The Ann Arbor News Is Shrinking, Again.
An unsigned news release announced that MLive would eliminate twenty-nine positions.
by Edward Vielmetti
From the March, 2016 issue
At the Ann Arbor News, the cuts began at the top: publisher Laurel Champion had already announced her departure in December, and in January editor Paula Gardner was reassigned to statewide business reporting.
The biweekly's masthead now lists Sara Scott, editor of the Jackson Citizen-Patriot, as regional news manager, with a (517) area code. The Ann Arbor editorial lineup tops out at "team leader" Jen Eyer.
The changes reflect MLive's management consolidation in Grand Rapids. Dan Gaydou leads statewide operations there. The front page of the online publication reflects these changes, with much more statewide news from Flint, Detroit, Lansing, Bay City, Saginaw, and Grand Rapids filling the page where Ann Arbor news used to be. A recent online home page had only two stories with an Ann Arbor byline. The print edition is even more obviously a statewide production, with an entertainment section that recently highlighted events in Grand Rapids, Jackson, Kalamazoo, Traverse City, Flint, and East Tawas; the lone preview of an Ann Arbor event got exactly fifty-five words.
Arts reporter Jenn McKee, who had been writing for the paper since 2004, was one of two editorial staffers laid off; she is now contributing to the Ann Arbor District Library's online "Pulp" weblog. Cindy Heflin, who produced and copyedited for the Ann Arbor News both before and after its AnnArbor.com phase, also was let go; she's since found a new job at the Detroit Free Press. And former local restaurant and food beat writer (and WEMU Sunday afternoon host) Jessica Webster has been reassigned to statewide duties.
Locally, Ryan Stanton still provides in-depth coverage of City Hall, but a reshuffle of schools reporting meant that no MLive staff were at a recent Ann Arbor Board of Education meeting--a fact that was noted by former Ann Arbor Chronicle schools reporter Monet Tiedemann, who live-blogs those events for her independent weblog AnnArbivore.com.
On a February visit, a bored security guard in full uniform protected the Ann
Arbor News's nearly empty Huron St. office. As an account rep laboriously navigated computer screens to place a classified ad, she said that the twice-weekly print edition would reach 17,000 households on Thursday--less than half the paper's 45,000 daily circulation in 2009. Sunday circulation is 22,000, down nearly two-thirds since 2007.
The same shrinkage is evident at other newspapers and websites owned by the Newhouse family of New Jersey. The deep cuts at the family's Advance Publications' New Orleans Times-Picayune are chronicled in Rebecca Theim's 2013 book, Hell and High Water. In consolidations and downsizing at Newhouse papers in Oregon, Alabama, and New Jersey, paper after paper is following the path of statewide consolidation and reduced print frequency and size.
What does this mean for the future of the Ann Arbor News and the seven other Newhouse newspapers in Michigan? The most likely scenario is that local newsrooms will be reduced to mere bureaus of a statewide publication based in Grand Rapids.
Our March Inside Ann Arbor article on staff cuts at the Ann Arbor News missed one casualty: managing producer Julie Baker also was laid off. We also gave an outdated title for the departing Laurel Champion; she was most recently MLive's general manager for Southeast Michigan.
[Originally published in March, 2016.]
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