Another Point of View on Ann Arbor
I have great respect for Poynter’s Rick Edmonds, but his post examining the transition in Ann Arbor seems backwards to me, given the state of the newspaper industry and the digital adaptation it’s trying to make. The headline of Edmonds’ post is “Why Ann Arbor Will be the First City to Lose its Only Daily Newspaper,” and the language is correspondingly dour throughout: “lose,” “dubious distinction,” “its own demise,” and so forth.
But Ann Arbor is only losing its daily paper from a print-centric point of view. The paper is going to a Web-first model, with print papers on Thursday and Sunday, and it’s ditching the wretched MLive cookie-cutter Web experience for its own site, AnnArbor.com.
Edmonds notes the Ann Arbor market is young, prosperous, wired and literate, and begins by expressing surprise that a town like that can’t appreciate and support a print paper. He then explores why “some of those apparent strengths seem instead to have proven drawbacks” for a print daily.
The same column could have been written as an exploration of why Ann Arbor might be one of the best cities for an aggressive move to a Web-first strategy, thanks to its young, prosperous, wired audience, and looked at how AnnArbor.com realized print isn’t the best fit for its community and the shackles of a one-size-fits-all Web template had to be shed. From that point of view, Edmonds might have written of Ann Arbor that “some of those apparent drawbacks could instead prove strengths” for a Web-first paper. (He’s promised a follow-up about AnnArbor.com, which is great, but the tone has been set.)
As with the Seattle P-I, what’s happening in Ann Arbor isn’t anything to celebrate: The staff of the News is being dismissed and given a chance to audition for a smaller set of jobs that pay less. But that grim situation isn’t unique to Ann Arbor, and to blame the Web transition for it (which, to be clear, Edmonds doesn’t do) would be muddled causality. Ann Arbor’s strategy seems sound, and portraying it as the loss of a print daily strikes me as needlessly retrograde. The daily print paper is indeed going away; the daily journalism, one hopes, is not.