Lisa Allmendinger wants to be “the little old lady who knows everybody in town.”
In her thirty-two years as a journalist, Lisa Allmendinger reckons she’s “done it all. I started in sports, was the editorial page editor and then the news editor, and oversaw a newsroom for twenty-five to thirty people.” Since Allmendinger moved to Sylvan Township in 1989, she’s covered western Washtenaw County for the Heritage chain’s Chelsea Standard, the Ann Arbor News, the Ann Arbor Journal, and most recently AnnArbor.com.
“A year ago I decided I was gonna do what Mary Morgan did with the Ann Arbor Chronicle and start my own news site,” says the amazingly energetic reporter and photographer. “I was fifty-four, and the time was now. I originally planned to launch January 2013, but I got too excited and the launch date started jumping back, first to September when school starts, then Fair Week, then finally July 23–the three-year anniversary of the closing of the Ann Arbor News.”
Allmendinger says she started ChelseaUpdate.com because “it’s always been a pipe dream of mine to own a weekly newspaper in a small town. I always wanted to be Jessica Fletcher [heroine of TV show Murder, She Wrote], the little old lady who knows everybody in town. And I can’t think of any place better than Chelsea. I’ve been living here thirteen years, and I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for this community. I want to showcase the people of Chelsea from birth to death, from kids in schools, to sports, businesses coming and going, to politics, and news features. Nothing is off limits. If someone suggests a story, I’ll do it.”
When she launched the Update, which covers the entire Chelsea school district, Allmendinger was its publisher, editor, and sole contributor. “I wrote forty stories in one week,” she says. “I’m not a fancy writer, but I write from the heart and I’ve always worked really hard.” But even she could use some help, and she’ll get it “when school starts and Don Richter, a former writer for the Dexter Leader and the Chelsea Standard, will come on board and cover sports.”
Daniel Lai, who runs the hyperlocal website Dexter.Patch.com, knows Allmendinger well–she mentored him when they both worked at the Heritage papers, and he’s a huge fan. “Lisa is a machine,” he writes in an email. “Plain and simple. Lisa is an amazing reporter who works hard and always has her nose to the ground for a good story. Lisa has spent years building strong relationships and sources in the communities she reports on, and often she is the ‘go to’ lady for local news. I don’t know anyone in recent memory who works harder than Lisa. In addition to cranking out quality stories and features, she is a great photographer and an excellent writer. Lisa is also a friend who doesn’t hesitate to help younger reporters in the field. She is genuinely a nice person, and I owe a lot of my successes to her belief in me.”
All those sterling qualities are being put to the test in the suddenly very competitive Chelsea news market. According to Joe Wiggins, spokesperson for AOL’s 850 Patch sites, traffic at the Dexter Patch is up 60 percent over last year. “We’re so happy with the Dexter site’s success we’re launching the Chelsea site,” Wiggins says. And they’re so happy with Dexter’s director that Lai is now also director of the Chelsea site–putting him up against his friend and mentor.
In addition to Chelsea.Patch.com, Allmendinger also is going up against the Heritage chain’s Chelsea Standard, where she once worked. But “I don’t look at them like competition,” she says, tactfully. “The more options people have to read stories, the better.”