The Chronicle’s monthly milestone column is by custom published on the second day of the month. It’s a chance for us to touch base with readers on topics related to this publication.
It’s not June 2 yet, so today’s publication means we’re jumping the gun a bit. That’s due in part to a selfish, practical interest I have in not writing separate emails to every reader who inquires: Where is your coverage of the Ann Arbor Public Schools? We’ve suspended that coverage for the indefinite future – but obviously not because we don’t think education is important.
When The Chronicle first launched back in 2008, we didn’t offer any coverage of the local public schools. Mostly through sheer good fortune we found independent freelancers – first Jennifer Coffman, and then Monet Tiedemann – who were able to provide coverage of AAPS to Chronicle readers.
It is not easy to find writers who believe that The Chronicle’s approach to coverage – through detailed reports of public meetings – is a worthy endeavor. And among those who believe it’s worth doing, it’s not easy to find writers who can actually meet the standard. And among that smaller group, it’s not easy to find those who are able to reconcile the economics of the compensation we offer with the sacrifice of time and effort.
It is really not easy to find a writer who is willing to sit through a school board meeting that lasts until 3 a.m.
The Chronicle’s publisher and I can absorb a certain amount of flux in available resources, but we’re past capacity. The size of our organization means that when a single person isn’t able to continue in a particular function, it can mean the end of the coverage that person was providing. So for the immediate future, we won’t be able to continue schools coverage.
And for the medium to longer term, I don’t anticipate being able to restore schools coverage unless our revenues through voluntary subscriptions and advertising were to dramatically increase and show evidence of sustaining that increase.
Ultimately, providing sustainable regular coverage of a public body will require more than the good fortune of finding people who, for a while, can wedge The Chronicle into their lives based on the compensation we can offer.
Isn’t some schools coverage better than none at all? Perhaps so. In this column, I’ll lay out my thoughts on that in terms of a metaphor familiar to regular readers of The Chronicle’s milestones: marathon running.
I have completed two marathons in my life. Neither was a pleasant experience. First let me orient you to the universe of marathon times. The world record for completing this 26.2-mile race is a little over 2 hours. For recreational runners, any time under 3 hours is impressive.
In my first effort, I crossed the half-marathon mark at around an hour and a half. So I was roughly on pace to complete the whole race in about 3 hours. That is, I anticipated running an impressive time. It’s what I’d systematically trained for.
I finished at right around 4 hours. I’d become a straggler.
What went wrong in the second half? Post-race analysis suggested this free nugget of marathon running advice: Always measure your training mileage accurately.
The point is that in the second half of that marathon, I learned the same thing I’m sure literally millions of other runners have learned – about the psychology of grinding through a task when it becomes apparent that you cannot sustain the pace you thought you could when you started. Also you learn: Running marathons is stupid. You forget this before you register for the next one.
Finishing becomes a goal unto itself.
And we live in a culture where the stragglers who finish the marathon long after the crowds have disappeared are celebrated nearly as often as the winners. Spectators at marathons do not shout to the stragglers: “Think about stopping! Think about stopping!” Instead, they lie to you: “Looking good! Looking strong! You can do it.”
Or some spectators will not lie to you, like the one guy who was offering “encouragement” near the Lincoln Memorial during the 2003 Marine Corps marathon. He yelled something like, “This is not supposed to be a stroll in the park! It’s a marathon run. Run like you mean it!” Thanks, dude – I really meant that last painful stride.
Even for a marathon staged in a large city like Washington D.C., long stretches of the course are bare of spectators who could encourage you to keep running. Marathon stragglers have to tell themselves stories inside their own heads to keep forward progress toward the finish line. Most of those stories involve knowing where the finish line is. What if there is no finish line? What kind of story do you tell yourself?
Covering any of the public bodies The Chronicle reports on is like running a separate marathon unto itself – with no finish line. The Ann Arbor city council is a marathon. So is the Washtenaw County board of commissioners. Likewise the Ann Arbor park advisory commission. The Ann Arbor Transportation Authority is another marathon. And so on.
Sometimes, I think, it makes more sense to just stop running a marathon. Because sometimes running a marathon is stupid.
A few months ago we stopped running the University of Michigan board of regents marathon. That actually glided to a comparatively graceful stop. First we ended our comprehensive meeting reports, but continued with the Civic News Tickers filed from the regents meetings. Then we ended the Civic News Tickers, too.
And so this month, regrettably, we stop running the AAPS board of trustees marathon – for now and likely the foreseeable future. I wouldn’t project being able to resume that coverage without some unforeseen increase in voluntary subscription and advertising revenues.
It’s only through the generous support of individual readers and advertisers that we were able to offer AAPS board meeting coverage for the time that we did.
And we hope to be able to use that support to continue running our other marathons.
The Chronicle’s marathon is supported in part through regular voluntary subscriptions. If you’re already supporting The Chronicle, please encourage your friends, neighbors and coworkers to do the same. Click this link for details: Subscribe to The Chronicle.