Archive for the ‘media’ category

Community, Conversation, and the Ann Arbor Local News Quandary

June 9, 2017

Why do we need a local news source?  In the past there were practical reasons for picking up the newspaper.  Schedules for movies and sport events.  Job postings and other classified ads. Reminders for when City Hall would be closed for a part holiday.  Information about upcoming elections or new ordinances that affected daily life.  Most of these have been replaced by simple Internet searches or subscriptions.  (If you haven’t yet signed up for notices from the city, click on this List of Ann Arbor City Notices and choose the items that interest you.  At least go for the newsletters.)

But there is another, less tangible but perhaps more important reason to read local news.  It is to build a sense of community. We are a social species.  We need to know what others in our immediate circle are doing.  If we are to feel that we are part of our city, our neighborhood, or our county, we need news, even if it is of activities that we ourselves will never participate in.  (Or maybe it will open up new possibilities.)  Also, if we are to be meaningful participants in the circle of life around us, we need information.  Otherwise, we are in danger of being isolated within a tiny group of immediate friends and family, adrift in an increasingly worrisome world.

Oh, we used to complain about the Ann Arbor News, back in the days that it was a real printed newspaper.  It arrived on our doorstep seven days a week and got at least a glance over the main stories and the other parts that were of interest (sports, restaurant reviews, comics, whatever).  It could be irritating in many ways, including the political stance.  (The endorsements were reliably Republican.) Some called it The Snooze and there were parody versions “Not The Ann Arbor News“.  But just about everyone read it and we all knew what we knew.  Then it fell apart.  Read the Michigan Daily’s astute recounting of this history, The Twilight of Newspapers in Ann Arbor Today’s online “Ann Arbor News”, a branch of the media company MLive, has more news from elsewhere than Ann Arbor, and often the reporting is limited to court cases, highway accidents, sports, and business openings.  They are now limited to two print issues per week (Thursday and Sunday) and subscription drives are sounding more and more desperate.  A recent email promises “Convenient Print Home Delivery PLUS Unlimited Digital Access!” for 99¢ a week, limited time.  Unlimited digital access?  This is not a publication that can retreat behind a paywall.

What To Do?

Now keeping up with the Ann Arbor community takes more effort.  We made some suggestions last year in Seeking the News About Ann Arbor and Going to the Source for News of Ann Arbor.  It takes effort and paying attention. Sources are scattered and not always very efficient.  (Social media, for example, contain everything from puppy pictures to valuable notices of events.)  There are a number of individuals and organizations who do publish news items, but usually on a one-at-a-time basis and just clicking on all those bookmarks could take all day.  Many offer free subscriptions but that can also fill up your mailbox with more than is easily handled in the daily rush.  (Highly recommended: Mary Morgan’s CivCity newsletter.  Aimed at increasing civic participation and loaded with links and events. She does all the work of tracking down agenda items that you wanted to know about.)

Now there is an adventurous effort to fill in the gaps.  The Ann Magazine  began as a monthly print publication inserted into other local print newspapers.  It is now being produced in print on a quarterly basis and is assuming more of an online character.  They’ve introduced a new idea.  Explained in Welcome to ANNthology, it is a curated compilation of articles from many independent sites, mostly Ann Arbor but also from other Washtenaw County communities.  This comes to your mailbox five days a week – for free! Click here to go to the subscription form.  As the invitation says, “Don’t be overwhelmed – be informed.”

Is this the only and best answer to our “Ann Arbor news desert” problem?  No, but it is the best opportunity to have our community conversation that has come along for a while.  Go ahead and subscribe.  You’ll like it.

ADDENDUM: A recent symposium discussed the occurrence of “news deserts” and one chapter is about Ann Arbor.   The Ann Arbor segment is pages 38-42.

UPDATE: A bright spot on the Ann Arbor news scene has been added with occasional articles by Mary Morgan on Medium.   Here is the most recent one.  It is possible to sign in to Medium and receive many different types of news feeds and essays.  It is also possible to follow Mary Morgan specifically.  With this step, Mary essentially joins the ranks of serious Ann Arbor bloggers.  A good addition to our possibilities.

Going to the Source for News of Ann Arbor

September 4, 2016

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.




Seeking the News about Ann Arbor

August 20, 2016

One event that really brought home the consequences of our news deficits occurred on Nextdoor (a social network application geared toward helping neighbors exchange information).  There was some commentary going on about the August primary results.  A person who identified herself as of voting age, but in her late teens, complained that “no one told me there was an election”.  The election had in fact been covered rather extensively by Ann Arbor News reporters, including coverage of debates.  But clearly this person never read the online newspaper.  Of course, much of the year the coverage probably did not draw her attention.  Doubtless she spent most of her time online using various social applications like Instagram, Twitter, etc., which are self-selective in terms of the coverage you choose. (My Twitter feed is heavy on news sources and governmental publication.  Others follow celebrities or politicians. We are not seeing the same universe.)

Part of the problem with finding a good source of local news about Ann Arbor is that newspaper publishing as an industry and a cultural phenomenon have changed nationwide.  Print publications are being discontinued everywhere, and it is difficult to find a business model for an online full-service news publication.  This study by the Pew Research Center outlines some of the issues. Part of the problem is the movement of the public to using digital applications geared toward immediate news in short bites.  Good journalism is often a time-consuming process involving a lot of hours on the reporter’s part.  Investigative journalism is not a good fit with the kind of news operations requiring a 24-hour feed.  The movie Spotlight is in some ways a sad memorial to the traditional big-city newsroom.  Could the deep digging that led to the revelation of a widespread clergy childhood abuse problem ever be done with today’s newsrooms?  Yet the trend toward fragmented digital coverage does not reward that type of deep investment.

Another problem is that Ann Arbor is rather isolated.  We are a small city in the exurban fringe of the Detroit Metropolitan region.  Really, our concerns and Detroit’s concerns are quite different.  Detroit still maintains two newspapers with good reporting staff, the Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News.  Trouble is, no coverage of Ann Arbor.  Crain’s Business Weekly has really brushed up its local news coverage and added state legislative coverage.  But Ann Arbor is mentioned very rarely.  Detroit also has some excellent online news and analysis sources, likely supported by foundation funding.  Data Driven Detroit, for example, is amazing.  Another good source of Michigan statewide issues and Detroit Metro topics is Bridge online magazine. (They really covered the Flint water issue, and some amazing coverage of the Detroit riots and the history of that period, with some stunning pictures.)  But little of Ann Arbor there.

So since we essentially do not have a local newspaper, how do we find out what is happening in our community?  We do have at least one traditional print vehicle remaining, the monthly Ann Arbor Observer. (I contributed articles to the Observer for a couple of years.)  The Observer is distributed free to most households in Ann Arbor and is made available in bookstores for a token price.  It is supported primarily by advertising, one of the few venues in Ann Arbor for finding some good extensive advertising information.  But its monthly format restricts the type of coverage it can offer. There is an online version in which articles are published weeks after the print version, making it even less current. All articles are done by freelance reporters, which makes the coverage somewhat uneven though usually of high quality and interesting.  (The UpFront and Inside Ann Arbor sections are a good place to find some news not available elsewhere.)  Unfortunately, their political reporter offers rather glancing analysis and seems to be adverse to research (he generally accepts statements by interviewees at face value).  I read the Observer cover to cover when it first comes.  But I think that many, especially younger readers, may never see it.

In previous posts about Ann Arbor media, I suggested that local blogs could fill in some of the gaps. Unfortunately, many blogs have vanished or turned into rather short and incidental postings.  After all, a blog is personal.  One is not required to do in-depth reporting.  (Mark Maynard‘s Ypsilanti coverage remains excellent, but it is definitely not Ann Arbor.)

So what does one do?  It is necessary to be very interested and very determined.  More on that later.

ADDENDUM:  I omitted a couple of sources of local news.  A notable one is the commendable personal effort by a blogger who is now doing serious reporting about the Ann Arbor Public Schools.  The site is AnnArbivore and the information is timely and of good journalistic quality.

There is also a monthly publication that often has a significant main story (much of the rest is more about lifestyle).  It is The Ann Magazine.  It does have an online presence, but is really aimed at the print version and my impression is that main stories are not posted immediately online.  At one time it was available via the Ann Arbor News print version, but now I only receive my copy in the New York Times.  I suspect that it is available in bookstores.

Concentrate is an online magazine that has evolved somewhat over the years with the loss of its original editor.  It was a development promoter in the early days and still has something of a “biz” character, but hires free-lance writers whose articles are not always obviously promotional.  I read it when it comes to me.  (Free subscription.)


I omitted the Michigan Daily, the UM student newspaper that has contributed some excellent reporting lately.  Here is their reporter Brian Kuang’s own article about our local news deficit.   The Twilight of Newspapers in Ann Arbor

The Ann has taken their own steps to ameliorating the problem:  an online ANNthology of local news from different sites and bloggers.  Five days a week!  That’s a lot.  No charge at present.  What a brave venture.



The News About Ann Arbor

August 20, 2016

Some days I think that Ann Arbor is like a town that I saw in some movie once – a collection of buildings and landmarks that slowly begins to grey out, then turn to mist and disappear. Poof! We may think of ourselves as quite special (think of all those lists!) and there are certainly quite a few things going on here, but it is getting increasingly difficult to find any source of news about them.

While we used to have a local newspaper (The Ann Arbor News) that landed on our doorstep each evening with general local announcements as well as feature stories, that era ended a long time ago.   As detailed in this history from Wikipedia,  the print publication ceased in 2009 and was replaced with a rather quirky online publication called  (Its logo was an acorn, presumably pointing toward Ann Arbor’s burr oak seal.)  But it was soon absorbed into the parent company’s system (MLive).  After a brief flush of decent reporting by a host of young reporters, staff cuts led to less and less coverage and most recently MLive disclosed major cuts statewide.  Fortunately, we retained our civics reporter, Ryan Stanton, but his responsibilities are now very wide and therefore diffuse.  I noticed he is even doing some business coverage.

What all this means is less and less actual coverage of Ann Arbor news.  I get an email each morning, supposedly with today’s top stories.  But so often these are recycled from the previous day or even the previous three days.  For example, today’s headlines (August 20, 2016) include a report from City Council action on South Pond – dated August 16.  Another story (on the fate of the former Bell’s Pizza building) is datelined August 18.  I think this is the third day it has appeared.  Many other stories are actually from other communities.  The free-lance reporter who covers Ypsilanti has been quite busy, but many of his stories have been recycled as well.

Of course, we are all still mourning the loss of the Ann Arbor Chronicle.  But even at its best (and it was very good), it did not substitute for a local newspaper.  (Here is an interview with the two principals that provides insight into why they felt compelled to close this brave venture.)  Happily, they arranged with the Ann Arbor District Library to archive their output, so you may still type in and pull up the old articles. These are still useful as a historical reference but are no longer current.

So what is happening?  We have less and less of an informed citizenry.  The reason is that the only way to keep up is to follow a variety of social media, look at government websites, subscribe to every email newsletter in sight, and generally keep your eyes and ears at alert.  Even so, there are major gaps.  Some information is only accessible via an informed reporter who uses journalistic approaches (like asking the right questions of the right people).



End of Ann (Arbor) Era – The Chronicle Closes

August 9, 2014

A sad day for those of us in Ann Arbor who care about local government and want to keep up with issues.  The Ann Arbor Chronicle has announced that it will be ceasing publication on September 2, 2014, exactly six years after its launch.

In-House-Ads-DavidActually, this should read “Dave Askins has announced…” because this publication has always been about its two principals, Dave Askins and Mary Morgan.  It has been an intensely personal project for this married couple.  Both the launch and the closing are scheduled on their wedding anniversary, as we have frequently been reminded.  The online-only publication has incorporated many personal touches, like the use of the watch (evidently a gift) and plays on that word, like the Stopped. Watched. section (our title for this post deliberately incorporates a pun in homage to the enjoyment of language often displayed).  The ads requesting subscriptions are portraits. (Caricatures by Tammy Graves.)

In-House-Ads-MaryIt has been a quirky venture, with a number of idiosyncratic features.  One is the cartoon series Bezonki, by a local artist (Alvey Jones).  Most frequent comment following publication of the current segment:  “I don’t get it.”  This also spurred the Bezonki Awards  (I was honored to be among the first group receiving these) for people deemed to have made local contributions. Honorees were allowed to foster one of several sculptures made by Jones for a year, then pass them on to the next generation.  The Stopped. Watched. feature invited guest contributors (anyone, really) to post observations, which could be as trivial as noting traffic congestion or minireports of major events, often with pictures.  Some of the longest comment threads were conversations spurred by these.

Before launching an online newspaper, Mary Morgan was a long-time reporter and editor for the old Ann Arbor News.  (A publication only very distantly related to the current online/print version of the Ann Arbor News,  part of a statewide, mostly online, news organization.) She has written very affectingly about the demise of that community newspaper.  Dave Askins has not had a career in traditional journalism, though he hosted an online site called Teeter Talk for several years.  (This consisted of interviews of people he considered local notables whilst they were balancing on a homemade teeter totter.)  He is something of a self-made phenomenon who adopted the nom de plume “Homeless Dave” (abbreviated HD) for these early postings.  According to an article that I once read in the Ann Arbor Observer, Dave adopted that moniker after someone described him as “that homeless man” in passing him on the street, evidently misled by the beard.  They combined these histories to create a unique news site.

One of the Ann Arbor Chronicle’s great attributes has been its habit of archiving. This overview has many links to past news stories about the Chronicle, as most regular readers refer to it.  Here is the Crain’s Detroit Business article about the closure, which notes that “The online-only Chronicle focuses on government coverage and civic affairs, and does in-depth long-form reporting. It’s aimed at the educated residents of a major university town.”

Yes, and there is its strength and its weakness.  After many years in which governmental actions were covered only sketchily and often with a distinct bias by the old print version of The Ann Arbor News, the political junkies of Ann Arbor were delivered a real treat.  Mary and Dave literally did chronicle almost every public body, nearly gavel-to-gavel.  Thus the line “It’s like being there”.  While in the past the Ann Arbor District Library Board, the county Board of Commissioners, and the Ann Arbor Parks and Recreation Commission were scarcely ever even mentioned in the news, much less given in-depth coverage, it became possible to follow them in depth.   The Chronicle had to give up coverage of the Ann Arbor Public Schools (it had been done by a free-lancer) and then coverage of the University of Michigan Regents.  But they have still been following AADL, the BOC, and PAC, as well as the Planning Commission, the Greenbelt Commission, the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority, the Downtown Development Authority, and of course the City Council.  That’s a lot of sitting on hard benches.  The result has been a lot of serious reading, the sort that even the most dedicated student of local government has to set aside time for.  I’ve heard comments from several friends that they don’t have time to read the Chronicle, and I’ve sometimes put off reading certain stories for days in order to have time to digest all the material.  This in-depth coverage has provided what amounts to minutes of all these bodies, and archives that are valuable for historical research.  Often they contain links to important documents referenced in the story.

One thing the Chronicle’s reporting has not featured has been much analysis, though there have sometimes been columns that offered opinion and analysis, usually on a subject of interest to Dave Askins.  He has been a strong proponent of open government, adherence to the Open Meetings Act, an issuer of FOIAs for information that should have been available and wasn’t, and has been a critic of Ann Arbor’s City Attorney, Stephen Postema.  But most news stories are reported in a flat factual narrative without much inflection or explanation.  This is valuable as a record but sometimes leaves a lot of heavy lifting to the reader.  Also, there is very rarely any followup with interviews of the parties involved, which could add missing depth at times.  On the other hand, it means objective reporting.

The loss of this reporting is hitting many of us in Ann Arbor with a sensation of the floor dropping out from under us.  How can we find out what is happening in government?  Do we actually have to go to those meetings and sit through them to find out what happened? Happily, the newly reconstructed Ann Arbor News now has a number of young reporters who are doing a decent job at covering some aspects of government, but not at anything like the scope and depth of the Chronicle.  The question is going out by email – What do we do now?

According to Dave’s statement, the effort has been sufficiently profitable (revenue is both from paid advertising and voluntary donations), but they are simply worn out.  This is understandable.  No breaks. Many long meetings.  On top of that, they do not use an automobile, but rely on a bicycle (Dave), a scooter (Mary), or public transit.  This story describes one example of how that can complicate the life of a reporter (Mary).

In her requiem for the Ann Arbor News, Mary says,

I believe the newspaper could have survived if its leaders had better engaged and embraced this community – not as sycophants or vacuous boosters, but as people with a vested interest in the lifeblood of Ann Arbor, its politics and government, arts & culture, schools, businesses, nonprofits – and in the people who live and work here every day, who, like us, call this patch of Michigan home.

The Ann Arbor Chronicle certainly did that.  They are leaving us richer, but sad. Thanks, Mary and Dave, for all that hard work.  You have the best wishes of many.  I hope that the next venture is as successful, with less wear and tear on its creators.

POSTSCRIPT: An immediate question asked by many is, what about the archives?  We have a special interest in this, since many of our posts use multiple links to Chronicle articles.  Evidently the site will remain more or less as is through 2014, and some efforts are being made to house the archives in the Ann Arbor District Library.  The AADL has already performed that service for archives of the Ann Arbor News (check the Old News section especially) and portions of the Ann Arbor Observer.  It is rapidly becoming a major historical source for Ann Arbor.

It is not clear whether current links will continue to be operative once archives are placed at the AADL, but it would be good to preserve the substance.

UPDATE:  Mary Morgan kindly sent along this column from 2010.  It has some great reflections about the meaning of local journalism, and also shows that that they were already planning ahead to have their archives housed at the AADL.  Mary indicated that the AADL has already been in touch, so it looks like a go.


Local in Ann Arbor: 2011

December 31, 2011

I’m not much for looking backward and don’t care much for milestones.  But there is some point, I’ll admit, to reflection on what has happened in the last year, if only to prepare for the next day and what follows. Now how best to  make sense of our recent history?  What made the year memorable from this blog’s perspective?  We’d surely not use the measurement that’s approach was to use page view numbers.  This produced a list of mostly sports-related stories, with a sprinkling of crime and tragedy.  Looking back at the year on Local in Ann Arbor, I had some posts I was really proud of but got relatively little notice, while others that got a lot of attention were not all that substantial.  Still, looking at the page view hits was instructive, and I’ve used them as a guide in this year-end review.

Honorable mentions go to posts from previous years.

Scott Trudeau (L) and Murph (R), enjoying victory ca. 2004; photo copyright by Griffin Reames, used with permission

Most irrelevantly accessed post: Ann Arbor Blogs: the Moving Finger Moves On, published in February 2010, is one of our top hits of all time.  This is not because of the brilliant writing or the subject matter (a requiem for Arbor Update), but because of the “porch couch” picture.  I get a search item for “porch couch” at least once a week, which pulls up this post with its picture.  Another example of how your history on the Internet never goes away – the student to the right, known here as Murph, is now a professional planner (Richard Murphy), whose image from 8 years ago is no longer very descriptive.  (The porch couches are now also history.)

Post which made the biggest splash and was most significant: The all-time top hit has been The Secret Plan for the Conference Center, published August 2009, which was the Ann Arbor area’s first report of a hotel-conference center proposal that had been quietly cooking along on back-office desks for over a year.

This post was the first of  a very long chain that recorded aspects of the fight over the Library Lot and what became known as the Valiant proposal.  The series, all of which has been listed on the Library Lot Conference Center page, was a major feature of this blog through 2010 and into 2011.  One of the top posts for this last year was Ann Arbor Conference Center: An Authoritative Study, where a study by a nationally-known expert on hotels and conference centers was made accessible.  The study did a pretty conclusive job of showing that the center would not be a good business risk.   The lengthy What’s in the Box (Compiled) summarized many posts analyzing the Valiant proposal as presented by the Roxbury report, which recommended this proposal for adoption.  But my favorite post is the inappropriately named And Why Are We Worried About It (Valiant LOI) which was drafted and named before a sudden rush of action on the City Council finally, as we were fond of saying, killed the zombie on April 4, 2011.  This post outlines some of the citizens’ campaign to defeat the proposal (the picture was on buttons that we passed out to oppose adoption of the Letter of Intent).

Photo by John Weise

Two of our posts on the Percent for Art program, Taxes for Art and Taxes for Art (III) were in the top 10 visited in 2011. These were an effort to support proposed changes in the Percent for Art program (that ultimately failed to gain Council approval).  The first one in the series laid out arguments, with references, as to why this program is illegal.

Another “top hit” was our piece called “Heritage City Place Row“, written just before the tragic conclusion to the years-long City Place/Heritage Row debate.  The seven historic houses are now only history and instead there will be a cell-block-like student apartment complex installed in the middle of one of our near-downtown neighborhoods.  This was one of the greatest failures of governance of the year.  There are many directions to point fingers, but I’ll just say that it is very sad for our town.

Of course, the two “townie” posts were very successful. What Does It Mean to be an Ann Arbor Townie?  was the top in page hits, with the political discussion The Council Party vs the Ann Arbor Townies close behind.  That’s what happens when I stray from the wonkiness.  Actually, when I began this blog, I had intended to have more pieces that were simply reflective, but events in Ann Arbor (and the politics!) have often driven the topics.  The Council Party piece, like most of my political posts, was written in defense of our embattled group of civic activists (whose numbers expanded greatly during the conference center episode) after an attack from one of The Powers That Be.

Central Area from city website; click for larger image

Central Area (click for larger)

One of my favorite posts did make the top 10:  Ann Arbor’s Suburban Brain Problem was a slow starter but has been getting continuous looks so that it was actually #5 for the year.  This was probably our snarkiest post and the sarcasm and sardonic humor may have confused a number of readers.  But it contains some serious information about the lack of open space or green space not just in the downtown, but the entire Central Area.  (Ironically, the largest green area in the map is Fuller Park, now threatened with a parking structure.) It was written in reaction to a DDA partnership meeting in which the object was to explain why no new parks are needed in the downtown because we have the Palio parking lot (sorry, snarkiness just sneaks in there).

Click for larger (WALLY route)

Finally,  three transportation – themed posts were near the top.  The post WALLY Hitting the Wall came in just under Parking and the Limits of Downtown and the Fuller Road Station: It’s All About Parking tagged along a little farther down.  The WALLY post and the Fuller Road Station post were two of those I consider to be references, with many diagrams and documents attached.  They are part of the major theme that will be going forward in the next year, namely the substantial transportation initiatives currently underway.   The whole long story will be indexed on the Transportation Page.

Of course, these were by no means the only important issues for Ann Arbor.  This is a blog, not a newspaper.

Speaking of which, if you have soldiered through to read all this, you care about events in our city and want the full story.  So now is a good time to write a check to support the Ann Arbor Chronicle.  Or if you prefer, donate online.  (They make it easy.)  Where would we be without the Chronicle’s, er, chronicling all the actions that are affecting our lives?

So now on to 2012.  I can only echo Tiny Tim and say “God bless us, every one!”  We may need it.

UPDATE: According to WordPress (they send a yearly summary), “porch couch” was one of 5 top searches leading to this blog.  The other 4 were variations on my personal name or the blog title.  There must be some commercial opportunities in there somewhere.

Local Blogs and Media in Ann Arbor

August 3, 2011

Our blogroll had, I admit, gotten stale and old.  It was last assembled a couple of years ago when we were contemplating local media in the paperless age.   Then we last meditated on local blogs with the famous “porch couch” post (still an occasional hit), published in February 2010.

Meanwhile, a number of new blogs have come along, and online publications have changed from time to time.  So the Blogroll now contains a number of new blogs.  In addition, I’ve revisited some of the other online publications to make sure they follow my criteria.

1. They should be mostly about Ann Arbor.  (After all, we are “Local in Ann Arbor”.)

2. They should be reasonably current.  I have my own “blog lacunae” times but there should be updates at some interval.

3. They should shed a little light on the life of the city.

4. They should meet my completely arbitrary taste (preferably little or no nastiness, and should make me think a little).

Most of the online media that were previously listed (Ann Arbor Chronicle,, Arborweb, Concentrate, Current, and the Michigan Daily) fill needs for news and information, and the Ann Arbor District Library home page still lists many current events in Ann Arbor.  I’ve eliminated a few others.

In alphabetical order, the new additions are:

Damn Arbor, a group production by graduate students that has sometimes been touted as the inheritor of Arbor Update, but is actually very different.  It is irreverent, light, sometimes very thoughtful, and fun.

Edward Vielmetti’s blog, which goes through name and format changes periodically but is one of the oldest surviving blogs in Ann Arbor.  It is eclectic and usually thought-provoking.

Motown to Treetown “A blog about Detroit, Ann Arbor, and the forty miles in between”.  A satisfying dense blog often about civic issues and reminding us that we are part of a greater metropolitan area.

The News of Ann Arbor, a spoof that attempts to avoid confusion by writing “This is Satire” all over its heading.  New and funny, also penetrating.

Honorable mention to Mark Maynard‘s venerable blog, which is however usually about Ypsilanti or general subjects.

Not a blog but not to be missed: the Ann Arbor Newshawks.  I gather that one can follow them on YouTube.    Here is the Summer 2011 report. Wicked satire, often aimed at our civic deficiencies.

UPDATE:  Another local blog, ECONJEFFmost often features musings about economics and national issues, but also picks up Ann Arbor issues and recently had a run of Ann Arbor topics.  The economics is often interesting, too.

Not a blog but frequently updated and containing a wealth of information,  the Neighborhood Alliance website is worth checking out.  The Neighborhood Alliance is a very loose association of Ann Arbor folks: “Our fundamental goal is to have the City treat neighborhoods as stakeholders in decision making.”  

SECOND UPDATE:  I’ve added ECONJEFF to the blog roll and also Ann Arbor Schools Musings.  The latter is a very up-to-date and thoughtful discussion about Ann Arbor schools, with forays into general educational subjects.

THIRD UPDATE: I’ve surrendered and added Mark Maynard to the blogroll.  Just too much good stuff about our region, our state, and our sister city, mixed in with a lot of other amusing musings.

FOURTH UPDATE: Mary Morgan’s thoughts on the local media scene are worthwhile contemplating.

Ann Arbor Blogs: the Moving Finger Moves On

February 3, 2010

Blogs considerably post-date Omar Khayyam, but I was reminded of these lines of his recently:

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

Of course he was writing about Life And All That, of which blogs are only a rather pale reflection, but their transitory nature was brought home by the recent announcement that Arbor Update is folding.  As noted by Edward Vielmetti on, it was begun in 2004 by a group of University of Michigan (mostly) students.  (Julie Weatherbee, who has been a stalwart, is on UM staff.)  Not noted by Vielmetti is that in the early days it had a pronounced anti-townie tone.  When I happened on it perhaps a year later, I was intrigued by its New Urbanist tilt.  Many of the contributors, including Dale Winling (who founded an anti-neighborhood association called the New West Side) and Richard Murphy (aka “Murph”) were students in urban planning.  At the time Douglas Kelbaugh of that school and department was promulgating many of the same concepts and was influential in setting city policy and the Calthorpe exercise (see my review) and I found this blog (the first one I ever read, along with its fellow student-run, anti-townie blog, Ann Arbor is Overrated or AAIO) to be a challenging, if sometimes infuriating, window on a different perspective.  (I remember in particular Murph’s holding forth on the notion that homeowners should not be allowed to have curbcuts for driveways into public streets, since that took away parking for others.)

Over time, AU evolved into a useful venue for news and the pulse of what was happening in areas not reported by the Ann Arbor News.  There were some really nasty anonymous commenters and some annoying threads that ultimately required moderation (to anguished cries of Censorship!), but also some really good conversation about the topics of the day.  Julie Weatherbee also performed a considerable service in posting a summary of items that were coming up on the council agenda, with appropriate links.  But now it’ll come off my list of local media.  I’ll miss it.

AU was also a point of entry to discover other blogs.  As we’ve noted before, this expanding universe (blogosphere? whatever) of local blogs is a great way to learn about topics of special local interest.  But now we are seeing its impermanence also.  Indeed, most of the blogs listed on AU’s masthead are either gone or inactive.  Along with AAIO, this includes Larry Kestenbaum’s “Polygon, the Dancing Bear“, once a good place for political commentary but apparently an awkward fit with being the county clerk; Murph’s own Common Monkeyflower (perhaps not a good fit with being a working urban planner) and Teeter Talk (still some intermittent articles, but Homeless Dave has found a home on the Ann Arbor Chronicle).  Edward Vielmetti still maintains his venerable blog, which I still think of as Vacuum though it is not named that, but I suspect that his new role as blogmeister at has been a considerable distraction.

To some extent, the newsiness and immediacy of local blogs, not to mention the sometimes snarky commentary, have been usurped by “legitimate” online news media, like Ann Arbor Chronicle and even solicits volunteer contributors who are essentially bloggers.  But there are still some local blogs of interest. One that everyone is talking about today (well, everyone who is interested in local politics) is A2Politico.  The latest post announces that its previously anonymous author, Patricia Lesko, is running for mayor.  I’m curious to see whether she will be able to keep up the prodigious output of the last several months.  Another political blog is Some Other Viewpoint, unusual for this area in that it discusses Washtenaw County issues from a relatively conservative (and overtly Republican) viewpoint.   A group I’m involved with has a blog, Public Land – Public Process.   There are also two Ypsilanti blogs that are worth following.  Advance Ypsilanti is all about that city’s policies and politics.  Mark Maynard writes about many topics, often but not always local (including a recent story about the next step in Murph’s career), and usually provocative and/or entertaining.

Who knows how many of those blogs (or this one) will be around in another year?  The problem with blogging was explained to the Pope on a recent radio show: “You have to keep posting”.   AU had a longer run than most, perhaps because of its group nature. So farewell, Arbor Update.  It’s been good ta know ya.

Scott Trudeau (L) and Murph (R), enjoying victory ca. 2004; photo copyright by Griffin Reames, used with permission

UPDATE: After receiving the comment from Edward Vielmetti about the New West Side organization, I went hunting for the article I wrote about the Arbor Update bloggers back in 2005.  (I had to scan the paper copy: the Ann Arbor Observer doesn’t make digital copies generally available.)  Sure enough, it quotes Dale Winling on his efforts to establish alternative renter-based neighborhood groups and the core of AU bloggers as being against having “homeowner values” pushed on them. The Observer chose a picture from 2004, showing two of them enjoying their victory over the proposed ordinance that would have kept couches off porches, a source of visual blight to homeowners but a basic freedom to student renters.

SECOND UPDATE: It was with high hopes that I clicked on a new blog highlighted by Ryan Stanton on Twitter.  But the anonymous blogger (self-identified as female) of “arborblahg” seems more engaged by animus against everyone not her own generation than any political sensibility.  Not very subtle or even very funny: “geritol spiked with vodka and viagra”.  An email we received at our blog email address from “Mallory Weis” inviting us to look at the new blog says her motivation is “because I need something more meaningful than ‘House’ and ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ in my life”.  I deduce that she is fascinated by medicine from these hints and because “Mallory-Weiss syndrome” is described by Wikipedia as a condition of bleeding from tears at the junction of the stomach and esophagus caused by retching and vomiting “often associated with alcoholism and eating disorders”.  Pretty.  She needs a proofreader too.  No need to look for serious examination of the issues there.  Arbor Update, I miss you even more.

UPDATE:  The use of upholstered couches on porches was outlawed by the Ann Arbor City Council on September 20, 2010.  The story on continues to receive angry comments from students.

Ann Arbor’s Media Online at PBS

December 14, 2009

A story on today features, among other bits, an online-only clip from PBS Newshour about Ann Arbor’s media.  Amusingly, the only reader interviewed is a UM sophomore, who says she doesn’t miss the Ann Arbor News much.  But Ed Vielmetti is also interviewed, as are Mary Morgan and Dave Askins of the Ann Arbor Chronicle.  (Dave is shown working at the Workantile Exchange.)  Not mentioned is Ann Arbor’s vibrant blogging culture.

Ann Arbor’s Fifth Estate: The Citizen Journalists

October 28, 2009

Wherein a new television series is announced; scroll to the bottom for the schedule.

As I’ve written before, if you want to know the news about what is going on in Ann Arbor, you can no longer just pick up the newspaper.  You have to work harder, and mostly to go online.  We’ve listed a number of the available news sources.  But how can we really get to the core of issues and events affecting our city?  One option is to accept the help of some citizen journalists.

At a recent training workshop given by the Online News Association, we were told that “Ann Arbor is ground zero” for a new era in journalism.   Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute gave us a lecture describing what she and others are calling the “fifth estate”* .   McBride emphasized the rising importance of citizen journalism, including bloggers and other (non-professional) news and opinion gatherers.  This interest in citizen journalism is apparently getting stronger as traditional new vehicles like printed newspapers are falling by the wayside.  Another Poynter associate listed all the types of people who might be part of this “fifth estate” and characterized them this way: “a frame that sees that the freedoms and responsibilities of the First Amendment empower not just a professional caste of news gatherers and distributors, but potentially every citizen.”  As I have mentioned before, there has been increasing attention to this phenomenon.

Our workshop was indeed attended by a number of “citizen journalists”, grading into “real journalists”.  Several staff from were there, and Clarence Cromwell, a journalist who has a blog,, about this very subject.  (He also has a print news publication forthcoming but no announcement yet.) Matt Hampel, one of the major contributors to ArborWiki, a maintainer and moderator of Arbor Update (a hotbed of fifth estaters if ever there was one), and the instigator of the Ann Arbor Area Government Document Repository,  attended the evening workshop. I was there (a citizen journalist-blogger) and so were quite a few of the “citizen bloggers” recruited by  These included Linda Diane Feldt, Alice Ralph, Cathy Theisen, and a columnist,  Frances Kai-Hwa Wang.  I’m sure I missed several more who didn’t happen to sit at my table.  I am impressed by the effort that has made to recruit individuals from the community, with the leadership of Edward Vielmetti.  It is a rather odd mixture, with articles by professional paid staff followed by volunteer bloggers, but it is working to provide a mosaic of interest and perspective.

Why do we all do it?  Partly to fill a perceived need, I believe, and also because the software and easy linking has made it much more possible than in the days when publishing even a newsletter was a big production and expense issue.  I know that the reason I started “Local in Ann Arbor” was that I saw a need to document things I cared about, and to help start a discussion about them.

One of the most impressive local examples of this civic impulse is the new “Other Perspectives” series which is not online, but rather on television.  Nancy Kaplan, a Second Ward resident who has been an adult education teacher and physical therapist, started this series on CTN’s Channel 17 recently.  Here is her reasoning in her own words:

After the Ann Arbor News announced its closing, I was talking with friends about the forthcoming absence of the ‘Other Voices’ column. It seemed then that the News frequently took the perspective of the mayor and council and generally did not support change or welcome a differing perspective. So the idea came up of doing a CTN program that would fill that gap and provide for a more complete perspective on issues and thus the “Other Perspectives.”

Originally the show was to be co-hosted.  While this did not work out, a CTN instructor tutored and guided me through it all.  The program is crewed by volunteers.  I am fortunate to have a  great crew who have been with me for all the shows. The process requires getting a recording date that the crew and guests are willing to commit to. Recording is done in the evening after most of the crew and guests have put in a full days work.

I find the preparation for each show to be like doing a research paper.  I learn a great deal and get to meet some very interesting and community-involved people. My objectives are to discuss topics of interest and importance and to provide information that is well organized for the listener.

This town has a wealth of involved, knowledgeable and articulate residents. My aim is to interview these residents  on a wide range of topics from politics to the arts.  I hope the audience will become engaged and make suggestions as to topics and guests of their interest. I want the program to be informative, interesting, relevant, and, of course, open to other perspectives.

Her  initial one-hour program discussed the politics of Ann Arbor and city council. The second segment looked at the city budget and possible city tax.  Excerpts of these (September) programs are on the Other Perspectives blog. The current shows recorded on Friday,  October 23,  focus on the November 3 ballot issues.  One program discusses the WISD Enhancement Millage Proposal : Pros & Cons.  The second show has two segments: The Charter Amendments A & B— Vote No and  an interview with the 4th Ward City Council candidate challenger  Hatim Elhady.

Here is the schedule:

Other Perspectives: WISD Millage – Pros & Cons

Premiere:    Tuesday, 10/27         7:30 PM
Replays:     Wednesday, 10/28    10 PM
Thursday, 10/29        2 PM & 7 PM
Friday, 10/30            10 AM & 8 PM
Saturday, 10/31         2:30 PM
Sunday, 11/1            1 PM & 8 PM
Monday, 11/2            2 PM & 6 PM
Tuesday, 11/3           1 PM

Other Perspectives: Ballot Issues  (First half, Dave Askins on charter changes; Second half, Hatim Elhady, candidate, 4th Ward)
Premiere:    Wednesday, 10/28    12:30 PM
Replays:     Wednesday, 10/28    10:30 PM
Thursday, 10/29        2:30 PM & 6 PM
Friday, 10/30            10:30 AM & 8:30 PM
Saturday, 10/31         3 PM
Sunday, 11/1            1:30 PM
Monday, 11/2            2:30 PM, 5:30 PM & 8 PM

*Note: This is a reference to the concept of the “estates of the realm”, first named during the era of the French Revolution as the clergy (First), nobility (Second), and commoners plus everyone else (Third).  Later, journalists were named as the “Fourth Estate”.

UPDATE:  I should have mentioned among the citizen journalists Julie Weatherbee, who has been doing a great service with her Arbor Update reporting on city council agendas.  Julie was part of a panel for the first evening’s discussion that also included Mary Morgan of the Ann Arbor Chronicle and Josie Parker of the Ann Arbor District Library.  The AADL website includes an update on many community issues and a couple of blogs.  It is difficult to place this between “citizen” and “professional” journalism since the Library is a public institution, yet Julie (also a library professional) made the point that the AADL led the way on this type of website for libraries.

SECOND UPDATE: A new print publication, The Bohemian, hit the streets on the weekend of November 14.  Its publisher, Clarence Cromwell, tells me that the November issue will be available (free) at a number of locations.  It will be a monthly and there will be a website, still under development.

THIRD UPDATE:  The Bohemian’s website is now up and going.

FOURTH UPDATE:  Local bloggers should be aware of new FTC guidelines about product endorsements on blogs.

FIFTH UPDATE:  The Bohemian has folded after 3 issues, according to a story on