Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

Ann Arbor News Seeks Feedback: What Local News Stories to Cover?

14. December 2008 • Nancy Shore
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In the Sunday edition of the Ann Arbor News, editor Ed Petykiewicz explains some changes afoot at the News:

In the coming weeks, your News will begin to focus more on local people, local issues and local events. Some of the changes include more stories about local government, increasingly local flavor in sections such as our Food pages and more columns from our staff.

Mr. Petykiewicz explains that the News is trying this strategy as the News (like many other newspapers across the country) transitions from a “once-a-day publication cycle” printed paper into “an around-the-clock information company” with both a print and online presence.

In addition, Mr. Petykiewicz notes that

the timing of these changes is triggered by the recession, which is choking the economy and hurting our advertisers. Like newspapers across the country, we’re looking for ways to balance expenses and revenue.

The News is looking to reduce its costs with “voluntary buyouts in some areas, some consolidation and fewer pages.”

What does the future look like for the News? According to Mr. Perykiwicz, while the News “will have fewer pages . . . the goal is to remain relevant and vital to our readers and to the communities we serve.”

To that end, the Ann Arbor News is seeking feedback from citizens re: what “types of local news you value and what additional local stories you’d like to see in your newspaper.”

Since Arbor Update is intended as a place for community discussion, I thought this would be a good place for readers to post their feedback to the News. I will email Mr. Petykiewicz and invite him to read the comments written here.

If you would like to contact Mr. Petykiewicz directly with your comments, you can write him at The Ann Arbor News, 240 East Huron St., Ann Arbor, MI 48106 or email him at

  1. I personally really appreciate the coverage of Board Meetings such as the City Council and Planning Commission and would like to continue to see this coverage as well as more coverage of other area meetings such as AATA Board Meetings, Road Commission Meetings, Community Success Meetings, Washtenaw Housing Alliance Meetings, etc.

    I love Nan Bauer’s Food articles and would like to see more of them as well as more local food recipes including information on preserving local foods.

    I really like the Development News that Stephanie Murray writes about and would love to see more of that.

    A while back, Judy McGovern had a column where she discussed local political issues. While I didn’t always agree with her, I really appreciated her insight. I’d like to see that again.

    I’d like to see more stories that cover regional issues and address issues that impact all of Washtenaw County.

    Maybe this is too much to ask, but in addition I know for one I am always looking for ways to get involved in the community but don’t always know how to plug in.

    I’d like to see articles that discuss community issues and then perhaps some information about how citizens can take action on this issue. For example, there is an article in the paper today about how poor students are graduating from High Schools in Washtenaw County at a lower rate than other students. I would like to see a box that talks about what you can do which includes information on Community Action Network, getting involved in the schools, etc.

       —Nancy Shore    Dec. 14 '08 - 09:15PM    #
  2. Like Nancy, I would like to see more socially-conscious news: not fluff pieces about nonprofits, but real examinations of our education, government, and business systems.

    I would like the News to investigate how the City is spending its money. This is above and beyond watching City Council on TV. Spend a couple hours talking to people affected by programs, the people who run them, local experts, and others doing similar work across the country. And don’t just publish about the poor performers — if a program is doing well, I want to hear about it, too.

    Collaborate with newspapers around the state to write stories that broaden my view. Tell of wider problems and wider partnerships.

    I would like a News website that works. Organized in a way that is easy to read.

    Online discussions that are moderated for coherence, where people use full sentences and tact.

       —Matt    Dec. 14 '08 - 09:58PM    #
  3. If the News plans to be an “around-the-clock information company,” I’m assuming that means news will be delivered through the web. I find the current site so difficult to navigate and so visually unappealing that I only go there if it’s the only place to get a story. For me to voluntarily go there, browse around and read, the site would need a major overhaul, both in terms of information architecture and visual design.

    An excellent example of online newspaper design is the UK’s Guardian: Visually appealing and very easy to navigate.

    Disclaimer: I designed the Ann Arbor Chronicle site, which I find much easier to read, of course.

       —Laura    Dec. 14 '08 - 10:38PM    #
  4. I was wondering why the A2 News removes its articles so soon from the site. In the AU thread on the trial of Catherine Wilkerson, I tried to follow the link to the A2 News article but got the dreaded “Story not found”.

    Does it cost that much to archive these old articles and make them accessible? I would think the revenue generated from the advertisements would cover the costs.

    IMO, the availability of archived articles would draw traffic to the site.

       —Michael Schils    Dec. 14 '08 - 11:31PM    #
  5. Ditto on local food articles.

    I’d also like to see some articles that focus on what ordinary people are doing to help the community. I have seen many articles about rich folks doing good things. And don’t get me wrong—that’s fantastic. But what about those of us who aren’t married to the executive who makes $1,000,000 per year? We’re doing good things, too. But, as Matt says, these should be non-fluff articles; that is, let’s focus on substantive stuff that “every day” people are doing, despite maybe not having tons of time or money to do it.

    I also think that the A2Chronicle site is lovely to read. I remember trying to once find a way to email at LTTE to the A2 News and I sat there messing around for what seemed like a long time. There’s gotta be a way to make that website more user-friendly and attractive.

       —TeacherPatti    Dec. 14 '08 - 11:55PM    #
  6. As far as a public service standpoint, I would like to see the News engage in more in-depth investigative reporting as to some of the questionable practices in county and local government. In recent years there has been widespread complaints and discussion regarding problems in the Sheriff’s Department and the Washtenaw County Circuit Court. The problems in the Sheriff’s Department eventually did make the local media and resulted in Sheriff Minzey losing in the primary election by a landslide. Likewise,the recent problems in the circuit court have not appeared in the newspapers but have received coverage in such sources as Arbor Update and the Ann Arbor Buzz website at I spoke with an Ann Arbor News reporter who was very well-versed with some of the problems facing the circuit court e.g. the Archie Brown/Ann Mattson dispute over her courtroom and Brown’s tenure as chief judge not being renewed by the state supreme court, but there have been no real stories as to these issues. Why not?

       —John Dory    Dec. 15 '08 - 12:03AM    #
  7. I would like to see more than the present “utility” coverage of City Council meetings and City politics. With the City facing significant budget cuts in the year or so ahead, it would be good to have the News look at each City department or group of departments, describe what they really do, and analyze how what they do serves the public interest (if at all).

       —David Cahill    Dec. 15 '08 - 12:12AM    #
  8. I agree that the Ann Arbor News website is a disaster. Navigation is almost impossible, it is unpleasant to view, I’ve never figured out how to find the blogs except by accident, sometimes comments are accepted and sometimes not, even the obituaries are hard to find each time I look.
    So the idea that the news will rely on a stronger web presence seems like the kiss of death without a serious and total overhaul.
    The Ann Arbor News should provide objective information, heads up for events and happenings, reports on things that have happened. And some degree of educational material from beyond Ann Arbor.
    Both on the web and in my hands, content is key. Without great content there isn’t any point. If the Ann Arbor News wants to focus on local coverage, superficial fluff pieces won’t go – especially with other web resources now available, The Ann Arbor Chronicle being one that has quickly filled a needed void and done it exceptionally well.
    I’ve been an Ann Arbor News subscriber for decades. But the quality has certainly declined in the last few years.
    And what about the comics?

       —Linda Diane Feldt    Dec. 15 '08 - 07:13AM    #
  9. Linda – all the good comics are in the Free Press.

       —Leah Gunn    Dec. 15 '08 - 08:46AM    #
  10. I thought Petykiewicz’s article was an absolute disaster and a stunning confession of failure. Despite my harsh comments in an earlier thread, the Ann Arbor Chronicle is certainly far better positioned to fill the purely local news niche as an online information company.

    This is going to be remembered as the year the newspapers died.

       —Fred Zimmerman    Dec. 15 '08 - 07:54PM    #
  11. With the news in the WSJ last week that the DetNews/FreePress may be going to a Tuesday Thursday Saturday schedule, I think this December is going to be long remembered as the month that newspapers in SE Michigan failed.

       —jhallum    Dec. 15 '08 - 11:46PM    #
  12. I’m curious who the full-color photos of cute elementary school students are supposed to serve. Is it weird ploy to get parents to buy the paper, or does this pfiffle appeal to a large number of people? (Fred, is that correct usage?)

    Personally, I’d prefer to read an education professor’s analysis of the curriculum instead of space-hungry color photos.

    Would any parents like to comment? I can see my self being completely wrong on this.

       —Matt    Dec. 16 '08 - 03:18AM    #
  13. No, no, you have the calculus all wrong. Photos are not space hungry , they are cheaply space filling . An analysis of curriculum would cost a whole lot more time and money to write.

       —Larry Kestenbaum    Dec. 16 '08 - 03:26AM    #
  14. Matt, the term is “piffle”, but I posted in another thread that the actually meaning of “piffle” is a bit harsh (something worthless) so “trifles” would be a better description.

    A fundamental rule of newspapering is that names sell papers. (This is the “Birdsburg, S.D. Gazette” philosophy of community newspapering).A list of elementary students currently enrolled each school would probably cost the same as a picture and sell better!

       —Fred Zimmerman    Dec. 16 '08 - 05:37AM    #
  15. A post on the successor to Ann Arbor is Overrated has some relevant wisdom on newspaper coverage and public intelligence.

       —Matt    Dec. 16 '08 - 11:26AM    #
  16. To add on to the discussion of photos versus text, in most contexts people scan, not read. They read headline, they read subhead and section headlines, they read pull quotes, and they read captions.

    Furthermore, in fundraising efforts at least, emotion is a powerful factor, and photos can carry emotional weight more directly that text does (usually).

    So I think a good paper would have a mix of elements. Solid investigative reporting, insightful analysis, emotional weight (in the form of human stories and pictures), and yes, some fluff.

    And comics, too. I love comics.

    The hard thing is it takes a fair amount of money to get those elements in place, and that money is fleeing print media fast.

       —Chuck Warpehoski    Dec. 16 '08 - 10:46PM    #
  17. One of the big local stories that I have not seen covered to any great extent is the foreclosure crisis and attempts to mitigate its effects.

    Today, the Ann Arbor Chronicle covered the story of an $850,000.00 HUD grant that is going to be received by the City of Ann Arbor to address foreclosed homes and blight relief. County Treasurer Mc Clarty advised the County Board of Commissioners several other Washtenaw communities would be covered by additional monies from the the grant.

    The foreclosure crisis has profoundly impacted the confidence of local residents. The focus of those effects and the impact of officials who have power over these matters would be a material isssue for most residents.

       —John Dory    Feb. 28 '09 - 10:40PM    #
  18. This money comes from the Neighborhood Stabilization Act, which is a special allocation from HUD and can only be used to purchase foreclosed properties. For further details, go to the county web site (but wait until Sunday because the county is moving its data center into city hall today) for details. Look up the Board of Comissioners Ways & Means Agenda. The grant applies to the city of AA as well as to the city of Ypsi, Ypsi Twp. and Superior Twp. (they have census tracts of low income residents). It’s a very complicated program, and was recommended to the BOC by the Urban County Executive Committee. The preparation work was done by the Community Development Dept. of AA/Wash. Co. and the various non-profit housing groups.

       —Leah Gunn    Mar. 1 '09 - 02:11AM    #
  19. Re Post No.6: The investigative reporting by Judy McGovern as to the City Council electronic mail fiasco has received very positive public attention as well as understandable chagrin and irritation from the targets of the investigation.

    If the Ann Arbor News had regularly conducted this kind of reporting on the massive corruption, inefficiency and waste in city and county government, they would have not had to close. This is the type of news coverage that sells papers.

       —Kerry D.    Jun. 15 '09 - 03:02AM    #