Column: The Chronicle’s Last Chapter

Thanks and farewell from the hard benches

I always start a novel by reading its last chapter – I like to know how things turn out.

A small slice of a large shelf of books about the history of Ann Arbor at the downtown location of the Ann Arbor District Library. The AADL will be archiving the more than 10 million words that were published over the course of six years of The Ann Arbor Chronicle.

A small slice of a large shelf of books about the history of Ann Arbor at the downtown Ann Arbor District Library. The AADL will be archiving the more than 10 million words that were published over the course of six years of The Ann Arbor Chronicle.

For those of you like me, who also flip to the end: This is the final word from The Chronicle.

We launched this publication six years ago with no clear ending in sight. It was a jumping-off-the-cliff moment, with the hope – but certainly no guarantee – that we’d be creating something special, even transformative. There were many times along the way when I doubted our choice to take that leap. Recall that 2008 and 2009 formed the nadir of the economic recession, and in hindsight I marvel that we were able to thrash out a livelihood.

I marvel because at that time, no one was clamoring for in-depth reports on meetings of the library board, the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, the park advisory commission or any of the other public entities we began covering. We wrote detailed 15,000-word articles on city council meetings, in an era when traditional news media considered 500-word stories too long for the attention spans of its target demographic.

Over 10 million words later, I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished, and proud too that we’re bringing it to a close on our terms. Dave Askins wrote about that decision in his Aug. 7 column. I’d encourage you to read it, if you haven’t already.

Since that announcement, we’ve received a flow of well wishes, understanding and support – the generosity of spirit that has fueled us these past six years. Many readers also shared personal anecdotes about what The Chronicle has meant to them. That’s been meaningful for us, too, because this publication has been a very personal endeavor since its inception.

My two favorites are these: We learned that The Chronicle’s coverage of the Ann Arbor planning commission was used as flirting material with an urban planning grad student – and that couple is now married with a child. And the family of Peter Pollack – a landscape architect who died in 2010 – is including The Chronicle’s description of his legacy in a collection of materials they’ve gathered for his grandchildren, so that the next generation will learn about this remarkable man when they grow up. (We had tucked an obit for Peter into one of our regular city council reports.)

I cherish these kinds of connections that are now intertwined with The Chronicle’s own legacy. We set out to create an archive of community history, and The Chronicle itself is now a part of that history.

The Chronicle’s mission centered around giving readers the tools they needed for a deeper understanding of our local government, providing context and guidance as they navigated often baffling bureaucracies. Our hope was to make the inner workings of our city and county more accessible. Many people embraced this approach. Maybe they hadn’t been clamoring for The Chronicle’s public meeting coverage, because they hadn’t known what they could be missing.

So one question we’ve heard often since announcing our decision to close is this: What will fill the void?

We don’t know – but we have some ideas.

Although The Chronicle has been a useful resource, it was an attraction primarily for people who already have an interest in local governance. What about all the rest – the more than 80% of voters who didn’t bother to participate in the most recent primary election, for example?

Is it possible to shift our community’s culture? To educate, inform, cajole the majority of residents – of all ages – into caring about what happens at city hall and in the county boardroom? To make Ann Arbor a model of civic awareness and engagement to which other cities across America aspire?

Is it feasible to create a community where of course you would flirt over planning commission reports? Where the passing of a man like Peter Pollack would cause the whole city to pause and give thanks for his life of civic service?

Again, we don’t know. But I’d like to spend some time thinking about ways to catalyze that kind of cultural transformation.

There’s a literary technique called in medias res – starting in the middle. Perhaps The Chronicle was just such a thing, the middle of a community narrative that’s leading to an entirely unexpected conclusion.

So even while The Chronicle’s chapter of the community’s book is coming to a close, we’ll also be thinking about a possible sequel.

I do like to know how things end. But beginnings are even better.

Mary Morgan is publisher of The Ann Arbor Chronicle. She and Chronicle editor Dave Askins co-founded the online publication on Sept. 2, 2008. The Chronicle will not be publishing regular reports after Sept. 2, 2014.


  1. September 3, 2014 at 1:03 am | permalink

    It was a good run, and I wish you the best in whatever it is you’re trying to do.

  2. September 3, 2014 at 6:30 am | permalink

    Like a good book, you leave us wanting more. Now it’s time for your many fans to help champion that sequel. Thank you for a great read and for those many hours of on-air chats. Most of all, thank you for caring about our community.

  3. By Martine Perreault
    September 3, 2014 at 7:04 am | permalink

    I honestly can’t imagine Ann Arbor without the Chronicle. We have all benefitted from Their dedication, honesty, clarity and vision. I am proud to have been a reader and supporter.
    Its a sad day, but I look forward to the next bright chapter for Mary & Dave, I know they will bring their brilliance to another endeavor. I look forward to it.

  4. By Jim Carty
    September 3, 2014 at 7:38 am | permalink

    Thank you both for the good work you’ve done these past six years. I wish you all the best wherever your next chapter takes you.

  5. September 3, 2014 at 7:52 am | permalink

    Thank you for your pioneering work creating quality journalism. We truly have a “news hole” in Ann Arbor now. I trust your talent, enterprise, and energy will find an exciting avenue.
    Best wishes for continued success,
    Christine Tracy

  6. By Myra Klarman
    September 3, 2014 at 8:17 am | permalink

    Lucy nailed it.

    I always savored our occasions to work together. And I look forward to opportunities to support your future projects (photographically and otherwise)!

    (If you still fancy crafting captions kvelling over Halloween cuties on Main Street [to be posted wherever]… count me in!)

  7. By Steve Bean
    September 3, 2014 at 8:19 am | permalink

    What I’ve come to see as the most inspiring possibility for “that kind of cultural transformation” is to end the global use of money and exchange. We really don’t need to put ourselves through this arbitrary cultural practice that engenders so much stress and misery.

    With respect to “the economy” (has anyone ever seen that thing?), you timed things extremely well, launching near the bottom and exiting at the top.

    Speaking of which, I still owe Dan a beer. Maybe you two would like to join us and we can kick around ideas.

    For now, cheers to you both.

  8. By Mary Morgan
    September 3, 2014 at 8:21 am | permalink

    Among the many things I’ll miss post-Chronicle, your Halloween photo essay is a big one, Myra. I looked forward to it every year. So glad your amazing work is part of our archives!

  9. By Karen Hart
    September 3, 2014 at 8:44 am | permalink

    My mother took me to court proceedings, township board meetings, and several other kinds of local government meetings when I was a kid, so I could learn first-hand how government worked. I ended up spending a large part of my working life in government as a result. Maybe you could put all that acquired knowledge to use by giving paid guided tours of various local government institutions to students & others, including introducing them to some of the players for some background. Or maybe you’ll never go to a public meeting again, but that would be a shame. Thanks for the terrific coverage all these years. I honestly don’t know where I’m going to be able to find out what’s going on & what just happened.

  10. By Lynns
    September 3, 2014 at 11:28 am | permalink

    I will miss this publication very much. Thank you for your efforts.

  11. By Alice Ralph
    September 3, 2014 at 3:05 pm | permalink

    What lovely benediction for the Chronicle–personal, inclusive and full of everyday grace! You have invited readers and all to transform this moment into our own next chapters. Your brave venture inspires us to think and act toward a civic life that could sustain the highest ideals of community. Thank you for opening the doors and showing a way. Here’s to OUR successes and a bright future!

  12. By Kathryn Thompson
    September 3, 2014 at 3:27 pm | permalink

    I am sorry to learn of this, but can understand your reasons. You have given so much time, energy, and thoughtful writing and analysis to your readers, helping us to understand the workings of each of those boards and councils and their myriad of issues. I have always appreciated the vigilance and fine journalism the Chronicle provides, and feel I really did understand local government better. Losing the Chrinicle is such a loss for this community!
    The best of wishes on your future endeavors!

  13. By wendy w
    September 3, 2014 at 3:43 pm | permalink

    Although I moved out of town a few years back, I have continued to read the Chronicle (and still have the stopwatch sticker on my car). I hope you guys take a well-deserved vacation to some exciting destination before moving on to whatever comes next. Best of luck!

  14. By William Lockwood
    September 3, 2014 at 5:26 pm | permalink

    Thank you.

  15. By John Floyd
    September 3, 2014 at 6:38 pm | permalink

    Well, at least I can buy Dave a cup of coffee now.

  16. By Kim Cumming
    September 4, 2014 at 10:16 pm | permalink

    Thank you, friends. Congratulations on making it count from start to finish.


  17. By A. Adams
    September 5, 2014 at 2:05 am | permalink

    You have honored the profession. Thank you.

  18. September 5, 2014 at 11:48 am | permalink

    Thank you Dave and Mary. I will miss your comprehensive and thoughtful accounts of the workings of our community. Good luck on your new endeavor!

  19. By Jim Fink
    September 5, 2014 at 11:44 pm | permalink

    re: 13 – There is a stopwatch sticker? Nobody told me. I want one.

  20. By Dan Ezekiel
    September 7, 2014 at 2:01 pm | permalink

    Re #7: Steve, I am so down with that. What do you say, Mary and Dave?

  21. By Michael Benham
    September 8, 2014 at 11:00 am | permalink

    As a staffer at a public agency, I have often sorted through the myriad public records to decide which best offers the “facts”, in order to refer interested citizens. More often than any other source, I chose the Ann Arbor Chronicle. I will miss that.

  22. September 9, 2014 at 9:47 am | permalink

    I’m going to miss you. Living half of the year in Paris, I enjoyed and appreciated being able to keep up with what was happening on my Other Home, Ann Arbor.
    I wish you well. You’ve done a great job!

  23. By Joan Martin
    September 13, 2014 at 9:02 pm | permalink

    I have loved your articles and will miss the Chronicle very much. They allowed me to feel a part of my community without making the effort to actually attend meetings. As discussed in this week’s On The Media, public reporting of civic meetings is extremely important and is being lost in more and more communities. You did a superb job of it and I developed respect and appreciation for several people serving our community of whom I had previously been unaware. I liken it to following the home sports team.
    Thank you so much for your excellent effort and dedication to giving us the experience of great reporting. I hope I can help you to find a way to continue this community’s experience of civic engagement.

  24. September 15, 2014 at 2:03 pm | permalink

    I’ve been plagued for several days with the sensation that something is missing. There seems to be a hollowness or gap somehow. Then I realize that I’m missing the Chronicle.

    And yeah, we “concerned citizens” are going to have to get used to going to those meetings ourselves if we want to know.

  25. September 16, 2014 at 12:56 am | permalink

    Missed you today.