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September 16, 2009 - Image 12

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The Michigan Daily, 2009-09-16

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I he Michigan Dady - VVednesday. September 116, 2009

Wednesday, September 10, 2009 - The Michi.lan Daily 5B

THE NEW FACE OF NEVW
AFTER THE ANN ARBOR NEWS CLOSED SHOP THIS SUMMER, ANNARBOR.COM EMERGED TO TAKE IT.
THE WEBSITE'S PUBLISHERS HERALD IT AS THE FUTURE OF JOURNALISM. BUT DO ANN ARBOR READ
BY LARISA ZADE I MAGAZINE STAFF WRITER

IS?
S PLACE.
ERS AGREE?

W hen The Ann Arbor News announced
March 23 it was closing after 174 years,
it left local readers at a loss for where to turn
to for city news.
But never fear, the News's upper echelon
declared. Ann Arbor's only daily wasn't really
dying-- it was being reborn as AnnArbor.com,
a web-based media company that would be a
pioneer in the news industry's inevitable turn
to paperless production.
It was a bold plan, one that tried to find a
silver lining in the otherwise consistent doom
and gloom of faltering newspapers across the
country. True, Ann Arbor is so far the largest
city to lose its only newspaper. But perhaps
also true is the fact that the publication's tran-
sition to something like AnnArbor.com was
bound to happen eventually anyway. And in a
brave new world of web-based news outlets, a
head start in mastering the market could only
help.
But as a business, the ,road to AnnArbor.
com's prosperity is laden with obstacles. The
website not only has to win former News read-
ers over to a new format but also has to solve
the riddle of how to finance a company almost
exclusively through online ad revenue. -
Since making the transition July 23 from
The Ann Arbor News to AnnArbor.com, ques-
tions press the publication: how well is Ann
Arbor's new news source serving the com-
munity? Could it stand to do it better than its
predecessor? And when AnnArbor.com does
get it right, will former News readers appreci-
ate it?
WHAT THE NEWS WAS NOT
The Ann Arbor News and the majority of its
readers were not the most agreeable of bedfel-
lows. The News's conservative editorial board
- which endorsed George Bush in 2000 and
2004- alienated the liberal epicenter it wrote
for. In a large way, confrontational conserva-
tism in the face of local values helped to put
the last nail in the News's coffin.
But politics aside, Ann Arbor still valued
its local daily as any medium-sized city with a
high level of community involvement would.
Karin Aarrak, an Ann Arbor resident of 35
years and a long-time News subscriber, was
disappointed by the News' closing and didn't

understand why it had to happen.
Former subscribers like Aarrak may miss
the thud of the News landing on their doorstep.
each evening. But when it comes to accessing
articles around the clock online, the replace-
ment of mlive.com, the News's former web-
site, is nothing to cry over.
AnnArbor.com currently posts articles on
mlive.com as well, which undoubtedly helped
direct old readers to the new site.
But the host site for Michigan-based Booth
Newspapers, mlive.com is an online news
sourcethatmightactuallydetractedfrompub-
lications' accessibility. It is ugly, cluttered and
confusing. Its search engine often redirects
News readers to articles from other newspa-
pers that are years old. The current mlive.com
has gotten a face-lift, but the same problems
with searching and finding articles persist.
THE FACE OF ANNARBOR.COM
It may seem suspect that the company that
owned The Ann Arbor News - Booth News-
papers' parent company, Advance Publica-
tions - would choose to stage an experiment
in Internet-only journalism. But they have,
and AnnArbor.com is it.
AnnArbor.com hasn't completely aban-
doned print. It still publishes a print version
(with the awkward masthead "Ann Arbor.
com") available to purchase Thursdays and
Sundays. But the publication's hopeful bread-
winner is its website.
According to Tony Dearing, the chief con-
tent officer of AnnArborcom, the purpose of
the site is to offer hyper-local news that will
present that news in a variety of different
mediums.
AnnArbor.com is different from the stan-
dard newspaper website, Dearing said,
because it provides readers with tools to
access news coverage in ways that traditional
journalism has shunned in the past. The site
features articles, blog posts, videos and more
from AnnArbor.com's staff, community blog-
gers and even The Michigan Daily.
As unnatural as it may seem for two com-
peting news outlets, the Daily and AnnArbor.
com have made a content sharing agreement
through which the publications will link to
selected articles from the other publication to

offer more to their web readers.
It's one more unconventional step in many
that AnnArbor.com has taken to deliver the
news. The site pushes its top local stories
every morning to those signed up to receive
the digital newsletter. Viewers can browse
posts like local concert reviews complete with
MP3 links in the site's entertainment section,.
The Deuce, or skim through a photo slideshow
of the most unique storefronts in the city.
"We want to be people's source for news
and we are as committed to news as we ever
have been," Dearing said. "But we kind of
want to use all of the tools of the digital age
and take advantage of social media to really
reflect the community and life in the commu-
nity in a way that is really. everything that's
happening in Ann Arbor - and not just news
in Ann Arbor."
Innovative content production is more
important than ever for AnnArbor.com, which
has a much smaller staff than what the News
used to boast. The site employs a full-time staff
of about 60, including 35 reporters - a drastic
decrease from the News's 316-member staff.
Rather than emulating a more traditional,
hierarchical style of layout, AnnArbor.com
features what Dearing calls a "river of news"
concept, which updates the homepage with
headlines by both staff reporters and blogcon-
tributors as they come in. Resembling Twitter
or a Facebook.com news feed, the site is fairly
easy to navigate, featuring headlines in the
center of the homepage with topics of inter-
est at both the top and right-hand side of the
page.
"One of our goals with the new layout and
just the whole site was that the site be fairly
intuitive, fairly easy to navigate, and I think
people that are comfortable with computers
and websites have not had much trouble get-
ting around our site," Dearing said. "It's pretty
simple and it's designed to be simple."
TEPID COMMUNITY RECEPTION
Since the launch in late July, residents have
perused both the website and print edition to
see what Ann Arbor's first e-newspaper has to
offer, and being about seven weeks in, opin-
ions vary about the design and content of the
site. But residents seem to be most uncertain

as to where AnnArbor.com lies on hard-hit-
ting issues.
The News was known for a fairly conserva-
tive voice, which was not always well received
in such a liberal town. AnnArbor.com's opin-
ion section is a far cry from that, consisting of
daily blog posts by staff members linking to
other publications' editorials. Whether or not
these "opinionated" posts offer a much-need-
ed liberal respite is a question that residents
like Vicki Honeyman can't yet answer.
"I don't really have a sense of its editorial
position yet," Honeyman said.
As an Ann Arbor resident for forty years
and local business owner, Honeyman was an
avid News reader and was aware of its conser-
vative tastes. But even though she often dis-
agreed with the opinion of the News, she felt
that its strong editorial voice catered to the
wide spectrum of opinions in the community.
To her, AnnArbor.com can't fully reach out to
the community until it has found its voice.
Other readers have alot lessto sayaboutthe
site because its content is catered to an online-
oriented readership. Aarrak reads the print
edition of AnnArbor.com and said that she
thinks the style of the paper is very similar to
The Ann Arbor News, but has to get used to
not receiving it on a daily basis.
She couldn't offer an opinion of the website
because of her inability to access the Internet.
"I'm waiting for my husband to set up the
computer," Aarrak said.
Aarrak falls in the 8 percent of Ann Arbor
residents who don't have online access at
home and who don't read some of their news
online, according to an estimate made my
AnnArbor.com administrators last March. It
was the other 92 percent that led Dearing and
co-executives atAnnArbor.com to believe that
the site would be successful in the web-savvy
Ann Arbor community.
"One of the reasons we did this here is
because so many of the people in Ann Arbor
are web savvy," Dearing said. "But, that being
said, we still knew there would be people who
have been traditional newspaper readers who
weren't very comfortable online and who
would nowhave to be going online to get their
news."
See ANNARBOR.COM, Page 8B

440
PHOTOS BY MAX COLLINS/Daily
The last issue of The Ann Arbor News was delivered July 23.

AnnArbor.com's design is evocative of social networking sites, Facebook and Twitter.
WE KIND OF WANT TO USE ALL OF THE TOOLS OF
THE DIGITAL AGE AND TAKE ADVANTAGE OF SOCIAL
MEDIA TO REALLY REFLECT THE COMMUNITY.
TONY DEARING,
THE CHIEF CONTENT OFFICER OF ANNARBOR.COM

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