If you’re looking for any random excuse to uncork champagne, here’s one: Today marks the 1-month anniversary of The Ann Arbor Chronicle.
It’s been a wild, gratifying, exhausting month. A shout-out to those of you who’ve generously helped us spread the word about our publication, who’ve offered words of support and encouragement … or who’ve made a financial sign of support by buying ads. There’s no guarantee that we can make this a financially viable business, but if we can, it will be thanks to individuals at local companies and organizations who think we’ve got something worth paying for, and who are willing to take a chance on a new venture like this.
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.
Why are people so unhappy with The News? Some don’t like its smaller size. Some want more local coverage, while others want more state, national and international news – many want more of both. Some feel it’s too liberal, or too conservative. (Many Ann Arborites haven’t forgiven the paper for endorsing George Bush in both 2000 and 2004, even though the publisher and opinion editor who were part of those endorsement decisions are no longer with the paper.)
It’s not going to get any easier in the short term, either for The News or for its readers. The paper confronts pressures faced by most newspapers nationwide – dramatically rising newsprint and health care costs; revenue declines from advertisers who are struggling themselves; declines in readership because of (at least in part) a shift to getting news online; an Internet business model in which The News gets only a portion of online advertising – these are just a few of the challenges. (MLive, which operates the websites for The News and seven other papers owned by the Newhouse family in Michigan, as well as the Business Review publications, is a sister company.)
A shrinking newsroom is another serious challenge. Since my last day on Aug. 1, four others have resigned: Dave McVety, a long-time assistant sports editor, is taking a job at MLive; Jordan Miller, a part-time but prolific reporter, has taken a job at an ad agency; Lisa Allmendinger, a freelancer who provided much of the coverage in Chelsea, Dexter and Saline, has joined the Heritage papers, which publishes weekly in those areas.
The highest-profile departure is sports columnist Jim Carty – he’s leaving The News after this weekend’s UM football game, and has already started law school at the University of Toledo. His decision to leave will no doubt further fuel speculation about the paper’s future, though his reasons were a combination of personal and professional.
The people in a newsroom matter, because it’s the relationships they build and the understanding they have about the community that makes the paper credible. Those who remain at The News are burdened with shouldering more of the load, both for gathering news and for reaching out to the community. I wish them well.
It’s our hope here at The Chronicle that we can survive and thrive in a market with many media choices, whether it’s The Ann Arbor News, Arbor Update, the Ann Arbor Observer, Concentrate, Current, the Michigan Daily, Ann Arbor Business Review, WUOM, WCBN, KOOL-107 or any other of the many media options in this area – including ones that might not yet exist.
In a world with so many demands on our time, it might be natural to crave only one source for local news. But isn’t it better to seek a balanced news diet from a variety of sources – even ones you might not agree with or like? Of course we hope The Chronicle is an important part of that mix. Today, at least, we go well with champagne.