Sunday, March 13, 2011

We Deserve Better: Or Go Pack, Go!

By now you've probably heard about the layoffs at If you haven't, well--there were layoffs. They cut their lead blogger (so much for engaging with the web), they cut their entertainment staff, they cut general get the idea. (And they appear not to be able to report on themselves, someone else had to do it for them. But at the link above at least Tony Dearing reacts.)

Right now, they don't even have a higher education reporter, and wait a minute...isn't this a company town? How could you not have a higher education reporter with UM and EMU in your front yard and back yard respectively? That tells you how thin the reporting staff is right now.

And honestly, when it comes to news reporting, I feel that we the people of Washtenaw County deserve better. cannot cut its way into prosperity when what it needs is more reporters. Sure there are Heritage Newspapers, which is set up with a small-town model and might be all that Milan or Manchester can sustain, but it's not sufficient for Ann Arbor or Ypsilanti. I love the Ann Arbor Chronicle, but they will be the first to admit that their focus is limited, and they are not trying to run a full service newspaper or news site. [If they did, though, I'm sure it would be high quality.] It's unfair to the people of Ypsilanti to have to rely on Mark Maynard's blog to report on the grapevine.

Yesterday, twitter was abuzz with news of the layoffs. (Digression: I find I really like twitter. I can follow breaking news about Madison, WI and Japan and Libya simultaneously! Follow me as schoolsmuse.)

Anyway, someone on twitter asked me what I was looking for. I said, "The New York Times, only local." What???? No, seriously, I mean that. There are still, excellent and viable local papers--and if you lived in New York, you would know that the New York Times really is also a local paper. Anyway--he said he didn't think Ann Arbor could support that. I think he's wrong. In part I am making the same argument that tried to make, "We're such an educated community." Exactly--so people want their news. But we're not dumb, either. We don't want dumb news, we want smart news.

On the other hand, he might be right that there is not a good for-profit model for this right now. I started thinking about nonprofit models--after all, that's basically the world I come from. I don't know that your classic 501(c)3 is the right model either.

But then, I started thinking about the most recent Superbowl. Now, I'm not really a football fan (although I do always read the sports pages), but this Superbowl attracted my attention. In it, we had two small-market teams--Pittsburgh and Green Bay--make it to the top.
Although the greater Pittsburgh area has about a million people, Pittsburgh itself has only around 300,000 (yes, you say, that's the size of Washtenaw County). But they've got major league football, baseball, ice hockey and even soccer. And Green Bay? It's slightly smaller than Ann Arbor, but it's got a professional football team.

So how, you might wonder, does Green Bay survive in the big bad world of the NFL? Well, their fans have faith. But also--they have the right type of organization. Their greatest fans are their shareholders. They are non-profit and community-owned.

According to the Packers web site:
Green Bay Packers, Inc., has been a publicly owned, nonprofit corporation since Aug. 18, 1923, when original articles of incorporation were filed with Wisconsin’s secretary of state. A total of 4,750,937 shares is owned by 112,158 stockholders —none of whom receives any dividend on the initial investment. The corporation is governed by a board of directors and a seven member executive committee.

One of the more  remarkable business stories in American history, the team is kept viable by its shareholders — its unselfish fans. Even more incredible, the Packers have survived during the current era, permeated by free agency and the NFL salary cap. And, thanks in large part to Brown County’s passage of the 2000 Lambeau Field referendum, the club will remain solvent and highly competitive well into the future due to its redeveloped stadium. Fans have come to the team’s financial rescue on several occasions, including four previous stock sales: 1923, 1935, 1950 and 1997.

To protect against someone taking control of the team, the articles of incorporation prohibit any person from owning more than 200,000 shares. 

Whether this is the exactly right model, I'm not positive. There are several slightly different model of cooperatives too. But there is a lot of flexibility in the way cooperatives work, and cooperatives have a long history in Wisconsin and Michigan. We've got credit unions. We've got food co-ops. We've got housing co-ops. Why not a news cooperative?  

The time for planning is now.
It's our county, let's act like it.

And in the meantime? Go, Pack, Go!


  1. Tony Dearing's comment has been deleted with no additional explanation. You can still read it at

  2. Thanks anonymous--Tony Dearing's comment was removed from one spot, as Pat points out, but not from this spot--at least not yet:)

  3. Green Bay survives as an NFL team because the NFL shares revenues from TV contracts. There's only 8 home games; ticket sales hardly matter. All the teams can do well.

    News operations survive on ad revenue. Where's the ad revenue in Ann Arbor? The economy stinks in Michigan, and Ann Arbor is a company town. That company is the University of Michigan, which doesn't need a newspaper to get its message out.

    You don't get what you deserve. You get what you can pay for.

  4. Well, it's true that the Packers may not be the best model for newspapers. And I am definitely no newspaper expert! But--I hope you will agree that we deserve good news coverage. I hope you will agree that we need to think outside the box and look for new ideas.
    Ultimately, am an optimist. AND--it turns out that I am not the only person to have this idea. See, for example, this article.

    AND--what we do share in common with Green Bay is that we are our own community--and there is a lot of civic pride in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti.

    All I'm saying is, I don't think the for-profit model is working, but if you go into the business with the idea that you don't need to make money, but only to break even, I think the economics might be a little bit different. Perhaps, just enough different.

  5. Hi Ruth,
    I spoke about the restructuring on the Lucy Ann Lance show Saturday (3/12) morning. If you're interested, it's at (starts at -10:40)

    -Jen Eyer
    Community Director,

  6. Jen, I did listen to the interview. I'm still wondering: how are you going to adequately cover higher education? Isn't higher education the biggest employer countywide--UM and SJ and WCC and Concordia? Not to mention the number of students in the county.
    How are you going to adequately cover prep sports? Several local school teams are in the playoffs now or have made it to states.

  7. Hi Ruth,
    We will definitely have a higher education reporter. Priority #1 is to hire a news director; the rest will follow.

  8. Finally, decides to report on itself... sort of.