Fourth Monthly Milestone Message

Our challenges, hopes for 2009 – plus some changes we made in '08
The Chronicle's media pass for

The Chronicle's state House of Representatives press pass. We hope this year's will be purple.

Back in early September, only a week or so after we launched The Ann Arbor Chronicle, I trekked up to Lansing to meet with our locally elected state legislators. Man, I had grand plans. I’ve never found a good resource for learning about what our state lawmakers are doing, and I thought The Chronicle could be that resource.

The women I met with could not have been more gracious. The three state representatives – Pam Byrnes, Alma Wheeler Smith and Rebekah Warren – work in adjacent offices in a building with spectacular views of the capitol across the street. I met some of their staff, and talked with each about their goals and priorities for the year. Liz Brater, the state senator who represents Ann Arbor, gave me a tour of the Senate chambers. And I wrapped up the day by joining Rebekah Warren and Alma Wheeler Smith while the House was in its afternoon session (their desks sit next to each other on the House floor, but not because Alma is Rebekah’s mother-in-law). I even acquired a press pass for the rest of the year, which involved filling out some forms and getting my picture taken.

So by now you might be thinking, “Hmmm. I don’t remember seeing any state coverage in The Chronicle – maybe I missed it.” No, you didn’t. It didn’t happen.

As we mark The Chronicle’s fourth monthly anniversary with this update to readers, it’s tempting to talk about our goals for 2009, given the time of year. Something like, “We resolve to cover our state legislators. Honest.” But resolutions – with the almost clichéd threat of being broken – seemed less interesting to me than looking at some of the challenges we expect to face as we head into the year, and how we hope to tackle them. And since I’ve already described how one of our goals for coverage hasn’t yet panned out, let’s start there.


Nearly every reader, I suspect, could tell us at least one thing (and likely a laundry list of things) they’d like to see in The Chronicle. More public meetings. Fewer public meetings, and more crime alerts. Investigative pieces. High school sports. Arts and entertainment. Calendar listings. Event previews. Cute puppy stories. (OK, I’m kidding – no one has asked for that last one. Unless you count one of our staffers’ repeated pining for a dog, to be named Shep, who would be The Chronicle’s news hound. Gaahh.)

Our challenge is twofold: To keep our eye on what we can do best and to find ways to increase coverage where it makes sense for both us and our readership.

Why haven’t we reported on our Lansing legislators? In part, because our plates have been filled to overflowing with other, closer-to-home reporting, as well as with the decidedly unglamorous but vital minutia of operating a business. We’ve learned that it’s easy to overextend ourselves, and in some cases have elected to pull back from a more ambitious plan. That’s more difficult than it sounds.

As 2009 unfolds, we hope to reach the financial milestones that will allow us to expand our reporting resources. We’re also working on several partnerships that would bring other voices into The Chronicle, similar to the contributions we’ve already added: Joel Goldberg’s wine column, Alvey Jones’ Bezonki comic strip, and occasional columns by Del Dunbar, Stew Nelson and others. As we gain the ability to expand, we’ll continue listening to your input to help us shape our priorities.


The businesses and institutions that advertise with The Chronicle provide our financial foundation. These aren’t entities based in New York or LA – in most cases, you could walk into their offices or stores and actually talk to the owner or president. That’s what local is all about.

These groups face their own challenges in 2009, with an economy that isn’t showing strong signs of recovery yet. We know how important it is for them to get value for each dollar they spend. We believe we provide that value, but it’s our challenge to prove it. One way you can help is to thank our advertisers for their support of The Chronicle – that kind of feedback is invaluable, to them and to us.

Expanding our advertising base is key to expanding our coverage, and that’s a challenge in this economic climate, as it is for all publications. So the first additional person we’re working on adding to The Chronicle staff will be a partnership that focuses on recruitment of advertisers. We’ll keep you posted in the coming months about that.


During our first four months, we’ve grown readership mostly by word of mouth and the natural linkages inherent to the web. Both the Ann Arbor Observer and Concentrate have reported on our publication and I’ve spoken to several civic groups, but people more likely have heard about us from their colleagues, friends or acquaintances. That we like. Some of our readers, including some we don’t know yet personally, have become evangelists for The Chronicle. That we love.

Of course we want even more people to read The Chronicle, and our challenge for 2009 is to find ways to reach new readers. Given our budget constraints, we’ll be looking for ways to market our site creatively. We’ll continue our outreach to community groups: I’ll be one of the speakers at the Jan. 21 Morning Edition breakfast, for example. You’ll start to see our signs in the storefronts of local businesses – we thank the retailers and landlords who’ve agreed to promote our site in this way, and if you see one of our signs at a local business, we hope you’ll take a minute to thank them, too. (If you’d like to print off an 8.5 x 11 sheet and you have permission to slap it up somewhere prominent, here’s a 4MB .pdf of a Chronicle poster that should serve that purpose.)

Beyond that, we’ll be looking at other options: Beer coasters with our logo at local pubs? A booth at the farmers market this spring? We’ll keep you posted in these monthly updates about our efforts, and if you have any suggestions, please let us know.

Geographic reach

Aside from a few isolated instances, our publication has focused primarily on the city of Ann Arbor. In large part, that’s because it’s important to us to have a physical presence in our reporting, to actually go and observe, as opposed to making phone calls and reading press releases. Another factor: We live in Ann Arbor and are committed to getting from Point A to Point B by foot, bike, bus or scooter as much as possible. That makes getting to Saline or Chelsea a bit more challenging.

We certainly realize there are many intriguing, newsworthy people and events outside of the county’s core city. We also know that most people don’t confine their lives to the borders of a particular municipality. People who work in Ann Arbor might well live in Saline or Chelsea or one of the townships, and someone who lives in Ypsilanti likely shops or goes to restaurants or sporting events outside the city. These realities reflect why some are calling for an expanded, improved public transit system.

So our challenge this year is to find ways to expand our geographic reach without compromising our approach to covering news and features. One small way to do this is via our Stopped.Watched. items, which appear in what’s become one of The Chronicle’s most popular sections. Over three dozen people have signed up as Stopped.Watched. correspondents. They submit brief observations of things they see as they go about their daily lives, from an egg-splattering interstate crash, to store closings, to people putting candles on the street to mark the winter solstice. In aggregate, these items provide a rich image of our community at any given point in time, and the more items that are posted, the richer that image becomes. We hope to increase not just volume but geographic range as well. If you’d like to add your own observations to our Stopped.Watched. feature, let us know. There are a variety of ways to submit items. Or if you’ve signed up but haven’t filed one recently, please keep that on your radar for 2009.

A few recent changes

In addition to looking ahead, we want to update you on some changes we’ve made over the past month.

  • Comments. After last month’s milestone column, some readers told us they wanted the option of commenting on our Stopped.Watched. items, so we’ve added that capability. We have open comment threads on all the articles and columns that are written by The Chronicle and our contributors. The only items for which comment threads are not opened as a matter of policy are Media Watch items. Generally, those items are pulled from websites where readers can comment in the original venue. The principle we stand on in that choice is phrased this way by Bill Tozier: “Because if you like something, you’re supposed to reward the creator. Directly, if possible, and in kind.” [Source] The reward – in the form of comments – for posting a photograph online, writing an interesting opinion, or reporting original news, should go to the authors, in their original venue if possible. Keeping Chronicle comments closed on those items is our way of encouraging Chronicle readers to reward the authors.
  • Meeting Watch Section. When we launched The Chronicle, our headlines for public meeting coverage consisted of a formula with the name of the public body plus the date (e.g. Meeting Watch: County Board 3 Dec 08). This approach failed to capture the content or flavor of the articles like an ordinary headline is supposed to do. You’ll actually find a lot of miscellaneous local news in these reports, and a lot of personality as well, because they include the interactions and commentary of public officials and community members. So the headlines of meeting coverage articles will now reflect the content of those meetings. We’ve also created a Meeting Watch section as a first step in developing a more meaningful set of Chronicle sections. The link to that section appears in the footer to every page as well as at the end of all articles that are categorized in that section. Archived Meeting Watch articles have been assigned to the section with no revision to their headlines.
  • Calendar. When an event is mentioned in a Chronicle piece, from this point forward, we’ll include a link [confirm date] to an embedded GoogleCalendar, where we will update any changes to the event. For example, if a meeting we’re covering includes discussion of a future public hearing or other event, we’ll list that in our calendar. If that meeting time or location changes, we’ll revise the calendar item to reflect the changes. It’s also a handy way to get an overview of the events that have been mentioned in The Chronicle. It will take a while for the calendar to accumulate a substantial number of entries.
  • Facebook etc. Bill Tozier has created a Facebook Group for The Ann Arbor Chronicle. Join us! Thoughts are welcome on how to integrate that group into the service of reporting news and features for The Chronicle, or for other positive work. There is also a Chronicle Twitter account you might want to follow if you’d like a bit more “inside” perspective on what’s going on at The Chronicle. That account was the original prototype for Stopped.Watched. items.
As always, we welcome your comments and advice. We thank you for your support in 2008, and wish you all the best for the coming year. As for me, I’ve got a press pass I need to renew.


  1. January 2, 2009 at 8:07 am | permalink

    As Mary wrote above: “Our challenge is twofold: To keep our eye on what we can do best and to find ways to increase coverage where it makes sense for both us and our readership.” Who could ask for a better twofold goal? I shall consider myself one of your evangelists and am looking forward both to the new calendar and to seeing an increased presence by local advertisers. Somehow I missed the first two months of The Chronicle’s existence, but now I plan to be a regular daily reader. This is interesting stuff!

  2. By Bob Martel
    January 2, 2009 at 9:42 am | permalink

    Hi Mary, I’ve been a daily reader almost since “day one” and have very much enjoyed the fruits of your and your associates labor! I’ve also enjoyed seeing the Chronicle evolve over the past several months and look forward to seeing it continue to do so in the future. I am curious to know how many regular readers you currently have? Would you be willing to share some stats with your readers? Bob

  3. January 2, 2009 at 9:56 am | permalink

    Congrats Mary and Dave for a successful four months. I am becoming a regular reader of your site and really appreciate the depth of coverage. I’ll be looking out for you in 2009!

  4. January 2, 2009 at 10:26 am | permalink

    Mary -

    The Michigan Flyer goes to Lansing from Ann Arbor, and there’s said to be wifi on the bus. It stops in East Lansing so you’d have to make a connection to get to the capital, but it looks doable and not too expensive for a day trip.

    (Hm, even more interesting – effective Feb 1 they are rearranging the schedule so that you can take a 6:45am northbound to East Lansing, arriving 8:10am; and return on a 5:20pm southbound, arriving Ann Arbor at 6:45pm; that’s almost a commuter’s schedule.)

  5. January 2, 2009 at 12:01 pm | permalink


    it disturbs me to come across the comment

    “with an economy that isn’t showing strong signs of recovery yet.”

    While I realize this is in the context of a message to advertisers and thus there is a certain impetus for a positive spin, may I ask, what weak signs of recovery are you seeing?

    I’m not seeing any. Christmas was a retail disaster.

    I think everyone has been lulled into a state of apathy by the Bush bailout of GM/Chrysler. Obama has been pretty clear in signaling that he wants a restructuring of the auto industry, and that is going to be extremely painful, especially until people start buying locally owned GM trucks and SUVs again.

  6. By Stew Nelson
    January 2, 2009 at 1:03 pm | permalink


    The purchase of the Pfizer property would have to be a pretty good sign that things are turning around a bit. That alone cuts the commercial vacancy in half.

    Maybe we all should start looking for signs of the recovery like we look for the first robin each spring. I can assure you that Michigan is not going to go out of business. We have too much going for us.


  7. January 2, 2009 at 1:22 pm | permalink

    Stew, that is positive thinking, but the Pfizer purchase is a sign that the U of M has cash to spend, which is not surprising considering they have a $7 billion endowment, and doesn’t have much to do with consumer spending.

    I don’t think Michigan is going out of business, either, but I do think there is a significant chance that things are going to keep getting worse for a while.

    My take is that unless we see car and truck sales pick up, which they haven’t yet, the Obama administration is going to wind up pushing a prepackaged bankruptcy of GM and Chrysler, which will be very painful. If that happens, we’re looking at 3-5 years of severe contraction in the state economy.

  8. By Mary Morgan
    January 2, 2009 at 1:43 pm | permalink

    Anna, we’re excited and grateful that you’re a Chronicle evangelist! That means a lot to us. Can we clone you?

    Bob, readership in December had grown to over 10,000 (unique IPs) per month, compared to our first month (September) when we had around 4,000 readers. This map shows you the readership’s geographic distribution in November – not surprisingly, the largest cluster is in
    the Ann Arbor area:

    Ed, thanks for the tip re. the Michigan Flyer. I wasn’t aware of that option, and you’re right – it’s really reasonable for a day trip (a very long day, but still…). The other option is to hitch a ride with one of our state legislators! Alma Wheeler Smith carpools with her staff, and offered me a ride the day I went up. I didn’t take her up on it, since I planned to make a shorter day of it than she did, but I appreciated the offer.

    Fred, despite overwhelming measures of an ongoing downturn, there are areas that – however weak – indicate not everything is completely in the crapper (how’s that for “positive spin”?). Stew’s right – UM’s purchase of the Pfizer site is one thing locally, though there are obviously issues with taking that property off the tax rolls. A few local retailers have told me that 2008 was their best year ever – no doubt they are in the minority, but they exist. Gas prices, which were regularly cited as a major downward pull on the economy, have fallen dramatically since this summer. It’s debatable what these things mean – obviously. And I don’t believe we are anywhere close to getting through this economic mess. But to make a blanket statement that there are absolutely no indications of a possible recovery seems hyperbolic.

  9. January 2, 2009 at 1:50 pm | permalink

    Hi Mary,

    I didn’t say there are absolutely no indications of a recovery — I just said *I’m* not seeing any, and of course I have only a very limited perspective of a tiny slice of the world.

    the reason I keep harping on this issue here and at AU is that our estimate of when the recovery will begin (has begun?) has major implications for the city’s strategy on a whole variety of issues, snow removal and the income tax being just a couple of them.

    I’d be delighted to be proven overly pessimistic, I just want to be sure that people are thinking through the contingency plans if things keep getting worse.


  10. By Bob Martel
    January 2, 2009 at 2:23 pm | permalink

    Hi Fred,

    In my humble opinion, the start of the recovery will be very subtle and uneven across different aspects of the economy. Oddly enough, and assuming that banks start to lend again, I believe that auto sales may be among the first things to pick up in the latter half of 2009 reflecting deferred purchases over the past twelve to twenty four months. I certainly do not mean to imply that happy days will be here again by the end of 2009 for the autos, just that the relentless slide in auto sales may stabilize and then slowly reverse. All bets are off if either GM or Chrysler have to go through a disorganized (vs. pre packaged) bankruptcy.

    Other aspects of the economy such as local housing, will take much much longer to show signs of improvement. Housing in this area, for example, suffers from a severe imbalance between supply and demand due to overbuilding, a lack of new job creation and the resulting household formation. None of these factors are likely to be corrected locally in less than three to five years.

    To your point about AA government planning, I fear that since it is so dependent on property taxes which are going to be depressed for many years to come, and since the full truth about public employee unfunded pension liabilities are not yet well understood, the “recovery” as far as the Ann Arbor City government is concerned is way way off. The City of AA, and all other municipal entities for that matter, are going to have to learn to live with a lot less for many years to come. The new City Hall and Skyline High School are examples of very bad decisions given the current state of affairs. Unfortunately, each project was started when things were supposedly good and each took on momentum that in the case of Skyline proved impossible to stop. I am still hopeful that the City Hall project can be sidelined until the City’s economic future is more stable.

    We sure got off the track of the original article. But I am glad that we have the forum provided by the AA Chronicle to air these thoughts.


  11. By Bob Martel
    January 2, 2009 at 2:26 pm | permalink

    10,000 readers (is that implied by the 10,000 IP’s?) is impressive!

  12. By Linda Diane Feldt
    January 2, 2009 at 3:18 pm | permalink

    Another enjoyable month! One suggestion, some of the recent “stopped watched” items could have been even more helpful with times – time observed and/or time reported. That would make the items more… ummm… timely.

    Thanks for all you’re doing! And I hope you’ll also continue to write about your decisions based on journalistic ethics, values, and considerations. That is also very valuable reading.

  13. By Ed Thierbach
    January 2, 2009 at 3:28 pm | permalink

    Mary, I’ve only been a Chronicle reader for a couple of weeks, but I’m really enjoying it. I’m hopeful about what you’d like to do in the coming year — just keep it quality, and local (which I have no doubt you all will do).

    The sort-of-off-track discussion of economic recovery signs might not be so off-track after all. It might be nice to see some coverage of what positive economic news there is — reporting on the robins instead of just the mud. How about a section similar to “Stopped. Watched.”, or maybe integrating “economic robin” sightings into S.W.?

    Emotion and perception seem to play a big part in our economy these days, so why not try to generate a little “positive vibe”?

  14. By Bob Martel
    January 2, 2009 at 6:42 pm | permalink

    Amen to that!

  15. By Dave Askins
    January 2, 2009 at 7:00 pm | permalink

    “One suggestion, some of the recent “stopped watched” items could have been even more helpful with times – time observed and/or time reported. That would make the items more … ummm … timely.”

    Somewhat ironic that with all this focus on “watches” and a clock as a logo, we don’t timestamp those, huh.

    There’s downsides to expanding the article’s system time/date stamp to display clocktime as well (e.g., for items where we’re unsure about exact time, the fact that it’d be displayed with “exactness” creates the erroneous impression that it happened exactly then; editing the system time is tedious) but we’ll add definitive clock times to the body of the items for those where we have a definitive time.

    We’ve begun adding times in this way as of earlier today. Assuming this works out okay in the coming few weeks, we’ll try to get all correspondents on board with this systematically — if an exact time is available. We probably don’t want to require it. One idea for Twitterers to save some precious characters might be to add “TT” for TrueTime to the end of a tweet, which would mean: “Timestamp this with the time on the tweet.” If there were no time stamp on the Stopped.Watched. item, it would mean we don’t have anything more definitive than the day.

  16. January 3, 2009 at 8:32 am | permalink

    Happy fourth mensiversary!

    Thanks for the readership figures.

    Roughly how much revenue in ads would the Chronicle like to take in during the coming year?

  17. January 8, 2009 at 4:11 pm | permalink

    Hi Mary and Dave,

    I just want to thank you for the monthly updates. It gives the paper a very personal feel to hear from you, the people who run the thing, about how things are going and what you’re doing to respond to reader comments. It makes me feel like you really are a part of my community (which you are). I hope they’ll continue in some form even after you’re counting these things in years.

  18. By R. J. Goldstein
    January 16, 2009 at 6:56 am | permalink

    A really comprehensive calendar of even just University of Michigan events, lectures, etc., would be a great addition. The Observer does a good job but goes to press too early to include recently-added events, the Ann Arbor News doesn’t list many campus happenings, while the University of Michigan Record abysmally fails to include listings of many University events because (as they openly and seemingly proudly admit) they are too lazy to depend upon anything other than what folks send them (and often screw that up, too); a great source of events is University bulletin boards, which often includes interesting lectures and other events which the Record does not list, but keeping up with that requires going around the campus every day, which is too much for any one person to do (the Record should do this, but they’ve repeatedly made clear in conversations with me that they just don’t care enough–the usual “We don’t have to care, we’re the University of Michigan”). If enuf “reporters” could be found to cover a few campus buildings and/or departments each day, that would cover it.