The Ann Arbor Chronicle » Chronicle monthly milestone it's like being there Wed, 26 Nov 2014 18:59:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Milestone: A Pitcher Worth 1,000 Words Thu, 02 Jan 2014 14:05:23 +0000 Dave Askins The monthly milestone column here at The Ann Arbor Chronicle provides a regular, systematic way to express our appreciation to readers and advertisers for their financial support. That support was strong enough to sustain the publication through its fifth year in operation. Thank you.

Pitcher passed at the Old Town Tavern on Jan. 1, 2014 for the annual Townes Van Zandt memorial show performed by Chris Buhalis – on the anniversary of Van Zandt s death, now 17 years ago. (Photo by the writer).

Pitcher passed at the Old Town Tavern on Jan. 1, 2014 for the annual Townes Van Zandt memorial show performed by Chris Buhalis – on the anniversary of Van Zandt’s death, now 17 years ago. (Photo by the writer.)

As we flip the calendar to a new year, the regular milestone column is also a chance to remind readers: To sustain itself, the business really does rely in part on “voluntary subscription” dollars.

The Chronicle’s continued ability to document local government and civic affairs depends on you and it depends on you now – not on someone else at some other time. So I’m asking you to think right now about using the online system or the old-fashioned check-in-an-envelope method to make a financial contribution to The Chronicle: Subscribe!

As a reminder, in case we don’t write a column about this in some given month, I’ve added a recurring monthly item to our event listings for the second day of every month: Time to Contribute Financially to The Ann Arbor Chronicle.

It’s worth pointing out that The Chronicle’s event listings are pretty extensive, and currently include somewhere around 15,000 local events. That’s made possible through the work of Jon Udell as part of his Elm City Project. Granted, 15,000 events might sound a bit overwhelming, but we have begun categorizing them into smaller mini-calendars that some readers might find easier to parse.

One of the regular events you’ll find listed in The Chronicle’s event calendar is live music every Sunday night at the Old Town Tavern. Customary at the Old Town, after the band has played its set, is for someone to carry around a pitcher to collect up money for the musicians. It’s somewhat like a secular version of passing the collection plate at a worship service in the Christian tradition.

When someone is holding the pitcher out in front of you, that’s the time you are called upon to act – not later.

So I’d like you to think of this month’s column as the Internet-equivalent of passing the pitcher for The Chronicle. Below the fold, I’m going to beat briefly (I promise) on this same drum. So if you’ve made a recent contribution, you should feel free to imagine that the pitcher has moved on to the next table.

If not, imagine you’re sitting in the equivalent of your Old Town Tavern. Someone is holding a pitcher out in front of you right now. Here’s a list of terrible reasons not to put money in that pitcher at the Old Town.

Why I Won’t Put Money in the Pitcher: 9 Terrible Reasons


  1. Where? I don’t see a pitcher.
  2. I put money in the pitcher last time. 
  3. The Old Town should be paying them, not me.
  4. It’s not like those musicians expect to make a living at this.
  5. The other people at my table already put money in the pitcher.
  6. I would put money in the pitcher if they had played songs I like.
  7. I don’t carry any cash around any more.
  8. If everyone gave a dollar, that guy would be making like $75 an hour! That’s crazy!
  9. If they had a CD for sale, I would buy that, but this would be like paying for nothing.
  10. I just can’t afford it.

The one possibly good reason is (10). The rest, I think, are just self-evidently dumb. Each one of those has an analog to making a financial contribution to The Chronicle.

As we get set to tackle 2014, thanks again to those of you who helped us get through 2013.

Dave Askins is editor of The Ann Arbor Chronicle. For the first four years of publication, a milestone column was published every month in The Chronicle. Now the column is only an occasional feature. When the milestone column does appear, it’s usually on the second day of the month – to mark the anniversary of The Ann Arbor Chronicle’s Sept. 2, 2008 launch. It’s an opportunity for either the publisher or the editor of The Chronicle to touch base with readers on topics related to this publication. It’s also a time that we highlight, with gratitude, our local advertisers, and ask readers to consider subscribing voluntarily to The Chronicle to support our work.

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Monthly Milestone: Watching Words Tue, 29 Oct 2013 20:51:43 +0000 Dave Askins The Chronicle’s November milestone column comes to you a few days earlier than the customary second day of the month. That’s because I wanted to include a quick preview of a performance scheduled for Nov. 1 at the Kerrytown Concert House – by mezzo soprano Laurie Rubin.

Laurie Rubin, photo from press kit.

Laurie Rubin. (Photo from press kit.)

The Chronicle has rarely, if ever, written about entertainment. And as I explained to Laurie, when she called me up to make her pitch, our approach to covering Ann Arbor’s community doesn’t include standard “preview” pieces for live performances.

The boilerplate explanation I typically use on the phone includes a description of The Chronicle’s preferred strategy for giving readers advance notice of interesting performances. That strategy is an event listing that runs off Internet standards-compliant data feeds and helps to strengthen the community’s “calendar web.” So obviously the tactic here is partly designed to bore the caller to death, so that they’ll just give up and accept the fact that I’m not going to write a preview article about their performance.

You will find Laurie’s Nov. 1 Kerrytown Concert House performance included in The Chronicle’s event calendar, categorized as music.

Fortunately for you, dear readers, Laurie declined my gambit that she surrender to my boring, rambling talk about data feeds and technology platforms. Instead she expressed a weirdly geeked-out interest in these data feeds and calendars, which I probably seemed very excited about. She instantly grasped the concept of maintaining a calendar that automatically generates a data feed that any publication or individual can access. I didn’t figure that an opera singer would be such a receptive audience for that sort of thing. But at least she had stopped talking about her Nov. 1 performance at Kerrytown Concert House, so that was a good thing, from my point of view.

But in closing out the conversation, Laurie renewed her pitch for a preview article, based on her memoir, “Do You Dream in Color: Insights from a Girl Without Sight.” Even though I was still thinking to myself, “No preview articles! Not even for blind opera singers!” I figured Laurie might be a receptive audience for some additional conversation about a different topic.

That topic is an accessibility project for public meetings that The Chronicle has been working on somewhat sporadically. The idea is to provide digital streaming text for members of the deaf and hearing-impaired community to read – either live at public meetings or during a video replay. Yes, I fully understood that I was talking to a self-described “blind girl” – for whom this particular accessibility project offered zero obvious benefit. Yet Laurie turned out to be a willing conversation partner. And in The Chronicle’s basic technological approach, she saw a potential benefit to the blind and visually impaired community that would never have occurred to me.

By way of basic background, Ann Arbor’s Community Television Network (CTN) now makes two kinds of video available over the Internet for its four channels: (1) live streams (whatever is currently being broadcast); and (2) video-on-demand (recordings of past programs). It’s really pretty incredible, when you think about that. Even if you decide to travel thousands of miles away from Fifth Avenue and Huron Street, you can still watch the Ann Arbor city council inaction (or add a space if you like) from the comfort of your Internet portal.

If you want to know what’s being streamed at any given time, CTN has made that easy by adopting a programming calendar that generates a data feed that can be displayed by any third party.

Sue Deer Hall was set up to provide CART services for the Oct. 16, 2013 meeting of the AAATA board.

Sue Deer Hall was set up to provide CART services for the Oct. 16, 2013 meeting of the AAATA board.

But I think it’s a little surprising that CTN does not provide closed captioning of its broadcasts. I don’t want to dwell on the legal and policy considerations that have not resulted in closed captioning. But in a community that takes a great deal of pride in how technologically cutting-edge it is and where the local business press salivates over new tech companies and the “knowledge economy,” it’s somewhat remarkable that our local public access programming is not accessible to the deaf and hearing-impaired community.

I’m not suggesting that CTN should or could “just do it.” Instead, I’m suggesting that the steps that CTN has taken already create an environment where third parties could help bridge the gap.

CTN is currently providing both types of video – live streamed and video-on-demand – in a way that allows any third party to embed the video frame in a web page. That means that a third party could also embed a text window in that same web page, and provide a viewer with the running text corresponding to the video content.

For a live-stream broadcast, the running text could be provided through a Communication Across Real Time (CART) services provider. For a video-on-demand program, the text window with a transcript would need to be synchronized to the video in some fashion.

For the Oct. 16, 2013 meeting of the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority board, The Chronicle demonstrated a proof of concept. AAATA board meetings aren’t broadcast live on CTN. So it was not “closed captioned.” We were just provided a streaming text window in a separate web page. The live streaming text window was embedded from That’s the service used by the CART (Communications Across Real Time) provider Sue Deer Hall – hired by The Chronicle to text-stream the meeting.

The text sitting there now is just a plain text file saved after the last live transmission. [Note that it's uncorrected. CART service providers are very very good. But they are not magic.]

An additional step would be needed to sync up the text to the video through some sort of auto scrolling. That I imagine to be a straightforward javascripting exercise (says the guy who would not be doing the javascripting). The ideal functionality would allow also clicking on a point in the transcript to trigger the video player to move to that point of the video.

A somewhat different approach would exploit the “track” element of HTML5, but I’m not sure if adoption of that standard is wide enough to make it feasible. The synching piece is a “future project.”

In any case, the proof of concept we demonstrated shows that when CTN is broadcasting live, it would be possible to supply what would be the equivalent of closed-captioning of that live event – with a text window embedded under the embedded video stream. The only barrier to that is cost and availability of a CART services provider.

As an alternative, I’ve experimented with re-voicing meeting talk in real time with products like Dragon Naturally Speaking. It’s technically feasible, but requires tremendous concentration. Also, it can’t be done from the back row of a city council meeting – because that would be super annoying to other meeting attendees. (But that’s perhaps part of a case for a new council chambers meeting facility with an isolated soundproof “press box” separate from the general audience.)

Here’s what is encouraging: By making these video streams accessible in the way that it is, CTN is creating an environment that might allow for third parties to help bridge gaps in accessibility to its programming.

It’s important, I think, that CTN continue to provide video in a way that allows for third parties to explore different technical approaches to providing text for video. I don’t have any reason to think that CTN would arbitrarily discontinue providing video in this way. But sometimes organizations alter their operational procedures in ways that unintentionally undo positive impacts those organizations don’t even realize they’re having.

What Does a Blind Girl Care About Streaming Text?

One byproduct of this approach to “closed captioning” is a text file transcript. That transcript itself has a value to almost everyone in the community, not just the deaf and hearing impaired. That’s because text is much easier to machine-search than real-time video is. If you want to know exactly when or if the mayor of Ann Arbor said “withdraw the nomination” during a city council meeting, it’s easy to search a text file and answer that question.

But what good is a transcript to a blind person?

In talking to Laurie Rubin about this project and its basic technology, she immediately saw the potential for an additional benefit – to the blind and visually-impaired. It’s conceivable that a third party could provide an additional audio channel to the Internet streams that CTN is providing – to give the blind and hearing impaired a description of what’s on the screen. The concept of “descriptive video” – an additional audio channel to provide descriptions of the action – isn’t new. Laurie told me she grew up with descriptive video listening to Masterpiece Theater.

But an additional audio channel with descriptions, streamed at the same time as CTN’s video, creates the potential for increased access for everybody. The commentary could include not just the description of the physical action (e.g., “Eli Cooper is now approaching the podium…”) but also clarifications and annotations (e.g., “When Cooper just now said, ‘when we did this before’ he’s talking about the demised Fuller Road Station project…”).

For Laurie’s Nov. 1 performance at the Kerrytown Concert House, I imagine the descriptive audio channel could start off something like this: “The stage is empty. Laurie and her pianist Jennifer Taira are not yet on stage. The camera is now showing the packed house, so pre-concert publicity must have been great …”

Dave Askins is editor of The Ann Arbor Chronicle. For the first four years of publication, a milestone column was published every month in The Chronicle. Now the column is only an occasional feature. When the milestone column does appear, it’s usually on the second day of the month – to mark the anniversary of The Ann Arbor Chronicle’s Sept. 2, 2008 launch. It’s an opportunity for either the publisher or the editor of The Chronicle to touch base with readers on topics related to this publication. It’s also a time that we highlight, with gratitude, our local advertisers, and ask readers to consider subscribing voluntarily to The Chronicle to support our work.

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Milestone: Five Years of Chronicling Mon, 02 Sep 2013 11:38:17 +0000 Mary Morgan Since we launched The Chronicle in 2008, we’ve met many remarkable people.

Jimmy Ragget, Common Cycle, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Jimmy Raggett of Common Cycle, a nonprofit that won a Bezonki award last year, brought his kids Cole and Cooper to The Chronicle’s Aug. 9 reception. (Photos by Leisa Thompson)

And for the past three years, we’ve thanked a few of them with our annual Bezonki awards.

This year’s winners are an extraordinary group: Derrick Jackson of the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office; community activist Lisa Dengiz; teacher and environmentalist Dan Ezekiel; the nonprofit Ann Arbor Active Against ALS; Paul Courant of the University of Michigan; and Linda Diane Feldt, an author and holistic health practitioner who’s one of The Chronicle’s most prolific and poetic Stopped.Watched contributors. I’ll tell you more about them in a bit.

We honored these folks at a reception on Aug. 9, when they received the physical Bezonki awards. Each of the six Bezonkis is unique, made in part with bits salvaged from equipment at the former Ann Arbor News – a totem of our profession’s past. They were crafted by local artist Alvey Jones, whose Bezonki cartoons are published monthly in The Chronicle.

The awards are unique in another way. Each winner of a Bezonki is a steward of the physical award for a year. Winners in the past year hand it off to the next year’s winners. This year the hand-off took place at the Aug. 9 reception held at Zingerman’s Events on Fourth. Our hope is that the awards create connections year after year between people in the community – people who might not otherwise have crossed paths.

At our annual receptions, we also hope to introduce attendees to new experiences. And we try to have some fun. We’re an online publication, but this year we tipped our hat to journalism’s heritage by making “pressman’s caps” out of newsprint. So in the photos below, you’ll see many of our guests wearing their own. [If you'd like to make one yourself, you can download the instructions here.]

This year we also invited local artist/inventor Michael Flynn to display his “cooperative phonograph” to our event – a four-foot stainless steel spinning disk that’s truly a work of art. Using a card as the “needle,” you can pick up sounds from the ridges that he’s cut into the disk’s edge. One of the tracks was a repetition of the phrase “Love is all you need.” That’s fitting, because as we celebrate five years of Chronicling, Dave Askins and I are also celebrating our 24th wedding anniversary today. It’s getting better all the time.

But on Aug. 9, the main point of our reception was to honor a few of the many people who help make this community a special place. So please join me in celebrating the 2013 Bezonki winners!

2013 Bezonki Awards: Derrick Jackson

I first met Derrick Jackson when he was director of elections for Washtenaw County. At the time I didn’t realize that he also had been a case study in making every vote count. He ran for the Ypsilanti Township board of trustees in 2004, and lost by one vote. He shares that one-vote distinction with former Bezonki winner Yousef Rabhi, who is now chair of the county board of commissioners.

Today, Derrick is director of community engagement for the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office, where he brings his background in social work to bear on helping change the culture of our local criminal justice system.

Derrick is connected to last year’s winner, Jeff Micale, through their elections work – Jeff oversees Ann Arbor’s absentee voter count board.

Derrick Jackson, Jeff Micale, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Derrick Jackson, holding his 2013 Bezonki award, which was presented by last year’s winner, Jeff Micale, for his work overseeing Ann Arbor’s absentee voter count board.

To Derrick Jackson: In recognition of his humor, grace and thoughtful civic engagement, both professionally and personally, to make our community safer, stronger, and more compassionate.

2013 Bezonki Awards: Lisa Dengiz

Lisa Dengiz is one of those people in this community who helps reduce degrees of separation. If you don’t know her directly, you almost certainly know someone who does, and who will quickly describe how much they admire and respect her work. She’s probably best known as co-founder of the Neutral Zone teen center, and more recently as the founding board chair for the Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation, which gives micro-grants to groups and individuals.

Lisa was nominated for a Bezonki by Joan Martin, who worked with Lisa 25 years ago to start the Ecology Center’s pesticide task force. It’s that work to protect our environment that connects her to last year’s winner, Roger Rayle, who’s a leader of Scio Residents for Safe Water and member of Washtenaw County’s Coalition for Action on Remediation of Dioxane (CARD).

Lisa Dengiz, Dave Askins, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Lisa Dengiz receives her Bezonki from Chronicle editor Dave Askins.

To Lisa Dengiz: In recognition of her tireless, creative contributions to build organizations that help our community excel in serious and seriously awesome ways.

2013 Bezonki Awards: Ann Arbor Active Against ALS

This group of volunteers began their work inspired by one person with Lou Gehrig’s disease – Bob Schoeni, known to many as Coach Bob. Ann Arbor Active Against ALS is a cause, to raise money to fight ALS. What’s remarkable about A2A3? For this organization, “cause” is not a noun – it’s a verb. It causes people to do remarkable things. Like lift 1,000 pounds, run a virtual marathon on a treadmill, pedal a bicycle between the Michigan State football stadium and the Big House, interrupt a perfectly pleasant 5K run by eating a Twinkie, then proving to former city parks director Ron Olson that the Twinkie really is “all gone” before continuing, or dive into the English Channel and swim across, then back again.

They received the Bezonki from last year’s winner, Anna Ercoli Schnitzer, one of the most active people I know. She’s a tireless advocate for the disabled community, for diversity of all kinds, and for fighting discrimination wherever she finds it.

David Lowenshuss, Anna Ercoli Schnitzer, Ann Arbor Active Against ALS, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

David Lowenschuss, a board member with Ann Arbor Active Against ALS, receives his Bezonki from last year’s winner, Anna Ercoli Schnitzer.

To Ann Arbor Active Against ALS: In recognition of their creative efforts to raise awareness about ALS by causing people to be active. Their work is an inspiration, reminding us that action is the best response to adversity.

2013 Bezonki Awards: Dan Ezekiel

Dan Ezekiel’s commitment to the environment and his community has taken many forms over the years, from helping start Recycle Ann Arbor in the ‘70s, to his day job as “Mr. Ezekiel,” the science teacher at Forsythe Middle School, to his tenure as a founding member of the city’s greenbelt advisory commission.

You might also see Dan riding his bike around town – he likes to describe the location of greenbelt properties in terms of how long it would take to get there by bike. It’s that cycling connection that links Dan to last year’s winner, the nonprofit Common Cycle.

Dan was out of town on the night of our awards presentation, so his Bezonki was accepted by Barry Lonik, a local land preservationist.

Jimmy Raggett, Barry Lonik, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Last year’s Bezonki winner – Jimmy Raggett of Common Cycle – presented the award to Barry Lonik, who accepted it on behalf of Dan Ezekiel.

To Dan Ezekiel: In recognition of his lifelong commitment to the Ann Arbor community. His work has helped residents understand their impact on the environment, and their role in protecting its land and resources for future generations.

2013 Bezonki Awards: Paul Courant

Paul Courant‘s accomplishments and influence play out on the national and international stage, though he’s grounded in this community. As an economist, scholar, and former University of Michigan provost who recently stepped down as dean of libraries, Paul brings an eclectic perspective to bear on looking at problems and trying to fix them. He’s also extremely funny.

A couple of years ago, I attended a talk that Paul gave as part of TEDxUofM. He told the crowd that he got interested in public policy because he’s interested in making things work better – and that government, judiciously applied, can be a vehicle for doing that. Paul is retiring as dean of libraries but will continue teaching. I also hope he’ll consider how he might judiciously apply his own time in local government.

Paul is connected to last year’s winner, the Ann Arbor District Library’s digital archiving team, in an obvious way – they all miss card catalogs.

Paul Courant, Josie Parker, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor District Library, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Paul Courant with Josie Parker, director of the Ann Arbor District Library. She presented the award to Paul on behalf of last year’s winners, the AADL’s digital archives team.

To Paul Courant: In recognition of his intellectual curiosity and international reach, his thoughtful insights on questions of public policy, and his belief – despite occasional evidence to the contrary – that government can be a force for making our lives better.

2013 Bezonki Awards: Linda Diane Feldt

The Chronicle includes a regular feature that we call Stopped.Watched. Anyone can contribute these brief vignettes, which are simple observations of what’s happening in our community, logged as people move about in the routine of their daily lives. By honoring Linda Diane Feldt – who has raised these items to an art form – this Bezonki is also a nod to all of our Stopped.Watched correspondents, and a thanks for stopping and watching the world as it passes by.

Linda’s powers of observation are reflected in much of her work – as a writer, teacher, urban wildcrafter, holistic health practitioner and more. You may have seen her walking around the city, usually with her dog Nala, stopping to talk to the many people who know her and the many people who will know her soon. Her compassion and deep sense of community are inspiring.

Her Bezonki was presented by last year’s winner, Jim Toy, a long-time activist for the LGBT community – the Jim Toy Community Center, located in Braun Court, is a tribute to his lifelong work. And in one of those unintentional connections that I’ve come to expect from the Bezonkis, it turns out that Linda was a student in a class that Jim taught decades ago at Community High School.

Jim Toy, Linda Diane Feldt, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Jim Toy, who won the Bezonki last year for his lifetime of advocacy, presents the award to Linda Diane Feldt.

To Linda Diane Feldt: In recognition of her ability to see the poetry in the seemingly mundane, to elevate the beauty of our everyday lives, and to share her observations with the rest of us along the way.

Scenes from The Chronicle’s Bezonki Reception

You can read more about last year’s Bezonki winners here, and follow this link to learn about the 2011 recipients. And if there’s a person or organization that you think should be recognized in 2014, please let me know.

Meanwhile, here are some additional photos from our Aug. 9 reception, taken by my former Ann Arbor News colleague, Leisa Thompson.

Michael Flynn, Chuck Bultman, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Architect Chuck Bultman tries out the “cooperative phonograph” by local artist Michael Flynn, who’s standing in the background.

Alvey Jones, Domenica Trevor, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Alvey Jones and Domenica Trevor made pressman hats out of copies of The New York Times at The Chronicle’s Aug. 9 reception. Trevor writes a book column for The Chronicle. Jones is a partner in WSG Gallery and creator of the Bezonki comics, which run in The Chronicle on the first Sunday of each month.

Russ Collins, Michigan Theater, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Russ Collins, executive director of the Michigan Theater.

Lisa Dengiz, Alan Dengiz, Paul Saginaw, Eileen Spring, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Bezonki winner Lisa Dengiz with her husband Alan Dengiz, Paul Saginaw of Zingerman’s, and Eileen Spring, executive director of Food Gatherers.

Peter Eckstein, Jeff Gaynor, Yousef Rabhi, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Local economist Peter Eckstein, Jeff Gaynor, a teacher at Clague Middle School, and Yousef Rabhi, chair of the Washtenaw County board of commissioners.

Jim Toy, Anna Ercoli Schnitzer, Bert Schnitzer, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Two Bezonki winners from 2012 – Jim Toy and Anna Ercoli Schnitzer – with Bert Schnitzer, a retired University of Michigan professor.

Andy LaBarre, Declan LaBarre, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Washtenaw County commissioner Andy LaBarre with his son Declan.

John Kotarski, Theresa Tinkle, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

John Kotarski and Theresa Tinkle. Kotarski serves on the Ann Arbor public art commission. Tinkle is a University of Michigan English professor.

David Erik Nelson, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Local author David Erik Nelson, who writes a monthly column for The Chronicle.

Bezonki Awards, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

The Bezonki Awards, handmade by local artist Alvey Jones.

Rhonda Foxworth, Kevin Merrill, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Rhonda Foxworth, vice president at the Bank of Ann Arbor, and Kevin Merrill, director of communications for the University of Michigan School of Natural Resources & Environment.

Lucy Ann Lance, Mary Morgan, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Radio talk show host Lucy Ann Lance (1290 WLBY) and Chronicle publisher Mary Morgan.

Tom Bowes, LInda Diane Feldt, Peter Honeyman, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Tom Bowes and Linda Diane Feldt with Peter Honeyman and Lynn Chamberlain. Tom is a permaculturist and energy educator. Peter and Lynn both work at the University of Michigan. Peter, who is also a frequent Stopped.Watched contributor, is director of the center for information technology integration (CITI). Lynn is a research associate at the School of Education.

Jeff Micale, Mary Beth Damm, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Jeff Micale, who won a Bezonki in 2012 for his work with the city of Ann Arbor elections, with his wife Mary Beth Damm.

Paul Courant, Bob Shoeni, James Hilton, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Paul Courant with Bob Schoeni of Ann Arbor Active Against ALS and James Hilton, who is replacing Courant as the University of Michigan’s dean of libraries.

Andy LaBarre, Derrick Jackson

Andy LaBarre talks with Stacey and Derrick Jackson.

Mary Morgan, Dan Smith

Chronicle publisher Mary Morgan and Dan Smith, a Washtenaw County commissioner.

Kristin McGuire, David Lowenschuss, Ann Arbor Active Against ALS, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Kristin McGuire and David Lowenschuss are board members with Ann Arbor Active Against ALS.

Chris Lord, Don Hewlett, Michael Appel, Ruth Kraut, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Local poet Chris Lord and Don Hewlett. In the background are Michael Appel and Ruth Kraut, who writes a column on education issues for The Chronicle.

Mary Morgan, Dave Askins, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Chronicle co-founders Mary Morgan and Dave Askins, who celebrate their 24th wedding anniversary on Sept 2, 2013 – the 5th anniversary of The Chronicle.

Alvey Jones, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Alvey Jones winds down the Bezonki reception with the New York Times.

The Chronicle relies in part on regular voluntary subscriptions to support our coverage of local government and civic affairs. Click this link for details: Subscribe to The Chronicle. And if you’re already supporting us, please encourage your friends, neighbors and colleagues to help support The Chronicle, too!

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Milestone: What The Chronicle Sounds Like Fri, 02 Aug 2013 13:05:40 +0000 Dave Askins Here at The Ann Arbor Chronicle, we traffic almost exclusively in the written word. One clear exception is made for center-column articles, where we do try to include some photographs. Still, it’s rare that we take advantage of the full multimedia capability of the Internet.

Michael Flynn with phonograph

Michael Flynn with his “cooperative phonograph” on Main Street in Chelsea, Michigan for the Sounds and Sights Festival on July 27, 2013. (Photographs by the writer.)

However, in the last couple of weeks, we’ve published two pieces that have included supplementary audio files. One was a write-up of a Ward 3 Ann Arbor city council candidate forum. The audio in that case served the purpose of grounding possible conversation about a she-said-he-said accusation in the actual facts of what-he-said.

The second one was a piece by regular columnist David Erik Nelson – about interviewing Noam Chomsky in the bar of the Campus Inn. The audio in that case served in part to provide a literal sense of what Chomsky “sounds like.” Just as a side note, I would argue that Nelson’s written treatment of the interview actually offers higher fidelity than the audio.

Today’s monthly milestone column also includes some audio. It was recorded from a roughly four-foot diameter “cooperative phonograph” fabricated out of stainless steel by local Ann Arbor inventor/artist Michael Flynn. Flynn had the phonograph on display last Saturday at Chelsea’s Sounds and Sights Festival.

Flynn was set up on Chelsea’s Main Street, just south of the iconic clock tower. He invited passers-by to use cards as “needles” to pick up the sounds from the ridges that he has cut into the edges of the metal disk.

I enjoyed watching as skeptical expressions from parents and kids dissolved into delight – as they discovered how the cards they were holding against the spinning platter were somehow generating music and words.

But an expression of delight won’t pay Flynn’s bills. The work of art took him over four years to develop – and he took on debt to make it possible. So Flynn is looking to sell the phonograph and to make more of them for sale – as a piece of public art or an interactive museum exhibit. That is how Flynn earns his livelihood.

As I watched kids and parents take their turns holding their cards against the edge of the rotating disk, the resulting sounds varied – depending on the size of the card, how tightly it was held, the card’s angle against the grooved metal edge, and a host of other factors unique to the person holding the card.

That struck me as a rough analog to The Chronicle’s journalistic enterprise: We are in the business of creating a permanent record – like Flynn’s phonograph. But in the eye and the mind of different readers, the sound that comes out of The Chronicle will vary. If we’re doing our job well, that variance should, I think, be relatively small.

Compared to human memory, the advantage of The Chronicle’s record is that it’s publicly accessible to anyone with a connection to the Internet or who has a friend with a printer.

She Said He Said

Let’s start with some political noise. Julie Grand asserted during a recent Ward 3 city council candidate forum, hosted by the League of Women Voters, that her opponent, incumbent Stephen Kunselman, had admitted he didn’t come to city council meetings prepared. She indicated to The Chronicle subsequently that she’d been referring to remarks made at a previous forum hosted by the Ann Arbor Democratic Party.

I don’t doubt that Grand’s inner phonograph needle, when dropped onto her mental record of the occasion, played a tune that sounded like an admission by Kunselman. Yet that didn’t square up with my own memory of the forum – and The Chronicle’s report of that occasion didn’t include such an admission.

But just because some remarks don’t appear in a Chronicle report doesn’t mean they weren’t made. So I tracked down an audio recording of the Democratic Party forum, which shows that Grand’s claim about Kunselman’s remarks wasn’t accurate – judged against the standard of the words Kunselman actually spoke on the recording.

I think the analysis of what Kunselman said is simpler if it’s reduced to some example sentences that don’t involve city council politics or the word “admit” – which has its own interesting semantics. (More about the idea of using example sentences in a minute.)

Let’s assume that (1) is true. Now we check to see if (2) or (3) follow from (1).

(1) John said, “I put the $20 bill in my pocket.”

(2) John said that he put the $20 bill in his pocket.

(3) John said that he stole $20.

Even the fanciest semantic analysis – relying on the distinction between extensional and intensional contexts – will boil down to the same thing: Putting $20 in your pocket doesn’t mean the same thing as stealing $20. So while (2) follows from (1), it’s not the case that (3) follows from (1).

For all we know, the $20 bill might belong to John in the first place. And that would make (3) false for two reasons – because there was not any actual event of stealing and John, in any case, didn’t talk about stealing. To claim (3), you’d need access to facts other than those presented in (1).

We’ll continue to strive at The Chronicle to write sentences like (2) based on sentences like (1).

Example Sentences

I appeal to example sentences out of a habit I’ve not shed from linguistics graduate school. The custom in linguistics of employing such sentences is evident in the transcript of Nelson’s interview with Noam Chomsky, which I mentioned earlier. The linguist Chomsky provided (4) as illustrating an important insight into human language – that “closeness” of words, measured by linear order, is trumped by structural relations.

(4) Eagles that fly swim.

Chomsky pointed out that when the word “can” is added to the beginning of the sentence, as in (5), it becomes a question about the ability to swim, not the ability to fly, even though the word “can” is closer to “fly” measured by linear order.

(5) Can eagles that fly swim?

Chomsky’s point is that linear order is not a part of the computational system for human language, but rather an artifact of the way we express thoughts, because “whatever’s going on in our minds has to work its way through the sensory-motor system to get outside.”

Frankly, I don’t remember enough about theories of syntax to be able to say how the following two sentences relate to Chomsky’s claim about linear order:

(6) All you need is love.

(7) Love is all you need.

But examples (6) and (7) actually loop us back to Michael Flynn’s phonograph. One of the tracks Flynn has machined into the metal surface is his own voice saying, “Love is all you need.”

Last Saturday, a father and little girl in Chelsea listened to the repeated phrase, “Love is all you need, love is all you need, love is all you need …” coming from Flynn’s phonograph. The dad gave her a kiss on the cheek and told her, “All you need is love.”

For now I’m counting that as rock-solid evidence that for language, linear order doesn’t matter.

Likewise, the kiss – whether it’s planted on the cheek of your loved one or on The Chronicle – can come before or after the words. [.mp3 of cooperative phonograph]

Closeup of the sound waves machined into the edge of the disk.

Closeup of the sound waves machined into the edge of the disk.

A phonograph made by Michael Flynn was showcased at the Chelsea Sounds and Sights Festival.

A crowd gathers around Michael Flynn’s phonograph at the Chelsea Sounds and Sights Festival. Flynn is standing behind the disk.

A youngster plays music on the phonograph made by Michael Flynn.

A youngster plays music on Michael Flynn’s phonograph at the Chelsea Sounds and Sights Festival.

Dave Askins is editor of The Ann Arbor Chronicle. For the first four years of publication, a milestone column was published every month in The Chronicle. Now the column is only an occasional feature. When the milestone column does appear, it’s on the second day of the month – to mark the anniversary of The Ann Arbor Chronicle’s Sept. 2, 2008 launch. It’s an opportunity for either the publisher or the editor of The Chronicle to touch base with readers on topics related to this publication. It’s also a time that we highlight, with gratitude, our local advertisers, and ask readers to consider subscribing voluntarily to The Chronicle to support our work – because we need more than just love.

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Milestone: Zooey, Ukes, Parades, Calendars Tue, 02 Jul 2013 16:10:16 +0000 Dave Askins In this monthly update, I will explain what Zooey Deschanel and Ann Arbor, Michigan have in common.

I’ll hazard a guess that some regular readers of The Chronicle’s local government news coverage might wonder: Who is Zooey Deschanel? OK. So here it goes. She’s that actress from New Girl – not the one who plays CeCe, but the one who plays Jess. Right. So Jess is the one who might wind up with Nick, but we don’t know for sure, but we’re still totally rooting for them to get together as a couple – because they’re both so, like, you know, quirky that nobody else would have them.

Calendar Listing for Ukelele Group

Extract of The Chronicle’s calendar listing for July 4, 2013. Other events between this “double entry” were digitally removed.

Ah, yes. New Girl is a TV sitcom, broadcast on FOX.

If that doesn’t give Ms. Deschanel enough cred for you to read any more of this column, try this: She gave a musical performance at Hill Auditorium last night, as part of the duo “She & Him.”

She was performing around the same time when regular readers of The Chronicle were following along with our live updates from the meeting of the Ann Arbor city council. [Spoiler alert: The council was all sorta Nick-and-Jess about their agenda last night, and postponed a bunch of stuff.]

Those city council meetings, by the way, are listed out on The Chronicle’s new-and-improved event listing display, along with myriad other happenings in Ann Arbor. I wrote about the basic technology behind that event listing earlier this year. If you’d like to add all your organization’s events to our listing all-in-one-go, it’s pretty easy.

The lead art for this column is made out of a screenshot taken from The Chronicle’s event listings. For calendar purists, this might be evidence that we are doing it wrong: The 4th of July parade is listed twice. Twice? That’s like making Jess and Nick go on a double date with CeCe and Schmidt, am I right?

Actually, I think that “double listing” illustrates perfectly why our approach to event listings is exactly right. 

Ukulele Group

The Ann Arbor Ukulele Group in the 2012 4th of July parade.

First, how did this “impure” double listing happen? Our listing draws from the iCalendar data feeds created by the organizations whose calendars we are aggregating. So it’s possible that more than one organization could list the same event. The display that Microsoft’s Jon Udell has crafted for us (as a part of the elmcity project) will actually coalesce identical events into a single item in the display.

But in the case of the Ann Arbor 4th of July parade, you can see that the Ann Arbor Jaycees and the Ukulele Group chose slightly different titles for the parade in their calendars: “Ann Arbor Jaycees 4th of July Parade” versus “Ann Arbor 4th of July Parade.” Shouldn’t we have a way of giving deference to the calendar maintained by the true event host – which is in this case the Ann Arbor Jaycees? I don’t think so.

For one thing, even though the Ann Arbor Jaycees are the actual host of the event, in their calendar they didn’t include specific time information. They’ve got it listed as an all-day event. For the Jaycees as an organization, it probably is an all day event. This other organization, called the Ann Arbor Ukulele Group, listed a specific time – so you know it’s a morning event. It’s slightly better than the information provided by the event host. The 9:30 a.m. time, however, is when the ukulele players are supposed to gather. It’s not the official parade start time, which is 10 a.m.

But here’s what I enjoy about the fact that the Ann Arbor Ukulele Group’s 4th of July parade event shows up in our listing: Because it’s there, we get a little preview of one of the parade entries. From that listing we get the idea: There’s gonna be ukes in the parade! It makes me want to go to the parade!

And when you click through from the event listing, you land on the ukulele group’s MeetUp page – which is the platform that automatically generates their iCalendar data feed. There you find their set list for the parade:

  1. “This Land Is Your Land”
  2. “When The Saints Go Marching In”
  3. “You’re A Grand Old Flag/Yankee Doodle Boy”
  4. “Ukes On The March”

One of the group’s organizers, Hilo Greg aka Greg Gattuso, responded to my emailed query by explaining that this year will mark the group’s fourth appearance in Ann Arbor’s parade. You can also download the music for the songs from their MeetUp page, and join them in marching in the parade.

And that brings me back around to Zooey Deschanel. She could, if she really wanted, march in Ann Arbor’s 4th of July parade with Hilo Greg and his friends. Not because she’s a pretty girl. But because she’s a pretty girl with a uke.

That’s just like Ann Arbor will be on July 4th this year: a pretty girl … with a parade of ukes.

Dave Askins is editor of The Ann Arbor Chronicle. For the first four years of publication, a milestone column was published every month in The Chronicle. Now the column is only an occasional feature. When the milestone column does appear, it’s on the second day of the month – to mark the anniversary of The Ann Arbor Chronicle’s Sept. 2, 2008 launch. It’s an opportunity for either the publisher or the editor of The Chronicle to touch base with readers on topics related to this publication. It’s also a time that we highlight, with gratitude, our local advertisers, and ask readers to consider subscribing voluntarily to The Chronicle to support our work.

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Milestone: Why You Keep Running a Marathon Fri, 24 May 2013 16:59:51 +0000 Dave Askins 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.

My shoes from the Oct. 26, 2003 Marine Corps Marathon in Washington D.C.

My shoes from the Oct. 26, 2003 Marine Corps Marathon in Washington D.C.

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.

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Milestone: Relays Without Batons Thu, 02 May 2013 04:14:47 +0000 Dave Askins We’re roughly midway through The Chronicle’s fifth year. That means in September we’ll mark a half-decade of publication.

May Day Medley Columbus Indiana 1988

Commemorative May Day Medley mug.  (Columbus, Indiana 1988)

At that point, we will likely write a column with some reckoning of total words, or total number of public meetings covered, or some other statistical breakdown.

And even though we will say, “It’s a half decade,” those numbers will not mean we are half way there. Because there is where the finish line is. And in this race The Chronicle has been running, there is no finish line.

In that respect it is not like a marathon – when you know at the start that if you settle into a sustainable pace, you will eventually finish. But for a race that has no finish line, what does a sustainable pace even mean?

Here at The Chronicle, a sustainable pace means that the business is financially stable enough to cover the freelance writers, basic business expenses and the livelihoods of a full-time editor and publisher. But The Chronicle is not sustainable in an important sense. It requires a full-time effort from two people – and here I don’t mean 40 hours, or 60 hours, or even 80 hours a week. I mean basically every waking moment.

So The Chronicle is not sustainable in the sense that it’s a business that could be sold to someone else to carry on – unless that someone else were two people who are willing to run down a race course that offers a simple livelihood with few water stations and some occasional cheers.

To pound this running metaphor completely into the ground, The Chronicle is not sustainable in the sense that it could passed like a baton to the next runner in a relay. And that reminds me of a relay race I ran a quarter century ago in my hometown of Columbus, Indiana.

It was called the May Day Medley. 

The May Day Medley was a two-part relay – a bicycling leg followed by a running leg. My recollection is that the distances were fairly modest – a 10-mile bike ride followed by a 5K run. A high school buddy and I decided we’d form a team for the relay. Long story short, he was offered a job on the east coast and had to bail on the race. I entered the event knowing that when I pedaled into the transition area, there’d be no one there waiting to receive the sweatband that was supposed to serve as the relay baton. That is a very easy thing in theory.

In actual practice it’s sometimes hard to find your running shoes in a crowd. And drinking out of a water station cup while running is not as easy as you’d think.

My memory of the actual race is pretty hazy. It was warm and humid, as early May in southern Indiana can be. I lacked mental focus, because the following day, I had arranged a first date with the woman who eventually became my lovely bride. She’s publisher of The Chronicle.

But among the cheers from spectators, one guy stood out. He ventured that I needed to alter my stride: “Stop landing on your toes!” What he meant by that, I’m sure, is that I have a suboptimal foot-strike for distance running. It’s too far forward, and is more suited to sprinting. It was probably a fair coaching point.

But here’s a pro-tip for running spectators: During the race, just deliver what’s asked – a cheer of encouragement or a drink of water. You’re not actually helping that much by coaching, even if your coaching advice is sound. It would be only the oddball runner who might remember your advice anyway, much less write it down 25 years later for everyone else to remember.

In the same way, I find that some Ann Arborites are enthusiastic roadside coaches – when it comes to the race The Chronicle is running. They’ll offer sound advice, like: faster turnaround for meeting reports would make The Chronicle better; Ann Arbor Public Schools need more coverage beyond just board meeting reports; we shouldn’t have dropped coverage of University of Michigan regents meetings; high school sports would give people a reason to visit the website; The Chronicle should cover crime and spot news; a weather almanac feature would be great; more opinion columns would be welcome.

It’s not that I necessarily disagree with any of that advice. It’s just that advice alone doesn’t pay the bills.

And ultimately, that advice is not what we need most in order to make this enterprise sustainable for the longer run. Right now, as we’re running down the road, what we need from a greater number of Ann Arborites is a simple cheer, or a drink of water – in the form of regular voluntary subscription dollars.

To those of you who’ve already been staffing the metaphorical water station – as advertisers and voluntary subscribers – we thank you. You’ve helped us cover the distance so far, and we couldn’t have done it without you.

Dave Askins is editor of The Ann Arbor Chronicle. For the first four years of publication, a milestone column was published every month in The Chronicle. Now the column is only an occasional feature. When the milestone column does appear, it’s on the second day of the month – to mark the anniversary of The Ann Arbor Chronicle’s Sept. 2, 2008 launch. It’s an opportunity for either the publisher or the editor of The Chronicle to touch base with readers on topics related to this publication. It’s also a time that we highlight, with gratitude, our local advertisers, and ask readers to consider subscribing voluntarily to The Chronicle to support our work.

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Milestone: Monthly Reminders Sat, 02 Feb 2013 14:57:19 +0000 Dave Askins The Chronicle’s milestone column was originally conceived as a monthly feature – an opportunity for either the editor or the publisher to relay housekeeping news to readers, or offer opinions on topics related to media and journalism. It was also conceived as a monthly reminder to readers that actual human beings who live among them are reporting, writing and editing this publication.

Blue overlay reminder notice

Screenshot of blue overlay reminder notice. After it’s been closed – by clicking the “close button” in the upper righthand of the overlay – it should not appear again as a reader continues to navigate through The Chronicle’s site.

The monthly milestone column was also a vehicle for reminding readers that it takes regular financial contributions from readers like them to sustain this publication. As we look to transition this from a monthly to an occasional column, we’d like to maintain a monthly schedule of reminders to folks: If you perceive a benefit from The Chronicle to yourself and the broader community, then please consider contributing financial support so that benefit can be sustained.

So, to maintain a regular monthly reminder, especially in those months when we don’t publish a milestone column, we’re trying out a blue overlay – which should have appeared on your screen if you visited the website today (Feb. 2, 2013). In some ways, it’s an awful and ostentatious way to greet Chronicle readers. But to make it go away, just click in the upper righthand corner on the “close button.” It shouldn’t appear again for the duration of your visit.

Of course, instead of clicking on that “close button,” we’d prefer you clicked on the SUBSCRIBE link. Or failing that, we’re hoping that the blue overlay might remind you to review your check register for the last time you wrote out a check to The Chronicle.

And of course, if you’re already sending your regular financial support to The Chronicle, we’d like you to interpret that blue overlay as a thank-you. We hope it will encourage you to mention to your friends, co-workers and acquaintances that you voluntarily subscribe to The Chronicle, and suggest they do the same.

Dave Askins is editor of The Ann Arbor Chronicle. For the first four years of publication, a milestone column was published every month in The Chronicle. Now the column is only an occasional feature. When the milestone column does appear, it’s on the second day of the month – to mark the anniversary of The Ann Arbor Chronicle’s Sept. 2, 2008 launch. It’s an opportunity for either the publisher or the editor of The Chronicle to touch base with readers on topics related to this publication. It’s also a time that we highlight, with gratitude, our local advertisers, and ask readers to consider subscribing voluntarily to The Chronicle to support our work.

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Milestone: Flipping Your Calendar to 2013 Wed, 02 Jan 2013 06:39:51 +0000 Dave Askins The start of a new year is a plenty good excuse to talk about calendars – or event listings.

Screenshot of excerpt from Chronicle event listings

Screenshot showing an excerpt from The Chronicle event listings.

Ordinarily, I would be inclined to bore you to death by discussing Internet standards, syndication, multiple-data entry problems, connections to authoritative sources, the myriad ways I am smarter than our pet cat, and how all this should cause us to grumble and make very serious faces as we lament the future of journalism.

But I figure I have a whole year to do that.

For now, I’d like you to consider this: The Chronicle’s calendar listings currently include 4,217 events.

That’s because we’ve embraced an approach to event listings based on the idea that: (1) event hosts are in command of the most accurate information about their events; and (2) event hosts should be able to just maintain their own calendars, and expect their event information to show up all over the Internet, without doing one bit of extra data entry for any publication. 

Those 4,217 events come from 256 different online calendars – which event hosts are maintaining for themselves, not especially just for us. Our event listings pull events from those calendars automatically, updating to reflect any added or altered events in the host’s calendar. The whole thing is made possible by Jon Udell’s elmcity project, which aims in part to demonstrate the power of Microsoft’s Windows Azure computing cloud.

If you’re a host of regular events in the Ann Arbor area, chances are good that The Chronicle is already displaying your events – because you’re using a friendly piece of software – like Hotmail Calendar, or Google Calendar, or because you’re using Facebook, Eventful, Meetup, or Eventbrite to publicize your events.

For example, our event listings know when Sava’s $5 cheeseburgers are on sale, when the open mic takes place at Oz Music, when the deadline is for winter city taxes, and when Dr. Snowflake is giving his workshop (please bring scissors for cutting your own paper).

Want to check if yours is one of the 256 calendars we’re already displaying? Review the calendar list. If you don’t see your calendar on the list, and you think it ought to be there, get in touch [] and I’ll talk you through some of the basics.

We’ve been working to assemble this version of the event listings for a few months now. But it’s still a rough draft in several ways.

One way it’s rough is that I’ve only made a first pass at categorizing feeds – and the categories need refinement. For example, there’s a category for “exhibits” and one for “exhibitions.” Those need to be coalesced into a single category.

Ideally we’d like the categorization of events to work off the consensus preference of different event hosts. For example, I’ve assigned the category “famfun” to the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum events and to Leslie Science and Nature Center events. Leaders of those organizations are in a better position to gauge whether that’s an apt label, and if it actually applies to all of their events or only some.

Work on the taxonomy of the categories is one of the projects that we’re hoping a student at the University of Michigan’s School of Information might be willing to tackle in the context of the school’s practical engagement program.

Another way the event listings are a rough draft is the page design. It currently reflects a fairly large gob of text that’s a challenge to parse visually. So we’ve tasked Ross Johnson of 3.7 Designs in Ann Arbor to style up the listings, giving them more of a Chronicle look and feel.

But here’s the thing about the work that Ross does. Like the freelance writers and artists, accountants, lawyers, server technicians, and the rest of the folks who perform mission critical tasks for The Chronicle, professional web designers have to be compensated in actual cash money.

And that’s where voluntary subscribers come in. To those of you who contributed last year, I’d like to say thank you. I hope that The Chronicle earns your support again this year. To those of you who’ve had intentions of providing voluntary financial support – but have been waiting for the right moment – I hope 2013 is a good year to start.

Dave Askins is editor of The Ann Arbor Chronicle. For the first four years of publication, a milestone column was published every month in The Chronicle. Now the column is only an occasional feature. When the milestone column does appear, it’s on the second day of the month – to mark the anniversary of The Ann Arbor Chronicle’s Sept. 2, 2008 launch. It’s an opportunity for either the publisher or the editor of The Chronicle to touch base with readers on topics related to this publication. It’s also a time that we highlight, with gratitude, our local advertisers, and ask readers to consider subscribing voluntarily to The Chronicle to support our work.

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Milestone: Four Years, But Who’s Counting? Sun, 02 Sep 2012 13:33:27 +0000 Dave Askins Today, The Ann Arbor Chronicle celebrates the four-year anniversary of its launch.

Fridge cards

Samples of postcards – sent out in a mailing a few months ago to encourage voluntary subscriptions – are temporarily preserved on the refrigerator “scrapbook.”

Judged against the developmental milestones of human four-year-olds, The Chronicle can now be expected to command a vocabulary of at least 1,500 words, express itself in relatively complex sentences, use words that relate one idea to another, and express number and space concepts.

Over the last couple of weeks, as University of Michigan students have streamed into Ann Arbor for the start of the fall semester, I’ve wondered what this four-year-old kid called The Chronicle will be doing when it reaches college age.

And should I perhaps be thinking about starting a college fund?

Funding for The Chronicle is, of course, one theme we typically highlight in these Monthly Milestone columns – as a reminder that part of our funding comes from voluntary subscription dollars contributed by readers.

That’s a reminder to some readers to translate a good intention into action. And it’s a hearty thank you to those who already send in regular contributions in the form of a voluntary subscription.

This month, I’m putting The Chronicle’s funding in the context of a public art millage that the city council has placed on the Nov. 6 ballot.

But to start off, I’ve tallied up some summary statistics on the items published in the first four years. 

Some Publication Stats

As of a week ago, the total number of items published in The Chronicle was 10,404. That includes 711 full-length reports of public meetings in the Meeting Watch section. It also includes 1,253 briefs, mostly filed directly from public meetings, published in our Civic News Ticker section. We’ve published 411 opinion pieces, a figure that includes those of our regular columnists.

And according to the little word-counting widget that Ross Johnson of 3.7 Designs installed on The Chronicle’s website, all of those different articles add up to 6,207,171 words.

That grand total also includes 3,498 Stopped.Watched. items – short observations contributed by “correspondents” as they go about their ordinary lives. Based on those items, an out-of-town reader might conclude that Liberty Street is where most of the action is – because 741 of the Stopped.Watched. items involve that corridor. A bit more geographic diversity would probably be a worthy goal for those items.

For any readers who are intimidated by the word “correspondent,” filing a Stopped.Watched. item is really as simple as sending an email (, a text (734.645.2633), or an @replied Twittered message (@a2chronicle).

How Small Numbers Matter

To support publication of all those items, The Chronicle relies on advertising revenue as well as voluntary subscriptions.

In Ann Arbor’s local news market, a large number of relatively small contributions could add up to a sizable operating budget for a local publication. To see how this is at least feasible, consider that the city council voted on Aug. 20 to put a public art millage on the Nov. 6 ballot – to test whether Ann Arborites are willing to be taxed at a rate of 0.1 mills to support art in public places.

A rate of 0.1 mills works out to an average of something like $10 a year for the owner of a $200,000 home. The public art millage will likely face little organized opposition – partly because it’s hard to imagine that a large number of people would be willing to contribute even $50 to an anti-millage campaign. That amount is just a bit more than the average property owner would pay over the course of the four-year millage.

But the public art millage is estimated to generate around $450,000 annually. So small amounts do add up.

Worth noting, however: The Chronicle doesn’t have the power to levy taxes.

Voluntary Subs

So we’re especially indebted to readers who voluntarily subscribe. When The Chronicle launched, these voluntary subscriptions were not part of the business plan. We implemented the voluntary subscription program in response to readers who asked us specifically to give them a way to support this enterprise financially.

Some readers do not have the economic means to write a check for $480 a year, $240 a year, $120 a year, or even $12 a year without weighing that carefully against other vital needs. So it’s gratifying when The Chronicle survives their balance test.

It’s the subscription dollars of that kind of reader we have in mind when we weigh what to spend The Chronicle’s money and time on. And that’s partly why we have a commitment to focusing the vast bulk of our time and resources on reporting, researching, editing and writing local news. We estimate that less than 10% of The Chronicle’s effort is allocated specifically to revenue generation – things like ad sales, voluntary subscription pitches, marketing and promotion.

Surely some effort at revenue generation is justified – because readers can’t be expected to intuit our desire that they send in a voluntary subscription. Indeed, when I voluntarily contribute to an enterprise I think deserves my support, I’d like to see that organization make a basic effort to broaden its financial support. These milestone columns serve part of that function. Also a part of that effort was the postcard mailing we sent out a few months ago – samples of which are shown in the photo included in this column.

Even the small percentage of our effort that we invest in revenue generation might strike some readers as too much. But it’s almost trivial compared to other media organizations – which can allocate as much as 50% of their staff to advertising positions. Certainly a sales staff that size might be necessary, if the product that’s being sold is itself primarily a marketing platform, not the actual “thing of value” that is supposed to be holding up that platform.

Our pitch to voluntary subscribers is not “You can express your opinions to thousands of other people in the comment section!” And likewise, our pitch to advertisers is not, “You can use the marketing power of The Chronicle’s media platform to sell more widgets than you ever dreamed possible!”

Instead, the pitch to both kinds of financial supporters is basically the same: The Chronicle’s coverage of local civic and government affairs makes Ann Arbor a better place – to live and to do business.

With The Chronicle’s four-year anniversary today, it’s become clear that this approach to funding local news coverage can work – for at least a while. But it currently depends in large part on two people (its publisher, Mary Morgan, and editor, me) putting virtually every waking moment into the effort.

So if it’s going to work for a long, long while, we’ll need to convince the community to increase its financial support of the enterprise.

For today, however, in celebration of our four-year anniversary, I will focus on doing some of those things that other four-year-olds can also do: turn somersaults, gallop, catch and throw, bounce a ball …

… and hop on one foot.

The monthly milestone column, which appears on the second day of each month – the anniversary of The Ann Arbor Chronicle’s Sept. 2, 2008 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. It’s also a time that we highlight, with gratitude, our local advertisers, and ask readers to consider subscribing voluntarily to The Chronicle to support our work.

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