WHISPER: AnnArbor.com Loses Trio of Staffers…Again. Layoffs to Follow?

A2Politico Notes: This is filed under “Scoops & Scores!!” because you read it here first.

by P.D. Lesko

England’s Queen Elizabeth had her “annus horribilis” in 1992. AnnArbor.com had its own annus horribilis in 2011. First, in late-February 2011 the news blog lost a trio of its most experienced staffers to the Detroit Free Press. Then, in early-March 2011 AnnArbor.com got rid of a large number of  “community contributors,” and cut its newsroom of 31 by one-third (14 staffers). In a move that bordered on the ridiculous, the news blog didn’t initially report on the newsroom cuts or explain them to readers. A2Politico did thanks to an anonymous tipster. It was weeks after readers clamored for an explanation that AnnArbor.com execs provided one.

While AnnArbor.com did not report on the March 2011 loss of the three staffers to the Freep, there was plenty of speculation on A2Politico, however, concerning the loss of the three, and the financial health of AnnArbor.com.

In response to the 2011 news of the defection of three of AnnArbor.com’s most experienced news writers, one A2Politico reader posited that the Detroit Free Press would try to muscle into the Ann Arbor news market more aggressively, a move that hasn’t materialized.

Later in 2011, Kontent King Tony Dearing told members of the Ann Arbor Democratic Club that AnnArbor.com was “on its way” to turning a profit. In July of 2010, he was similarly cagey in a piece he posted to the news blog concerning the progress the site had made in its first year. He wrote that he was not at liberty to disclose financial information, but that AnnArbor.com’s progress was “encouraging.”

In April 2011 award-winning sports write Pete Bigelow quit AnnArbor.com to cover the Midwest economy at Changing Gears. He has since moved on to AOL, where he writes about the auto industry & transportation. In 2010, along with Bigelow, Lee Higgins won reporting awards which the site crowed about in marketing promos. A2Politico reported on Bigelow’s defection, as well. AnnArbor.com’s trio in charge were mute on the loss of Pete B. and his popular sports column.

In a July 2011 piece marking the site’s second anniversary, there was spin aplenty from the Three Musketeers in charge of the incredible shrinking news blog. Dearing writes:

In two short years, we have become the primary source of local news and information in this community and we rank among the top news sites nationally for local market reach in conjunction with MLive, according to Media Audit, a company that measures media readership across the country.

Research conducted by Great Lakes Marketing also has told us that AnnArbor.com is mentioned more than any other source when people are asked where they go most often for news and information about Ann Arbor. About 40 percent of residents in Washtenaw County report that they visited AnnArbor.com “today or yesterday.’’

And then there were two: Tony Dearing and Laurel Champion. In December 2011 AnnArbor.com CEO/President Matt Kraner left to take a “newly-created” position as president of NJ.com. Kraner’s departure, unlike the loss of the multiple award-winning and popular news writers who left, got a write-up on the site.

Today, some eight months after Dearing’s July 2011 anniversary message, AnnArbor.com has more people hawking advertising (26) than producing news content (16).

The latest “tip” about defections at AnnArbor.com came from a regular who sends along information concerning life on the inside at AnnArbor.com:

Don’t know if you still write about AnnArbor.com, but it’s worth noting that in the last two weeks, sports director Jim Knight has left to go to work for U-M; cops reporter Lee Higgins left to go to Newsday (a new digital team they are forming there) and business director/reporter Nathan Bomey left to go to work for the Detroit Free Press, covering GM. Hearing morale is sinking there as one year to the date almost from when this happened (http://www.a2politico.com/2011/02/a2politico-grillin-the-media-annarbor-com-loses-trio-of-top-staffers/….also hear that when Tony Dearing sent a note out announcing Knight’s departure, Tony said he’d be checking with Mlive to see if he’d be allowed to hire a replacement. guess the .com is now pretty far down on the corporate totem pole.

Almost a year to the day A2Politico revealed that AnnArbor.com staffers Stephanie Murray, Amalie Nash and David Jesse had jumped ship, the site has lost another trio of writers. Former Ann Arbor News reporters Jim Knight and Lee Higgins left in early March. They were joined by Nathan Bomey. All have fled the MLive experiment in digital journalism for, one imagines, higher-paying and less wobbly ground.

Someone needs to tell AnnArbor.com that Knight and Higgins have stepped away from their desks. For good. Their names still appear on the company masthead. Knight (who Tweeted that March 9th was his last day), is still listed as the Sports Director. Higgins is still listed as the police/courts reporter at AnnArbor.com. On his Twitter account Lee Higgins links to his work at AnnArbor.com, but his profile identifies him as a reporter @Newsday.

On March 22, 2012 AnnArbor.com’s government reporter, Ryan Stanton, who had hinted to others last August of a job offer in the works from the Detroit Free Press, Tweeted:

Via email Stanton denied he has plans to jump ship.

It’s unclear whether any of the shoes will be filled at all. Former Ann Arbor News editor (who took a buy-out) Mary Morgan writes in an AnnArborChronicle.com post about the March 2011 layoffs that, “I don’t believe the Newhouses will just give up this market – despite the struggles of AnnArbor.com, they still hold essentially a monopoly in the state’s most stable, affluent community. But this community has been blindsided by their business decisions in the past, and it still stings. Whatever the future holds for them, they owe it to the residents of Ann Arbor to be upfront about what’s coming. Or, in this case, what’s already been done.”

The question, now, is whether, like Nash, Jesse and Murray, Knight, Higgins and Bomey have left AnnArbor.com just prior to another round of layoffs and “reorganization.”

Short URL: http://www.a2politico.com/?p=13647

4 Comments for “WHISPER: AnnArbor.com Loses Trio of Staffers…Again. Layoffs to Follow?”

  1. Is the social experiment over yet? This is what happens when you give your product away for free.

  2. Becca Rearding

    Whatever happened to Juliana Keeping at aa.com? I loved reading her work she obviously moved on, but no word from the site.

  3. No comment on Bomey other than to say I’m guessing his new editors at the FREEP won’t let him get away with the same shallow and surface reporting he was giving us at AA DOT COM. Or the butt kissing of people in power. Knight was a union busting scab so good riddance to him. But I’m sure Tony Dearing will find a nice featherbed job in the Newhouse corporate world, leaving others to deal with the wreckage of journalism and ex-staff.

  4. My best wishes to Nathan.
    The work he did on A123 and on other firms, was quite good.
    Bad news for annarbor.com and good news for the Detroit Free Press.

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