the ann arbor chronicle and the fate of local media

I was just informed by someone at the site Outside.In that Mark Maynard dotcom took second place on their scientifically-calculated list of top Ann Arbor blogs. This is something that I should probably be happy about, but it’s hard to enjoy the distinction when the blog in the top spot is only about a month old. Here I’ve been slaving away, sitting night after night by the light of my oil lamp in my tattered blogging leotard, dependably churning out my special brand of lowest common denominator journalism for over six years, only to be told that my friends Mary and Dave have, in one month’s time, become more relevant than I am. I guess, however, I should take some comfort in the fact that I came in second on a list of Ann Arbor blogs without… you know… having an Ann Arbor blog. I don’t think, if things were reversed, The Ann Arbor Chronicle (that’s the name of Mary and Dave’s site) would have a shot in hell of finishing second on a list of most influential Ypsilanti blogs, not that anyone would go to the trouble of tracking such a thing.

I’ve actually been meaning to post something here about the Ann Arbor Chronicle for a while. It’s a damned good site, but I guess that’s what you’d probably expect from a pair of gifted writers, one of whom was, until recently, the Opinion Editor at the “Ann Arbor News.”

What Mary and Dave are attempting to do is risky. I don’t know that I’d have the guts to quit my job, especially in this economy, and try to build an internet business dependent on local advertising. But, that’s what they’re doing, and it seems to be working.

Clearly newspapers are dying. We try to tell ourselves that they aren’t, but they are. Ad revenues are drying up as the cost of paper rises, and, forced to cut costs, papers let reporters go, causing the quality to drop, which in turn leads to more subscribers defecting. It’s an ugly cycle.

Unfortunately, at the same time, very few folks have found a way to get people to pay for news online, where most folks are getting their information. People, it seems, expect things to be free online. And advertisers, at least as of right now, haven’t really been willing to pay for online advertising what they do for print… Anyway, my hat is off to Mary and Dave, who have decided to wade out into the murky entrepreneurial waters and see if they can make a go of it… Here’s an idea. Go to their site. Look around. And, if you like what you see, make it a point to tell one of their advertisers. Mary and Dave won’t tell you that. They’re too modest. But that’s what it’s going to take. So, if you like what you see, and want it to stick around, go buy a book at Shaman Drum and tell them you saw the add on the Chronicle, OK?

Here, as long as we’re on the subject of print media and what the future holds for it, is a clip from an early Chronicle post by Mary Morgan:

…For me, the experience of leaving an institution like The Ann Arbor News to become an entrepreneur has been a bit surreal. Some things didn’t surprise me, like the terror of no longer having paid-for health insurance. Some things did, like the pile-on of ill will I’ve heard about my former employer since leaving. I’d certainly heard plenty of criticism directed toward The News when I was working there on the business desk and more recently as opinion editor. But now that I’m no longer affiliated with the paper, the floodgates have opened, and it saddens me.

In part, it saddens me because executives at the newspaper gave me many opportunities there over the years, and because I know and respect the many committed, talented, hard-working colleagues I left behind in the newsroom. (It’s dangerous to attempt sincerity during a political season. I was sharing these sentiments with someone recently, who responded: “Nice stump speech.”)

It also saddens me because this area deserves a strong institutional media outlet, with resources that a company like The News can provide. A lot of people this past month, upon hearing about The Chronicle, have said something along the lines of, “At last — an alternative to The Ann Arbor News!” We are a daily source of local news, yes, but we’re not an alternative to anything, really. Our assumption is that we’re adding to the local news buffet, not just providing the sole dish. That wouldn’t be our goal, even if we grew to meet our wildest ambitions…

And, from what I understand, Mary and Dave won’t be alone for long. Word is that within a month or so Ypsi will have a new site for local news similarly launched by former newspaper writers. The site will be called the Ypsilanti Citizen. My assumption is that they will also be supported by advertising dollars, although I suppose it’s possible that they could go after sponsorship from economic development groups and large public and private entities with a vested interest in seeing the community prosper, like the folks at Concentrate have done… Whatever happens, it’s going to be fun watching how things evolve over time. Whatever emerges from the primordial goop, I’m sure it will be delicious.

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9 Comments

  1. Paw
    Posted October 22, 2008 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    What about blackmail as a business model?

  2. Posted October 22, 2008 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    So many things to say about this post…

    First, I am an avid news person in that I constantly check freep, detnews, espn, cnn, mlive, ect for news…but there’s still something to be said about spreading out an actual newpaper and reading – it’s very relaxing and familiar.

    That being said, I still subscribe to the AA News but I have no need to get the Free Press or Detroit News b/c it’s all there online for free. And one paper is plenty.

    As much as I like getting online and reading, I think it’s fatastic that sites like The Chronicle and the Citizen are opening up. I am actually curious about advertising opportunities on both, and I plan on calling the Chronicle today.

    There’s certainly places for niches within the internet news landscape. This site is incredibly addictive and one that can’t not be visited daily, and I like it for what it is – news and entertainment with an opinion, with a place for community debate and chatting. I’m always wishing I had more sites that I had to visit daily.

    As far as advertising goes, it has to be less expensive than print because it doesn’t reach nearly the audience. It’s also unclear as to the effectiveness of online vs. print advertising. The coupons on this site seem to be a good idea…but adwords and “click here” type ads – I’m not so convinced.

    Good luck to those folks starting the new sites – keep working hard and good things will happen.

  3. Lawrence Tate
    Posted October 22, 2008 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    No offense to the Ann Arbor News, but they’ve been trending downward for years. They need competition. They would benefit from it. Unfortunately, Ann Arbor isn’t a big enough market to support two daily papers. Maybe sites like the Chronicle will push them a bit. At the very least, maybe they will force them to get serious about using the web. The current MLIve site used by the News is an embarrassment.

  4. Bob
    Posted October 22, 2008 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

    I would have to say Ann Arbor Chronicle is a Web site and markmaynard.com is a blog. According to merriam webster, a blog is defined as “an online diary; a personal chronological log of thoughts published on a Web page” and a Web site is defined as “a set of interconnected webpages, usually including a homepage, generally located on the same server, and prepared and maintained as a collection of information by a person, group, or organization.” Therefore, since the Chronicle is providing a “collection of information” and Mark is providing his “log of thoughts” markmaynard.com should be regarded as the number one Ann Arbor blog (in Ypsi)! Congratulations, Mark.

  5. Oliva
    Posted October 22, 2008 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

    I agree with Bob.
    Hearty congratulations, richly deserved.

  6. Suzie
    Posted October 22, 2008 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

    >number one Ann Arbor blog (in Ypsi)!

    I love it!

  7. Posted October 22, 2008 at 11:02 pm | Permalink

    The definition of a “blog,” a “web site,” and/or an “online media outlet” are all shifting and converging terms at best. In other words, I don’t know if the Ann Arbor Chronicle is a blog or a web site or what. I also do think it’s a pretty good blog or web site or what. And I look forward to the Ypsilanti Citizen, I’ve personally wondered why someone hasn’t claimed ypsi-arbor.net as a site to combine all this bloggy/webby goodness, etc., etc.

    Having said all that, me thinks that the statistics from outside.in are goofy and/or bogus. There is no way that the ann arbor chronicle is getting more traffic or is more of an “authority” than any number of different blogs/web sites/whatever in the area, including this one. Technorati (which has its own bizarre systems) ranks markmaynard.com in the 180,000 range. It ranks stevendkrause.com in the 250,000 range. EMUTalk.org comes in at 945,000, which is odd since I know that site gets on a bad day about four or five times much traffic as stevendkrause.com does. annarborchronicle.com doesn’t rank at all, probably since it’s only been around for a month or so.

  8. Posted October 23, 2008 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    we wrestled with the fact that Ypsi is technically outside of Ann Arbor proper, but since your blog ranked so high in the general area, we felt we had to include it in the roundup as a fair representation of the most influential voices of local news. congrats again.
    oh, one more thing…any chance we can see that “blogging leotard?”

  9. Paw
    Posted October 23, 2008 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    The real blogging leotard is between Fonzie’s jacket and Dorothy’s ruby slippers at the Smithsonian. The one Mark uses now is just a cheap knockoff.

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