The biggest surprise was the surprise itself.
What is left of Michigan’s journalism corps reacted in collective shock this week with the announced closure of the Ann Arbor News. Now here is an illustration of WHY it is closing… the most thorough news about the closing can be found on a nonprofit blog written by a former Ann Arbor News sports columnist.
The Ann Arbor News announcement — coupled with down-sizings and hefty pay cuts at sister papers in Grand Rapids, Flint, Bay City, and Saginaw — is a tremor to equal the news of a few months ago that the Detroit papers would cease home delivery four days a week and focus most of their efforts online.
But the tremors should come as no surprise.
Traditional media is disappearing by the day, replaced by a way-less-than-fully-formed cacophony of niche publications and blogs…. Metromode, Capital Gains, the Ann Arbor Chronicle, a coming business news bureau in Detroit, the online publications of the Michigan Land Use Institute… and… this Fresh Thoughts e-newsletter (which, by the way, has seen a 15 percent increase in subscribers this year and a 10-fold increase since late 2006).
The fear is all these niche players will never replace the heft and reporting depth newspapers have so long provided. The other fear is that the public won’t realize what it is missing until it is gone. Jo Mathis, a poignant voice in the Ann Arbor News for the past 15 years, had nailed it in her column this week…
“Most people don’t realize how much of the news you see online or on TV or hear on the radio started with a newspaper reporter. But we’ve seen it time after time. We hear the words we’ve written recited on local radio. Not long ago The Detroit News reported about the crazy low cost of housing in Detroit. The next day, the “CBS Evening News” reported the same thing. Coincidence? Doubtful.”
But amidst the panic there will arise opportunity. In this same painful week for Michigan journalists, a Maryland congressman has proposed legislation to create nonprofit newspapers. (Resist the many wisecracks — there is a clear strategy here.)
Michigan’s philanthropic community has a long history of engagement in public engagement and public policy issues. Those philanthropies are not going to stand idly by, in this era of economic crisis in Michigan, while the Fourth Estate crumbles into dust.