Going to the Source for News of Ann Arbor
In our previous two posts (1 2) we bemoaned the lack of media that support local news reporting. In the absence of conventional media coverage for News of Ann Arbor, how may one keep up? It requires persistence and constant attention. (My comments are geared toward civic issues, politics, and the factors that affect the health and resilience of our community. If your interests lie elsewhere, you may use some of the same approaches but they may differ from mine in source and emphasis.)
1. Sign up for email newsletters.
Many local groups publish regular newsletters with information about a particular interest. For example, the Arts Alliance has a rather complete coverage of (no surprise) events and news relating to the local art scene. Sign up for the newsletters that relate to your interest whenever you see one offered. Several City Council members have regular, or not so regular newsletters. Mayor Taylor also has an email list. Regardless of whether you live in the ward the CM represents, these can be a good source of information about what is happening at City Hall, and usually you can be added to a list upon request. Chuck Warpehoski has an occasional blog that offers a thoughtful analysis of some current issues. The outstanding example of a Council newsletter is Sabra Briere’s regular (tied to the agenda!) news, with full links and heavy on the information while light on opinion. (Find Council email addresses here.)
2. Sign up for automatic notices.
The City of Ann Arbor offers automatic notices on an amazing variety of topics. These will come to your mailbox before a certain action is scheduled. For example, Planning Commission action on development plans and related matters (using their software, Etrackit, is a little fussy; you have to cut and past the address into the page). This is how you can be informed before these projects even get to Planning Commission. Sign up here for all topics that interest you. Be alert to this service from other agencies. I receive MDOT notices, for example. These had a lot of early information about our recent highway projects like M-14.
3. Make good use of social networks.
Perhaps the whole world is on some social networks by now. But some of them may be geared more to entertainment than to newsy discussion. I have found Facebook and Twitter to be very useful. Another source for very local news is Nextdoor, which is an application meant for neighbors to share details of daily life. Sometimes a good deal of enlightening discussion occurs there too. (Remember, we are looking for LOCAL news.) A recent Nextdoor discussion went into extensive description of power outages in western Ann Arbor, a full couple of days before any news story appeared about this pervasive problem.
Facebook is organized around the “friend” system and it matters who you follow. Of course, you likely follow your own actual human friends and enjoy their family photos and jokes. But it is also useful to follow “influencers” – people who are involved in the life of the city. Often candidates for office or sitting elected officials have FB pages. There are also institutional FB pages which can be “liked”. Through these, you can eventually follow connections so that you share in some discussions or hear news ahead of any media mention. In addition, there are interest groups that have their own FB page. If you are admitted to the group, you can post and read others’ posts. These often contain some hints to local news.
Twitter is, of course, full of a lot of silly stuff, but a judicious use of follows can be very informative. I follow a number of news sources and reporters, as well as government feeds. (Since we are talking local, you’ll want to follow the City of Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County.) I’m not trying to give you the addresses because Twitter has a good search mechanism. I also find a number of local people to be well worth following, both for sometimes sardonic comments and also for good links and information about current happenings. The University of Michigan has quite a few feeds. You can also search by hashtags, like #a2council, to get topical information. Twitter will begin to suggest people you could follow, and I find their suggestions are often good.
Since I know my readers are all sophisticated users of the digital world, I’m not trying to tell you how to use these well-known applications. I just want you to see them as a source of local news.
4. Join affiliations.
Ann Arbor is full of groups pursuing specific interests and concerns. This could be clubs, neighborhood groups, churches, people organized around special topics like a current development or millage issue, avocations like gardening or cooking or local foods (you may be picking up where I settle) etc. The important point is that groups often organize around an email list or a FB list or both, and they are a great source of interaction and information. I don’t encourage you to be a false member or “lurker”, but these are a very good source of news about the community. Be a joiner. The email discussions can be very useful.
5. Learn to watch for continuity.
Many governmental processes, especially, but also business developments, have a long track before they suddenly become “hot”. If you learn how the system is organized, you’ll come to notice trends and understand the significance of new events. The important thing is to be alert and follow threads that seem important to you.
Pulling it all together
So at the end of the day, is all this equivalent to reading a local newspaper with good coverage and decent articles? Clearly not. Actually, what you have done is to make yourself the journalist – checking sources, following clues, pulling inferences and facts together into a coherent picture. Maybe you should start a newspaper.
ADDENDUM: The most direct way to find out what is current in local government is to go to the agenda. Ann Arbor uses Legistar (where you can also find agendas for many city commissions). Search for the nearest date. “Meeting details” is the best choice to download documents.
Board of Commissioners (Washtenaw County) agendas can be accessed here (note the extensive archives as well). Don’t forget that the first action on items is usually taken at Ways and Means, and that agenda usually has the documents available for download.
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