To fill that gap, a host of locals have themselves become self-styled news “organizations”—like Julie Weatherbee, who has become known for live-tweeting city council meetings twice a month, as well as other local events. Edward Vielmetti is a longtime Ann Arbor blogger and Arborwiki editor who, for about 18 months, was lead blogger for AnnArbor.com. (His position was cut during an earlier round of reorganization and shrinking.) Vielmetti, on his own initiative, leveraged his strong network and became a go-to source of local news. People “feed me information, either directly via email or via @ messages on Twitter, ” he wrote via email.
Vielmetti is known, he said, for “answering mysteries about town that haven’t yet been reported on by the media. So I’ll see tweets like ‘I’ll bet @vielmetti knows about (incident)’ and I’ll retweet that and someone else who follows me and knows more will tweet some useful info. That goes back and forth with probably dozens of people who also have an interest in local news.”
As for changes at the city’s flagship news source: “I only see the move from AnnArbor.com to MLive.com as further shrinking of the news space,” Vielmetti said. (He wrote about the move to Mlive, and its impact on the AnnArbor.com archives, here.)
James David Dickson is the op-ed editor at The Detroit News and a former AnnArbor.com general assignment reporter
, and a history columnist for the first iteration of The Ann Arbor News. (He also mined the first iteration of The Ann Arbor News for a history column at the news site.) He was surprised that the AnnArbor.com name was being dropped.
“What I liked about [the name] is that it’s synonymous with the community where you work. It means we are the news source for the city. With www.Mlive.com/AnnArbor, you’re just on a company list,” Dickson said. He said he would have thought that Advance might go the other way, branding its other local news sites by their city names: Flint.com, GrandRapids.com.
And it seems clear this is fundamentally a shift in branding and presentation, not substance. A “letter to readers” by top MLive.com officials hinted at a stronger emphasis on local news in the Ann Arbor newspapers, but there have been no major staffing changes. “No one who worked at the [old] Ann Arbor News is getting their job back,” Dickson said.
As readers like Armentrout noticed, layoffs at the News led to a younger, less experienced staff at AnnArbor.com. But Dickson pointed out that many of those younger writers—himself included—were given room to develop and ultimately were hired by The Detroit News and Detroit Free Press, both of which maintain a strong Ann Arbor readership despite reductions to print delivery. Dickson gave AnnArbor.com credit for “developing the kind of talent the big papers would be interested in.” (Nathan Bomey, who shared a byline on a major Free Press project about Detroit’s path to bankruptcy that was praised this week here at CJR, is also an AnnArbor.com alum, according to his Tumblr.)
And there was legitimacy, Dickson said, to AnnArbor.com’s commitment to reader interaction. “When I was there, editors were on shifts around the clock to engage in the comment sections,” he said. “That showed that’s something they value, even when the comments were harsh. And some of those stories had 200, 300 people participating.”
Meanwhile, several Ann Arborites told me that since the News closed, they’ve turned more often to publications from the University of Michigan for local coverage. The Michigan Daily, the student-run newspaper (for which I worked while in college), and The University Record, published by the administration, are free, printed, online, and finding an audience even off campus.
Austen Hufford, a junior and the Daily’s online news editor, said the Daily increased its Ann Arbor coverage after the News closed. It now has “a senior editor and a reporter or two” on the Ann Arbor beat, he said. There is also an Ann Arbor section on the Daily’s website. “We are at every city council meeting and frequently talk to city leaders,” Hufford said.