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“It’s Embarrassing….” Says AnnArbor.com Staffer

In a February 2013 piece about AnnArbor.com, the Columbia Journalism Review called the site’s work content-for-clicks journalism. Perhaps the assessment was harsh because MLive leadership had refused the CJR reporter access to the AnnArbor.com newsroom or the opportunity to interview AnnArbor.com staff. Perhaps the assessment was made because AnnArbor.com reporters are required to include a minimum number of links to previous stories in every piece. Despite this strategy, according to web traffic data, AnnArbor.com hosted 625,000 visits in June 2013, down 21.4 percent over June of last year, and 35 percent over June 2011. In comparison, AnnArborChronicle.com hosted 5,000 visits in June 2013, down from 15,000 visits in June 2012. A2Politico hosted 455,000 visits total in 2012 up 12 percent over the same time in 2011. In June 2009, A2Politico hosted 3,900 visits.

It should come as no surprise that AnnArbor.com’s Editorial Director Paula Gardner recently announced that the site would go “back” to publishing editorials. Not all AnnArbor.com staff are happy.

“It’s embarrassing,” says a staffer who, for obvious reasons, asked to remain anonymous. “We’re supposed to be a local paper. One year we don’t do editorials, the next year we do. One year we have lots of community contributors, the next year we don’t. It’s like whiplash. Ann Arbor deserves better, and I’m sorry to say it’s not gonna happen anytime soon.”

In 2009 and 2012 AnnArbor.com, a new experiment in local journalism which was sold to the community as “local, local, local” didn’t publish endorsements in local elections. Now down to 18 “content producers,” one Executive Vice president, a webmaster, a marketing staffer, and a few support staffers, AnnArbor.com has been flayed alive regularly by the national media since 2009. The blistering assessments of media hounds, both local (think Charles Eisendrath) and national (think the American Journalism Review, Columbia Journalism Review, and Poynter) have by now been referenced and cross-referenced, linked to and commented on ad infinitum. One of AnnArbor.com’s better writers took to Facebook a few months back to complain that it was pretty tough having readers crab about the quality of AnnArbor.com’s content.

As a rule, the AnnArbor.com’s political endorsements are often contradictory and seem to be based on signals from the Mother Ship hovering above their offices. Candidates trot down and answer questions from the “editorial board” du jour, this year including AnnArbor.com’s Engagement/Social Media Manager, a genial young man who answers reader emails promptly, politely and who doesn’t live or vote in Ann Arbor. He has little skin in the game, outside of his job, and no experience writing about politics. In past years, the editorial board included select citizens—who were then excluded when political endorsement time came around.

In addition to weekly editorials, in her latest piece on the subject Paula Gardner promises that AnnArbor.com will recruit opinionistas from the community. While Bank President Stephen Lange Ranzini is an excellent writer, he appears to be the only community member invited to Paula Gardner’s opinion party. Either she’s not trying very hard to recruit community members with something thoughtful to say, or community members with something thoughtful to say have no desire to say it for free at AnnArbor.com. Then again, maybe Gardner and AnnArbor.com are unprepared to incorporate community voices in a truly creative way (other than letters to the editor). Any way you slice it, AnnArbor.com serves up editorials that are mostly unchallenging, predictable and disengaged from the community the site purports to serve. It’s a crying shame. As for AnnArbor.com’s self-aggrandizing efforts to be the arbiters of political taste, well, good luck with that. The site’s views are down. After A2Politico did a piece that dissected AnnArbor.com’s media kit, a kit that made some pretty wild claims about reach and readership, the media kit was taken down. You want to see a media kit, you have to email a sales staffer.

“We don’t believe in incumbency for incumbency’s sake,” wrote Tony Dearing in the .Com’s 2011 endorsements. After Dearing left, AnnArbor.com dissolved its editorial board. I thought it would be interesting to see who AnnArbor.com has endorsed since 2009 (with a little bit of commentary to put the endorsements into perspective):

 

2009: AnnArbor.com launches in July and endorses no one in local elections.

2010:

Ward 1—Sumi Kailasapathy was endorsed over incumbent Sandi Smith.

Ward 2—Tony Derezinski, incumbent, lauded as an “effective Council member.”

Ward 4—Margie Teall, incumbent, got the endorsement with this dizzy explanation: “She’s also worked to help keep the vacant Georgetown Mall from becoming a blighting influence in her ward, and has been responsive to neighborhood concerns.” This endorsement came one year after the Ann Arbor News revealed Teall had been caught up in an email scandal that included rigging votes and scripting Council discussions.

Ward 5—Newcombe Clark. Carsten Honke, the incumbent, lost out on the nod, but also snubbed the .Com’s one-and-only podcasted candidate forum, over which Tony Dearing presided. The candidate forum overseen by Dearing was an oasis in a desert of uncreative political coverage. The site never did anything like it again.

2011:

Ward 2—Council member Stephen Rapundalo got the nod. even after an email he sent to Tony Dearing, the Kontent King at AnnArbor.com. Rapundalo’s gaffe, revealed by AnnArbor.com on October 23, 2011 reads like a Greek tragedy:

Ryan Stanton writes, “Further evidence Rapundalo is taking the race seriously is an e-mail he inadvertently sent to AnnArbor.com’s Chief Content Officer Tony Dearing last week. The e-mail, intended for another recipient, reveals Rapundalo’s tactical response to discovery of Lumm’s efforts to get information out to residents about a restoration project planned along Malletts Creek in the 2nd Ward.

‘As for the Mallet’s Creek project — be sure to involve me in any meetings, etc., if there any, before the election — just so I look like I’m engaged,” Rapundalo wrote in the e-mail. “Is there something I can write up for my e-newsletter and make myself look knowledgeable and at least neutralize her for the time being?’”

Ward 3—Council member Stephen Kunselman

Ward 5—Council member Mike Anglin

2012: On July 7, 2012 AnnArbor.com Kontent King Tony Dearing was airlifted to NJ.com. Paula Gardner was put in charge of the site’s editorial content, and incredibly the local newspaper made no endorsements in the 2012 City Council races.

Extra credit: AnnArbor.com Spent much of 2011 chiding Conan Smith to pay back money he’d filched from the county coffers, and then endorsed him for the Washtenaw Board of Commissioners in November 2012.

2013: AnnArbor.com steps back in the local candidate endorsement game. Who will get the nod this year from the .Com? Vote for one candidate in each race in the poll below.

(polls)
 

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Short URL: http://www.a2politico.com/?p=15192

16 Comments for ““It’s Embarrassing….” Says AnnArbor.com Staffer”

  1. Why does every reply get rejected? Angela Todd.

  2. I still can’t leave a reply. Angela Todd.

  3. I dumped mlive.com because the community wall was dumped…did I just miss something? Also, I was reprimanded when I asked the paper why nothing was mentioned about 9-11, all photos had to come from a Flickr account, which was going to start charging me, and I was also told that no one could ever, ever, ever complain about anyone at the paper. Also, there was so much censorship and dictatorship, in regards to language and other things, that no one could speak freely. Comments from many people were being deleted on a regular basis. Of course, there should be guidelines, but the paper had become so oppressive that I could not relate. But, getting reprimanded was the last straw, which led me to hit the
    non-subscribe button. The paper no longer represented “the people”. Angela Todd, Ann Arbor resident.

  4. This is what AnnArbor.com wrote about Jack Eaton in the 2010 endorsement of Margie Teall:

    Challenger Jack Eaton, a labor law attorney and frequent critic of City Council, has campaigned aggressively against Teall. While Eaton scores points on some issues, it’s easier to criticize than to govern. Eaton has such strong opposition to council on so many issues that it begins to feel more reflexive than discerning. What we don’t see enough of in him is the kind of flexibility and compromise that’s necessary to be effective on council.

    We’re also concerned whether Eaton can take off his hat as a labor lawyer and former president of a public union to bring the impartiality that a City Council member must to difficult labor issues. We appreciate the work that city employees do and want them to be negotiated with fairly and in good faith, but their interests have to be balanced against the city’s finances and the public’s ability to pay, and that requires elected officials who can be objective on such matters.

    • What’s your point? Are you saying you don’t think he’ll get the endorsement because he’s still a ‘frequent critic?’ You think the new editorial board is concerned still because he’s wearing a hat as a labor lawyer? That’s so stupid anyway. If they’re concerned about hats how about Hieftje’s hat as a real estate agent or Warpehoski’s hat as the ICPJ director? So I ask again what’s your point?

    • townie my point is that AA.com will probably endorse the incumbent again because little has changed about Mr. Eaton. I’m not saying he should change. Hell, I’m glad he speaks out about flooding, services, police, fire, ecc… I’m just saying that the AnnArbor.com style is to slam the critics as critics and ignore the conflicts of interest that have existed on council for the past 12 years. I just can’t see the people there doing anything that resembles intelligent reasoning.

      • I think @DaveD has a very good point. Ryan Stanton started out his coverage of the Higgins-Eaton race this year by calling Jack Eaton “a frequent public critic of the mayor.” I left a comment at AnnArbor.com in which I pointed out that I am a frequent critic of John Hieftje. Jack Eaton has never criticized John Hieftje in public. Stanton back-tracked a mile and tried to say that his description of Eaton wasn’t meant to be negative. Either Stanton doesn’t understand English, or he thinks I don’t. Either way, he hasn’t repeated that assertion. That doesn’t mean AA.com VP Laurel Champion won’t do her big buddy John Hieftje a solid and trash Jack Eaton as a “critic” who can’t come up with ways to improve city government. Someone told me in one of these candidate interviews, Champion’s first question was “Who do you dislike on Council?” That’s the extent of intellectualism of the woman who’s running the local paper, alas.

  5. Its no secret that annarbor.com is controlled by the mayor and his clique. Its a sad situation, the people of Ann Arbor are good people. How can any public officials
    be employed by a Institution that they have to make decisons that effect the good will of the people?

    • Who’re the going to interview for their stories if they piss off the people in office by reporting on things that make Hieftje look like the ninny he is? It’s how we know AnnArbor.com’s reporting is biased at base. To be a frequent critic of City Council is bad, bad, bad either as a candidate or as the local newspaper.

  6. Regarding annarbor.com: Notice, there is no reference to news in their url. There is no mistaking this outfit for the Ann Arbor News. They offer news aggregation from myriad sites, but little original journalism. Their writers often pen stories about weather forecasts they read on sites like wunderground.com, properly and pathetically citing their source.

    Many of their local articles appear to be aggregated press releases from a2 city hall. Given their penchant for aggregation, there appears to be little hope for meaningful recommendation from this paid staff. What city hall wants, city hall pays for and gets. Very sad for Ann Arbor.

    Our faintest hope is that one of the innumerable, colossal car-bashing potholes awakens voters on their way to the August primary.

  7. AnnArbor.com endorsements. Yawn. Again. I tried the paper (canceled my sub) and I’ve tried reading online (lots of trolls in the comment section who live to shout you down). How can we be expected to trust the judgement of people who endorsed Margie Teall as someone who is “responsive.” MY GOD. Tony Derezinski “effective?” No thank you. It’s too bad because I think people in this town need a credible newspaper and would support one.

  8. This story is very true, Annarbor.com has been on a downward spiral since Paula Gardner has become “Editor”

    • @Isner was it ever in a upward spiral? ;-)

  9. Paula Gardner is also a donkey, she runs around Ann Arbor like she owns the City. We all at my office try to guess what year her profile pic was taken, the pic looks like its at least 20 years old…Paula looks nothing like that picture…lol Paula the 70s are over can you please change your pic ;)

    • You must have been married to her or something the way you go on about this. Maybe you’re a disgruntled ex-employee? Raking AnnArbor.com over the coals is one thing, making fun or Paula Gardner and her photo (who cares if she uses one that’s old) is just mean-spirited. Save that stuff for the comment section on AnnArbor.com. Post something more intelligent here!

      • Paula deserves no respect, she is a fake,liar,shaddy individual. That City officials use to there advantage. She is just as currupt as many high ranking goverment individuals in the City of Ann Arbor.

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