Mar 25, 2009
Death of the A2 News is a blow to Democracy
The bad news continues for democracy and the vital watchdog role newspapers play with the news of the death of the Ann Arbor News.
The corporation that owns the newspaper announced on Monday that the daily paper will be shutting down in July after publishing for 174 years, and it will switch to some Internet-only, social networking thing. Very few of the 272 employees will be hired back. Ad production, copy editing, circulation and accounting will be outsourced. I have even heard of reporting being outsourced, and that is possibility here.
The Livingston Daily Press & Argus is now reporting that the Livingston Community News, a weekly edition covering the county owned by the A2 News, is also folding in July.
Livingston County went from a community covered by the Detroit News with a bureau in downtown Howell and the Ann Arbor News coverage to just the Press & Argus.
As a reporter for 12 years and an avid fan of newspapers since I could read, this is indeed a sad day. Even if the same coverage was provided on a web based product – which will not happen – there is nothing like holding a newspaper in your hands, reading it at the breakfast table or reading it at places inconvenient for a computer.
Jack Lessenberry, who was once briefly my boss when he was hired as the executive editor of Hometown Newspapers before it was sold to Gannett, said it much better than I can on his blog.
“I can tell you right now that the Watergate scandal would never have been exposed by WashingtonDeeCee.com, had that existed then,” he wrote. “Nor do I see AnnArbor.com telling in-depth stories about what is happening with local government and education.”
I wish I had a dollar for every evening I sat at a school board meeting, township board meeting, planning commission meting, village council meeting or city council meeting. That coverage will be gone with the demise of newspapers. I will always remember the first time a citizen approached the microphone during the public comment section of a meeting clutching the newspaper in their hand and quoting something from an article I had written. I was terrified I would get something wrong. From that point on every article I ever wrote I envisioned a person reading it at a public hearing.
I know some of the A2 reporters who will lose their jobs. Frankly, there were times when I hated them, especially when I was scooped by them. But over the years I got to know them. I really got to know one departed former reporter while covering Green Oak Township when it was called “Green Joke Township.”
The meetings were tumultuous and newsworthy, and they often ran until midnight. About two-thirds into the meeting, the board always went into closed session, and the diehards were left to talk until the board came back. You couldn’t leave because you had no idea what they would say when they came back, and you didn’t want your competition to scoop you.
That competition made you work harder. That incentive is now gone in Livingston County.
In fact, it was the Ann Arbor News and the Detroit News that finally forced the Press & Argus to go daily in 2000; a move that should have taken place years ago.
The Ann Arbor news came out with something called the Livingston County edition, and because they were published daily and the Brighton Argus and Livingston County Press were published just twice a week, they were beating us badly.
Not long after that I left to take a job Downriver, and it wasn’t long before the Detroit News opened a bureau in the county to publish a Livingston County edition. I knew the handwriting was on the wall, and management could no longer ignore the rumblings that it should publish a daily edition.
It was that confirmation that led me to come back to Livingston County, and being part of the first daily start-up in Michigan in 50 years was both historic and exciting; and even a little scary.
This is a sad day and a blow to both journalism and democracy.