Sunday, July 25, 2010

Thinking About News: Part III

This is Part III of Thinking About News. Find Part I here. Find Part II here.

Parts I and II:
What do I think about the evolution of (And yes, this gets review-y.)
Part III:
What have I learned about my own relationship to news and information?
What are the implications for the community?

Part III: What I found out about myself and my family, and our relationship to news and information
We always knew that news was important to us. In the past year, we've increased our donations to four local NPR stations: WEMU, WUOM, WKAR and WDET. We started subscribing to the Detroit Free Press--a paper that, it turns out, I like very much--in both its print edition and its web incarnation. We're thinking about subscribing to the New York Times. We are supporting the Ann Arbor Chronicle. We tried an subscription--we have let it lapse, but I might rejoin. We are still getting the Ann Arbor Journal for free. It is my 17-year-old who is saying, "We need to get the New York Times. We need a newspaper."
I really, really miss getting a Saturday paper. I've started calling the Sunday papers the "advertising injection devices." There are so many circulars in there! I think it's often half the paper, by weight.
I miss the obituaries. I do get the emailed obituaries, but it is not the same as the serendipity of reading an obituary about someone I've never met but did something really interesting, or the obituary that I read and thus find out that in fact, I do know the daughter (whom I only know by her married name). It's essentially a list, and if your name is John Smith, well--are you the John Smith I know?
We all spend way more time on the computer, checking numerous news sources (yes, I check and the Ann Arbor Chronicle just about every day), and sports blogs. Think it's so fun to have three people in a room, all on different computers? I think sharing the paper is more fun.
I don't read on the computer the same way that I read a newspaper. I picked up a New York Times at the airport, and I read all the little articles. When the Free Press comes, I read the entire sports section--even golfing! (Maybe that is a sport you are fond of playing or watching. My point is, I am not.)
Many (actually, most) of my friends seem somewhat disconnected from the local news, relying entirely on WEMU or WUOM for their local information, unless they are specifically referred to an article in the Ann Arbor Chronicle or

What are the implications for the community?
This community--by which I mean Washtenaw County--has multiple news sources, but is not being well-serviced for news. I don't have the time to check a zillion different news sources.
Since I have spent most of my life in the nonprofit world, I have two things to say. First, I think most nonprofits cannot figure out the best way to get news out about their work. The venues for self-promotion are not so obvious. That is true for educational organizations too. Saline schools have multiple blogs and they have started tweeting. The Ann Arbor schools hired a journalist to write newsy pieces to distribute--to a limited audience. I believe that EMU has beefed up its public relations staff. Is this really just a way to transfer news costs from news organizations to other organizations? Are more press releases being "printed" as is? (The answers to those rhetorical questions are yes, and yes.)

Second, I realize that and the Ann Arbor Chronicle and the Ann Arbor Journal (all the Heritage papers) are for-profit organizations. So is the Detroit Free Press, the Detroit News, the New York Times, the Washington Post... you get the idea. I'm not critical of that--there are entrepreneurs in my family, too.

The question is: is news really a public service? And if it is, how do we deal with that? 

In the nonprofit world, the approach to this would probably be something along the lines of a "Community Conversation." Bring the key people together to answer the question,

What do we need in this community to be well-served by news?
How do we keep an eye on our public bodies?
How do we get there?

It's not always a successful process, but at least it sets out a vision. That is how we end up with documents like the Blueprint on Aging and the Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness. Some of those things actually do get implemented.

For many years (I think over 100), we didn't have to think about these questions. We relied on the Ann Arbor News. They've closed. I'm over it.

But now? We need vision(s).


  1. Again, a good series. Thanks for taking this on.

    Yes, definitely subscribe to the New York Times. We live in the same carrier route area and the carrier is marvelous. The newspaper is often thought-provoking beyond the day's news and the Sunday edition will take you through lunch.

    Agreed about lack of state news. I'm going to have to start following more online sources.

    What you didn't address is the possible role of blogs. Of course, they are spotty in coverage and rarely include original reporting, so maybe they don't fill criteria that you would pose for "news".

  2. Isn;t the primary role of journalism, or better said, news distributors the role of keeping government honest (Aren't they called the fifth estate for that reason, okay and what are the other estates? legislators,armies, executive, judicial, do I have this wrong) sometimes hits the nail on the head, sometimes not, and does have very limited scope. If I lived in Dexter I would feel so gypped. Sometimes descends into yellow journalism. I like Ann Arbor Chronicle, but it's too slow. I feel like Goldilocks still looking for just right.

  3. As to "how do we keep an eye on our public bodies" -

    There are cities where the League of Women Voters organizes citizen efforts to attend public meetings. Here's one "Observer Corps" page

    You will note that there aren't many reports; going to public meetings and taking good notes and writing up what you see is not an easy task.

  4. Anon4, I'm not interested in setting up a comparison between the Ann Arbor Chronicle and, because as far as I'm concerned they have completely different goals.

    The Chronicle does have a vision--of providing a public report of meetings--I think their motto is, "It's like being there." As Ed notes, that is not an easy task! But they are not trying to be comprehensive. is saying that they want to be a comprehensive news source, but they are not. Perhaps if they beef up their news coverage, if they take reporting and editing seriously, they could be. Hope springs eternal.

  5. Ruth,

    You don't understand the organization that runs

    It's based in New Jersey, allowed the old Ann Arbor News to be run by an absentee editor for years, and now wants to be all hyper-local? No, it's actually an experiment to see how little can be invested in a news organization, hence the focus on unpaid community members and bloggers, and inexperienced lesser paid reporters.

    It's a con job on the city of Ann Arbor. Don't fall for it.

    Ann Arbor dot com = greed is here.

  6. Ruth, you aren't interested in setting up a comparison, but you are talking about media outlets, both of them. Ultimately, if the Chronicle doesn't liven things up, they may as well just post PDF's and save themselves the extra effort of formatting.
    I like the Freep myself, but A2 is way out of their orbit.

  7. Anonymous, about the organization, I understand what you mean. The whole decision to create "" instead of revamping the Ann Arbor News had to do with cutting costs and staffing.
    On the other hand, I'm not against experimentation. The Detroit Free Press's experimentation--cutting down to three days, but still publishing daily, and now beefing up their daily publications, seems to be a success for them--financially, in terms of public relations, in terms of digital media. I personally believe that even the quality of their reporting has gone up.
    Whichever organizations end up being involved, we need to find a way for Ann Arbor to be well-served by news media.

  8. One huge difference between the print editions of and the Detroit Free Press is that the former contains almost all old news (oxymoron, for sure!), whereas the latter has current news. I will not be renewing my subscription to because of this. I pick it up and think, "What's the point?" But my Free Press, oh, it's like how you described reading about golf. It's good stuff. I'm glad you mentioned the Lansing State Journal as a resource, too. (And they still manage to publish daily.) They have political stories you might not find elsewhere.

    - YpsiAnon

  9. I am surprised you didn't comment on the ENORMOUS change in the way we receive news given that we now have all sorts of "comments" following every story. I think the reporting on is pretty decent. But I am exhausted by the comments. I find them so filled with vitriol and anger, and overall not representative of the population of our town. There are a few that really dominate these comments sections, and like a train wreck, it's hard not to look. I miss getting my news without the peanut gallery.

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  11. Anon, Thanks for the comment about comments:) It probably deserves its own post. Mostly I agree with you. Sometimes, though, there is good information in them... I think the Free Press has moved the comments so that you have to click on the comments link to get to them.

  12. Ruth, I think that's a GREAT idea. Give them less prominance and credibility, and makes it easier to avoid them. Perhaps I should suggest it to them...

  13. Hey, I like the comments. Some are stupid, some make me laugh, and some are thought provoking. I occasionally comment myself. It's fun.

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