– where news breaks

In case you missed it, Time magazine ran a feature a few days ago entitled What Happens When a Town Loses Its Newspaper? The town in question, as you might have guessed, is Ann Arbor, which, according to Time is “the first big town to lose its daily paper.” Here’s a clip:

….The answer is that it didn’t die. It was killed by its owners in a high-stakes gamble to try to create a new and more profitable enterprise. (In the past nine years, the paper lost more than half its classified-ad pages.) The Ann Arbor News ceased to exist on July 23. On July 24, was launched. The new website has a paper version — also called, oddly, — that comes out on Thursdays and Sundays. The News’s owner, Advance Publications, is betting it can rebrand the 175-year-old News as a Web publication, turn a profit and still satisfy its readers’ craving for local news. A lot of U.S. newspapers, and their readers, have a stake in whether the experiment in Ann Arbor succeeds…

Instead of stanching the blood, the Newhouse family, which owns Advance — a group that includes more than 20 daily newspapers across the country — is using Ann Arbor as a lab subject to see if it might hurt less to tear the Band-Aid off quickly. Fixed costs such as paper, printing and delivery have been drastically reduced. From a staff of 316 at the News in May 2008, has a full-time staff of approximately 60, about 35 of them “content creators” (reporters) — plus some 80 from the “preferred blogging community,” the majority unpaid — according to president and CEO Matt Kraner. Rather than looking like a news-media website, deliberately reads more like a social-media site, with equal weight given to reports on a new diner and the proposed city income tax. Ads — known as “deals” — are incorporated into the feed, and users can vote for their favorite, with the highest vote getter scoring a place on the cover of the Sunday hard-copy edition. Not exactly Pulitzer material — yet…

Jack Lessenberry of the Detroit Metro Times wasn’t nearly so kind in his analysis of what the Newhouse family has done in a quest to maximize profits. Here’s a clip:

…Now I like to think of myself as a fairly sophisticated newspaper critic. I’ve worked for a lot of them, have had bylines in The Washington Post and New York Times, am a newspaper ombudsman, have been on the graduate faculty at the University of Michigan, and have taught journalism full time for years. So I wanted to find just the right way of expressing the quality of Ann in words both the layman and the experienced journalist could understand and relate to.

So here goes: Ann is an appalling pile of crap. And an insult to the intelligence of any functioning adult…

Of the two, I’m more in the “not Pulitzer material – yet” camp, than I am in the “appalling pile of crap” camp. As they’re just a few weeks into it now, I don’t know that the latter is fair. Still, I have my concerns. As we desperately need good local journalism, though, and as is likely our best shot at it, I’m going to keep pulling for them. It may be unrealistic, but I think there’s a chance that, if they start to show a profit, they might start investing more in the kind of significant investigative reporting that doesn’t lend itself so easily to the quick, short format they’re pushing presently. And, until we get there, I don’t see that there’s much chance that our region can really compete with the other areas of the country that we so often compare ourselves to, like Austin, Boulder and the Research Triangle area of North Carolina. If we really want to break out as a viable entrepreneurial area, we not only need to keep good people (or entice them to come back) and attract venture capital, but we need good, solid journalism that both broadcasts our successes widely, and really holds our leaders accountable when necessary. Without that, in my opinion, we’ll never really be significant in a national sense.

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  1. E. G. Penet
    Posted August 10, 2009 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

    I agree with Jack.

    Ann is crap, so far, online or on paper. Most blogs are crap, too.

    I advise reading the Ann print version early in your morning to fit in with your usual morning toilette. Blog mornings, too, versus late at night after you’ve been sucking whatevers brews wherever and are too stupid to think. You’ll definitely sound more intelligent even if you’re sleepy.

    Blogging mornings make sense, because blogs are crap, as well, and a healthy crap on a blog is a good thing to do to get your day started.

  2. Posted August 10, 2009 at 10:13 pm | Permalink

    Aren’t there any local blogs worth a damn, Ed? Surely there must be one.

  3. Posted August 11, 2009 at 6:57 am | Permalink

    I’ve got to say that part of what the closing of the AANews represents for some other enterprises in this town is an opportunity to start a new paper: maybe not a daily, but something delivered in the morning (also a healthy way to start the day), something where the web site is tied to subscribing to the print edition, something trying to push in a new direction. Sure, it’d be a risky investment, but it might pay off.

    Any rich potential publishers out there?

  4. Posted August 11, 2009 at 7:59 am | Permalink

    “As we desperately need good local journalism, though, and as is likely our best shot at it, I’m going to keep pulling for them.”

    Personally, I’m pulling for the Ann Arbor Chronicle.

  5. Ed Kettle
    Posted August 11, 2009 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    The Ann Arbor Chronicle, I don’t believe, aspires to do hard news. At least that’s not in their present plans. That may, however, change if/when goes away.

  6. nammeroo
    Posted August 11, 2009 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    “As we desperately need good local journalism, though, and as is likely our best shot at it, I’m going to keep pulling for them.”

    Mark, maybe you haven’t noticed, but we have a plethora of local journalism here in Washtenaw County. Lisa Almendinger said the same in her A2 Journal column. Here in Ypsilanti, we have the Ypsilanti Courier, a local weekly paper that recently expanded it’s size and coverage in recent months to also include some regional reporting in cooperation with the other local Heritage newspapers – including the new biweekly Ann Arbor Journal newspaper. We also have the excellent Ypsilanti Citizen – an online publication that also posts stories in print in cooperation with the Eastern Echo newspaper. …and that’s just covering Ypsilanti.

    The loss of the Ann Arbor News will turn out in the end to be a boon for improved, higher quality news reporting in the County. As far as Ann Arbor local news, I’m with cmadler above, I’m pulling for the Ann Arbor Chronicle too.

  7. Carl
    Posted August 11, 2009 at 3:20 pm | Permalink


    I think you just called the Courier journalism.

  8. Dobrowski
    Posted August 11, 2009 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

    As an employee in the print business I hear a lot of gossip. Ann won’t be in business long. Not only does it have crappy writing but there is no structure within the organization. Ann hired people willing to accept their pay scale, not people qualified to work at a responsible newspaper.

  9. Dirtgrain
    Posted August 11, 2009 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

    I agree that has had crap writing so far. As for their reporting, I don’t know yet.

  10. tim
    Posted August 11, 2009 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

    As far as is laid out, I don’t hate it. I enjoy some of what the entertainment section has to offer, not sure why Parenting is found in the Entertainment section, but then again I suppose that task could be quite entertaining.

    I hosted a networking event last Wednesday over at The Keystone Underground, which brought together an extremely diverse crowd to exchange contact info, referrals, leads, etc… and I was really surprised and happy to find of the 70 or so in attendance 3 or 4 former Ann Arbor News employees were starting their ventures, taking on an entrepreneurial role in the community. I agree that the closing of the Ann Arbor News has definitely opened some doors for opportunity. My company and Ypsilanti Citizen have teamed up and will be publishing this year’s Heritage Festival Tab, formerly printed by…The Ann Arbor News.

    Things I don’t like: a blue website with a burgundy logo, and burgundy boxes, and burgundy everything else. The complete lack of coverage in Ypsilanti, unless the “write/blogger” happens to reside in Ypsi. The one and to my knowledge (I could be wrong) story I read regarding EMU was the coverage of a football player involved with some kind of illegal activity, because that never ever happens at UofM, ever.

    I’ll continue to support hoping things will change in the near future, but until then these former employees and others who can take advantage of this opportunity should do so. If nothing else creating more competition for ad revenue will have to increase the quality of work and overall product of

  11. Peri Stone-Palmquist
    Posted August 11, 2009 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

    As someone who used to work at the A2News and in the newspaper business, I guess I can’t help but pull for them. My major disappointment is that they are abdicating their responsibility to judge what is most newsworthy. I wish they would highlight 1-3 stories a day that editors felt were must-reads. Of course, I wish there were investigative stories, in-depth examination at trends and high quality narrative journalism. I figured we’d see these Day One — but since we didn’t, I’m concerned we won’t ever.

    On a more positive note, I think their Food section is fun. I enjoy some of the videos. The stories that have been posted aren’t crap, in my opinion. I just log off feeling like there’s a lot more going on in our community that we aren’t hearing about.

  12. nammeroo
    Posted August 12, 2009 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    Carl: “I think you just called the Courier journalism.”

    I do and I will again. The Ypsilanti Courier is an excellent local newspaper these days, in my opinion, and the recent change to expand the size of the paper and include more regional news has made it even better. Try reading the paper for a few weeks….

    I have read both the online and print editions of, and have been left mildly unimpressed. It’s OK, and I’m glad it exists, but I’m not going out of my way to wander around their site in search of articles when there are other, better designed websites and newspapers available.

  13. E. G. Penet
    Posted August 12, 2009 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

    Journalism is not an events calendar. Nor is journalism a photographic essay on what happened at the event. Journalism is not who was there and details about the agenda and the food.

    One definition of history is: people in events. Journalism, then, is the people’s motivation to be part of the event, or the idea, or the time and the place.

    Without research, quotes, insight, knowledge, questions: the back story … we can no longer hold ourselves or our leaders or our business community to task nor to understand the issues.

    What we have on the bogs is uninformed supposition … “well, I didn’t go to the meeeting, but …” or “I didn’t read the text, and yet …” That’s OK over a few beeeers or on the phone, but it is not journalism.

    And let’s not confuse blogs with electronic media … Concentrate, YpsiCitizen, are trying. Ann Arbor.Com is trying. Let’s see what shakes out. In the meantime, we have no idea what is happening “out there”, and that’s a serious problem.

  14. Posted August 12, 2009 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

    “the bogs”

    We should replace the term “the blogosphere” by just “the bog”.

    “That’s OK over a few beeeers or on the phone, but it is not journalism.”

    I think there’s a place for the neighborhood pub where you gossip about the day’s news. Agreed that doesn’t take the place of the news itself….

  15. D
    Posted August 12, 2009 at 9:29 pm | Permalink

    > I just log off [] feeling like
    > there’s a lot more going on in our community
    > that we aren’t hearing about.

    Funny, that’s exactly how I used to feel
    when I folded up the old Ann Arbor News.
    And I don’t mean that as a criticism
    specific to the Ann Arbor News. It’s just
    the nature of a newspaper . . . or a blog
    for that matter. It can’t cover everything.

    We information consumers have developed
    individual, niche interests which nowadays
    are easier to find news about. We just don’t
    expect to find it all in one place.

  16. E. G. Penet
    Posted August 13, 2009 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    On more recwent threads we find comments like “I was looking online for information about the smoke plume” … online!?

    My point … there is no information online that can match the local reporting and potential humanity of a newspaper article, even a little insert filler in a column that can possibly carry a human flavor.

    Blogs cannot carry a human flavor … although they seeeem perfectly capable of floating snarky comments and other vagaries. Even online news, and I refer to my favorite NYT online and other major papers, have no feel. Much of online reporting has that “column insert” feel about it. Such is the electonics … the medium is the massage. So, we’ll have to live with it and with little tidbits of video, which is itself “flat” and takes no brains to decipher and offers no “heart.”

    So much for digital media.

    What truly worries me is that the digital media is becoming the model for our daily face-to-face interactions. Not only have we lost the art of writing letters or sending postcards expressing some “heart,” but we cannot conduct ourselves with “heart” at neighborhood meetings, business association meetings or council meetings with hyuman fervor, except by screaming, or assaulting or other low-end behavior.

    My first television experience was in 1952. I read all of McLuhan’s warnings, and soldiered on. I’ve professionally been through the transitions from analog to digital and now sit here looking at Google Earth wondering … “it’s all crap, isn’t it?” Is there anyone who can carry on a conversation or a discussion still out there? Then, I turn on “Morning Joe” … the answer is “No.”

    My only two current choices for relief are “House” re-runs or the “Weather Channel.” Can’t wait for “24” to come back in the Fall. Lock and load.

  17. Posted August 13, 2009 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    Ed Kettle: I don’t know how you define “hard news”, but Dave’s article this morning (“Parking Deck Pre-Tensioned with Lawsuit“) fits the bill for me. It’s a timely article (dealing with events that occurred in the past couple days) about a serious and locally-significant subject (major downtown construction, lawsuit against the city, etc.). Particularly when compared to many of the recent articles at (“Old West Side home’s ‘unfolding’ process adds key improvements to right-sized house”, “The art of walking to work: An iPhone and an appreciative eye create captivating photo project”, etc.) that seems like hard news to me. Not that the latter are bad in some way, but they definitely aren’t hard news by any reasonable definition.

  18. Posted August 13, 2009 at 7:53 pm | Permalink

    I think there’s a lot of power in the format, if it can be harnessed. I think the coverage of the fatal traffic accident involving the bike and the van illustrates that. Within a short time of the post going up, there were good eyewitness accounts. This is a very engaged and observant population that we’ve got here. The puzzle is, how do you keep them engaged. In order to do that, in my opinion, you need to treat them fairly, enforce rules evenhandedly, and give them good content to work with. I’m not sure if can crack that nut, but, like I said, I think they’ve got a better chance of doing it than the rest of us. Certainly, it’s not going to happen here. And, with the ad revenue model, I’m not sure it can happen anywhere. I don’t know if anyone, at a local level at least, can afford to pay professional journalists a living wage. And I should point out that I think community journalism is great. I just don’t think it’s the same thing. I think my job, for instance, is to kick over rocks and turn up stories that “real” journalists can devote time and resources to. And that happens occasionally, like with the whole Shovelgate thing, or more recently with the Ypsitucky nonsense…. OK, I’m going to stop blathering now, and get back to blogging.

  19. Andy Ypsilanti
    Posted August 17, 2009 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    Ok, I give up. I’ve been following pretty much since it launched. I had been reserving my judgement, but now I’m pretty sure about it. Like Lessonberry said, this thing is a steaming pile of crap. The content is terrible, and seems to be missing most of what is happening in A2, and certainly most of what is happening in Ypsi. And then, today, I read this artical:

    This article seems to have been written by a H.S. journalism student, and not an “A” student at that.. It follows the traditional rules of jurnalistic writing (most important info first, minor details at the end, ect) But it’s just a jumble of words and quotations. The headline reads like it came from The Onion.

    I was never a fan of the writing in the AA News. But has managed to take a step back.

3 Trackbacks

  1. By My thoughts on the death of on September 4, 2013 at 10:51 pm

    […] I’m still trying to wrap my head around today’s surprise announcement that, after four years in business, the big experiment in online journalism we’ve come to know as would be going away, and that, henceforth, all of the regional reporting done by the staff of Advance Publications would be distributed by way of their much maligned state-wide news portal, M-Live. That is, with the exception of their Thursday and Sunday print editions, which they’ll rebrand as the Ann Arbor News. This, of course, is an homage to that once great paper of the same name, which was unceremoniously decommissioned by its owners in 2009, after 175 years of service, making Ann Arbor, in the words of Time magazine, “the first big town to lose its daily paper.” […]

  2. […] – where news breaks [8/10/2009] […]

  3. […] of the Ann Arbor News [3/23/2009], a Wretched Hive of Scum and Villainy [6/21/2009] – Where News Breaks [8/10/2009] The State of Journalism Today [3/16/2010] Cuts Staff Considerably […]

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