A2Politico: The Next Step Toward More Accountability Journalism in Ann Arbor

by P.D. Lesko

This month A2Politico.com becomes a pay-to-view site.

Editor & Publisher published a feature recently titled, “How Can Newspapers Convince Content Is Worth Paying For?” I believe the answer is simple: Provide compelling, smart, well-written and thoroughly-researched content that people can’t get anywhere else. Employ carefully chosen and talented writers, and always assume readers are ready to think, analyze and be challenged.

So, why doesn’t A2Politico just get advertisers to foot the bills?

For the same reason you’re not washing your clothes for “free” at the nearest river by beating them against a stone and wringing them out by hand. Progress and change. The model whereby news sites rely primarily on ad dollars to pay the bills is looking more and more like a stone on the side of the river.

I believe Ann Arbor deserves local news and reporting that isn’t fettered by conflicts of interest and cozy advertising arrangements. What do I mean?

Several local media outlets have advertising relationships with city and county governments (one local media outlet earns six-figure advertising revenues from city government ads). Another media outlet has an executive who serves on the board of Ann Arbor SPARK (which receives incurious, glowing coverage on a regular basis). AnnArbor.com appointed to its editorial board a University of Michigan employee who is a former PR executive—a move slammed by national media analysts, as well as a former Ann Arbor News reporter.

I’m asking you to pay, because the work the writers produce is unique, compelling, smart, well-written and thoroughly researched by writers committed to giving you the best. Our investigative reporting has been praised by the Columbia Journalism Review, and our writers have earned praise from the New York Times, Rachel Maddow, as well as Politico.com. A2Politico.com has broken important stories locally and state-wide, and our work has been picked up by newspapers and news sites throughout the state and even around the country.

How come A2Politico.com doesn’t simply rely on “community contributors” who would write free of charge? News sites that rely on “community contributors” to produce content for free rely on an exploitative model that pretends there is no value to the content produced while at the same trying mightily to a profit from the content via page views sold to advertisers. It’s the 1 percent-shaking-down-the-99 percent-for-their-lunch-money business model. In fact HuffingtonPost.com is embroiled in a lawsuit filed by a man named Jonathan Tasini who argues that using unpaid “community contributors” to rustle up revenues should be illegal. Tasini, an active member of one of the largest writer’s unions in the country, sued the New York Times, Co. in 2001 over the company’s copyright policies and won.

There are loads of “progressive” news sites in Michigan and throughout the country that use this business model. There is nothing remotely progressive about economic exploitation.

I believe the content A2Politico writers produce is far and away some of the best writing, reporting and analysis around as do the almost 10,000 people who’ve shared A2P content with friends and colleagues on social media sites over just the past few months. That A2Politico readers have shared what we’ve written so often and so readily is high praise, and we value it.

A2Politico is a part of a local, independently owned company, a move away from the media consolidation that dominates the Michigan news marketplace. At the moment, Michigan’s news market is dominated by four publishing conglomerates: Advance/Booth, Heritage, Journal Register Company and Ogden. Media consolidation is part of the reason Occupy Wall Street protests initially got absolutely no coverage in the country’s mainstream media—an eerie and frightening example of what can happen to the news when conglomerates control coverage. The result is also cookie-cutter coverage produced by people who have to churn out content like line cooks at fast food joints. Slim profit margins do not afford many of Michigan’s mainstream journalists the luxury of spending weeks or even months on a single story.

In contrast, A2Politico.com recently posted the first in a series of stories on class sizes and teaching loads in the Ann Arbor Public Schools for which it took multiple FOIAs and 72 days to get the information from school officials. A2Politico spent almost 45 days seeking the release of a draft report from Ann Arbor City government. Our site was preparing to take the City to court to force the release of the information when it was suddenly given over to the media without explanation.

Six years ago, the academic publishing company that I head produced a print magazine. I looked around and concluded that production and delivery costs would never be controlled. Furthermore, I predicted that advertising revenues would slowly become an insecure way to fund the publication. So, I decided to move that print product to digital, a move that left advertisers and readers alike scratching their heads, frustrated. Librarians had no idea how to deliver a digital product to faculty readers. Advertisers hadn’t a clue how a banner ad worked. Faculty members simply wanted to open a 4-color, glossy magazine and read it.

In the publishing world, 2005 was a lifetime ago. Now, newspapers and magazines all over the country are taking their digital content behind pay walls.

Over the past 12 months, in response to the addition of a group of incredibly talented and dedicated writers, A2Politico.com’s readership has exploded. In December, A2Politico hosted close to 40,000 readers. A2Politico.com saw that growth despite the fact we haven’t started marketing the site in earnest. We want to further expand our coverage and take our time developing important stories. A2Politico.com doesn’t strive to post first. We strive to post the most complete, in-depth stories about local and state government, as well as a host of other important beats.

Here’s how it will work: Year-long memberships are priced at $5, $10, $20, $40 or $100. You’re some of the brightest readers around, so you decide how much 365 days of A2Politico content is worth to you.

You’re also some of the most affluent readers in the state, so we’re offering a Lifetime Membership (yours or ours) for $500.

Please note: the $5 year-long membership is a special offer to regular readers; the offer will end on 2/17/2012.

You can send us a check, or use your credit card in our secure payment center. If you want to pay using a credit card by phone, give us a call at 734-930-6854 M-F 9 a.m.-4 p.m. (EST).

When I launched A2Politico.com is 2009, I did so wondering whether anyone would be as interested in local politics as I was. As it turned out, the answer was a resounding, yes! After I ran for office, and was subjected to what can only be described as some of the most abysmally inaccurate, incurious and lop-sided coverage of my race, I became determined to transform A2Politico.com into a local news site that would make a difference in how news, opinions and analysis of local and state politics are covered.

I believe Ann Arbor readers want and deserve a local news site as smart as they are, and I remain determined to provide it. I also believe that readers are prepared to pay for what they consider quality writing, reporting and investigative journalism.

As always, I welcome your feedback, suggestions, questions, rants, raves and, of course, your support. To read more about prices and packages, and to purchase a subscription, click here.

Short URL: http://www.a2politico.com/?p=11770

16 Comments for “A2Politico: The Next Step Toward More Accountability Journalism in Ann Arbor”

  1. Thank you so much for making this a pay site another place to not spend money.

  2. A2politico has talent, no doubt. And the business model you are trying to use is admirable and understand.

    Only thing of concern is that with already not enough citizens in Michigan seeking and getting informed by real investigations will not be able to search and get to very important content they need, many of which maybe in the process of changing their perspective and involvement.

    Everyone needs to support a healthy, active, innovative progressive blogosphere in MI (Motto these days: Make it National News, then it might be some MI coverage), unfortunately we don’t have an INDUSTRY, with a few billionaires, like the rad-right to pay for it.

    PS Is there snail mail to send payments to? Don’t care for electronic trails on politics.

  3. I think A2P is essential to keep track of what is going on in the “soft underbelly” of local politics.

  4. I willingly paid the full amount for a year’s subscription to A2P, about $2 per week is a worthwhile investment.
    I also subscribe to the dot com, just to keep up with sports and for those occasions when I want to learn about a merchant’s missing cat.
    I contribute to the Chronicle, because there are times when I just can’t make it to a public meeting. Their coverage of government gatherings is unrivaled.

    We’re living in a different age, when you have to piece together your news to cover all the things you’re interested in. I consider this site to be an important part of my news mix.

  5. @Rickster, you’re obviously the kinda guy who values quantity over quality. A2P posts 1-2 pieces per day that are, generally, in-depth and excellent quality writing, research and reporting. That’s what we aim to do. We’re not interested in producing news-by-the-pound.

  6. Sorry but there just isn’t enough content here to justify in my mind a pay site. I check from time to time and much of what I see is pretty dated.


  7. Great summary on why A2Politico has decided to become a paid site. To receive fair and accurate journalism, readers should be willing to contribute a reasonable amount to support what the publication they enjoy, stand for. As a reader, I support this move by A2Politico and will continue to tell my friends and associates about this awesome site!

  8. I subscribed this morning.

    When will this new policy take effect?

  9. @Rose, it’s been nice knowing you, too. Just remember that you’ll be able to read the first 300 words of everything that’s posted, and you don’t need to login or pay to post a comment. Remember that the $5 year-long pass ends on February 17, 2012.

  10. Hey I just signed up for a Kindle subscription. Will that work?

  11. Yeah, well, it’s been nice knowing you. I won’t pay for a NY times subscription nnd they have good writing and articles and I won’t pay to read A2Politico, as much as I like to comment.

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