MM on the Media: Dining at the Local News Buffet

With everyone at the table, we'll get a more balanced news diet

If you’re looking for any random excuse to uncork champagne, here’s one: Today marks the 1-month anniversary of The Ann Arbor Chronicle.

It’s been a wild, gratifying, exhausting month. A shout-out to those of you who’ve generously helped us spread the word about our publication, who’ve offered words of support and encouragement … or who’ve made a financial sign of support by buying ads. There’s no guarantee that we can make this a financially viable business, but if we can, it will be thanks to individuals at local companies and organizations who think we’ve got something worth paying for, and who are willing to take a chance on a new venture like this.

For me, the experience of leaving an institution like The Ann Arbor News to become an entrepreneur has been a bit surreal. Some things didn’t surprise me, like the terror of no longer having paid-for health insurance. Some things did, like the pile-on of ill will I’ve heard about my former employer since leaving. I’d certainly heard plenty of criticism directed toward The News when I was working there on the business desk and more recently as opinion editor. But now that I’m no longer affiliated with the paper, the floodgates have opened, and it saddens me.

In part, it saddens me because executives at the newspaper gave me many opportunities there over the years, and because I know and respect the many committed, talented, hard-working colleagues I left behind in the newsroom. (It’s dangerous to attempt sincerity during a political season. I was sharing these sentiments with someone recently, who responded: “Nice stump speech.”)

It also saddens me because this area deserves a strong institutional media outlet, with resources that a company like The News can provide. A lot of people this past month, upon hearing about The Chronicle, have said something along the lines of, “At last – an alternative to The Ann Arbor News!” We are a daily source of local news, yes, but we’re not an alternative to anything, really. Our assumption is that we’re adding to the local news buffet, not just providing the sole dish. That wouldn’t be our goal, even if we grew to meet our wildest ambitions.

Why are people so unhappy with The News? Some don’t like its smaller size. Some want more local coverage, while others want more state, national and international news – many want more of both. Some feel it’s too liberal, or too conservative. (Many Ann Arborites haven’t forgiven the paper for endorsing George Bush in both 2000 and 2004, even though the publisher and opinion editor who were part of those endorsement decisions are no longer with the paper.)

It’s not going to get any easier in the short term, either for The News or for its readers. The paper confronts pressures faced by most newspapers nationwide – dramatically rising newsprint and health care costs; revenue declines from advertisers who are struggling themselves; declines in readership because of (at least in part) a shift to getting news online; an Internet business model in which The News gets only a portion of online advertising – these are just a few of the challenges. (MLive, which operates the websites for The News and seven other papers owned by the Newhouse family in Michigan, as well as the Business Review publications, is a sister company.)

A shrinking newsroom is another serious challenge. Since my last day on Aug. 1, four others have resigned: Dave McVety, a long-time assistant sports editor, is taking a job at MLive; Jordan Miller, a part-time but prolific reporter, has taken a job at an ad agency; Lisa Allmendinger, a freelancer who provided much of the coverage in Chelsea, Dexter and Saline, has joined the Heritage papers, which publishes weekly in those areas.

The highest-profile departure is sports columnist Jim Carty – he’s leaving The News after this weekend’s UM football game, and has already started law school at the University of Toledo. His decision to leave will no doubt further fuel speculation about the paper’s future, though his reasons were a combination of personal and professional.

The people in a newsroom matter, because it’s the relationships they build and the understanding they have about the community that makes the paper credible. Those who remain at The News are burdened with shouldering more of the load, both for gathering news and for reaching out to the community. I wish them well.

It’s our hope here at The Chronicle that we can survive and thrive in a market with many media choices, whether it’s The Ann Arbor News, Arbor Update, the Ann Arbor Observer, Concentrate, Current, the Michigan Daily, Ann Arbor Business Review, WUOM, WCBN, KOOL-107 or any other of the many media options in this area – including ones that might not yet exist.

In a world with so many demands on our time, it might be natural to crave only one source for local news. But isn’t it better to seek a balanced news diet from a variety of sources – even ones you might not agree with or like? Of course we hope The Chronicle is an important part of that mix. Today, at least, we go well with champagne.


  1. By Sue
    October 2, 2008 at 7:52 am | permalink


    The need for a generous buffet of news sources has never been more evident than this fall. With a landmark election, a failing economy, a war, and assorted important government investations (what did happen to those US Attorneys) all competing for an ever shrinking real news hole, it is getting harder and harder for even news junkies to stay informed. The need for ‘real; journalists willing to do the hard work of unbiased reporting, coupled with news outlets of any type willing to print/publish/air their work is more important than ever.

    It’s sad to watch experienced journalists leave the profession, but I can certainly understand the impulse.

  2. October 2, 2008 at 10:51 am | permalink

    I subscribe to the A2News and probably will continue to do so. But, I do wish there was more regional coverage, particularly about Detroit. So many “Ann Arborites” (sorry, that’s a term I just loathe) think we are soooo separate from Detroit. When I tell people that I teach there, after the gasp of horror, they inevitably say, “But it’s so far!” I then inform them that it’s a 40 minute drive and many are shocked that it’s “so close”. Yes, folks. It is. (Forgive me for being bitter…I can’t tell you the nasty comments I’ve gotten re: Detroit).

    IMHO, as Detroit goes, so goes Ann Arbor. At least to some extent, and because of that “extent”, I’d like to see more regional (Detroit, Flint, Toledo) coverage.

    One of the many things that I like about the Chronicle is its focus on regular people. I’ve seen a number of stories in the A2News about rich, nonworking women (usually wives of execs) who do charity work and “do good”. And I applaud that–I really do. Hell, if my husband were an exec, I’d probably sit on my ass and play on the computer all day. But I’d like to see stories about regular, working folks (like us) who “do good”.
    How about the folks who live paycheck to paycheck, but still manage to volunteer at the soup kitchen?

    I’m sorry if this post seems ultra-bitter, as it’s not in my nature to be like that, but this kinda hit a nerve….

  3. By Michael Schils
    October 2, 2008 at 1:32 pm | permalink

    Cheers to A2Chronicle!

    If those guys at the A2News who endorsed Bush no longer work there, then perhaps some forgiveness for that rag is in order. That is, until they endorse McSame! (damn it, I just spilled my champagne.)

  4. By Emma Jackson
    October 2, 2008 at 1:41 pm | permalink

    Congrats Mary! The Chronicle is bookmarked on my computer and I check in almost daily. I have enjoyed and loved what I’ve seen so far.

  5. By Linda Diane Feldt
    October 2, 2008 at 2:10 pm | permalink

    Congratulations on your first month. I have enjoyed the voice and style of the Chronicle, and the range of articles. You are a whole other kind of publication than the Ann Arbor News, and I agree that we need many sources. The Ann Arbor News has become a quick read, but still essential in my mind.

    I’ll keep spreading the word of your exciting endeavor, and hope that you are soon experiencing the financial support you would like as well!

  6. October 2, 2008 at 3:29 pm | permalink

    I’m quite impressed with the continued high quality of the Chronicle! Getting a business started is hard enough, but maintaining journalistic excellence can be even harder.

  7. By Del Dunbar
    October 2, 2008 at 8:24 pm | permalink

    #7. I never thought I would ever find myself agreeing with Dave Cahill

  8. By Steve Bean
    October 3, 2008 at 12:44 am | permalink

    Congrats and, more so, thanks for the sticking with it. I appreciate the focus on (timely) info sharing–you serve the role of the press in a democracy well.

  9. By Stewart Nelson
    October 3, 2008 at 7:25 am | permalink

    My hat’s off to both you and Dave for having the guts to take on this new venture. It is really scary cutting the institutional umbilical cord. I really believe there is an intellectual thirst in Ann Arbor that will translate to a strong demand for this “paper” and the content you produce.

    You set high standards for yourself at the News and conducted yourself ethically. That is why you have such loyal fans. Count me as one of them

  10. By Mary Morgan
    October 3, 2008 at 12:03 pm | permalink

    Thanks to you all for your comments. It motivates me during those four-hour county commission meetings (which I haven’t yet written up this week, by the way – one of today’s tasks).

    Teacher Patti, I share your belief that Detroit matters to Ann Arbor, the region and the state. On a personal level, I’d love to live near a vibrant metro area – I wasn’t here when Detroit fit that description decades ago, but I hope I’m here to see it reach that point again.

  11. By Tom Bourque
    October 3, 2008 at 12:15 pm | permalink

    Mary and Dave: I have enjoyed reading your articles. How in the heck did you ever even find out about a group of Republican women gathering in this town? Nine years ago I went out on my own and it has made a huge positive difference in our lives. I’ll save you from the stories about the scary part of it. Good luck.

  12. October 3, 2008 at 3:50 pm | permalink

    Mary, I hope I’m around for it, too!

    Keep up the super work with the A2Chronicle :)

  13. October 4, 2008 at 10:46 am | permalink

    Thanks for trying this, and best of luck for the following months!

  14. By Bob Martel
    October 5, 2008 at 6:28 pm | permalink

    Mary & Dave: I can’t believe that I agree with both Dave Cahill & Del Dunbar. With endorsements like those, you’re definitely on the right tract!! Keep up the good work!! Bob