Journalism AnnArborChronicle.com founder talks about her hyper-Local endeavor
By Fara Warner
Board member Fara Warner and JAWS members Carol Guensburg and Birgit Rieck hosted a JAWS get-together in Ann Arbor, Mich., on May 26 to discuss the state of journalism and raise the profile of JAWS in southeast Michigan. We signed several new members and began discussions to host quarterly events in Michigan.
Mary Morgan, founder and publisher of the hyper-local news website AnnArborChronicle.com, talked about entrepreneurial journalism with more than 20 journalists, educators and students gathered at Wallace House, home to the University of Michigan’s Knight-Wallace Fellowships in Journalism. (For fellowship information, see www.mjfellows.org.) Mary started her online news outlet in 2008, a year before the owners of the Ann Arbor News, Advance Publications, shut down that paper’s operations and reopened as AnnArbor.com. The closure of the News after more than 150 years drew national attention because Ann Arbor became one of the largest towns in America without a daily newspaper. Mary had been on the News editorial staff until she left to start the Chronicle.
Mary’s website has managed to thrive, drawing about 40,000 visitors per month, despite the competition from AnnArbor.com, which has launched a major advertising campaign around the city and has the financial weight of Advance Publications behind it. She says more local advertisers are buying space on her site and, while it’s not making huge amounts of money, Mary joked that the site is doing well enough that she and her husband, Dave Askins, who serves as editor, will finally be able to take a brief vacation to Chicago this summer.
Mary’s reasons for quitting the News and starting a new venture resonated with the group. She said that she had grown tired of resources being squeezed and it was obvious that the paper was struggling to stay relevant with readers. She also felt that there was much more that should be covered by a local publication. So when she and Dave started the Chronicle, they took a different view of how to cover and present
news online than many outlets have. She says she doesn’t hold the conventional view that readers want very short articles and are looking for breaking news all the time. At the Chronicle, stories may run to 2,000 to 3,000 words, and one major story is published every day. They also focus heavily on public meetings that aren’t covered by other news media. The Chronicle’s tagline, “It’s like being there,” is indicative of how Mary, Dave and their freelance contributors report on the meetings. Mary said instead of choosing one or two topics in a meeting to cover and then talking to politicians or citizens on the opposing sides, the coverage is of the meeting itself — what is said, what happens, what is decided — so that readers can make up their own minds. Fara Warner is a journalist, author and professor of journalism at the University of Michigan.
Fara Warner is a journalist, author and professor of journalism at the University of Michigan. •