It’s been a year now since the death of the Ann Arbor News. It’s been replaced by something called annarbor.com, which is both a website and a twice-weekly (Thursday and Sunday) print newspaper. I don’t know if it’s successful commercially, but in terms of journalism it leaves a lot to be desired.
Much of it seems to be a kind of community bulletin board, with notices of upcoming events and soft features on life in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Some of the stories are so trivial they almost seem like “little Billy Jones fell off his tricycle yesterday.” One time I went to the website and the lead story was about a 100-year-old man who still plays the harmonica. There was a link to video of this gent actually playing the instrument, in case I might be interested, which I was not.
The week it was launched annarbor.com failed to cover some major political stories: the gubernatorial candidacy of local businessman Rick Snyder and the final campaigning for the following week’s Democratic primary for local offices. Last month, less than a month before today’s Michigan primary election, there was a story about Snyder being third in a poll of GOP voters — but the story was a link to a Detroit News item instead of being written by an annarbornews.com staffer. The same day a story about Obama’s visit to Michigan was just a rewrite from the Grand Rapids Press. And today annarbor.com has a story about political factors in today’s election — again drawing heavily from the Grand Rapids Press, which happens to be owned by a subsidiary of the company that owns annarbor.com.
While some of the staff are professional journalists who lost their jobs at the old Ann Arbor News and were rehired by annarbor.com at lower salaries, others on the staff are amateurs, and it shows. Some of the stories look like rewrites of press releases (without even much rewriting, I suspect). One time the website even included an actual press release without identifying it as such. Some of the news coverage seems amateurish and naive, without the skepticism and adversarial relationship toward the rich and powerful that American journalism prides itself on and that the public needs. (The closest thing to a real newspaper with that type of attitude is the university’s student-run newspaper, the Michigan Daily.)
To be sure, annarbor.com does publish a print edition twice a week, so at least the old Ann Arbor News is not completely dead, in format. It does provide some information of interest to the community. And it has potential, if it can tap into tips from local citizens who are sending in items about their interests, but it would need a more professional staff and a more journalistic attitude.
It’s a pity, because this is a highly literate, well educated community that would read long-form, in-depth, investigative pieces, and hard-hitting stories exposing social problems, and intelligent, thoughtful, critical profiles of the many interesting people here including world-renowned experts, and instead they are being given pretty thin stuff.
(Photo: Toronto Star)