According to a source, MLive will be restructuring yet again tomorrow morning, laying-off up to a dozen more reporters

A little over two years ago, I posted something here about lay-offs at MLive. Well, according to a source with knowledge of the situation, it looks as though the beleaguered online news entity might be cutting even more jobs tomorrow morning, when John Hiner, the Vice President of Content for MLive Media Group, is going to be delivering an ‘all-newsroom’ video announcement on the subject of “restructuring.” From what I hear, between 9-12 reporters across he state will be losing their jobs. And, as I understand it, those with 15+ years of experience are expected to be impacted the most. As I don’t think I could possibly express my concerns any more clearly than I did who years ago, here, once again, is is what I had to say the last time MLive restructured. [note: It might be fewer jobs this time, but the underlying premise, I believe, remains true.]

A “terrible blow to journalism,” MLive cuts 29 jobs at a time when Michigan desperately needs quality reporting. [1/6/2016]

mliveI think everyone knew, when it was announced a few days before Christmas that Laurel Champion, MLive’s general manager for Southeast Michigan, would be leaving the organization, that something was up. Champion, after all, had been with the digital media company since the very beginning… since the moment when she, as the Publisher of the Ann Arbor News, announced that the 175 year old newspaper would be closing its doors, firing its more experienced staff, and coming back as AnnArbor.com, a groundbreaking, aggressively-streamlined 21st century online news company. And, four year later, she was on the team that would pull the plug on AnnArbor.com, further cut the staff, and move the assets beneath the MLive umbrella, promising to do even greater things with fewer people and resources. So, like many, when I heard that she’d chosen to leave and pursue “other opportunities,” I suspected that something was up. And, then, when I read, buried in the text of the MLive announcement about her departure, that “her position (would) not be filled,” I suspected it was just a matter of time before there was yet another massive restructuring… Well, late this afternoon, word began to leak out that it was happening.

Calling it a “terrible blow to journalism,” the Columbia Journalism Review’s Anna Clark announced on Twitter that MLive would be eliminating 29 positions across the state.

Since then, MLive has come out with a release of their own that, as you might expect, puts a significantly more positive spin on things. Calling it a “restructuring that directs resources to emerging content and business opportunities,” the management of MLive assures us, their remaining readers, that by cutting these 29 “content positions,” they’ll actually be able to do more real, hard-hitting journalism, focus more on “emerging social media channels,” and increase their “video storytelling” capabilities… Again, it would seem, they’re determined to do more with less.

While it’s not yet official, as far as I know, word is that several of these 29 jobs eliminated across the company were in the Ann Arbor office. As I understand it, the two managing producers, Cindy Heflin and Julie Taylor, were both laid off, as was entertainment reporter Jenn McKee. And others have been reassigned to statewide positions. Paula Gardener, for instance, will be stepping away from her editorial duties to become a statewide business reporter. Likewise, I’m told that John Counts and Jessica Webster will be shifting to the statewide team. As for editorial duties, it’s unclear to me what they’ll be doing without Gardener in that role, but I’m told a few new people will be transitioning into the Ann Arbor organization, so perhaps one of them will be charged with such tasks. For instance, I hear that someone named Jen Eyer has been named the new “team leader,” which I’m hoping is something at least approximating an editor. [Without an editor, it might as well be a blog, right?]

Without being too negative, it sounds as though the local offices are deliberately being pruned back, and that MLive is becoming more of a single entity with a statewide focus. Yes, I’m sure there will still be local reporting on Michigan Football, and the University of Michigan generally, as it has value across the state, but I think we should expect to see less in terms of everyday local coverage, especially when it comes to issues of marginal interest outside of Washtenaw County. At least that’s what it’s looking like to me.

And, sadly, this is all happening on the same day that Rick Snyder signed SB 571 into law. This law, if you’re unfamiliar with it, would prohibit public entities in Michigan, like libraries, from distributing information on candidates and ballot proposals 60 days prior to elections… Because, really, why should librarians be sharing ballot language, when people can just watch the 30-second ads on television financed by the likes of the Koch brothers? Speaking of which, this same legislation would give people like the Koch brothers wider access to the voters of Michigan by raising spending limits, etc.

“Senate Bill 571 is designed to keep voters in the dark about important issues in their community, including school millages and bonds to fund police and fire departments. Because of Gov. Snyder’s actions, local governments and school districts will not be allowed to pay for materials to educate voters on these issues. Meanwhile, corporations face few limits on their influence on elections.” – House Democratic Leader Tim Greimel

It’s also worth noting, I think, that the Flint Journal, which has been so instrumental in getting word out about the Snyder administration’s poisoning of the children in Flint, is an MLive property, and, as such, will likely also see cuts to their reporting staff, making it more difficult for them to expose the issues that they’re dealing with as a community to the outside world.

So, just to recap, at a time when our state government is ranked 50th with regard to transparency and accountability, and the children of Flint are being poisoned, and the FBI is investigating the takeover of Detroit Public Schools, our state’s largest news organization is slashing jobs, and our Governor is signing into law legislation that both allows corporations to have a larger voice in politics, while, at the same time, making it illegal for public employees to tell people about upcoming elections…

This, my friends, is what the end of democracy look like.

I’d like to say quite a bit more, but I’m falling asleep. If you’d like to know more about the process by which we’ve slowly lost our local press over the course of the past decade, I’d encourage you to read some of the following articles that I’ve written here. I believe, collectively, they should give you a pretty good sense of the steadily downward path that we’ve been on.

One last thing… I respect the hell out of the people working on the front lines at MLive. They’re good people. I know them personally. I respect their work. And I consider them friends. They’d been asked to do the impossible these past several years, and I think they deserve our thanks. While it’s easy to sit at home and criticize the journalism that MLive has been putting out, the truth is these people were being asked not only to turn in multiple stories every day, but to stay involved in the often frustrating conversations which developed online in their wake. These reporters didn’t, in other words, have time to develop thoughtful investigative pieces, like their predecessors at the Ann Arbor News, who, by the way, were paid a great deal more for their labor. It may not be the case for everyone, but the folks that I know at MLive want to produce good journalism, and they try their hardest to do so in light of the constraints put on them by their out-of-touch and increasingly distant managers. I respect them for that, and I hope that they’re able to continue, should they choose to, now that things seem to be taking yet another downward turn. And, if they are forced out, I hope that they land on their feet, like Nathan Bomey, Scott Anderson, Geoff Larcom, Leisa Thompson, Jordan Miller, Richard Retyi, Katrease Stafford and Mary Morgan, all of whom have demonstrated that there’s life after working for the Newhouse family.


The Ann Arbor News to Lay-Off Employees: Just What We Need, Fewer Reporters [2/8/2007]
The Untimely (or Timely) Death of the Ann Arbor News [3/23/2009]
MarkMaynard.com, a Wretched Hive of Scum and Villainy [6/21/2009]
AnnArbor.com – Where News Breaks [8/10/2009]
The State of Journalism Today [3/16/2010]
AnnArbor.com Cuts Staff Considerably [3/13/2011]
What do people really think of Ypsilanti, how might those opinions be reinforced by Ann Arbor media, and what can we do about it? [5/8/2011]
The death of the American press and the corresponding rise in corruption [6/9/2011]
Please Write to AnnArbor.com and Ask Them to Cover the Eller Race [8/5/2012]
AnnArbor.com Heroically Pushes yet Further into the Post-Journalism Frontier [9/26/2012]
My Thoughts on the Death of AnnArbor.com [9/4/2013]
Clicks over Quality…. Will the MLive Follow The Oregonian, Demanding that All Reporters Post Three Stories a Day? [3/30/2014]
The Saturday Six Pack (episode three) with Former AnnArbor.com Reporter Katrease Stafford [2/3/2015]
The Ann Arbor News Does Not Speak For Ypsilanti [9/21/2015]

Oh, and here’s one new addition… I was just reading that research has shown “communities that lose their local newspapers are more susceptible to disease outbreak because neighborhood trends aren’t spotted and publicized.” So it’s not just democracy that suffers when local papers go away. It impacts our health as well.

UPDATE: Here’s what I’ve heard since first posting this….

As John Hiner promised in his calls to all of the MLive offices earlier this week, senior company leaders have now visited all of the MLive hubs around the state, meeting with those reporters who have more than 15 years of experience. These meetings, as Hiner told people earlier this week, were happening because the company needed to make immediate restructuring decisions.

The team arrived in Ann Arbor the day after I posted this. They met with several veteran editorial members from the Jackson, Ann Arbor and Detroit markets, including former Ann Arbor News Editor Paula Gardner. The company gave all editorial staffers with 15+ years of experience three business days to take a proposed buyout worth 26 weeks of their current salaries.

They also said that, if 9 to 12 of these editorial staffers didn’t accept buyouts by this coming Monday, the senior team will make layoff decisions themselves, cutting several employees to meet their mandated savings goal by the publisher. Employees who are laid off, they were told, would will each receive severance packages that include one week of pay for every year they’ve been with the company. [For example, 18 years service would equate to 18 weeks of pay.] The cuts, they were told, would be aggressive and immediate, and it’s estimated that the move will save the company in the ballpark of around $750k in the next fiscal year.

So, if these people accept the buyout, they get 26 weeks pay. If they don’t accept the buyout, and management cuts them, they get one week of pay for every year of service. So, clearly, they want people to take the buyouts.

As for how many of these people are working in the Ann Arbor office, I’m not sure. I have heard, however, that 7 to 10 MLive staffers from Jackson-A2-Detroit were are the meeting last week.

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27 Comments

  1. Posted April 4, 2018 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    It’s just part of Michigan’s big comeback.

    I’m assuming the remaining dozen or so Michiganders who are interested in what we used to call “news” have all moved to a state that has roads and schools.

  2. Taco Farts
    Posted April 4, 2018 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    A “video announcement.” How classy.

  3. Iron Lung 2
    Posted April 4, 2018 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    The Trumpists rejoice.

  4. Hail Caesar
    Posted April 4, 2018 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    A few weeks ago, in a post about the soon-to-be-launched AnnArbor.com site, I suggested that perhaps Tony Dearing, their Director of Content, was a bit naïve when he said publicly that they would be able to control the conversation taking place in the comments section by employing “aggressive moderation.” – Mark Maynard June 21, 2009

    TRUER WORDS HAVE NEVER BEEN SPOKEN

  5. Demetrius
    Posted April 4, 2018 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    As your long list of posts on this topic illustrates – any attempt to critique MLive (a.k.a. the former Ann Arbor News/Ypsilanti Press) is now merely rhetorical. As soon as you think they can’t go any lower – they surprise us all by doing just that. As their budget continues shrinking, and as they continuing laying off the few experienced reporters they have left, MLive continues its descent toward becoming just a sad blog featuring, mostly:

    * Extensive click-bait, mostly in the form of sports highlights and sensational crime stories.
    * Fawning photo galleries pimping the latest high-end (“luxury”) condo developments.
    * Endless “best of” photo-essays (Best Doughnut, Best Burger, Best Pizza … ad nauseum)
    * Click-through “listicles” comprised of re-purposed publicly-available (mostly govt.) data.
    * Obnoxious, intrusive pop-up, pop-over, and pop-under ads.
    * A comment section that is mostly a sewer of human loathing and despair.

    Nearly gone is any robust reporting, serious investigative journalism, or quality (timely) coverage of local news, government, etc.

    Despite our many differences, I suspect many MM readers would agree on the importance of having quality local reporting.

    Since MLive is clearly now a lost cause on this front, is there anything (practical) we can do to help provide an alternative?

  6. Demetrius
    Posted April 4, 2018 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

    Featured stories on MLive, right now:

    *The 10 most likely vehicles to reach 200K miles
    *Michigan butterfly houses and when you can visit them
    *What to know about Michigan hockey in the Frozen Four

    LOL

  7. Steve Pickard
    Posted April 4, 2018 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    Somebody shut off the lights. Where can I get my updates on Open Carry laws in Michigan if they go under? Or my weather updates on what temperature it is in Muskegon.

  8. Lynne
    Posted April 4, 2018 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, having less reporting is a bad thing. On the other hand, I havent regularly read Mlive in years. Not since they had an article about mental illness that I felt was particularly cruel to the person with the mental illness. Whem I complained in the comments, instead of addressing it, they deleted my comments. So I was done. A little ironic that the writer of that article, who NEVER apologized for being so hateful that she was ok with shaming someone with a mental illness for clicks, still has a job. I will not miss Mlive when it finally goes under.

    I do sometimes wish I had the money to fund good local reporting. I guess the best I can do is to support NPR

  9. Iron Lung 2
    Posted April 4, 2018 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    Who reads MLive?

    It’s been terrible for years.

  10. wobblie
    Posted April 4, 2018 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    Lynne, don’t support NPR. Support WEMU–it is a big difference.

  11. Posted April 4, 2018 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    I wonder if the Ann Arbor News finally dies maybe something good could rise to fill the void. Perhaps something Patreon funded. Seems like you would need about $500 k per year to pay for a couple of full time reporters and an editor as well as some freelancers. So maybe this is good news.

  12. Robert
    Posted April 4, 2018 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    Mark has refused to expand his news staff here at MarkMaynard.com

    But I suppose that was a wise move. Ever since Jean took over the comments section, the traffic to the site has tanked.

  13. Demetrius
    Posted April 4, 2018 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    MLive: Ohio police investigating more than a dozen reports of ‘zombie-like’ raccoons

    Updated 3:55 PM

  14. Posted April 4, 2018 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    Mark, I feel like this should be titled “No News isn’t good news.” You really dropped the ball on this one.

  15. Vivienne Armentrout
    Posted April 4, 2018 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

    I just hope we don’t lose Ryan Stanton or there will be no more news about Ann Arbor civic events.

  16. Anonymous
    Posted April 4, 2018 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

    Mark is beating up on MLive because he wants to drive down their share price. This is exactly like Trump and Amazon.

  17. Jean Henry
    Posted April 4, 2018 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

    There are reasons to value local media coverage and to read mLive if you live in the area. This for two days ago raised a lot of eyebrows. Many people won’t care until years later when they will ask why no one told them. https://www.google.com/amp/s/articles.mlive.com/news/ann-arbor/index.ssf/2018/04/ann_arbor_council_divided_over.amp

  18. Jean Henry
    Posted April 4, 2018 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

    Robert— didn’t you know I’m on Mark’s payroll. Traffic to this site has been great lately. We havecregularly opem books meetings to analyze the data, assign talking points and strategize. We’re you not invited? Sorry. I’m just doing my job. We’re going to be the left’s answer to Sinclair news!
    Xo Jean

  19. Jean Henry
    Posted April 4, 2018 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

    Many typos. I Apologize, but even those are planned. Mark thinks they make my posts feel more authentic.

  20. Lynne
    Posted April 4, 2018 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

    wobblie, that is how I support NPR.

  21. Lynne
    Posted April 4, 2018 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

    re funding local news via Patreon. – I like the idea but am skeptical. I support some people there but it is the rare person who earns enough to live off. Usually people with the kind of readership or viewership that comes from national exposure.

    I would support an effort like that though.

  22. Tommy
    Posted April 4, 2018 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

    Say it ain’t so. How am I ever going to know where to get the best hamburger in the state?

    Mlive has been a useless rag forever. You won’t even notice a difference.

  23. teacherpatti
    Posted April 4, 2018 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

    My friend Britain and I are writing a history book about Ann Arbor, called Lost Ann Arbor. I am starting to think about how to talk about the lost media outlets in this town and I literally can’t even. I mean, we will have to because they are most definitely lost. I understand that we are not in the 1880s–and thank goodness because I can vote, wear pants, and we have the internet and a/c–but when you look at all of the news they got back then….

  24. Scott Trudeau
    Posted April 5, 2018 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    How many mils would it take to raise $1 million/year county-wide to fund county & municipal news coverage? My (super rough and possibly very wrong) napkin calculation says 1 mil county-wide raises around $11-12/million so a 0.1 mil increase could fund a >$1million/year operation. So for a house with an assessed value of $100k (so a market price of approx $200k) that’d be $10/year in taxes. A .1 mil in only Ann Arbor would raise a little more than $500k.

    Quality civic reporting is a valuable public good, no less important than basic infrastructure. If the market can’t provide it, why shouldn’t the public finance this?

  25. Jim McBee
    Posted April 7, 2018 at 6:19 am | Permalink

    I gather there has been no announcement of restructuring or layoffs.

  26. Posted April 8, 2018 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    Here’s what I’ve heard….

    At some point before I posted this, Hiner made calls to all of the MLive offices, saying senior leaders would visit MLive hubs around the state to meet with those reporters who have more than 15 years of experience. He said that these meetings would be happening because the company needed to make immediate restructuring decisions.

    The team arrived in Ann Arbor the day after I posted this. They met with several veteran editorial members from the Jackson, Ann Arbor and Detroit markets, including former A2 News Editor Paula Gardner and the current Jackson-A2-Detroit news leader. The company gave all editorial staffers with 15+ years of experience 3 business days to take a proposed buyout worth 26 weeks of their current salaries.

    They also said that, if 9 to 12 of these editorial staffers didn’t accept buyouts by this Monday, the senior team will make layoff decisions themselves, cutting several employees to meet their mandated savings goal by the publisher. For employees who are laid off, they will each receive severance packages that include one week of pay for every year they’ve been with the company. [For example, 18 years service would equate to 18 weeks of pay.] The cuts, they were told, would be aggressive and immediate, and it’s estimated that the move will save the company in the ballpark of around $750k in the next fiscal year.

    So, if they accept the buyout, they get 26 weeks pay. If they don’t accept the buyout, and management cuts them, they get 1 week of pay for every year of service. So they’re incentivizing people to take the buyouts.

    As for how many of these people are working in the Ann Arbor office, I’m not sure. I have heard, however, that 7-10 people from Jackson-A2-Detroit were are the meeting last week.

  27. Ruth Kraut
    Posted April 8, 2018 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

    The local reporting goin on in East Lansing is an interesting local model: https://www.lenfestinstitute.org/solution-set/2018/03/29/meet-news-militia-covering-local-stories-east-lansing-michigan/

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