AnnArbor.com cuts staff considerably, laying off 14

They’re not really talking about it on the AnnArbor.com site, but on Friday they laid off 14 employees. According to Michigan Radio, this leaves about 20 or so people in their newsroom. (The old Ann Arbor News, from what I’m told, had approximately 75 reporters in their newsroom.) Among those let go were lead blogger Ed Vielmetti, photographer Lon Horwedel, entertainment clerk Renee Tellez, and Kaleb Roedel, Jeff Arnold, Bison Messink and James Dickson from the sports department. Furthermore, this comes right on the heels of last week’s departure of editors Stefanie Murray and Amalie Nash, and higher-ed reporter David Jesse, all of whom joined the Detroit Free Press. Clearly, big changes are afoot. The question is, why?

I could well be wrong, but it looks to me as though, now almost two years into the “experiment,” the folks on the east coast who write the checks have said that they’re tired of losing money. (Or, maybe they are making money, and just want to make even more.) A friend with some knowledge of the situation says the timing would indicate as much. As he recalls, Content Director Tony Dearing said in May of 2009 that they had two years to demonstrate to their superiors at Advance Publications that the new model could be profitable. (As you’ll recall, representatives from Advance Publications, when it was announced that the Ann Arbor News would be significantly downsized and recreated as AnnArbor.com, said that this was an important test for the company, and may well decide the futures of the other daily publications in their Newhouse Newspapers division.) Well, as they formally launched AnnArbor.com in July of 2009, that gives them a little over one quarter to get into the black and demonstrate success.

From what I’m told, Matt Kraner, AnnArbor.com’s CEO, when informing the staff of the cuts, told them that people were only being let go who worked in areas not receiving sufficient online traffic. This does not, however, address the loss of the three individuals a week or so prior, who defected to the Free Press. Cumulatively, these changes are going to have an enormous impact, not only on the quality of the journalism, as the company becomes even more dependent on the reporting of amateur, freelance bloggers, but on the way they manage online dialogue.

Some are suggesting that all of this is evidence of the venture’s imminent demise. I have my doubts, though. I think that as long as they keep the Sunday circular business, they’ll find a way to remain in business in some way, shape or form. As I understand it, it doesn’t bring in as much as it once did, what with the dropping number of subscribers, the rising price of newsprint, and the fact that companies aren’t advertising like they once did, but, relatively speaking, The SUnday ad business is still something of a cash cow. (On the subject of paid subscribers, the site A2 Politico says Sunday print circulation has dropped from 52,000 in July of 2009, to just about 40,000 in July of 2010.) So, as long as they can generate enough content to support a Sunday print version, I think we’ll have something. I don’t think, by and large, it’ll be what we’d consider journalism in a traditional sense, though. Which isn’t to say that it won’t be good and useful. It just won’t be the kind of “functioning, active press with the resources to conduct real investigations and hold people’s feet to the fire when necessary” that I’s hoped for when AnnArbor.com launched. And that depresses me. I wanted for them to be successful. I wanted for them to find a way to make money, so that they could provide the kind of coverage that I think we all need, especially in these very rapidly changing times in which we live. If we ever needed a vital press, it’s now, and, sadly, this news of layoffs doesn’t give me reason for optimism.

Now, at the risk of losing some of you, my faithful readers, forever, I’d like to suggest that you make your way over to The Ann Arbor Chronicle, where my friend Mary Morgan, a former editor at the Ann Arbor News, does a wonderful job of putting these recent cuts in perspective. And, while we’re on the subject, I think this is a great place to once again applaud the efforts of Mary and her partner, Dave Askins, who have stepped in to fill the void relative to local civic coverage. What they’ve done at the Chronicle over the past few years is nothing short of amazing. I just hope for their sake that they’re able to sustain the pace, and that local businesses continue to support them with their advertising dollars.

And, lastly, I’d like to wish the 14 folks who just lost their jobs at AnnArbor.com the best of luck as they move on with their lives and look for new opportunities. I know the economy sucks right now, but, when I look around at all of my friends who used to work at the Ann Arbor News, and what they’re doing now, I’m encouraged. At any rate, I hope that these new folks, who I suspect are all very talented, find good, rewarding jobs that suit them.

Oh, and one last thing… While AnnArbor.com didn’t publish a story on the subject of their layoffs, Tony Dearing did leave the following comment in response to a reader’s question.

While personnel issues are an internal matter and we don’t discuss them publicly, I can confirm that we reorganized our newsroom this week to put our focus more squarely on local news coverage. As a new organization, we have tried a lot of things. Now that we are well into our second year, the community has told us very resoundingly that what it wants most from us is hard news coverage, particularly in the areas of government, education, police, courts, health, the environment, University of Michigan sports, and business. These areas of coverage account for all but a tiny percentage of our readership and revenue. Meanwhile, we also have put a lot of effort toward other things — including lifestyle topics like Passions and Pursuits, The Deuce, Homes and some areas of Entertainment coverage — that our community has shown much less interest in, and we are scaling back in those areas.

We have made tremendous progress since we launched, and we continue to be very happy with the growth we’re seeing in audience and revenue. But from the beginning, we said that we would be shaped by what the community wants, and the community wants us to focus more sharply on local news reporting. We have repositioned ourselves to throw our energy and resources into our local news coverage and that is how we will operate moving forward as we continue to grow.

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40 Comments

  1. T Timmons
    Posted March 13, 2011 at 9:54 pm | Permalink

    I like when the post pictures of people’s pets.

  2. Andrew Jason Clock
    Posted March 13, 2011 at 11:29 pm | Permalink

    I’m going out on a limb, and guess that canning the head of the sales department means things aren’t going so hot profit wise.

    The local reporting has always been garbage. Its only going to get worse. If all we’re going to get on Ypsi is police blotter pieces that lend themselves to sensational headlines, then I would prefer no coverage at all from aa.com.

  3. Mr. X
    Posted March 13, 2011 at 11:33 pm | Permalink

    I like the stuff that Tom Perkins has been doing in Ypsi. I don’t think he’s on salary, though.

  4. karen
    Posted March 13, 2011 at 11:36 pm | Permalink

    X is right. Andy doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Tom Perksins covers downtown, township, city, YCUA, and even appointments to boards and commissions.

  5. Andrew Jason Clock
    Posted March 13, 2011 at 11:49 pm | Permalink

    Compare a Tom Perkins article about Ypsi City council to one in the Ypsilanti Courier. The Courier’s coverage is more thorough every time. Tom Perkins writes some stories that are well done. Others are garbage, along with the rest of the stories on Ypsilanti. I stand by my statement. I am far from the only one who feels that way, though of those people, I may be the only one who still bothers to browse aa.com.

    And yes, I know the Courier is a weekly and so on and so forth. The coverage they do offer is still more thorough, better researched and shows a deeper understanding of the community. I doubt Mr. Perkins will have the chance to develop that. I would suspect he’s trying to land a real journalism job, and writing for aa.com in the meantime.

  6. Andrew Jason Clock
    Posted March 13, 2011 at 11:51 pm | Permalink

    Tony Dearing’s response must be better written than I thought, Karen sure seems to believe you can have more local coverage with less reporters.

  7. Alisha Blackburn
    Posted March 14, 2011 at 6:19 am | Permalink

    The site reads to me like a church bulletin. I haven’t tried it, but I’m guessing that, if I sent them an article on my trip to California, they’d post it. While it’s not journalism, for the most part, I think there’s a homey comfort to it.

  8. Tommy
    Posted March 14, 2011 at 6:31 am | Permalink

    … we reorganized our newsroom this week to put our focus more squarely on local news coverage … W T F ? Isn’t that what aq local newspapaer is suppossed to do? I cannot believe that the 5th or 6th largest city in the state with a world class institution of higher learning smack in the middle of it can’t make a newspaper viable.

  9. rodneyn
    Posted March 14, 2011 at 7:42 am | Permalink

    AnnArbor.com has been “borrowing” content and story ideas from the Ypsilanti Courier and other area Heritage newspapers – especially for stories outside of the A2 city limits. At least when AA.com collapses, the area will still be served by excellent printed publications in the Courier and its sister paper the Ann Arbor Journal.

  10. Edward
    Posted March 14, 2011 at 7:54 am | Permalink

    It’s kind of terrifying when you think about how all of these trends are lining up. Less local press. More media consolidation in the hands of large multinational corporations. The usurping of local elected power under the auspices of financial martial law. The growing consolidation of money in the hands of the hands of the American aristocracy. The treatment of political prisoners like Bradley Manning. It’s a dystopian novel come to life.

  11. K2
    Posted March 14, 2011 at 8:30 am | Permalink

    Speaking of AA.com, they’re fianlly getting around to covering what the Snyder plan might mean for Ypsi.

    http://annarbor.com/news/snyders-proposal-to-cut-historic-tax-credits-and-incentives-could-significantly-slow-ypsilantis-rede/?cmpid=NL_DH_topheadlines

  12. Heidi
    Posted March 14, 2011 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    I don’t know about the others, but Ed Vielmetti waw one of the few people that actually wrote intelligent articles and actually gave research to back up what he was talking about. As for photographer Lon Horwedel, isn’t he pretty much the only photographer they have?
    That aside, the annarbor.com blog is pretty much a journalists joke, I’m surprised it’s made it this long.

  13. Heidi
    Posted March 14, 2011 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    and that should be was in that first sentence…sigh.

  14. Kim
    Posted March 14, 2011 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    Ed is a decent guy. I hope he lands on his feet. If I’m not mistaken, in addition to dealing with most of the blog commentary related issues, he’s also the one that coordinated most of their FOIA filings.

  15. Stux
    Posted March 14, 2011 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    Re: BofA fraud: main leak site brought down, but here is a mirror:

    Mirror pt 1: http://imgur.com/1ahFt
    Part 2: http://imgur.com/5v5bh
    Final bit: http://imgur.com/rNZPC

  16. Meaghan
    Posted March 14, 2011 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

    I agree with some people commenting here that the Courier has more thorough coverage in most cases. But their layout is so distracting that I usually go to annarbor.com first and then supplement with the Courier.
    And I agree with Ms. Blackburn that though it’s not really journalism there is a homey feel to it. I appreciate that homey feel a lot. It makes me feel more connected to the community.
    I will miss Ed Vielmetti’s stories quite a bit. He really raised the standard at annarbor.com.

  17. Elise Snozen
    Posted March 14, 2011 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    I hate to admit it, but the Chronicle makes me feel stupid. I don’t know that I’ve ever finished an article. They’re just so long and meaty. I wish there was something in between.

  18. Stux
    Posted March 14, 2011 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    Chronicle’s only piece on Snyder budget is supportive.

  19. Stephen
    Posted March 14, 2011 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    I don’t have the link, but I read over the weekend that UM’s VP for Communications has joined the AnnArbor.com advisory board.

  20. Stux
    Posted March 14, 2011 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    UM and Lansing would be all too happy to see Ann Arbor without a newspaper.

  21. Stephen
    Posted March 14, 2011 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    My thoughts exactly. As Edward said, this totally plays right into the hands of those with power.

  22. Andrew Jason Clock
    Posted March 14, 2011 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    @K2, unfortunately today’s article in aa.com is just a rehash of the article the Freep did last week.

    http://www.freep.com/article/20110308/BUSINESS04/103080383/1055/SPORTS07/SPARK-founders-Loss-Michigan-tax-credits-would-limit-redevelopment-growth-opportunities?odyssey=nav|head

  23. Tony Dearing
    Posted March 14, 2011 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

    Andy your comment about AnnArbor.com is just a rehashing of all of your other comments about AnnArbor.com.

    Maybe you could just link to one of your previous comments instead of typing the same stuff over and over and over and over again.

  24. Chaely
    Posted March 14, 2011 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

    I’m glad you mentioned the Chronicle. I feel that aa.com wastes an extraordinarily large amount of energy on teaser stories (in the vein of “something is going on but we have no details”) and are more likely to post some fluff story that doesn’t mean much than cover anything that happens outside of Ann Arbor proper besides the daily Ypsi crime blotter.

    Look, it’s the internet. As much as I understand why AA.com wants to have something for everyone, we already know where to go for the latest celebrity gossip & world news & it’s not there. I’m surprised that they’ve been so focused on being a current events aggregator instead of just putting all of their effort into writing well-researched news articles about things that pertain to Ann Arbor & the surrounding areas specifically.

    Recently they wrote an article that basically said “looks like the feds are investigating someone at such&such address for what could possibly be USPS related. Investigators were seen removing boxes from the residence. No further info is known” and they completely failed to note the 2ft tall glass bong the investigator in the included photo was holding. The commenters were able to piece together a better story on their own.

    Then last week they put up a story about where to find pazckis stating that you COULD have picked some up at Zingerman’s if you had pre-ordered, then made a possibly false claim about Ann Arbor being the leader of Google searches on the topic (though the author sites unnamed source “Google spokesperson” in the comments and insists the data is correct with no supporting evidence) & then suggested that readers use Google to try & locate the treats. Well, that’s how I found their dumb useless article in the first place, so thanks to them for wasting my time with that. Once again the only useful info came from the comments.

    My biggest fear is that as they let their paid staff go they’ll turn to random ghost bloggers for stories. It’s bad enough that you have to read the comments to get the full story & correct facts half of the time as it is.

  25. tommy
    Posted March 14, 2011 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

    Mark Maynard – random ghost blogger. Nice ring to that.

  26. Posted March 14, 2011 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

    I think what is really killing them is the lack of business model. Online advertising does not work at such a small scale. The print edition is an utter failure. I subscribed originally to the paper to support the new online venture. But, what is the point of a paper when you read everything yesterday. The newspaper quickly went wasted from my driveway to my recycle bin.
    When I canceled my subscription I recommend an online supporter subscription but I guess that idea has fell on the deaf ears of old media. I check the site everyday and comment and many other people due. I am sure some of them would be glad to help support the writes but their is no option.

  27. Emerge Man
    Posted March 14, 2011 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

    ACJ,

    Can you provide links to support your call to “Compare a Tom Perkins article about Ypsi City council to one in the Ypsilanti Courier.” I can’t seem to find a Courier article on a council meeting. Lots of high school sports scores, though!

    Right now, I visit the Courier and closest I see is a link to the Mayor’s state of the city address which isn’t an article, it’s just a lazy repost of the mayor’s PDF that doesn’t even bother with an interview (of other council members, citizens, anyone…). Is this the level of journalism you’re advocating?

  28. Andrew Jason Clock
    Posted March 14, 2011 at 10:52 pm | Permalink

    @Emerge Man, unfortunately, as mentioned above by another poster, the Courier site is not very user friendly. There is no archive that I’ve found that goes past the most recent couple of issues, other than a few (like the state of the city) that stick around. I’m pretty sure someone that reads this site could shed a little more light on how they archive. Here’s some from google

    http://www.heritage.com/articles/2011/03/07/ypsilanti_courier/news/doc4d754e90dea56070661304.txt?viewmode=default

    http://www.annarbor.com/news/ypsilanti-city-council-extends-city-manager-ed-koryznos-contract/

    from the same meeting
    http://www.heritage.com/articles/2011/03/09/ypsilanti_courier/news/doc4d754f2c28f71306807690.txt

    The Courier is far from perfect. They don’t have enough staff or resources. They are puny compared to aa.com. But the writing is still better.

    FWIW, I miss the Ypsilanti Citizen.

  29. Redleg
    Posted March 15, 2011 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    ^….Or better still, the old Ypsilanti Press– Yes folks, we once had our own daily paper around here!

  30. Ez Marsay
    Posted March 15, 2011 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    Tony Dearing, the same one who runs the online coupon circular in Ann Arbor?

  31. Jsam
    Posted March 16, 2011 at 6:58 am | Permalink

    It seems that since AnnArbor.com became RickSnyder.com it has failed even more miserably.
    Sometimes it heads up a “rah rah Ricky” article with “opinion” and sometimes not.
    We learned in 4th grade when we put out our Railsplitter Gazette….always clearly define news and opinion.

  32. Jsam
    Posted March 16, 2011 at 7:12 am | Permalink

    Isee a lot of David Jesse articles in the Free Press.
    Does anyone know what Amalie and Stephanie are doing at the Free Press?

  33. Posted March 18, 2011 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

    Did they really gut their entire preps sports coverage?
    Boy, this is a chance for the A2 Journal to step in and make big inroads in Ann Arbor. But I’m not sure Heritage has the guts to go all in.

  34. Posted March 18, 2011 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

    I don’t follow sports on their site, but I think they probably kept the guys covering football. And I’m sure they’ve got someone on men’s basketball.

  35. dan
    Posted March 18, 2011 at 9:30 pm | Permalink

    Jeff Arnold covered Michigan Football and Hockey. It didn’t help him much. I always liked his articles.

  36. Meta
    Posted December 21, 2015 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    It was just announced that Laural Champion, the former Ann Arbor News publisher, is leaving MLive Media Group. As they made this public right before Christmas and buried the line “Her position will not be filled” at the end of the article, one suspects the people in charge do not want to give the impression that the ship is sinking.

    http://www.mlive.com/business/ann-arbor/index.ssf/2015/12/former_ann_arbor_news_publishe.html

  37. Demetrius
    Posted December 21, 2015 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    I know many people continue to work hard at MLive, often for very little money – but just when you thought this oufit couldn’t become any more of a joke, it continues getting worse.

    We here in Ypsilanti used to complain about negatively-biased coverage, but now, it seems that virtually all “local” coverage has disappeared. Instead, an increasing number of “top stories” appear at first to be local in nature, but actually center on events in Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, etc., and are often surrounded by full-page ads, or annoying pop-ups that shift the articles around and make them nearly impossible to read.

    Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti desperately needs (and deserves) a credible own resource … capable of effectively covering local government, undertaking investigative journalism, providing thoughtful analysis of local issues, etc.

    But given the dying/death of journalism as a viable economic model, I have no idea how we can make that happen …

  38. Lynne
    Posted December 21, 2015 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    Demetrius, I have been thinking about that very thing. We really do need something. I’ve given up entirely on MLIVE after they engaged in the shaming of the mentally ill for clicks in a hoarding story and then deleted my comments where I was critical of that decision. These days, I get most of my local news from Facebook and then mostly because Pete Murdock likes to update folks on important city issues there. Maybe we could get a bunch of volunteers to keep some kind of local news blog?

  39. BrianR
    Posted December 21, 2015 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    For real?

    http://connect.mlive.com/user/tperkins/posts.html

  40. Demetrius
    Posted December 21, 2015 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    “Reporting” is not the same as Journalism.

    Also, local politicians need to remember that not all of their constituents are on Facebook, and many don’t appreciate having official news/events being communicated via a privately-owned, proprietary platform, vs. the city website, etc.

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  1. […] followed up with a short blurb, and by this beginning of this week, local bloggers, including Mark Maynard, freefromeditors, and the Publisher of the AnnArborChronicle.com were chiming in on what the […]

  2. […] AnnArbor.com cuts staff considerably, laying off 14 [3/13/2011] […]

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