“ypsi courier” goes virtual

A little bird tells me that the “Ypsi Courier,” as of the end of this month, will no longer have a physical presence in Ypsilanti, the town it is supposed to be dedicated to covering. While I’m assured that the paper will continue to be published, I have my doubts that an editor in Bellville (where the operation will be retreating to) can really know, care about, and ultimately cover the news of our town in any meaningful, substantive way.

Of course, it was just a matter of time.

Local papers — real local papers — are disappearing in America. They’re being bought up by larger entities in the same way that local radio stations, over the course of the past decade, have almost all been rolled up by the likes of Clear Channel. It’s incredibly efficient, in that you don’t actually need to operate multiple news bureaus, etc, but it means that there’s very little in the way of local news, especially that which could be considered investigative. Generally, due to the economies of scale, ad revenues rise and costs drop, but they do so at a cost to the local community. (So, consolidation is good for shareholders, but not necessarily stakeholders.)

When the “Courier” was first acquired by Heritage Newspapers, it’s my understanding that they began by severely slashing staff. They hired EMU students and other part-timers to cover the absolute minimum of local meetings and events, they supplemented that bare-bones coverage with generic content from elsewhere, and they focused on ad sales. What we’re seeing now is just the next logical step… If you subscribe to the “Courier,” my suggestion is that you cancel your subscription and start reading local blogs. Better yet, start a blog of your own.

[note: If I had more time and energy, I’d restart the Spitting Cats community journalism project that we were trying to push forward a few years ago… Someone needs to.]

update: OK, I admit that I probably went too far when I said to cancel your subscriptions to the “Courier.” Having a local paper is a good thing, regardless of where its editor sits. I just hope that someone comes along soon, either online or in meat-space, and gives them some real competition.

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20 Comments

  1. kat_m6@yahoo.com
    Posted December 8, 2006 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    My friend used to work for Heritage – she had nothing good to say about it by the time she left (not voluntarily).

  2. Brian R
    Posted December 8, 2006 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    I don’t have a problem defending the Courier.

    After they were first purchased, the paper did become more of an advertisement vehicle than a newspaper. At the time, it did have Rodney Smith, who in my opinion was by far their best reporter. He split earlier this year when the Courier began to really s
    tuggle. The editor eventually left and was replaced by Austen Smith.

    Since then, I think they’ve been very good about covering Ypsilanti. If you read this week’s edition, you’d find four front page articles on College Place and the situation with the Sheriff. Inside there was coverage of Bob Guenzel’s presentation to City Council, another story about the Sheriff, as well as an article or two about the public schools. I haven’t even read the sports sections, so I can’t comment on how the coverage there. I think people are confusing the Courier circa last year with this year’s version.

    As to moving the Belleville, they’ve been spending the majority of their time their for the past six months or so. I wish they’d keep a downtown presence, but if their main reporter lives here and is reporting on the happenings in town, I’ll take it. Kathleen Conat live here too. So does Pat Grimes.

    The question I’d like to see answered is what do people want in a local newspaper. What isn’t the Courier covering that people would like to see covered?

    I disagree with the statement they offer bare-bones coverage. The only thing that I didn’t see in this week’s paper was an article about The Sha…oh, I see.

  3. Ted Glass
    Posted December 8, 2006 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    The Courier doesn’t break news. The Courier re-reports what they’ve been able to scavenge from local blogs, and the lag time seems to be about a month. It’s better than nothing though.

  4. Ted Glass
    Posted December 8, 2006 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    And the Courier isn’t the only entity backing out of Ypsi. Here’s something from today’s A2 News:

    Freed steps out of Ypsilanti’s Water Street project

    Joseph Freed & Associates and the City of Ypsilanti no longer are negotiating a development agreement for the 800-plus home Water Street project just east of downtown Ypsilanti.

    Freed, based in Chicago, was chosen as the developer for the project in April, 17 months after the city dismissed the original developer, Biltmore Properties.

    According to a release from the city, Freed decided to halt discussions due to concerns about the local economy and the market for newly constructed homes.

    Water Street began in 2000 when the city bought multiple residential and commercial properties totaling 38 acres along Michigan Avenue south to the Huron River. Many of the buildings have been razed and brownfield cleanup has started.
    Meanwhile, the city voted in spring to refinance $13.1 million that it had borrowed for initial costs of the project. Payments begin in 2009.

    Freed held a community meeting in July to show potential renderings of the project, which was envisioned as a mixed-use project with commercial buildings along Michigan Avenue and a range of housing styles.

    Freed also has two mixed-use condo projects in downtown Ann Arbor under development and a third, Glen Ann Place, was denied by the Historic District Commission. That denial has been appealed by Freed.

    City Manager Ed Koryzno plans to work with a group of local development experts to determine the next step for the city.

    MERRY CHRISTMAS!

  5. Brian R
    Posted December 8, 2006 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    See what I get for offering the mainstream media a chance on this one? I get screwed. That’s what.

    For what it’s worth …

  6. doyleparty
    Posted December 8, 2006 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    The remark about the Courier scavenging off local blogs is way off base, at least in the case of school board coverage. Kathleen Conat is the only reporter regularly attending our meetings, and she is there to cover more than one “angle,” unlike other news entities. It’s just a shame that her articles are published so late in the game, but better late than never.

    I haven’t witnessed perfect local news coverage yet, and I don’t know that it’s possible to attain it. That’s why it’s important to rely on multiple sources, despite their flaws. Reading two newspapers, listening to a couple radio stations, skipping around to lots of local blogs and online news articles, and subscribing to several group e-mail lists are all part of my news-gathering routine.

  7. egpenet
    Posted December 8, 2006 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    Yes, Brian, the people have a say in “what we want” in local business devlopment and also in the press.

    But the free press started in this country as THE watchdog over government. We the people cannot attend evry council meeting or discussion or review every decision made during business hours at city hall … a free press can … and they have subpoena powers we do not readily have or can easily exercise.

    We need a free press to defend us and without one … we are at the mercy of Minzey, Freed and everyone else who makes lousy decisions. Without an active, vigorous and free press, WE ARE NOT FREE … simple and profound as that!

  8. Brian R
    Posted December 8, 2006 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

    I’m asking you for your say, Ed.

    What is the Courier not giving you that you want? Cartoons? More soduku? More articles by Onyx the cat? What?

    That’s all I’m trying to figure out, but no one wants to answer.

  9. egpenet
    Posted December 8, 2006 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

    Do I have to explain what a news organization does? The various levels of news access and writing and exploration and investigation and delivery?

    From the Courier and the A2 News, currently we are getting only headlines, some explanation of what happened, where and when. After the fact …

    There is no in-depth, no investigative, no op-ed, editorials are geared to A2 and out-county, and in order to woo advertisers, there is no solid criticism of DDA, Convention Bureau or Chamber failings to build the economy in the eastern part of the County.

    State news is woefully reported, as well. The government has been weighted (as is the national government) with give to the rich and take from the rest of us for a long time. No paper in the state that makes a move to be critical gets real stories. A few TV investigative stories and a few well-known pundits (Jack Lesonberry(sp?)) get some hard stories to report … but its been mostly stonewalling in Lansing. Hopefully ,since the elction, that may change … somewhat.

    Classic journalism, as practiced for generations in this country by the great news agencies and local presses is almost dead. The reporters qwe have, with very high turnover, do not know enough to ask the tough questions, be repeatedly persistent, or to have the contacts below the surface to get at the truth, the story behind the story. When you read anything about Water Street, don’t you ask, what is REALLY going on? Most do. But THAT story hasn’t been told. When a CITY CLERK position is filled, then the offer rescinded, and a near-scandal averted, don’t you ask, what was REALLY going on in Breuner’s head? When another (4th, 5th, 6th?) Tae-Kwon-Do studio rents space on North Huron in a store front intended in the city’s plan for a retail or gallery space, don’t you ask, what’s REALLY happening downtown? Where are the stories? Where is the accountability? Where is the shame and embarrassment that should be heaped upon local officials, sheriff, county commissioners? What are the facts? What are the remdies?

    An active and relentless freeee press is our (citizens) second to last defense against this ineptitude, stupidity and hubris. Our last defense is ourselves.

    Courier be damned. Let it go. We want a press that is committed. I do not want a subscription to a bunch of ads for stuff I don’t want … Tae-Kwon-Do lessons? I think not. Bye, bye. I don’t want a paper named “Courier” (carrier) I want a paper named “Bulldog” that’ll tear up the establishment and motivate me and my fellow citizens to get more involved, vote, be heard, DO something.

    Rant … rant … rant …

    I bet council is happy most folks really don’t give a hoot … here’s to more years of ennui in Ypsilanti! (Lock and load, folks.)

  10. trusty getto
    Posted December 8, 2006 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

    I’ve got to second Amy’s comment about the Courier. Though the A2 News sends someone to school board meetings when there’s some controversy to splash up on the front page, the Courier always sends Conat, and she just about always reports. I think that’s priceless, and I’m keeping my subscription.

  11. mark
    Posted December 8, 2006 at 11:05 pm | Permalink

    Brian, I appreciate the fact that you like the “Courier.” If I was on the City Council, I’d like the “Courier” too. It’s nice to have someone publish what you say without asking any questions. I get it. I really do. That’s why I have a blog and publish my own magazine. But don’t try to make the case that the interests of the citizens of Ypsilanti are being represented by the “Courier.” They’re not. If they were, we might not be dealing with this Water Street mess… And we wouldn’t have had to depend on the “Ann Arbor News” and Detroit television stations to break the EMU President’s house story. And, if we had an active and engaged local press, we would have answers right now from the Sheriff as to why criminals are being released back into our neighborhoods, and we’d have reporters going into the homeless encampment on the river and telling us what the fuck’s going on. I could go on and on… So, with all due respect, please cut out the “what is it – do you want more soduku” nonsense. I appreciate the fact that you have a cozy relationship with the “Courier,” but don’t try to make it sound like we’ve got the “Washington Post” here in our backyard. We aren’t idiots.

  12. Brian R
    Posted December 9, 2006 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    This past summer there was a group that tried to start a daily newspaper here in Ypsilanti as part of an effort to bring you some of the things you’d like in a newspaper. Their business plan called for an initial investment of several million dollars. They couldn’t raise it.

    It’s all about money. That’s the reality here. Where’s the investment going to come from? Who is going to buy the ads? How do you pay an investigator $80 an hour to do the kind of work you want a newspaper to do?

    It’s grand to make a long list of things you want in a newspaper but if you don’t have the money to accomplish them, you end up with the Courier–a weekly with one reporter.

  13. Austen Smith
    Posted December 9, 2006 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    Mr. Maynard,
    After reading your original post re: Closing of the Courier office, I wanted to comment on several points you made that were misleading and others that were flat-out incorrect.

    “I have my doubts that an editor in Bellville (where the operation will be retreating to) can really know, care about, and ultimately cover the news of our town in any meaningful, substantive way.”

    Would it surprise you to know that 85 percent of day-to-day operations of the Courier have been based out of the Belleville office for well over a year?
    I couldn’t agree with you more that covering a city also means living, working and circulating within the community. That is why our staff writer – Dan DuChene – wil be working from his home in Ypsilanti throughout most of his work week b/c of the current situation. I have two papers to run, the Belleville View and the Courier, so my time for covering the City of Ypsi is highly limited.

    “When the

  14. mark
    Posted December 9, 2006 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for writing, Austen… First things first, if you read my entire post, you’ll see that I added an update saying that I was wrong when I called for people to cancel their subscriptions. It went up shortly after the original post was made. So, on that count, I agree with you. I understand the realities of doing business in the world of print media, perhaps better than anyone else reading this other than you, and I know what kind of pressure you’re under. My magazine, as you may know, is still owed several thousand dollars from a distributor that went out of business – also, the paper that I used to do comics for in Ann Arbor has been forced out of business. So my criticism isn’t completely devoid of context… OK, I have to take my daughter out right now, but I intend to respond to your other points later.

    Before I go though, I should tell you that while, yes, I do like the coverage of the SAF and other things that I am involved in, and while I do think that such coverage belongs in a local paper, I would much prefer less of that and more real journalism… Again, I realize the constraints you’re under, but I think it’s more and more becoming the role of the citizens to hold their newspapers accountable, the same way it’s the supposed to be the job of those papers to hold our politicians and business leaders accountable.

    More later. And thanks again for writing. I don’t hate the Courier, and I don’t wish you ill – I just want to see a better paper, and maybe there’s a way we can do that if we all work together.

  15. Anonymous
    Posted December 9, 2006 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    To Ted Glass,

    Where did the story you said was from the Ann Arbor News actually appear. I can’t find a story from Yesterday on mlive.com or in the published Friday edition. Did I miss it?

    The article quoted also doesn’t match the story that was in Saturday’s A2 News paper.

    – Steve

  16. Austen Smith
    Posted December 9, 2006 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    Thank you very much Mark, all I ask in this whole screwed up situation is that you guys give me and my staff the benefit of the doubt and I think you have done that. As far as Journal Register Company is concerned, please flame away! lol, I’ll even join in.

  17. egpenet
    Posted December 9, 2006 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

    I repeat, Brian, without a vigorous free press, we the people of Ypsilanti are vulnerable to the predictable frailties of city, county and state governance … and EMU regents, etc.

    No facts … no back stories … no bottom lines mean: no consequences. Voting at some future elction to roust people out of office … that’s too late … after they’ve signed away my obligations as a property owner to the tune of $40 million.

    Rant … rant … rant …

    Not only are the local criminals off the hook and running around free … so are the political failures and others who are costing us millions getting off.

  18. Anonymous
    Posted December 9, 2006 at 10:44 pm | Permalink

    Ed,

    A vigorous free press depends on two things. Advertisers or a sugar daddy. It costs money to put out a paper and the folks working there want to get paid.

    If the economics of a newspaper won’t work in todays market, it is hardly the fault of the paper, it is the fact that people don’t read newspapers anymore.

    So if newspapers aren’t doing what you want to report the news and the quality journalism you think we need, what is your solution.

  19. mark
    Posted December 9, 2006 at 10:55 pm | Permalink

    I thought I had a solution, and I worked on it up to a point, but then I realized that I didn’t have the time and energy to pull it off… That was the project we refer to as “The Spitting Cat.” It might have worked too. Other communities around the U.S. are trying community journalism with mixed results. It’s not impossible. There’s a book by Dan Gilmore called “We Media.” That’s a good place to start. Perhaps it’s time for us to give it another shot.

  20. mark
    Posted December 9, 2006 at 11:09 pm | Permalink

    Austen, I just read through your first comment and my response and I don’t think I really have a lot to add, except to say that I’ve been impressed by Dan. He’s got the makings of a very good reporter, and it wasn’t my intention to suggest that he wasn’t working hard, etc.

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