The Ann Arbor Chronicle » The Ann Arbor Chronicle it's like being there Wed, 26 Nov 2014 18:59:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Column: The Chronicle’s Last Chapter Wed, 03 Sep 2014 04:55:20 +0000 Mary Morgan 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.

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Ending It: 6 of 1, Half-Dozen of The Chronicle Fri, 08 Aug 2014 02:37:34 +0000 Dave Askins On Sept. 2, 2014, The Ann Arbor Chronicle will observe the sixth anniversary of its launch.

Chronicle carton.

Chronicle carton.

That’s also the last day on which we’ll publish regular new reports.

The website will remain live, with its archives freely accessible at least until the end of 2014, possibly longer.

There may be a special project or two that we will wrap up and eventually insert into the archives.

The event listings will remain live, and it’s our intent to maintain them into the future.

When a business effectively closes its doors, it’s always fair to ask at least two questions: Why at all? And why now?

The second is easier to answer, so I’ll handle it first.

Sept. 2 is significant because it’s a wedding anniversary date – for me and Chronicle publisher Mary Morgan. For the same sentimental reasons that Sept. 2 served well as a launch date, it will also serve as a splendid time to shut things down. Choosing that same date makes for a neat, tidy six-year archive, ending on the exact day of an Ann Arbor city council meeting. It also makes the math easy: Six years of The Chronicle, as a fraction of 25 years of marriage, translates into exactly 24% of our married life consumed by this publication.

And The Chronicle did consume nearly every waking moment of those six years. That’s a significant factor in our decision to shut things down at all. Could we continue to make the finances work out? Yes, The Chronicle paid its bills with enough left over for us to earn a livelihood. And financially speaking, I think our approach could have been sustained into the indefinite future. That’s because of advertisers – who understood that coverage of local government and civic affairs like The Chronicle’s makes Ann Arbor a better place to do business. And it’s also because of the voluntary and generous financial support of readers – who believed that The Chronicle’s approach to local journalism made Ann Arbor a better place to live.

But even at that level of support, a sustained future would also continue to rely on two people committing not just 40, 60 or 80 hours a week, but virtually every waking moment to the enterprise. We’re hardly unique in that respect. It’s not unusual for a small, independent business owner to rely on an all-consuming personal effort to make the finances work.

In past columns I’ve compared this kind of labor to running a marathon – with one key difference: There is no finish line. You can never really finish. But as a practical matter you will quit running one day. And if you never decide to stop, then when you do stop, it will be because you are dead. So we’re setting an end date as a kind of artificial finish line. We’re not planning to sprint for that line. But for the next month we’ll keep running full stride through the tape.

I’d like to stop before I am dead, because there’s more I’d like to do in life than add to The Chronicle’s archive. As one example, I’d be happy to bore you to death with a few thousand words about a possible design for a pedal-powered rotating steel-bristled brush for sidewalk snow removal. But now is not the occasion for that. It’s summertime, for crying out loud. And anyway, in the shorter term, I need to develop an approach to earning a livelihood that doesn’t depend on a machine that I have not yet built.

So while I am sorely tempted to bore you – and certainly I’ve yielded to that temptation often enough over the last half dozen years – I think it’s more of an occasion to express gratitude. Because of the generous support of advertisers and readers, I’ve had the privilege of writing about a narrow slice of one American city for the last six years. Not many people get a chance to do that.

Thank you.

Note: The annual Bezonki award festivities will still take place – on Friday, Aug. 15  – and you’re invited. The open house will run from 6-8 p.m. at Zingerman’s Events on Fourth in Kerrytown. There will be teeter-tottering and general merriment. Publisher Mary Morgan will follow up with a final word on Sept. 2, after the city council meeting ends. That will be our final report filed from the hard benches of city hall.

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