A2Politico Notes: This is filed under âScoops & Scores!!â because you read it here first.
by P.D. Lesko
Englandâs Queen Elizabeth had her âannus horribilisâ 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 Â âcommunity contributors,â and cut its newsroom of 31 by one-third (14 staffers). In a move that bordered on the ridiculous, the news blog didnât 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.comâs 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 hasnât materialized.
Later in 2011, Kontent KingÂ Tony Dearing told members of theÂ Ann Arbor Democratic Club that AnnArbor.com was âon its wayâ to turning a profit. In July of 2010, he was similarly cagey in aÂ 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.comâs progress was âencouraging.â
In April 2011Â award-winning sports write Pete Bigelow quit AnnArbor.com to cover the Midwest economy atÂ 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 Bigelowâs defection, as well. AnnArbor.comâs trio in charge were mute on the loss of Pete B. and his popular sports column.
In a July 2011 piece marking the siteâs 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 withÂ MLive, according to Media Audit, a company that measures media readership across the country.
Research conducted byÂ 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 âtoday or yesterday.ââ
And then there were two: Tony Dearing and Laurel Champion.Â In December 2011 AnnArbor.com CEO/President Matt Kraner left to take a ânewly-createdâ position as president of NJ.com. Kranerâs 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 Dearingâs July 2011 anniversary message, AnnArbor.com has more people hawking advertising (26) than producing news content (16).
The latest âtipâ about defections at AnnArbor.com came from a regular who sends along information concerning life on the inside at AnnArbor.com:
Donât know if you still write about AnnArbor.com, but itâs 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.Â 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/â¦.also hear that when Tony Dearing sent a note out announcing Knightâs departure, Tony said heâd be checking with Mlive to see if heâd 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 thatÂ 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 reportersÂ 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.Â Their names still appear on the company masthead.Â 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.comâs 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.
Itâs 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, âI donât believe the Newhouses will just give up this market â despite the struggles of AnnArbor.com, they still hold essentially a monopoly in the stateâs most stable, affluent community.Â 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 whatâs coming. Or, in this case, whatâs already been done.â
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 âreorganization.âÂ