Ann Arbor News publisher Laurel Champion, visibly emotional, told newspaper employees this morning that the paper would cease publication sometime in July, to be replaced by a different company and online publication.
The news shocked employees, who had anticipated cutbacks but not the decision to fold the company.
Champion told employees that the new entity – AnnArbor.com – will be separate from MLive.com, though details are still being worked out. According to an article about the changes posted on the Ann Arbor News section of MLive, the company will be led by Matt Kraner, former Cleveland Plain Dealer chief marketing officer. Champion will serve as executive vice president. Tony Dearing, who served as head of the News’ Ypsilanti bureau in the 1990s, will be “chief content leader” – the equivalent of the entity’s top editor.
Dearing contacted The Chronicle this morning, saying that AnnArbor.com would be taking a very different approach in terms of reaching out to the community and to other local media. He said that he and Kraner would be meeting for the first time with News employees this afternoon at Campus Inn, where they would talk in more detail about the organization.
In a letter to readers published today, Champion said that she, Dearing and Kraner will be holding two public forums in April to talk to the community about these changes: On Thursday, April 2 at 2 p.m. at Campus Inn, 615 E. Huron St., and on Friday, April 3 at 10 a.m. at Weber’s Inn, 3050 Jackson Ave. [confirm dates]
At the morning staff meeting, Champion told employees that the new product would also include a print publication twice a week, on Thursdays and Sundays. She said the structure of this new venture was unique to Ann Arbor, and not something that was being rolled out at other publications in the Michigan chain of newspapers owned by the Newhouse family.
When the Ann Arbor News closes in July, they’ll be vacating the downtown headquarters, an Albert Kahn-designed structure at southwest corner of Huron and Division streets. Champion told employees that the building was not for sale at this time, but that the new venture would have offices elsewhere. There was also no word on the status of the News’ printing press in Pittsfield Township, which opened in 2001.
Employees were told that they’ll be able to apply for jobs at the new business, but those jobs will be open to non-News employees as well. Details about the types of jobs, salaries and other information won’t likely be available until mid-April.
News employees who did not accept a buyout offer made last fall will be offered severance – one week for every year served. That amount is half of the most recent buyout offer. People who accepted the buyout still have not been given departure dates, so it’s unclear if they’ll remain working at the paper until it ends publication. Champion also said that pension contributions from the company will be frozen in mid-May.
This news comes just days after the newspaper’s long-time editor-in-chief, Ed Petykiewicz, announced his plans to retire.
Other coverage: Former News sports columnist Jim Carty’s blog, Paper Tiger No More.