Fifth Monthly Milestone Message

Lumps of thought on the Tip Jar, reporting, and winter cycling.

The update this month from The Ann Arbor Chronicle addresses a housekeeping tweak to the Tip Jar, some reflections on the Meeting Watch section, and a few remarks on bicycling as a transportation option for reporters.

Tip Jar Tweak

Initially, the listing of a Tip Jar contributor’s name was mandatory, but we’ve been persuaded by readers that the metaphor of “subscription” should prevail over that of a political campaign. Newspapers don’t list out their subscribers. Contributors’ names now appear by default, but they can opt out of the listing. Because it’s more  consistent with subscription rates of printed publications, we’ve also ratcheted down the maximum donation in one year to $250.

Readers made the case both by (i) laying out the argument, and (ii) by example. In the latter case, we’d noticed some people setting a monthly figure and sending that amount in each month – as in a subscription.

Thanks to readers for your support in the Tip Jar.

Transportation Option for Winter Reporting: The Bicycle

Now a few words on the bicycle as a vehicle for a reporter navigating the snowy winter streets to go where the news is happening. Though I enjoy my bicycle, it is not a part of me. It’s not the case that wherever I go, my bicycle comes along. So why not just take the bus? Sometimes I do.

But here’s what I like about the bicycle. It makes the guy writing up the news a bit more accessible to readers. As one example, riding through falling snow and a snow-covered Packard Street on the morning of city council’s Saturday budget retreat, I was joined by another cyclist who pedaled up beside me. “I really like The Chronicle,” he said. I’d never met the guy before. And we had a nice chat as we rode out Packard way until he peeled off at Morgan & York. His work day was starting – it was Tommy York who’d given me some company on the road. I’d have missed that chance if I’d carpooled with some of the councilmembers.

Some did offer a ride days beforehand, as well as the day of the event. Not much farther down the road from Morgan & York, I was passed by a car, the window rolled down, and there behind the wheel was Ward 4 councilmember Margie Teall’s friendly face offering to give me a ride the rest of the way. For the record, Teall kept her vehicle at a safe distance from me as she matched my speed for the quick conversation. And after the budget retreat, when weather conditions had worsened considerably since the morning, any number of attendees offered a ride – offers I declined with the result below.

Ice Beard

What I'd like you to notice about this photo is the super-cool Chrome buckle (right shoulder) on my messenger bag.

This is a photo that members of The Ann Arbor Chronicle’s Facebook group will have already seen. On Facebook, the suggestion was made by Juliew, who often files Stopped.Watched. items and writes insightful comments on The Chronicle, that a balaklava might be in order. Perhaps it is the fact that I don’t hang out with local foodies as much as Juliew, or perhaps it is because I am a captive to my unfortunate character, but I fail to see how phyllo dough filled with chopped nuts and slathered with syrup would have improved the situation. That just sounds like an unholy sticky mess. Eww gross.

The Art of Description: Meeting Watch

When The Chronicle attends public meetings, writes them up, and files them in the Meeting Watch section, they make for a very long read. We know that. And we’re going to keep writing them pretty much that way. Which is not to say that we don’t make an ongoing effort to improve the accessibility of the information. Over the last five months, I think I’ve made a better effort to summarize at the start, and to synthesize similar themes in the meeting – as opposed to presenting readers with just another version of the meeting minutes.

What’s interesting to me, though, is that while no reader has asked for more detail in general for Meeting Watch reports, it’s been pointed out to me on a couple of occasions that certain details were not included in a report that could have been. Which in both cases was true. In one case, the council discussion of the commercial recycling program was richer than what was depicted in my report. On reflection, consistency in the level of detail reported would have required leaving out some of the included description, or else inclusion of more description.

The question of “How much detail?” is one that’s worth reflecting on from time to time. Reasonable minds will differ on occasion about an appropriate granularity. In the passage from Angelika Kratzer’s “An Investigation into the Lumps of Thought,” from the journal Linguistics and Philosophy 12.5.607-653, it’s the pedants, as opposed to the lunatics, we’d most like to hear from:

Imagine the following situation: One evening in 1905, Paula painted a still life with apples and bananas. She spent most of the evening painting and left the easel only to make herself a cup of tea, eat a piece of bread, discard a banana or look for an apple displaying a particular shade of red. Against the background of this situation, consider the following two dialogues that might have taken place the following day:

Dialogue with a pedant
Pedant: What did you do yesterday evening?
Paula: The only thing I did yesterday evening was paint this still life over there.
Pedant: This cannot be true. You must have done something else like eat, drink, look out of the window.
Paula: Yes, strictly speaking, I did other things besides paint this still life. I made myself a cup of tea, ate a piece of bread, discarded a banana, and went to the kitchen to look for an apple.

Dialogue with a lunatic
Lunatic: What did you do yesterday evening?
Paula: The only thing I did yesterday evening was paint this still life over there.
Lunatic: This is not true. You also painted these apples and you also painted these bananas. Hence painting this still life was not the only thing you did yesterday evening.

In both dialogues, Paula exaggerated in claiming that painting a still life was the only thing she had done that evening. She had done other things, and the pedant correctly noticed this. Being a captive of his unfortunate character, he could not help insisting on the truth, and this is really all we can blame him for. The lunatic case is very different. I don’t think that Paula has to accept this person’s criticism. She didn’t paint apples and bananas apart from painting a still life. Painting apples and painting bananas was part of her painting a still life, like my arms and legs are part of me. Wherever I go, my arms and legs will come along. Is it true, then, that I can never be alone? I think not.

Thanks to Peter Lasersohn, who taught me semantics in school, for sending that passage along when I asked him about it.

And thanks to Chronicle readers for reading what we publish here. One more month until we’re a half year old.


  1. By Vivienne Armentrout
    February 2, 2009 at 7:51 am | permalink

    Your meeting reports are a valuable record. Please keep it up even when it goes bananas. If people don’t want that detail, they can read the funnies.

  2. By Anna Ercoli Schnitzer
    February 2, 2009 at 10:57 am | permalink

    I am constantly astounded and pleased by the appropriate level of granularity in your meeting reports. If I don’t need all the details, I can scan quickly, but sometimes I just relish wallowing in what you write. Write on….

  3. By Matt
    February 2, 2009 at 11:34 am | permalink

    In re. the Funnies, my confusion often causes me to wonder if the funnies contain more information per square inch than the meeting reports. At least I can pretend to understand the Huron River watershed!

  4. By Juliew
    February 2, 2009 at 11:53 am | permalink

    Well, funny guy, if everyone knew you carried baklava around, you would probably get a fair number of offers for rides. Mmm, baklava. If, on the other hand, you carried a balalaika, you would truly be a wandering minstrel. But no, I was just recommending a chin-covering winter hat:

    Baklava—honey, nut, phyllo pastry (,
    Balalaika—Russian stringed instrument (,
    Balaklava (or balaclava)—winter cycling hat (

  5. February 2, 2009 at 2:39 pm | permalink

    Homeless Dave, you are my hero!

    Quick tip on tips – maybe consider integrating TipJoy, for people who actually want to participate in social microgiving (with potential network effects for the site) versus “subscribing” anonymously?

    Also, I would think it not unreasonable to suffer RSS ads for the way I actually read the Chronicle (for me, currently a guilty, ad-free experience). But I’m more excited by the possibility of the community directly and visibly demonstrating their love of the Chronicle via social microgiving / micropayment in a virtuous cycle of customer engagement and profitability:

    Social Microgiving Link

    Something I’m sure many others would also be interested in discussing at the upcoming New Tech meetup next week, if you’re up for another a2geeks event. :-)