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News flows in the desert

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Did you know you live in a news desert? You do, according to a paper presented at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., on March 28 by the University of North Carolina Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media: “Thwarting the Emergence of News Deserts.”

The paper explores “local journalism and the health of communities and citizenship” in Ann Arbor, a community in Alaska and in eastern North Carolina.

The Ann Arbor section, written by current Knight-Wallace Fellow Amy Maestas, tells what happened when The Ann Arbor News quit publishing a daily paper and started emphasizing digital news eight years ago. Ever since, Maestas says, people have been apathetic and disoriented.

I was interviewed for the article — along with a lot of other local journalists and citizens — but barely got a mention. That might be because I disagreed with the premise that A2 is a news desert. (The other entirely plausible reason, of course, is that I’m a horrible interview.) 

What happened in Ann Arbor was simple: An out-of-state corporation, Advance Publications, cut and ran as soon as the internet eliminated its monopolistic advantage here. They did what corporations do. And it’s time to face it: The numbers don’t add up for a daily print newspaper in Ann Arbor.   

I’ll admit that when the News changed its level of commitment there was less local news to consume and, worse, fewer people keeping local officials honest. But I don’t think we should grant Advance Publications power over Ann Arbor’s civic engagement. I point to people like Monet Tiedemann, who attends school board meetings at her own expense and blogs about them at AnnArbivore.com. There are more Monets out there than anyone ever imagined, working to fill in the cracks a disinterested corporation left behind. There are so many like Monet, in fact, that we’ve compiled their work in one daily offering, ANNthology, a free email newsletter that you have every reason to support. It’s a conscious effort to stop looking backward and start finding sustainable solutions. 

ANNthology doesn’t offer everything the local print newspaper did in its heyday. But it’s growing and evolving, hopefully, as a watchdog. One thing’s for sure, you don’t have to worry about the collaborators cutting and running when times are tough. They’re committed to this community and helping build it through truth. That’s refreshing, especially in a desert.

Kyle Poplin

Kyle Poplin is co-founder and editor of The Ann magazine.

3 Comments

  1. Prue Rosenthal

    June 29, 2017 at 10:04 pm

    Kyle- you are right -sort of- the AANews for better or worse had the want ads, the movies, obituaries, they can all be found in one place and it was so nice to know it was coming to your door every evening and would have a,b, or c, info that you/I wanted…granted I am 77 years old and the next generation doesn’t care about that. Maybe!

  2. Mary Seelhorst

    July 1, 2017 at 2:56 pm

    You might be right about Ann Arbor per se having many other alternatives–assuming people can find them and learn to trust them. Trusting a news source is key, and official media for the most part had built up that trust in the community. (I avoid using the term “mainstream” which seems to mean whatever people want it to mean and is rather useless now.) However, the drift away from reliable local news in this area began many years ago when smaller local papers died off. For example, AA News bought out the Ypsilanti paper and never duplicated the level of coverage that previously existed for Ypsilanti and the townships. Here in Ypsi we tend to rely on bloggers (thanks Mark Maynard!), online calendars, googling, word of mouth, various facebook pages, and flyers posted on telephone poles. It’s a lot of work to find out what’s happening in Ypsi. Feels a little bit dry and dusty here to me.

  3. Monet Tiedemann

    July 5, 2017 at 11:12 am

    Thanks, Kyle. There are plenty of folk in Ann Arbor who work to fill in the gaps, but as individuals, we don’t have the reach of a larger news organization. I am grateful for the way Annthology pulls us all together to give us a greater reach.

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