We’re roughly midway through The Chronicle’s fifth year. That means in September we’ll mark a half-decade of publication.
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.