our son and his wife.

    They say that there are some publications which have organized themselves as nonprofits in order to support themselves on tax-deductible donations. These publications have full-time paid staff.

    Probably the best-known of these organizations is the Voice of San Diego (voiceofsandiego.org), which was founded in 2005. It has a staff of 10 and a budget of $780,000 per year. About 10% of that budget is from ads.

    The Knight Media Center ran a series of articles about online publications last fall. This series begins at www.ojr.org/ojr/people/davidwestphal/200810/1560.

    Can this kind of organization work here?


       —David Cahill    Mar. 27 '09 - 05:18PM    #
  21. Mr. Cahill,

    This is a GREAT sugguestion. People (nonprofits, risk takers wanting to make money, etc.) need to take advantage of this once in a lifetime opportunity to move Ann Arbor news (with a small n) delivery into the future.

    I just cringe ovver every new bit of infomation I read about the new annarbor.com


       —Alan Goldsmith    Mar. 27 '09 - 06:25PM    #
  22. What am I missing?

    Isn’t the new annarbor.com supposed to fill the void left by the Ann Arbor news?

    Shouldn’t we give the new site a chance before we write it off?


       —Diane    Mar. 27 '09 - 07:29PM    #
  23. Diane’s right. Why write off annarbor.com before it launches? Not to mention, what about the Chronicle? I don’t get why a third would be needed.


       —scooter62    Mar. 27 '09 - 09:22PM    #
  24. The Campus Inn meeting was canceled/moved — no downtown meetings anymore


       —Matt Hampel    Mar. 28 '09 - 01:40AM    #
  25. Hm. The fact that the Campus Inn meeting was canceled/moved shows the problem in believing the AnnArbor.com will be real.

    It could indeed be that the Chronicle will “bulk up” to fill the void. Or it could be that Mary Morgan and Dave Askins will decide to keep their publication small. Who knows?

    I think we should be prepared for a “third way”, just in case.


       —David Cahill    Mar. 28 '09 - 04:46AM    #
  26. I was hoping that Tony Dearing and the AnnArbor.com staff would read my comment and respond in an online forum, but that doesn’t seem like it’s going to happen. According to their twitter stream, they do hope to offer more downtown meetings.


       —Matt Hampel    Mar. 28 '09 - 11:40AM    #
  27. RE: “It could indeed be that the Chronicle will ‘bulk up’ to fill the void. Or it could be that Mary Morgan and Dave Askins will decide to keep their publication small. Who knows?”

    What I can tell you is that I am making Mary Morgan do a set of push-ups every morning in an effort to bulk up The Chronicle, but she keeps insisting on doing them like a girl — which, as I keep telling her, is never going to have the desired effect.

    More seriously, our intent from the start was to test the sustainability of a publication with a limited number of writers and then grow it as revenues allowed. Revenue projections based on the first six months suggest we’ll likely be able to grow our resources and add to the breadth of our coverage over the next few months.

    Our short-term goal was not to become the local publication of record. With The News shutting down, many of our readers have expressed to us their hope or expectation that we step up and shoulder that mantel. We do not aim to disappoint. But we’re also not going to follow a reactionary path by adding resources that revenues don’t already support. The fact that some advertisers will now migrate from The News to other vehicles, like The Chronicle, means that we’ll be able to add resources sooner than we probably expected.

    Pursuing a non-profit path was something we did entertain, but ultimately decided that our best approach was to create a publication filled with stories, so that the burden of articulating our vision would be carried by a website full of examples. If I want to convince someone to serve on a non-profit board, or to invest, I think it’s easier to do that if I’ve already created a publication that illustrates what that vision looks like.


       —Dave Askins    Mar. 28 '09 - 01:24PM    #
  28. No offense but the Chronicle is a verbose blog, not a newspaper. Transcripts of city council and nonprofit meetings and random Twitters about potholes in the street are not anywhere near the level of journalism the Ann Arbor News at least aspired to.

    Nobody asks about Arbor Update filling the void which would really be about the same.


       —jbl    Mar. 28 '09 - 02:36PM    #
  29. It is wonderful news that the Chronicle may be expanding!

    Sorry, jbl, but the Chronicle is not a blog. I remember an interview with Mary Morgan in which she supposedly gritted her teeth and said it’s not a blog. Yes, the Chronicle allows comments to its stories, but so does the AA News. The stories themselves are factual, rather than opinions.


       —David Cahill    Mar. 28 '09 - 02:50PM    #
  30. As Dave C. notes, virtually all news outlets now have comments, so that doesn’t make it a blog. The Chronicle differs from Arbor Update in that its two chief reporters actually go places and report from the spot, with wonderfully full descriptions of what was actually said. AU mostly relies on brief descriptions and links to other publications.

    Incidentally, someone said to me just a couple of days ago that the Chronicle is already providing the paper-of-record service for many governmental meetings. Certainly their coverage has been miles ahead of any recent efforts by the News in this regard.

    Yes, I’d like to see the kinds of in-depth coverage of many issues that the Ann Arbor News in its best days (which are far behind us) was able to have. But I would hope that over time the Chronicle can add to its reporting staff (or more likely, employ free-lancers) to extend coverage.

    Online publications by their nature are going to differ from a print publication, and part of the value of that is the instantaneous observations of something like the Stopped-Watched features. That is often only a grace note, providing a sort of pulse reading, but several times the Stopped. Watched. section has been the site for breaking news.

    I think you will find many in our community who will fiercely assert that the Chronicle is indeed a news vehicle, not “merely” a blog.


       —Vivienne Armentrout    Mar. 28 '09 - 03:17PM    #
  31. There was another article in yesterday’s AA News about AnnArbor.com. It said: “Reader comment forums will require people to use their names to keep the discourse civil…There will be extremely limited ability to comment anonymously.”

    Yes!!


       —David Cahill    Apr. 18 '09 - 12:14PM    #
  32. This issue of anonymous commentors has been annoying to me as well, especially since some reveal a strong bias. I do, though, recognize the value of certain long-time anonymous “faces”, like John Q and PSD. On my new blog, I’ve enabled comment moderation though I’m allowing anonymous monikers. I’m thinking of dropping the moderation, though, since WordPress allows me to delete offensive messages. The rules of this game are not always obvious!


       —Vivienne Armentrout    Apr. 18 '09 - 02:06PM    #
  33. I’m interested to see where Real Names will take the new News. It certainly means I’ll be able to respond to trolls with more confidence — but it also means you’ll loose out on those interesting bits of hearsay that make anonymous comments so useful. And I don’t intend any sarcasm in that last sentence, because anonymity also brings out folks who want to contribute but just aren’t confident that the community won’t pounce on them.


       —Matt Hampel    Apr. 18 '09 - 02:52PM    #
  34. However, I am worried about the turnout at this last forum. There were about 20 folks in the newspaper business (from deliverymen to writers), a couple students, and a couple bloggers, and two people from local government. That’s not a heartening turnout for a community that supposedly likes its news.

    The AnnArbor.com team said some useful things about their focus on actual news, beats that will be covered, and method of distribution. Their plans are fairly nuanced at this point. So it’s sad to see the Mlive ecosystem in attack mode without any balancing comments (but not at all unusual)


       —Matt Hampel    Apr. 18 '09 - 02:59PM    #
  35. We feel pretty strongly about a culture where people log into the site, have a real identity and profile, and comment under their real name. When we say that anonymous comment will be quite limited, we’re thinking that we might only allow a person to comment anonymously once or twice a month. That still allows someone who feels a need for anonymity to make an important point, it just keeps a troll from bombarding the site with nastiness. That’s the idea anyway.

    I share Matt Hampel’s concern that the turnout at our last two evening forums has been light, and most of the audience has been journalists. We’re looking at other ways to get real community feedback. We need to go directly to community groups and neighborhoods and there are ways to do that. We think that’s the next step for us.


       —Tony Dearing    Apr. 19 '09 - 01:57PM    #
  36. The Ann Arbor Chronicle seems to understand productive commenting. They have a mix of content that attracts coherent comments and a pre-moderation process. And the willingness to shut down people who post one-line flames — either by pressuring them with reasoned responses, or just not approving the comments.

    Tony, at what point do you put a hold on the community meetings and put out some solid content? That’s the message I’m getting — folks want to see something before they react. Annarbor.com has been a splash page for weeks, which certainly meets your goals, but isn’t much to talk about. I don’t know if there’s a lot of expectation that will actually react to reader desire.

    Nor should there be! I expect professionals like you to openly and honestly make realistic decisions about coverage, not attempt to accommodate everyone. One of the coolest things about the Chronicle is when I email a suggestion, they consider it — and with some frequency say “We’ll keep it in mind, but no, that’s not what we’re doing right now.”


       —Matt Hampel    Apr. 19 '09 - 03:05PM    #
  37. The Chronicle certainly sets an example of how to do things well. I’ll be very happy if we can do what we want to do as well as the Chronicle does what it set out to do.

    I think the community meetings have run their course for now, and people are ready for more than assurances that yes, we’re going to hire journalists and cover stuff. I don’t know if this is exactly what you’re asking for, but while the launch of AnnArbor.com is still months off, the next step for us is to launch some blogs by people who are going to be working for us, either as staffers or freelancers, and start putting their content out there. We can modify our splash page to present those blogs, and that’s what I’ll be focusing on over the next couple of weeks.


       —Tony Dearing    Apr. 19 '09 - 04:18PM    #
  38. I respect the need for anonymity in many cases for persons posting on a website such as this.

    Posters such as John Q., Kerry D., and Parking Structure Dude! have formed an integral and welcomed part of ArborUpdate over a long period of time. I would hate to see their respective input quashed because of some arbitrary rule barring anonymous posters.

    I do not know if John Q. is a derivation of the poster’s real name or some allusion and identification with the protagonist in the Denzel Washington film of the same name. Or, as David Cahill suggested, really a pseudonym for the Mayor. Frankly, I don’t care. John Q.‘s own admissions suggest he is a former city commission member who has close ties and intimate working knowledge with city government in Ann Arbor and complex political and legal issues in general. I believe that he has chosen to remain anonymous because his views, if ascribed to him personally by the public, may result in embarassment or some type of political repercussions. This is a legitimate concern.

    Same with Parking Structure Dude! If he worked at a parking structure at U-M, for example, he might hesitate to use his real name to avoid retribution for criticizing a certain policy enunciated by the Board of Regents.

    Kerry D. has been a strong critic of city and county government and been outspoken on tax issues. Perhaps disclosing his true identity would cause him problems if, say, he was on the government payroll as a contractor or employee.

    Where I have a problem with pseudonyms is where they have been used as a sword and not a shield to make offensive comments anonymously and not held responsible for those commentaries in any manner.


       —John Dory    Apr. 19 '09 - 06:13PM    #
  39. I agree with the major thrust of post 38 though it also provided me with some moments of hilarity not typical of my sobersided self. I took “John Q.” to be an allusion to the phrase John Q. Public, and indeed (he?) is usually thoughtful and analytical. I recall that at one time he stated he was neither on the city council (ed. note: we don’t have city commissioners) nor on the city staff. Parking Structure Dude! (PSD!, sorry to have left off part of the spelling earlier) on the other hand is irreverent and sometimes even crude, but often points out an important facet of the conversation. The biggest shock was when he revealed that he, and presumably Mrs. Dude!, have a garden that has rabbit pellets incorporated. Remember the great sequence where HD was supposedly carting both PSD! and the rabbit pellets behind his bike? (HD of course has been transformed from a guy who can retrieve a teeter totter from the Ypsilanti Water Tower to one who does even more difficult work as a serious reporter.) I’m not a bettor but here’s a quarter betting that his day job has nothing to do with parking structures. Meanwhile John Dory “refers to fish of the genus Zeus”, an interesting choice of moniker in itself. As for my true identity, I’m still trying to figure that out.


       —Vivienne Armentrout    Apr. 20 '09 - 02:19PM    #
  40. If I have to post my last name on comments, I probably will not post anything on the site.

    Although many of you know who I am, the “general crazy person” out in the world does not. I would be uncomfortable listing my last name where anyone can look me up in the phonebook.

    Also, recently in the news there have been incidents where people have been fired because of things thet have twittered. Depending on where you work, there could be great consequences to any comments that are made on the net with your identity linked.

    Blogs are supposed to be a place where people can speak their minds without fear of retribution, whether that it is political, social, or work related.

    I am more in favor of banning people from the site who act inapproriately rather than insisting on true identities.


       —Diane    Apr. 21 '09 - 03:43PM    #
  41. I suspect the Real Names decision by AnnArbor.com will make the site much more antiseptic. It will be a very comfortable space for polite conversation, but it will limit grit, rumor, and honest participation from people who have to be careful about their public identity.

    I hope I’m wrong, but it sounds a bit like McDonalds: kid safe but not very interesting or nourishing.


       —Chuck Warpehoski    Apr. 22 '09 - 02:01PM    #
  42. There has been some rumblings that AA.com is pinning its hopes to UM sports coverage because that’s where they see big numbers in terms of readership. If so, that’s pretty sad. There are many good places to go online for college and pro sports. But there’s nowhere to go for HS sports. And nowhere (except the Chronicle) for city and school news.

    I’m starting to get the feeling that AA.com is a corporate Newhouse animal, and that the mission of the execs is to try to salvage what’s left of the wrecked AA news. I wish Tony Dearing would point out three or four local news sites, run by newspapers or not, that he would like AA.com to resemble in some way.


       —just a homeowner    Apr. 25 '09 - 01:52AM    #
  43. I sure hope it isn’t going to resemble ArborUpdate!


       —Matt Hampel    Apr. 25 '09 - 02:38AM    #
  44. I wanted to bike around to a bunch of garage sales today, but I just can’t find a good map. That’s a place where AnnArbor.com could excel!


       —Matt Hampel    Apr. 25 '09 - 03:09PM    #
  45. I’m keeping a list of good ideas that people have offered so far, and a garage sale map is on that list.


       —Tony Dearing    Apr. 25 '09 - 07:47PM    #
  46. The May 2009 Ann Arbor Observer has an interesting article that leads one to suppose that the Newhouse Corporation chose Ann Arbor to try out a mostly online model. Apparently they think we are oh, so sophisticated and web-savvy.

    I deep-sixed the latest iteration of MLive when I found that the major headline news was always sports. It should be available to those who want it but I didn’t appreciate having to thread down all the choices to get to the real news of the day.


       —Vivienne Armentrout    Apr. 26 '09 - 01:39AM    #
  47. I am going to miss not only the Ann Arbor News but also Ed Petykiewicz. His indelible sense of humor and charisma made him one of Ann Arbor’s most colorful and well-liked civic leaders.

    The historical nature of the Ann Arbor News, being one of our state’s oldest newspapers compounds this loss even more.

    I wish Ed the best of luck as he was one of Ann Arbor’s most respected and able public figures.


       —John Dory    Apr. 26 '09 - 04:32PM    #
  48. Mr. Dearing, I am a person who uses his real name. I would appreciate an answer to “just a homeowner”‘s question about three or four local news sites that you would like AnnArbor.com to resemble in some way.


       —David Cahill    Apr. 26 '09 - 05:23PM    #
  49. Ooh, can I answer too?

    I’d like AnnArbor.com to resemble the Chi-Town Daily News. It’s a nonprofit online-only news organization in Chicago run by a former big-newsroom journalist and editor. It has a paid staff of freelancers. They also offer free journalism classes for residents. After taking these classes, they can volunteer to be reporter for their neighborhood. Articles are expected to be in standard journalistic form and go through the same editing process whether they are written by a professional or a volunteer.

    Spot.us is a site that allows people to fund reporting by contributing small amounts. Reporters can post story prospectives, which are approved by the site administrators. They also list how much it would cost them to develop the report. If funded, the report is available for free online. If the report is bought by a major organization, the funders get a share of the cash back. This requires a critical mass, though — I’m not sure how useful it would be in Ann Arbor.


       —Matt Hampel    Apr. 26 '09 - 05:32PM    #
  50. <begin shameless self promotion>
    ICPJ is having a discussion tonight about how progressive groups can get the word out in a post-Ann-Arbor-News era.

    6:00 p.m. at Memorial Christian Church, 730 Tappan, Ann Arbor. Let me know if you’re coming so I know how much pizza to order.

    <end shameless self promotion>


       —Chuck Warpehoski    Apr. 27 '09 - 01:58PM    #
  51. Chi-Town Daily News is a good example of what we’re shooting for in terms of quality and seriousness of local journalism. So are the Minneapolis Post and Voice of San Diego. All are former print journalists gone to the Web. For the sense of community it conveys, we’re shooting for something like the West Seattle Blog.

    We will be strongly committed to hyperlocal coverage, down to the neighborhood level. Good models there would be Patch.com or Outside.In.

    We want to encourage discussion of community issues, in the spirit of NJ Voices.

    Spot.us is a fascinating concept, and its founder, David Cohn, along with Rachel Sterne of GroundReport.com, represents the new generation of journalists. The element of Spot.us that I particularly like is that is presents a way for freelancers to bypass the media middleman and go directly to the community with story ideas, which the community can buy into, literally. We may experiment with something like this, probably not at launch, but as we develop.


       —Tony Dearing    Apr. 30 '09 - 06:30PM    #
  52. But the first three are all nonprofits. I didn’t have time to check out any of the others.

    Wouldn’t they be more examples that companies like Newhouse aren’t needed and that the future model is based on local, not for profit, community owned news outlets? And that it’s not good to place your faith in family owned companies that shut down operations when the profit margins aren’t 20-30%+?


       —Alan Goldsmith    Apr. 30 '09 - 06:47PM    #
  53. Tony,

    Thanks for responding. Alan has a good point; the journalism you’re shooting to emulate to based on the new non-profit model. You’ve said that your model is based on (wait for it) advertising. So was the Ann Arbor News. Basically, you’re cutting production costs (staff, salaries, overhead, etc….) and putting out a print product twice a week. How is this new?

    You’re going to try to live off of the same shrinking ad base that Laurel Champion wasn’t able to live off of. Obviously, it’s the Newhouse business model that’s flawed—a slightly modified version of which you’re trying to implement. The AA News had a great subscriber base (48,000 in a city of 114,000). On $12-$18 million a year, Champion couldn’t put out a daily newspaper. There are markets in which family-owed publications thrive: Columbus, OH comes to mind.

    A big part of your model relies on getting people to write for free. I really hope Ann Arborites turn you down flat! Newhouse is a privately held company, and the family one of the richest in the United States. Why should anyone work for free so the Newhouse family can reap a profit?


       —UMGrad1234    Apr. 30 '09 - 08:42PM    #
  54. OK, but here’s how I see it. News still matters. If people still want journalism and still need journalism, which they do, there’s got to be a way to pay for it. Clearly, the way we’ve paid for it in the past isn’t working anymore. We need to find a new way, and no one really has the answer. It might be a non-profit model. It might be a pay-for-content model. It might be an ad-supported model, which is what we’re doing. It might be some combination. All of these things are being tried in different ways in different places. We’re all watching each other, and we’ll learn from each other. What’ll come out of this is a way to keep journalism viable. When you look at the media landscape today, it’s easy to see what the problems are. We’re trying to be part of the solution.


       —Tony Dearing    May. 3 '09 - 11:06AM    #
  55. Tony,

    It’s a tough problem, primarily because the model of aggregating multiple titles and living off of advertising won’t work thanks to Craigslist, free-cycle, etc….The conglomerates (like Newhouse) that ate up the Mom-and-Pop dailies now have a giant case of fiscal indigestion.

    Editorially, what will make AnnArbor.com stand out? It’s local. Ok. Niche journalism isn’t new, but it’s a start. You want us to tell you what we want to read. This is a disaster waiting to happen. Why? Because it’s journalistic pandering and impacts the quality of the product you produce. It’s bread and circus journalism that will allow you to establish a base and sell advertising. What will you do for our community, though?

    Look at Ann Arbor Chronicle (which I’m sure you have). See County Commissioner Leah Gunn sending kisses and hugs? Of course she supports news coverage that simply gives a first hand account without a shred of analysis, or single objective question about what our County Commissioners are doing and why. AA Chronicle wants comments, comments, comments from the doers, as opposed to answers. AA Chronicle is postcard journalism—thorough, but postcard journalism. That’s THEIR niche.

    So, thanks for answering, and I hope AnnArbor.com is not simply a prolonged death for the Ann Arbor News. That would be terrible for our city.


       —UMGrad1234    May. 3 '09 - 03:54PM    #
  56. What doesn’t work today is the former “one size fits most” general news model, whether in print or online. Far too many specialized sources available that can eat their lunch in any particular area, and way too easy to click there.

    I hope annarbor.com gets this right, given their expressed desire to partner with high quality blogs / websites. They could do worse than to aggregate from specialists on topics they can’t cover as well, and focus their journalistic resources on what they can do best — local breaking news, relatively costly, time-consuming investigative reporting.

    Worst case scenario: trying to cyberwash a newspaper’s broad coverage using a bunch of third-tier underpaid stringers.


       —Joel Goldberg    May. 4 '09 - 02:45PM    #
  57. UMGrad1234, I agree with you in terms of the need for analysis, but I’m not as hard as you are on the Chronicle. I see them filling a void that was not covered by the existing infrastructure: a detailed reporting of what was happening in our democratic process. They provide that in great detail.

    Yes, this is “in-front-of-the-scenes” reporting rather than behind-the-scenes reporting, but it makes behind-the-scenes analysis that much more possible, and it helps create a public record to separate true analysis from axe-grinding and conspiracy theories.

    And I think they are learning. They have learned that they need to provide a synopsis at the top of their meeting coverage.

    Now if they’ll just figure out how I can separate their different feeds so I could subscribe to their main stories and not have stop.watched and Old Media Watch in my RSS feed. If Mlive can do it, the Chronicle should be able to.


       —Chuck Warpehoski    May. 4 '09 - 11:58PM    #
  58. Re: “Now if they’ll just figure out how I can separate their different feeds …”

    “As a partial response to this issue, here’s a way for readers to cook up their own RSS feeds to exclude and include exactly the Chronicle categories they want to read. Each category (section) has a number. [Key: 3=Business, 4=Education, 5=Entertainment, 6=Environment, 7=Government, 8=Missed Ticks, 9=Neighborhoods, 10=New Media Watch, 11=Old Media Watch, 12=Police, 24=Stopped. Watched.] The syntax for creating a custom feed, where x, y, z, w, correspond to category numbers, is this:

    http://annarborchronicle.com/feed/?cat=x,y,z,w

    For example, readers who want everything except for New Media Watch and Old Media Watch could use this feed: http://annarborchronicle.com/feed/?cat=3,4,5,6,7,8,9,12,24”

    To that I would add that Meeting Watch has the category 571.

    Also, in a more recent comment:

    “It’s not exactly user-friendly. We could do a better job on that score: the link that says RSS in the upper left gray box should ideally lead to a page with a bunch of pre-defined feeds so that people didn’t have to assemble their own.

    Part of the reason we haven’t yet addressed that in any meaningful way is that we’d like to give our ‘sections’ some additional thought — I don’t think they’re currently very well defined. It’s part of the reason we relegated them to the footer after the first few weeks of publication. We’re hoping a school of information student might take an interest in undertaking an analysis for a class project or an internship basis.”


       —HD    May. 5 '09 - 10:54AM    #
  59. Chuck,

    I didn’t intend to be hard on The Chronicle. Quite the opposite, in fact, they found their niche and it appears to be working for them. As long as advertising supports their operations, they’ll stay in business. I’m delighted to have synopses of the various meetings, but without analyses it’s “wish you were here” journalism.


       —UMGrad1234    May. 5 '09 - 01:06PM    #
  60. The Chronicle does include some columns. I would like to see it add a political columnist or two. But having regular, accurate reports of meetings is the basis for the widest public understanding of public affairs.

    I am glad the Chronicle has not mixed the news with opinions.


       —David Cahill    May. 6 '09 - 08:48PM    #
  61. I agree with both #59 and #60. (I would use names but UMGrad1234 isn’t much of a nickname.)

    The Ann Arbor News got to a point where the editorial viewpoint seemed to be driving the reporting on political issues. Not good. The Chronicle, on the other hand, doesn’t always summarize and analyze enough to help one understand the issues without taking the effort to do one’s own analysis. Yes, they have a full description of discussion, but it takes some work to make conclusions. (I detect a certain pedagogical tilt – in the past they even put in riddles for the reader.)

    As a sometime journalist, I’ve thought about this. One always has one’s point of view, but we owe it to the readership to propose points rather than to hammer them in. Yet, writing a story amounts to more than mere recording. There should be a thesis, but the full range of information should be presented so that the reader can evaluate it.

    Summary of what I’ve said: yeah, that’s complex.

    FWIW, I hope that the Chronicle does not assume an editorial stance on most issues. Their columns are more of a personal talking it through rather than the editorial pronouncements we came to expect from the News. It would be especially nice if they don’t endorse candidates or other electoral issues. Maybe they will continue to Be Generous.


       —Vivienne Armentrout    May. 7 '09 - 02:09AM    #
  62. There’s a difference in having an ‘editorial voice’ ala the A2 News, what the Chronicle does and, when the issue arises, having a strong investigative reporting focus on a particular issue/problem. Maybe that isn’t going to happen. But some media outlet will need to rise to the occasion to be a thorn in the side. And who knows, maybe A2.com will be that voice But even saintly, good intentioned Democratic political office holders need to have an eye kept on them at times. Even with all the dancing in the street joy some local office holders seem to be displaying at the death of the Ann Arbor News.


       —Alan Goldsmith    May. 7 '09 - 10:34AM    #
  63. If you read what I said about the Chronicle, you will note that my “hugs and kisses” were for ACCURACY. I also commented that when the News covered the County Board of Commissioners (which was spotty at best), I often wondered, “Did I attend that same meeting?”. Except in a few cases, I was NEVER quoted accurately in the AA News. And, their headlines were atrocious. I remember one in particular which said the county was considering raising taxes – well, the gist of the conversation was that we discussed the issue for about two minutes, coming to the conclusion that we CAN“T raise taxes. However, I got a lot of angry e-mails on that one!

    So, I am thoroughly delighted to have accurate articles of what went on at our meetings, as well as those of other governmental bodies. That is a start, and if you want “investigative reporting” the length and accuracy of their articles at least tells you what we do, and what was said. It saves you having to watch. No other news source is so thorough. Also, both Mary and Dave are good writers.

    So, I will stand by my “hugs and kisses” and if they ever report anything negative about me, you will know that whatever I said was ACCURATE. That matters to me, after the coverage by the AA News.

    There is an old saying, “You don’t mess wth people who buy ink by the barrel”.


       —Leah Gunn    May. 7 '09 - 11:04AM    #
  64. I agree with Leah. The AA News often messed up its coverage. On the other hand,

    “With the Chronicle it’s like being there.” (The Chronicle is free to use this slogan.)


       —David Cahill    May. 7 '09 - 02:32PM    #
  65. I’m guessing it’s not QUITE like being there. But I get your drift.

    And thanks Leah for going into more detail about your post. And hopefully with the death of the Ann Arbor News and the likely failure of A2.com (lol) there will be plenty of other media outlets that will rise up locally to do all the things great journalism is supposed to do.

    But everyone seems to have forgotten the Ann Arbor Observer, an outstanding resource that can cover the local flavor stories AND provide in depth investigative articles when needed too. I’m glad they are in the picture and will hopefully expand with the loss of the A2 News.


       —Alan Goldsmith    May. 7 '09 - 02:58PM    #
  66. I agree about the Observer, Alan, and they are also soliciting donations. I have subscribed.


       —Leah Gunn    May. 7 '09 - 04:06PM    #
  67. Leah, good for you!

    I just mailed them a check too and anyone in town who appreciates great journalism should do the same.


       —Alan Goldsmith    May. 7 '09 - 04:11PM    #
  68. I also like the Observer and Chronicle, especially the Chronicle for the meeting reports. But I have to say that outside of the meeting reports, most of the stories, in my eyes, are puff pieces. I really don’t think of either of them as a true newspaper where I can get reporting on everyday events throughout the city. Sometimes I just want an overview of happenings with city government, the schools, local events, entertainment and even sports.

    A newspaper to me is a straight report of facts regarding current on goings in the city. However, I do acknowledge that bias does come in by what facts are emphasized in the article and which are played down. Nonetheless, there is bias in many of the Chronicle articles also. You don’t notice it as much because the articles are written as a story and not in the “just the facts” format.

    Both the Chronicle and Observer have their niche, but for me neither is going to take the place of a daily newspaper. In fact I would be highly disappointed if the the Chronicle changed their format from giving detailed meeting-watch reports to becoming more like a daily newspaper.


       —Diane    May. 7 '09 - 06:48PM    #
  69. Diane, we agree. The Observer and/or Chronicle are not going to replace a daily newspaper. Not sure what road we are heading down without one and how this will alter life as we know it in A2 (in mostly negative ways). But, even with the Ann Arbor News’ less thank perfect focus, which has been horrible the last few months, it still has been a valuable resource and good for the city. But the same logic that is making the city a Newhouse Family test site (computer literacy, high education and income levels, etc.) is going to make it tempting for others to jump in to the news outlet mix, web or nonweb.


       —Alan Goldsmith    May. 8 '09 - 11:04AM    #
  70. Diane,

    Newspapers report facts and analyze data to produce, ideally, original news. The AA News uses a lot of pieces from the various wire services (like serving leftovers). Exposés and investigative journalism are kinds of pieces that have always been seriously lacking. The Ann Arbor News did an investigative piece recently (one, just one) about football players at the U.

    The Chronicle publishes synopses of events, meetings, etc… and those “puff” pieces, as you call them. Synopses may be accurate, but they are little more than Cliff’s Notes. Leah Gunn (and all politicians) love synopses. Analyses and investigative journalism tend to make people in government somewhat apprehensive, particularly those wholly unused to journalistic scrutiny, as I imagine, politicians in Ann Arbor are—thanks to the AA News’s lack of focus on analysis.

    Reporting exactly what Leah Gunn says is repetition.

    Commissioner Leah Gunn said “Washtenaw County is $20 million in debt and will be selling off buildings and real estate to make ends meet.”

    Perfectly repeated.

    Perfectly horrid for the reader who might wonder how the county got so far in debt.

    Perfect for the politician who would like to avoid the gory details.


       —UMGrad1234    May. 8 '09 - 08:13PM    #
  71. “The AA News uses a lot of pieces from the various wire services (like serving leftovers). Exposés and investigative journalism are kinds of pieces that have always been seriously lacking.”

    Looking at some of today’s examples from my rss feed from mlive today, how do you categorize these?:

    Ypsilanti school board interviews first of two finalists for superintendent’s job

    Both sides passionate in debate over removing Ann Arbor’s Argo Dam on Huron River

    Ypsilanti may look at moving city hall to different building

    More financial woes pile up on Willow Run schools as error discovered in student count


       —Bruce Fields    May. 8 '09 - 08:27PM    #
  72. UM, Grad. How did the county get so far behind on the budget?

    Do you live in Michigan?

    The recession has been going on here for 6 or 7 years, the state has been cutting the revenue sharing funds that go to local governments for about the same length of time. Things like health care go up at twice the rate of inflation or more but the property tax revenues can only go up at the rate of inflation or 5% whatever is less.

    Now property tax revenue is going down big time.

    Meanwhile over the last few years the county had to build things like a new courthouse in Saline and soon an addition to the jail with more mental health capability. They also started funding supportive services for affordable housing.

    All this does not seem hard to figure out.

    Everything costs money and the Republican stance in this State that says “no new taxes for anything” is a big part of what is holding the state back.


       —Dusty Lake    May. 9 '09 - 08:33PM    #
  73. UMgrad- All newspapers report news items from the newsfeeds (eg. Associated press. Reuters). That is common practice. The original content really only pertains to local stories.

    The point that you are missing is that I want the synopsis/overview of all events whether it is local, national or international. There is not enough time in the day to read every detail about every single news story. I want the overview so I can then decide what I want to read about in more depth.

    As for investigative journalism, there is a difference between investigative journalism and “gotcha” journalism. Just because one has not been paying attention to current events over time and is not well informed, that does not warrant an investigative report. The economic problems of the state, county and city have been reported throughout all forms of news coverage for years now. Yet, for some reason, people want to imply that there is some inappropriate spending or budgeting going on and we need to dig up a back-story.

    Repetition of facts about a story is good. Not everyone keeps up with the news on a regular basis or watches the govt meetings. By repeating what the elected officials say and what actions are taken or will be taken is, in my eyes, what the newspaper is supposed to do. Not knowing what led up to a decision by the city council or county commission is most likely not corruption but rather a failure of the citizen to keep up on want happens in their community. You might not agree with their decision but it is almost always discussed openly. One’s prior apathy or avoidance towards the news (whether it is local or national news), does not justify an investigated report.
    It comes down to how you view local government. I view them as being fairly competent with a few screw-ups here and there; others are “anti-establishment” and will view every comment or decision as having an ulterior and/or sinister motive. Hindsight is 20/20 and sometimes it can imply that things were happening one way when at the time they were not.

    Now investigative reporting does have a place, but that place is to dig into stories that have not been discussed openly. Investigative reporting should be reserved for when the public was misled, tricked, or when there is corruption. JUST BECAUSE ONE DOES NOT LIKE THE DECISION THAT WAS MADE, that does not imply that the public was misled, tricked, or that there was corruption.


       —Diane    May. 10 '09 - 02:24PM    #
  74. Diane,

    Actually, AA News uses the Newhouse News Service feed much of the time. It’s, again, a part of the business model that did in the newspaper. Recycled news.

    Frankly, I’m not sure you understand much about the news business, but most people who don’t work in the industry can’t be expected to understand. I’m not sure you understand the point of investigative reporting, either. Since we’ve not seen much of it in the pages of our local paper, we’ve come to think that “local news” is the sine qua non of having a “local paper.” The Green Bay, Fort Collins, and Hartford papers (cities the same size as Ann Arbor), have all won major prizes for investigative reporting, including Pulizers.

    Local news is what the metro editor decides it is. The Ann Arbor News has a limited reporting staff (due, obviously, to cuts related to budget and finance) and an expanded reporting area. That reporting area expansion was a classic Newhouse effort to expand the subscriber base and revenue; it didn’t work. We just got diluted news about Ann Arbor and the surrounding communities.

    My point is, of course, local papers do investigative journalism that is deemed worthy of national attention and prizes. Our local paper was treated as a cash cow by Newhouse, rather than made into a particularly strong editorial outlet (until it wasn’t a cash cow anymore; then Newhouse closed it).

    You seem to think reporting has a bias (it does, of course). You also think reporting shouldn’t be too intrusive or nosy. To a competent reporter, that’s a classic red flag. Maybe there’s nothing; maybe there’s something. However, the minute someone in government YELLS IN CAPS at you that there’s nothing going on, well, that’s just when things always start getting interesting.


       —UMGrad1234    May. 10 '09 - 04:00PM    #
  75. The Ann Arbor News won an award for investigative reporting on the UM’s questionable academic attitude toward athletes, the “just show up classes” and professors getting packages to bowl games that were paid for by the athletic Dept. This was going on for decades at UM and probably still does at a lot of big sports schools.


       —Dusty Lake    May. 10 '09 - 04:17PM    #
  76. Hey Dusty,

    You are absolutely right! It wasn’t a Pulitzer, but it was the first award in a good long while. That exposé was, I think, very throughly investigated and well-written. Thanks fir reminding me!


       —UMGrad1234    May. 10 '09 - 10:14PM    #
  77. FTR, what i want from a local newspaper is local news. I don’t need every breath inhaled at the council meeting, but I’d like to know about a lot of what goes on. I don’t need a comment from everyone on everything, but enough to get the sense of what’s going.

    I’m not delusional and believe that writing and reporting is without bias. On the contrary, the editors of Chronicle and Observer are no less biased than anyone. If they claim to be unbiased then they have some inflated sense of themselves.

    I want local news…that means council business, school board business. I want test scores from the schools and budget news. I want local sports…not UM sports but the stuff I can’t get anywhere else about the high schools. And all sports, not just HS football. I want crime and I want court news. I don’t want national news, I can get that from a lot of places.

    And if it’s online I want it from a FAST loading website. The AA News/MLive site is painfully slow. Ugh. What is the deal with all the crap on that site? The only worse sites are the Detroit newspapers sites.


       —Just a homeowner    May. 12 '09 - 08:07PM    #
  78. The Ann Arbor News, especially Judy McGovern, should recive an award for the investigative journalism that led to the embarrassing revelations and factored into the primary election defeat of longtime A2 councilman Leigh Greden, The full effects of this reporting has not been felt at the electoral level until other City Council members involved in the questionable emails face re-election.


       —Kerry D.    Aug. 15 '09 - 09:42PM    #