Editor’s Note: The monthly milestone column, which appears on the second day of each month – the anniversary of The Ann Arbor Chronicle’s launch – is an opportunity for either the publisher or the editor of The Chronicle to touch base with readers on topics related to this publication.
Even though Mary Morgan and I usually alternate writing The Chronicle’s Monthly Milestone column, April marks the third month in a row that I’m providing the update. I’d like to say right up front there’s no scandal in this. It does not reflect an internal struggle for power here at The Chronicle. Although if it did, it’s worth noting that my three-month streak would mean that I am winning. And I’d also like to say right up front: If there were to be an internal struggle for power here at The Chronicle, I would totally win. [No, there will not be a poll at the conclusion of this column, asking readers to weigh in on that.]
More seriously, the alternating authorship of the Monthly Milestone column reflects The Chronicle’s commitment to shared work – internal to our organization. But externally, our strategy for providing coverage of the Ann Arbor community is also partly rooted in sharing the work load.
So this month, I’d like to take a look at how that plays out on The Ann Arbor Chronicle’s website – in the form of reader comments – as well as among The Chronicle and other local media.
Shared Work: Reader Comments
Last month’s Monthly Milestone included the bullet point that “We [The Chronicle] don’t care much (only some) about comments.” To be clear, we do take seriously the “some” part of that point. In fact, one of the functions of my Monthly Milestones is sometimes to highlight particularly noteworthy comments written by readers.
Some of the most useful comments are those that ask simple factual questions. And sometimes it’s a question that someone at The Chronicle can answer immediately – or respond to by tracking down the requested information. Here’s an example of that ["County EDC: Money to Loan but No Deals"]:
By Karen Sidney
March 17, 2010 at 12:04 pm
Would these bonds be backed by county or city tax revenues or is the only entity on the hook the private or non-profit entities who use the bond proceeds?
The followup comment to Sidney’s question was made possible by the fact that she asked a simple factual question in a timely way:
By Dave Askins
March 17, 2010 at 3:26 pm
“Would these bonds be backed by county or city tax revenues or is the only entity on the hook the private or non-profit entities who use the bond proceeds?”
At a committee meeting today, I asked Washtenaw County corporation counsel Curtis Hedger this question. He clarified that it was not the full faith and credit of the county that backs these bonds — the party on the hook is the private entity.
Fortunately, readers don’t just ask good questions. They also know things. And sometimes they’re in a unique position to know things, and they share the knowledge that answers a question ["AAPS Weighs Schools of Choice Program"]:
By Chuck Warpehoski
March 24, 2010 at 10:46 am
When evaluating the cost of the outsources vs insourced food service, did Rolland Zullo include the cost of payments to the state pension fund in the cost of in-sourced food service?
That question was answered by Zullo himself:
By Roland Zullo
March 24, 2010 at 1:57 pm
The short answer to your question is yes, I included all costs, including pensions.
The analysis is a bit more involved, because costs and revenues change over time, and both affect the total budget.
The study is available at: [link] If you have questions, please feel free to contact me.
When a reader can provide the answer to a factual question posed by another reader, that’s a perfect sharing of work. It means that here at The Chronicle, we don’t have to do everything ourselves.
Shared Work: Other Media and The Chronicle
The idea of not trying to do everything ourselves is something that extends to our choices about what aspects of the community to cover in The Chronicle. A certain amount of that material is set by our commitment to trying to cover the work – in a fair amount of detail and context – of the public bodies who are responsible for spending public dollars.
But there’s some discretionary coverage we provide that falls outside of public meetings. For example, I recently wrote a piece about a University of Michigan group who knit scarves for homeless people. Why would The Chronicle invest time and resources writing about some student knitters, but take a pass on sending someone to the Google Fiber rally on the UM Diag? After all, isn’t fiber optic cable more or less like very high-tech thread? If we care about wool, why don’t we care about fiber optic yarn?
In favor of knitting, part of the story’s appeal was an opportunity to connect the knitters’ venue – Couzens Hall – to some of our UM regents meeting coverage. The regents authorized a major capital investment in refurbishing that dormitory over the next year, which will be closed during the renovation. Also, The Chronicle already has a certain history of giving knitting its due, when we stumble across it in other contexts.
So why not a rally for Google Fiber? First, we’d already included the general subject of the city’s response to Google’s request for information (RFI) in our city council meeting coverage – which included a public hearing on a council resolution of support. Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) was point man on the council for promoting the city’s response to the RFI and inviting public participation. He spoke to that issue at meetings prior to the public hearing – remarks we included in our reports of those meetings.
But seriously, why not just head over to the Diag already and document the Google rally? Did we not know about the rally? Did we not even think about the rally?
Yes, I thought about the rally. I thought about it in some detail. Here’s how detailed my thinking was. In announcing the public hearing on the council’s Google Fiber resolution, Taylor had expressed his hope that the public hearing in council chambers would include, perhaps, a song – he noted that there was some precedent for songs sung in the council chambers. He was surely alluding to Libby Hunter – who generally renders her public comment to the council in the form of a song. But Hunter did not oblige at the public hearing, and neither did anyone else.
So, to me, the burning open question about the rally was this: Would Taylor’s wish for a song be realized?
To get the answer to that question, I could have attended the rally, or I could have done what I did, which was stay home and read about it on Twitter, Facebook, or myriad other online sources. We didn’t “get the story” for The Chronicle.
When we don’t get a story like that, it does not bother us. When there’s an event like that, which every other media outlet will predictably cover, The Chronicle is mostly relieved that we don’t have to cover it. We’re focused on being there on those occasions when most other media outlets are not going to be there – or when most other media outlets are not going to report out the comprehensive detail that we’re committed to providing. We don’t try to do everything ourselves.
Coda: What About the Song?
As it turns out, there was a group sing at the Google Fiber rally on the UM Diag. An Associated Press article reported that it wasn’t merely a song – it was an anthem. Question answered.
I was not able to obtain the complete text to the Google Fiber Anthem, but it seems to have included the line “Ann Arbor Google Fiber, ain’t nothing any finer.” So it’s probably a good thing that I elected not to attend the rally, because I would have felt compelled to bellow forth the competing song below. I undertook to compose it in an effort to render a more accurate translation of Schiller’s “Ode to Joy.” If you’re keeping score, an ode trumps an anthem.
NODE TO JOY
Freude, schöner Götterfunken, Tochter aus Elysium
Fiber surely, Google’s funky, download now made easier
Wir betreten feuertrunken himmlische dein Heiligtum
We’ll be trading urban [trans. note: possibly 'drunken'] fairies, in for holy optic towers
Deine Zauber binden wieder, was die Mode streng geteilt
You’re the Fiber binding, winding, what the modems strongly tore
Alle Menschen werden Brüder, wo dein sanfter Flügel weilt.
All the mentions will be broader, when you search on Google’s World
Seid umschlungen, Millionen! Diesen Kuß der ganzen Welt!
Sung it song-like, millions sing now, this will kiss the world wide web.
Brüder, überm Sternenzelt muß ein lieber Vater wohnen.
Broadly, sternly, ever mustard, is a lovely Fiber well.
Singing that would clearly not have served anyone’s best interest. Fierce debate would have erupted over the accuracy of the translation, and that would have distracted from the point of the rally. [I would accept the criticism that the translation is somewhat casual in places, but to its credit, its meter scans the same as the original – so it's eminently singable.]
So readers who voluntarily subscribe to The Chronicle are supporting, in part, the extraordinary discretion I displayed in choosing not to attend the Google Fiber rally.
Dave Askins is editor of The Ann Arbor Chronicle.