Thursday, December 24, 2009

A likely permanent hiatus

As anyone who cares has noticed, the blog hasn't been updated for months, and hasn't been updated with any consistency since the end of 1L year. Between classes, law review, a clinic I've been participating in and family stuff, there just hasn't been time.

More than all that, though, it seems to me that PaperTiger's natural life was 1L year. It fit nicely during that time, serving as both an expressive outlet and a natural transition from life as a newspaper columnist to life as a law student. I very much appreciated everyone who took time to read and interact on topics ranging from law school to Michigan football to politics to the demise of newspapers in general and the Ann Arbor News in particular.

I've left a handful of posts up, either because they're frequently linked to (the Dearing interview) or simply because I liked them, but I've otherwise removed almost all of the PaperTiger content.

Why remove it? Mostly because there's a difference between being a newspaper columnist and being an attorney, a different tone, and PaperTiger represented the previous tone, not the one I'm going forward with.

Is it the end? Probably, but as this last year has taught us, it's hard to predict the future.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Dearing interview, Part III: He welcomes the skepticism

We continue with Part 3 of my Monday interview with new content director Tony Dearing (first and second parts, if you're interested, and a transcript of Dearing's address to Ann Arbor News staff).

To begin the final part of my interview with Dearing, I read him excerpts from two Michigan blogs reacting to Monday's announcements. Here are the excerpts, first from "Bring out your Dead" from Brian Cook at MGoBlog:
Ah but not so fast: the "web based company" will be run by the same people, hire some of the same people, and put out print editions twice a week plus print a "total market coverage" thing, whatever that means, once a week. This is basically a rehash of the Free Press/News changes with some extra frippery I assume is a way of avoiding Booth Newspaper's longstanding no-layoffs pledge. Or something else that has to do with financial wizardry.
And, second, "Dark Day in Tree Town" from Ann Arborite and editor Joel Goldberg:
Sometimes it's hard not to be cynical. I might swallow some of this if the new operation planned to import a few web-savvy journalists and business types. But instead, its leadership team recycles a trio of newspaper execs whose prior actions did little to postpone the decline of the News and sister Booth Newspapers around Michigan.
CARTY: There's a fair amount of skepticism there to the fact the three main people in charge of this venture are clearly newspaper people. How do you respond to that?

DEARING: Listen, I understand that those of us who have been in leadership positions in print newspapers are going to have a finger pointed at us for what's happened up to this point. I accept that. What I would say is all of us, the people at the Ann Arbor News as well, all worked pretty hard to be successful in a model that couldn't be successful any more, and now we're going to try again.

I welcome the skepticism. Ultimately, the proof will be in what we launch. We're going to come out in July, and I'm saying that we're going to launch something that really is going to be unlike anything you've ever seen - that's going to be completely new and completely different and a pretty dynamic site. Until then, we're going to say that, and people are going to be skeptical. Then we're going to bring it to the market and people are going to decide.

CARTY: You're certainly not downplaying expectations. That's a high bar you're setting.

DEARING: Yeah. I read some real interesting stuff on the Las Vegas Sun, which Rob Curley is involved in. They're trying to do something that sounded very interesting, and that I found very interesting, and then I went to the site and my initial reaction is, it's just another newspaper website. That's not going to win the day. The newspaper websites are already out there and they're not sustaining themselves. If that's what we're going to do, don't do it.

I know who we're working with. I know what we're doing. I know we're going to be out there. I don't have trouble telling people that and creating that expectation, and knowing if we don't meet that expectation, we won't succeed. I believe we will succeed.

CARTY: How much emphasis are you placing on user-generated content?

DEARING: I think a fair amount at first, and more over time. User-generated content gets a bad rap, because people think it means some yahoo down the street is going to cover city council for us. No, a trained journalist is going to cover city council for us. But if there's something that's going on in your neighborhood, that's an issue to you - involving a street or a park or a problem with garbage, that is never going to rise to the level of a story in a traditional print newspaper, and people in your neighborhood are talking about, "What can we do?" and they're mad about this, that's user generated content. And there's some value in that.

My life, a lot, when I was in Ann Arbor revolved around the youth sports my son participated in, and adult recreation activities, which are a huge part of people's lives. Traditional newspapers can't do youth sports the way people want it done. We're going to have to do those things, because people care about those things. But those are going to be done by users - parents taking pictures of their own kids, filling in stats and reporting on their own kids' little league games. That's not a bad thing. That's not a threat to journalism or to the jobs of credible journalists, they're going to be sitting in a court room covering a trial. It's going to happen with or without us. People are already online having those conversations. It's just a question of are we going to recognize that and incorporate that, and that be part of our mission, or are we just going to be irrelevant to them on those things? We're not. We can't be irrelevant to them on the things that are happening in their lives, the things that go beyond broad journalistic topics.

CARTY: Why would you think you're the guy to run this, as opposed to some 25-year-old kid who essentially grew up on Twitter?

DEARING: You know, that's a great question. I think we have two jobs - there is a franchise here, and it's a very valuable and important franchise. The first thing we have to do is take that franchise and bring it successfully to a new business model, and we have to do that right away, because if we lose it right away, we'll never get it back. Once we have done that, beyond that franchise - which is a large audience - there is a vast audience in Ann Arbor that was never going to read the Ann Arbor News, and never will, who are our potential broader future audience. And, yeagh, I feel with my journalism background, with my background in Ann Arbor, with my connections to the company, I feel I can help bring the continuity to bring what we have now to a new business model, but I'm definitely going to have to bring people in who represent that younger model who live online, and is our future audience.

We'll turn a lot over to them, and just let them go after that audience and make it their own. A lot of that is just going to be what they do. They live there, and I can't do that, and I won't try to. My job is more immediate and a little more traditional - to get that existing audience that we've got to start with and bring them with us to a new company that has to succeed. But there will be a lot of kids wearing baseball caps backwards and tennis shoes, to reach an audience that I am not tuned into or capable of reaching.

CARTY: Along those lines, and it's a very blunt question, what qualifies Ann Arbor News publisher Laurel Champion to run part of this operation? She's someone who comes from the most traditional of newspaper backgrounds. What qualifies her to run a cutting edge, never-been-seen-before website?

DEARING: I think Laurel is going to be very important at helping us transition our existing business, our existing advertisers, our existing relationships. You know, Matt Kraner, I've got a lot of confidence in his ability to run the business side of this thing. He's the president and his background suggests a lot of innovation, a lot of ability to do this kind of thing. I've got some connection to Ann Arbor - I lived here for 11 years, I've been gone for 10 years. We've got to have one person who is part of the management team who can help us, you know, in the market with the continuity, with what we're trying to do here.

CARTY: Was there any ever discussion of having someone in leadership with a Web background? Someone who's not a newspaper person?

DEARING: We actually, we have a fourth person named Hassan Hodges, who is exactly what you're talking about. Hassan is not here on the ground right now, for a lot of reasons. He is neck deep in working with the development of the site, although he's with us every step of the way. Hassan, I would describe as way out there - WAY out there.

CARTY: What will his title be?

DEARING: I should know his title. We're pretty loose on titles. I may have to get that and send you it. Right now, we have a four person team - Matt, Laurel, Hassan and me. He's the technical guy, the innovation guy, the digital guy. You're not seeing him here, but he's very involved with this project and providing all the leadership on the new media, young audience. We just need him where he is right now, doing what he's doing. His role is not external, not to go out and shake hands in the community. His role is to make this thing way out there.

CARTY: What's his background?

DEARING: He's also an Advance person. He started out as a graphic designer, and then became one of several people on that team at the New Jersey Star-Ledger. He left the Star-Ledger to join, basically the New York Times online team, and then this opportunity came up and he decided to join us instead.

CARTY: Is there anyone besides that team of four, anyone from the Ann Arbor News, who is essentially already hired at the site? Is there an editor or an advertising manager who knows they are going to be a part of this.

DEARING: No, we haven't begun that process at all. I don't have, I don't think any of us has people we've already picked out, or have already talked to. I really need to talk to people - see how their interests are, see what their skills are, and see how those skills fit into some roles that are going to be different from traditional roles. But, no, right now there's not anybody who kinda already knows they're going to join us. It really is an open hiring process, and we'll talk to a lot of people and put together the best team we can.

CARTY: Is there anybody in management who knows that if you don't hire them, they have a place somewhere else in Newhouse?

DEARING: Not that I can think of right now. Those kinds of decisions are made above me. I can't tell you anything intelligent about that.

CARTY: Do you expect to be profitable coming out of the gate?

DEARING: I think we expect to be profitable pretty quickly. I'm actually quite optimistic about our ability to succeed at this. We'll basically have half a year in 2009 - I don't know if we'll be profitable then. I think we have a very good chance to be profitable in 2010.

But overall, we're going to be judged by our ability to be profitable online. The online revenue we make is greater than the cost of doing business, and that we won't do immediately. It's going to take a while to build that part of the business, but I wouldn't be surprised if we were there by the end of 2010.

CARTY: Is there any chance of the Ann Arbor News as a brand coming back?

DEARING: Yeah, there is. We've been asked, and we have not decided yet, what will the name of the newspaper be. We own and we own We may call the paper, the print version, There is certainly a conscious decision to keep the Ann Arbor News name alive, for instance to differentiate our staff reporting from other types of content on the site. For instance, a blogger may host a blog on the site, and that blogger may be identified as being from The Ann Arbor News, and then someone will know, oh, this is a member of their staff, this is a journalist. Not to say that another blogger doesn't have valuable content, but it will be kind of stamp of journalistic credibility. It is our intention to continue to use the Ann Arbor News brand to signify news we're creating and covering. I think that is a name that still means a lot in this community and that we will still use.

We're talking about an online community that is broader than news, and makes sense for the total operation, but Ann Arbor News is a brand that means a lot to people in that community, and it will not go away.

CARTY: What's a success? What does success look to you if you try and look out, say 24 months?

DEARING: What we have struggled, in the industry, to figure out, is what can we offer people other than a paper that just gets skinnier and skinnier and skinnier. One of the solutions is someplace, maybe instead of offering people that's skinnier and skinnier, we offer them a big, fat Website, and see if maybe that can work instead. A couple of years from now, that's where we want to be. We want to look back on it and have people say, this is a great site that meets my needs, and I'm glad I can still read the paper on Sunday, and that Thursday paper is OK too. You know what? I haven't lost something here, I've gained something - I'm getting more.

We're back where we're giving people more, and we're doing it in a way that we can fun more journalists, hire more reporters, pay them more. All of that. That's when, when the business is growing and expanding and healthy again, and then we're reinvesting in journalism and giving people more again, that's success.

Coming tomorrow: Some opinionated thoughts.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Dearing interview, Part II: Who do you hire? Who sells ads? No exclusive content at all?

We continue with Part 2 of my Monday interview with new content director Tony Dearing, which will be the shortest of the three segments. You can find the first part here, if you're interested, and a transcript of Dearing's address to Ann Arbor News staff here.

I also suggest you check out a nice roundup of Newhouse-related stuff at InsideOut, local reaction at randomphoto, here, and here, as well as conversation at ArborUpdate related to the News' changes (I refuse to buy into the message control and say closing, since it's very unclear yet whether that's really the case). Andrew Heller checks in from Flint, plus video from Grand Rapids.

In today's segment, we discuss what he's looking for as he builds a staff for the new publication, how it will sell ads, and the relationship with MLive.

CARTY: Do you have a range of content producers you will employ? Can you say, "I'd be surprised if we had 50 people," or "I'd be surprised if we didn't have 10"? Do you have an idea in your head?

DEARING: I have an idea, but I'm just not quite ready yet. I would think within the next week or so that we expect to have an organization of roughly X number of people and that roughly X percentage of them are going to be journalists, content people. We're just not quite at the point yet where I can say something now that I know I can live with 2 weeks from now, and not sound like I pulled the rug out or said something that wasn't true. We're just not right there yet.

CARTY: Do you have a structure in mind, and is it a traditional newspaper structure with copy editors and a sports editor, etc."

DEARING: I have a structure and it will not look anything like a traditional newsroom. All the jobs will have parallel to to traditional jobs, but we won't call them what we call them now. I'm calling reporters digital journalists. Now, will I have a digital journalist who covers cops? The answer is yes, and that person will send text messages and Tweet and blog and do constant updates, and do video, and look for ways to geomap crime incidents and all of that. But there will be a person who covers cops and sits in court and covers trials, and goes and reads the police blotter and talks to cops and finds out what's going on. That will be there. But the way that person brings that information to people will be what's not traditional, that's why we're calling them digital journalists.

Each of the four areas - news, sports, entertainment and community - will have a person who leads that area. We won't call the news person the city editor, but that person will be responsible for news in a lot of traditional areas we think of as news - cops, K-12, health, science - traditional news topics. We've been clear in saying that we will not have a copy desk, that we will outsource that to one of our sister papers, and that the actual copy desk function and page production for the print product will be done elsewhere. What we'll have instead are producer/copy editors who read content. We don't want words online that are misspelled or typos. A lot of that happens now on the Web because nobody's looking at stuff before it goes on line. If we're a professional news organization, somebody has to look at it, and edit it, and use proper grammar. This is a pretty literate market. Their role will be more than how it gets posted and links, that kind of thing.

CARTY: What are you looking for as you evaluate candidates?

DEARING: Certainly people are going to have an advantage if they've already begun to adapt within the Ann Arbor News structure now. If they've seen they've needed to move in that direction - people who are already on Twitter, people who are on Facebook, people who are doing video. People who see we're moving to a digital age and have already begun to look in that area. I need a couple of people who are just a helluva reporter, people who you know if you give them a story, they will get to the bottom of it, and they will report the hell out of it. And they will not let that bone go until they have the story. If someone has those skills and doesn't know how to log on to a computer, we'll teach them. We've got to have a couple of people who are reporters to their bone and can do any story. That's part of it. But I'd also like some people who come from more of a blogging background, who can help bring a culture so that people who don't can kind of see, oh, that's how it's done, that's that orientation, I can do that.

This is going to be an evolving organization. We need people who are a little comfortable with change, with unpredictability. People who, when we say, 'Now that we've really got this thing going, we actually need you to do this,' will say, oh, yeah, I'm adaptable, I'm flexible. It would help to have a pretty good work ethic. Everyone in this organization is going to have to work pretty hard for it to be a success. A history of good work ethic isn't going to hurt somebody who applies with us.

CARTY: Among the blogging community in Ann Arbor and the Michigan sports world, there's a level of skepticism, if not hostility, toward MLive, for various reasons. How closely affiliated with MLive and Newhouse Internet strategy in general will this site be?

DEARING: I definitely want to set the right tone here in terms of MLive. We're going to work with MLive to some degree. I don't know exactly how that's going to look, what we're going to do. This organization is being built outside the MLive structure and outside the Advance Internet structure, and we will not look or operate anything like MLive or Advance Internet. Now, that said, they are still the major source of information in Michigan and we'll need to work with them in certain ways, and we're still exploring. At the staff meeting today, there were a lot of questions about that, and a lot of non-answers, because until today, we couldn't talk to MLive. We haven't even been able to talk to them about what we want to do, and now that we can talk to them, we have a lot of things to figure out.

I'll give you an example, if you look at everything we've got to accomplish, I don't think we're going to build a new prep tool, we're going to use the MLive prep tool. I think we're going to participate in that, and cooperate with that, and keep it up to information, the way the existing papers do.

On the other hand, I think U of M sports, that's our franchise, we've got to do that. We're going to do that with our staff, on our site, in the way we think best serves. We're going to shoot for a level of excellence in that that can't be met or touched anywhere else - and we want to engage bloggers and people out there in the sports world and work with that. If they're successful, we're successful, and we want what we're doing to be something that engages everybody.

CARTY: Will your Michigan sports content be exclusive to

DEARING: No, I should be clear, it's our responsibility - we will have a new page for Michigan sports of our own creation - however, there are seven other papers in Michigan that look to us for Michigan sports coverage, there is a huge MLive audience outside of Ann Arbor that looks to us, and we will continue to share that content, for them to use in their ways. We'll still meet those needs, but it will be our thing and we will share it with them.

CARTY: Just to be clear, so if you have someone who covers a Michigan football game, that same story will run on MLive, in the other Booth papers and on your site?

DEARING: Yeah, we will still be the source of Michigan sports coverage for the sister papers and MLive. It would be our staff that will be doing that, and we'll be heavily staffed in sports, it's an important area for us. You can't do everything with a smaller staff. We'll be pretty heavily staffed in sports. We'll be staffed to do the job.

CARTY: Will the other papers and MLive have access to all of your other contents or will that be exclusive to you?

DEARING: No, we want everything out there anywhere. I want it on your blog if you think it's interesting. I want it on MLive. I want it on other sites. No, we want to get it out there to anyone who wants it, will use it, or will expose it to somebody. That's the online way.

CARTY: So then what will draw me to, instead of going to MLive to read the same story?

DEARING: Because I think we will have a tool, in a way that will be set up to, say, take much more advantage of video. Video is huge in sports - highlights, all of that. Really, you don't get a lot of that on websites. We need to do a lot of that. You have a choice, you can go to 13 blogs, or you can come to us and we'll tell you what's being said on 13 blogs, and send you to the blog to read more. We'll make sure all of the stats and all of the types of things that people might ... you know, if you have the right resources you can get into a depth of information about things. We would try to do things like get players to blog, get coaches to blog, podcasts - just all the tools. We want to do all of that on our site, and, yeah, we'll send MLive a story, but the experience you get on our site will be a very rich and deep experience.

CARTY: Do you envision any exclusive content just for your site?

DEARING: (Laughs) No, there is no exclusive content anywhere in the world any more. I mean, no, that's the old model, it's the old way of doing business. In the world we live in now, you send your stuff out, you want as many people to read it in as many places as possible.

CARTY: Who will sell ads for this product, will it have its own dedicated ad staff?

DEARING: It will. It will have an ad staff that will be of the size, or larger, than the Ann Arbor News current ad staff. It will have a sales force. It will have a sales manager. The difference is, we'll be able to create and sell tools that we haven't been able to create and sell. It will be kind of better for advertisers. What newspapers have struggled with forever is you have these people who have spent their lives selling print, and are just beginning to learn to sell online. And then, we kind of confuse them with different products - what's ours? What's MLive? What will work in the market. Then advertisers want different things, and oh, we can't do that. We will have a staff that is trained to sell digital first, although certainly people will be able to want and have print ads as well. It will be a large print staff trained to sell new digital advertising tools to advertisers.

CARTY: What role does the print product have, and why two days a week? What can you share about the thinking behind that?

DEARING: You know ... I want people to understand we'd publish a seven-day paper if we could. We don't hate print, we love print. We all spent our careers in print. If it was still possible to print a seven-day paper, we would. And people still want a paper, it's just that the economic model, you'd go out of business trying to give it to them seven days a week. Now, because our challenge is to succeed online, we've made a conscious decision to print two days a week, so the focus is online. But, in the market, for readers, for customers, there's still a demand for print. We think we can meet that demand twice a week, and we'll give it to them.

CARTY: I've felt at times when the News has done some speciality publications, they've really become content afterthoughts. How do you keep that product from becoming an afterthought, how do you keep it relevant and an integral part of the overall product?

DEARING: Well, we have to. We're talking to the community now, and the community is not happy that print is going away. They still value it and they still want it. If we had to do what we're going to do now, and still put out a paper five days a week, I'm not sure what the answer would be. But can we be a 24/7 online digital organization and can we put out two print papers a week, and do a good job with that, and give people a good print product? With the staffing we have, I think we can.

COMING NEXT: Dearing reacts to skepticism of Newhouse's ability to succeed with this venture, and what exactly qualifies Laurel Champion and two other newspaper people to lead a cutting-edge web publication?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Transcript of Dearing, Kraner addressing A2 News staff Monday afternoon

We're just full of content today.

Here's a transcript of new content director Tony Dearing and president Matt Kraner addressing the A2 News staff Monday afternoon at The Campus Inn. It was  provided by a friendly A2 News employee who taped it for personal use.

Please also see the first part of my three-part interview with Dearing below, which addresses some different issues. In addition, former Newsie Mary Morgan has a very heartfelt column on the situation at the AnnArborChronicle.


"I want to say hello to everybody. Somehow I envisioned this would be a more informal setting than it actually is, and I guess that was an unrealistic expectation.

"I just want you to know that this is just kind of the first step in the process of talking to you, of giving you a chance to learn more about what we're going to do, what your role might be in it, what opportunities are going to be. We'll have another session again tomorrow and we'll have conversations behind that. This is just kind of like an icebreaker or an attempt to reach out to you immediately and let you know what we think's gonna happen, what it's going to look like and where we're going to go.

"We're creating something new from the ground up. If I could point to something that exists right now that I could show you and say 'that's what it's going to be like,' I would. And I can't. This is going to be a completely new model. There is nothing out there that looks or is like what we're going to do with this project.

"I think there are probably a lot of people in this room that over the last 2 or 3 years have kind of begun to understand that this thing isn't working real well. You know, I mean, what we're doing is not working real well, and this is what we should be doing instead. I mean, everybody has an opinion on what we should be doing, and has tried to talk to Laurel, has tried to talk to other people and said, 'Why are we doing this? We should be doing that? Why aren't we responding to this? Why are we here?' and kind of feeling like we're operating in a strait jacket when, um, someone's just thrown you over the side of the boat.

"We're starting from scratch. We're starting from zero, and we're going to do what we should do. And those of you who have been saying we should be doing certain things we're not doing, now's the time to speak up, while we're developing and building this thing.

Because it doesn't exist, it's hard to explain what it is, or what's it going to be. I think everybody's grasping a little bit: 'OK, we know what you're not going to do, which is what we're doing right now. But what are you gonna do?' What I would just say right now is that, um, the first thing I want you to understand: we're still committed to news. There's still going to be a news gather and news reporting institution in Ann Arbor.

"And the whole goal of this is to make community journalism financially viable again, so we can have jobs and we can do this and we can serve the community. I mean, we all understand ... This is not a job for us. None of us got into this because it's a job. It's a calling. I mean, it's a passion, a social obligation, and we want to maintain that thing that we do. That thing that we do is not working in the model that we have done it successfully for a couple of hundred years. And now we're going to have to do it a different way, but what we actually do is still valuable.

"So, is there still gonna be news? Are you we gonna cover news? Are we gonna have a cops reporter? Are we going to have a high school student covering city hall?

No, I mean, we're going to have professional-trained journalists reporting the news of the community. So I do want you to understand that.

Beyond that, we're going to have to do more than that to be successful, because there are already newspaper Web sites out there, and those newspaper Web sites are not sustaining themselves. We gotta build a broader audience than that based on all the things that matter to people and (what) their concerned about and interested in.

It's gotta me more of a community platform. And maybe the best way I can express it to you is if you log on to or, you have a certain experience. If you log into your Facebook page, you have a very different experience. And the, despite the credibility of the journalism, um, is not going to build an audience that we can build an business around and drive the journalism that we want to do.

People are gathering on the Internet around what interests them, around social purposes, around personal interest, and we've gotta serve those as well. We will link, we will aggregate, we will engage bloggers. It's kind of a hard thing to understand when you have worked in a competitive media environment.

But the future is not competition. I mean, it's all information. And out there online, there's an ecosystem of information. And you send your audience to people, and they send their audience to you, and you can both make money on that, much in the same way that car dealers wanna be across the street from each other. Because it creates a larger audience for both of them, and they both make money.

So we won't be out looking to try to identify who the potential competition is and crush them. I mean, we will be out looking to engage anybody and everybody that's creating content that people care about in this community, and bring it all together in a way that makes sense.

What I've tried to explain to people is, my fear of the future - kind of in my worst-case scenario - is that as newspapers go away because their economic model doesn't work and has collapsed underneath us, that what it's going to be replaced by is a thousand things and everyone community, none of which anybody can sustain or make any money on. And what we have to find a way to do is to reach to a lot of those thousand things and say: 'Let's all kind of do this together, and let's all help each other, and let's all ... share what we're doing there and kind of bring it all back together and be successful again.' So that's kind of the general concept.

On the content-side of

- I'm not going to use all of the terms that we traditionally use. I mean, there's gonna be a newsroom, but it's not gonna be a newsroom. It's not gonna be what you think of as a newsroom, it's not going to look like a newsroom, it's not going to work like a newsroom. But there will be a newsroom.

- And our content will be basically organized into four areas: news, sports, entertainment and community.

- And everything we plan to do, we think we can do in those four areas.

- There will be a leader in each of those areas. They'll be kind of what you used to think of as a city editor, in sports they'll be what you used to think of as a sports editor. Same with entertainment and community.

- Those four leadership positions will report to me and work for me, and will be - along with me - the management structure on the content side. I do hope to fill those positions fairly soon, and then use those people to help me hire the rest of the staff.

- In terms of the positions overall, we hope to post specific job openings on the week of April 13. We'll give you more information as we get closer.

- In the meantime, if you're interested in a job in this company, I'd like to hear from you now. I'd like you to call me (XXXXXX), e-mail me, send me a resume, send me any information you want to

- I'm ready to talk to you now, and I would be glad to.

- Within the organization and beyond that, we're gonna have people that I'm kind of calling producer/copy editor, who will not lay out pages. We will not have a copy desk, and the page design functions will be done on a contractual basis with one of our sister papers. But these will be people who read copy, who post copy online, who link, who aggregate, who produce, present, distribute.

- We will have journalists. I'm not calling them reporters. I've tried to come up with a name, and every name I come up with is ripe for mocking in the blogosphere. So I'll let somebody else came up (sic) with the name for it.

- But basically digital journalists, who can bring credible reporting skills but also can do it in all the ways that take advantage of digital journalism, posting email alerts, being on Twitter, constant updates, video.

- I would envision every journalist who works for us carrying a flip camera and being competent, at least in shooting simple video clips that can be part of the post.

- People who understand search engine optimization, can write their own scl headlines and copy, people who create their own links, do their own research, who consider that part of their job. Those would be some of those skills.

- We'll have videographers, we'll have photographers, we'll have clerks, we'll have people who work, like, in areas like high school sport tool. Tremendous amounts of data that have to be gathered. We'll have people that do that kind of thing.

- I want to be very candid in saying we're definitely going to employee fewer people. The salaries and benefits are not going to be at the levels you've been accustomed to here. (President) Matt (Kraner) and I are very committed to setting goals for audience for finances and budgets for this company, and as we achieve those goals, we will share revenue and profits with the employees.

- I think what we would've thought of a reporter in the past is probably gonna make somewhere in the mid 30,000, high 30,000, low 40,000 is gonna be the salary range we're talking about.

- We'll have a fair number of part-time employees. I expect that to pay something in the range of about $15 an hour.

Matt Kraner, President of, to dozens of AA News employees Monday afternoon at Campus Inn on Huron Street:

"... We will be a company primarily focused on content creation, sales and marketing. Now, clearly we're going to have traditional newspaper functions that still need to be done, because we'll be publishing Thursday and Sunday - a newspaper. Most of those functions will either be outsourced to other Booth, Michigan newspapers and/or they're going to go with the production division, which also will be spun off into a new company that will not be associated with going forward.

So, we'll have, the new production company, and then we'll have significant elements of some functions that will be outsourced to other Booth, Michigan newspapers. Still working on a lot of that detail, so can't really share some of that with you today. But that's the game plan overall.

We will have an open interview process for, so we certainly invite and hope that everybody who is currently at the Ann Arbor News would love to come in and participate in the interview process. There are no job guarantees with regard to special treatment for Ann Arbor News employees. It will be an open process. But once again, we will be an organization primarily focused on content creation, sales, and marketing.

I'd like to add that the research we've done in regard with Ann Arbor, the oppportunities we see with regard to the Web is significant. When you look at the blogs today, whne you look at some of the news stories and how it's been covered, there's a concern about the viability of this type of Web-centered operation going forward, with regard to how we're going to create advertising revenue, with regard to how we're going to create audience.

And I think the research that we've done, the work we've done up to this point in time - there's been a significant about of resources that the company has set forth for this project, or put into this project, and it certainly shows that I think there is a significant opportunity for us to not only create new revenue streams, but most importantly, for us to, frankly, create new incremental audience in the marketplace.

I know I mentioned that a little bit earlier on, but I think that's so important for everybody here to realize, particularly to those folks here who have an interest in joining the new organization. That that is a realistic opportunity, particularly in a market like Ann Arbor, with the characteristics that (the city) has and the Web-saaviness that it has."

Dearing interview, part I: It's going to be like nothing you've ever seen

It's late and I'm burned out and have plenty of law school work to do, so we're going to dispense with the formalities. Tony Dearing is the man in charge of taking the Ann Arbor News and turning it into a successful online publication. We talked for more than an hour Monday night, so we'll break the interview down into three parts, starting today. The format was conversational, and is recreated word-for-word below, with almost no editing.

Main topics? How it came to this point and the Dearing/Newhouse vision for where we're going.

If you see any typos or mistakes, e-mail me. This was a rush job. (Edited to add: Thanks RK)

CARTY: I guess I'll start out with this: The paper has always been extremely conservative about discussing itself with the news media, and you seem to be pursuing a much more open and different approach today. Why, and did much thought go into that?

DEARING: A lot of thought went into it, and it is a departure from the kind of culture we have had. We feel we're moving into the online world. The online world is a culture of transparency and responsiveness and openness, and we felt like we had to set a tone right from the beginning that we were going to be open and transparent.

CARTY: How would you describe your interactions with News staffers today? What was the hardest question asked by them, and the best question?

DEARING: It was just hard. Everybody's hurting. Everybody's shocked. This is so difficult for everybody. When Ed did his exit interview with the paper, he praised the professionalism of the staff in the way they've conducted themselves in the period of recent uncertainty. I saw exactly what he was talking about - just the dignity and the professionalism that that staff is conducting itself with, in the face of the worst news they've ever heard, that effects them so personally. I'm a little awed by it, I've gotta tell you. In terms of questions today, people were very pragmatic today. The questions were very pragmatic. What's the relationship with MLive going to be? What's the news structure going to be? I think the most important question people had was, is this going to be a journalistic organization? Are there going to be reporters and are we going to cover news, and are we going to be committed to news. I wanted to assure then that we are.

Maybe the toughest question was a question about people who just love the print product and say, listen, I know how to get on the Internet, but I love the print paper and it's being taken away from me. What can we offer that person? What do we tell a person who says, I get on the Internet, but I want that thing in my hands? To me, that's the toughest thing to respond to, because it's not going to be there.

CARTY: Why was this presented as "Ann Arbor News to close in July, instead of, perhaps, "Ann Arbor News segues to online-only publication?" It seems like there was a clear choice to go in a different direction branding-wise.

DEARING: Yeah, let me make sure I understand the question, why was it phrased that way, or why is the Ann Arbor News closing instead of reorganizing?

CARTY: Let me rephrase: It seems like it's very clear from the messages today that this is going to be a publication that is not, a print publication transitioning to a non-print product. Obviously that's a choice. Why did you go in that direction instead of the Seattle PI, for instance, which changed to an online-only publication.

DEARING: Yes, and there are so many papers right now doing different things. Look at what we're doing in Michigan - there is a different strategy in Grand Rapids, in Flint, Detroit, Seattle, Denver - everybody's trying something different. We made a pretty conscious decision early on, that we were going to start completely new from the ground up.

Somewhere in this company, we had to start completely fresh, and say if you were going to start a media organization purely out of nothing, what would you do? What would it look like? How would you do that? The decision was made, once you started looking at it, that the place to do that was Ann Arbor - that it was the best market we had. Definitely the conscious decision was we're starting something completely new here - we're not transitioning, we're not reorganizing, we're going to start from the ground up and build a news organization for today.

CARTY: Did that evolve, or when you had your initial discussions about this, you knew that was the way you were going to go?

DEARING: We knew that was the way it was going to go. There was kind of a decision first that we needed to try this, and we need to try a lot of things, and we are going to try a lot of things. One thing we're going to try is a high-tech startup, a brand-new thing. That decision was made, and then some research was done into how and where, and Ann Arbor turned out to be the answer.

And as hard as this is to say, people need to understand this: The Ann Arbor News was failing as a business. The Ann Arbor News had gotten into a position financially where it could not be turned around. That's a tough message and you hate to say it that way, it's not a reflection on the people. Our business model is not serving us well in most places, and in Ann Arbor, it couldn't be turned around. It couldn't get out of that hole we were in. That's part of the reason for Ann Arbor (being picked, too).

CARTY: I have to say that's the most stunning aspect of it to me. I look at this market, and it appears to me that we're the dominant advertising vehicle - hard to shed the "we" - and clearly we're the dominant news source, the place the most people by number get their news, the talker. I guess I underestimated the cost structure. I had ongoing discussions for months with people inside Booth who told me what you said, and I guess I just underestimated what that really meant, how grave it really was.

DEARING: Yeah. What people don't understand is that, yes, Ann Arbor is a dynamic, vital market. Economically, probably better off than a lot of places in Michigan, but it's bad everywhere in Michigan. It's just not as bad here. But there are a lot of things about Ann Arbor that make it harder to succeed as a print daily paper. Print papers do better with an older audience and Ann Arbor is a little younger. We do better where there's a high level of home ownership, and there's a lower level of home ownership. We do better where there's a higher level of long-time residents, Ann Arbor is much more transitory.

CARTY: That goes to a question I've been frankly puzzled by, how is Jackson in a position to continue publishing seven days a week? I drive through Jackson and it's not as affluent - and I mean no insult - it doesn't have the employment base, the anchor of two universities and a medical center. How does it maintain a seven-day publication schedule, while the Ann Arbor News is clearly struggling in your description?

DEARING: A daily newspaper is a very traditional product that does best in very traditional communities. Jackson, Saginaw, Flint and Bay Cities are VERY traditional communities. Ann Arbor is a very untraditional community, and it's just way harder to succeed with a print product here, because it's such a non-traditional community. Conversely, that same non-traditionalist, that same differentness, is what makes it by far the best place to try this ( The best chance to succeed by doing this ahead. That's the dichotomy of Ann Arbor.

CARTY: What is the top priority for this site? If you had to pick the thing that is most important to you?

DEARING: The top priority is to create a new business model that can sustain journalism in a community. That's the top priority. Now, to succeed at that, we have to draw a large audience and then we have to make money off that audience. So the second priority is to build a large audience for what we're doing, that includes the audience we already have, and more people. Ultimately, the goal is to create an organization online that makes enough money online to sustain itself online and to sustain journalism in the future.

CARTY: How important is this venture to Newhouse?

DEARING: It's clearly very important to Newhouse, and Newhouse is investing a significant amount of money to make sure we have the resources to do this properly so we succeed. It's very important to the company.

CARTY: Do you have a model you can point to, a model site, and say this is what we want to do? This is what we'd like to resemble?

DEARING: The problem is, we really don't. We're working with a web design firm that's done a lot of work in media, done a lot of work in revenue generation, that is WAY out there conceptually, way out ahead of the curve. What we're going to do is not going to look like anything out there. There is no model. We are creating a model that doesn't exist. There's nothing I can point to. Little slivers of things, but nothing you can look at and say, oh, that's it. The one thing I guarantee you, when this thing launches, and people look at it, they're not going to say, "Oh, it's just another newspaper website." I can assure you this is going to be different from anything you've ever seen, or can kind of conceptualize.

CARTY: I look at what you're talking about, and I think, you're right, it needs to look like nothing else, but then I ask, what does that mean to people who have been at the Ann Arbor News for 25 years? Would I hire those people? Would I hire me? It's an interesting thing. You're in a difficult position in terms of trying to mold, or being brave enough not to mold, the old and the new.

DEARING: The challenge for me is to find that balance. If I have a staff of new media people who don't know Ann Arbor, who don't have experience in Ann Arbor, who don't cover Ann Arbor, we're not going to succeed. If I have a staff who knows Ann Arbor, but who don't have new media skills, we're not going to succeed. Within the staff we create, we're going to have to balance those things, to find the right medium of people who know this community, have credibility, have experience, and either have shown - or can show - the ability to report in new ways and involve the digital tools available to them.

And then people who don't come in with all of the old ideas and notions and can do some cool new things that people are going to respond to.

CARTY: When your day begins, what are the first three Websites you read?

DEARING: My first three are, my own iGoogle page, then through bloglines, I have a blog feed that probably includes about 20 sites, including your blog. They're fed in, and I just go down the list. My blog feed includes the AnnArborChronicle and a couple of things like that.,,, a collection of what's happening online in our industry.

CARTY: I think one of the many criticisms of newspaper websites has been that they haven't had a lot of personality. Salon has a personality. Slate has a personality. The AnnArborChronicle has a personality. Have you thought at all about the personality you want this site to have, or even that you do want it to have one?

DEARING: It will have a personality. We're going to ask reporters to be themselves and blog according to who they are. To write according to who they are. To speak with their own voice. I think the future in journalism is you tell people who you are, you tell them what your biases are, you tell them where you come from, this is where I'm coming from and what I'm reporting, and you let other people pile in and bring their own views. Now, I don't want somebody who is mild-mannered to pretend they're obnoxious or anything.

I told people in Flint, really, think about the stories you write. Think about maybe if you sent an e-mail to a friend before you sat down and wrote your story, that e-mail you sent your friend is probably a way better expression of what's going on than the story you write. We water it down. We make it bland. I'd rather see somebody say what they really think.

I don't think John Stewart is all that wrong. If something's crap, you can kind of say, 'This doesn't make a lot of sense to me." People will understand what you're coming from and what you think. They ask, "How can they say that."

CARTY: That sounds like a lot more latitude for opinion than within a traditional newspaper. Is that a fair take?

DEARING: Yeah, I would say so. That's what I envision - more opinion, more attitude, more candor. We all have done stories where what we wrote and what we thought were two completely different things. We will try to write what we really think the story is, and not necessarily the traditional story form.

CARTY: How closely have you looked at the News, and what do you think it does well?

DEARING: I've always kind of followed it, because I lived here for 11 years and have a lot of friends here. The last two or three months, I've watched it very closely. Our site, that will be non-traditional in many ways, will still kind of generally have its content organized around news, sports, entertainment and community. Most of the things we plan to do fall into one of those categories.

You look at the sports section, it was just named one of the top 10 sports sections in America again. I'd say they do that pretty darn well. That's a franchise you want to have.

I've always loved and appreciated the entertainment coverage. I'm here a lot, while I lived here and since then, taking advantage of the cultural life. I do think there are kind of two cultural lives here - the kind I participate in, the symphony, the opera, Hill Auditorium, and then there's a whole kind of underground cultural life that the new site, and the new company, will tap into, that the Ann Arbor News, it hasn't been their thing. I think it will be our thing. A lot of that will be taken over by the people who are into it. Younger people, they don't need a lot from the journalists, they can take that over and do a better job then we'll ever do.

Traditional news? I admire Ed tremendously. The managers who have been there, Steve Pepple - I hired Steve Pepple into the Ann Arbor News. Lynn Monson, Cindy Heflin, I worked with those people side by side on things. I think they do a great job with news. I think they use their staff well.

I look at Mary Morgan and the AnnArborChronicle, and I think she's opened people's eyes to some other dimensions. Her passion and her commitment says that as good as the Ann Arbor News' reporting is, there are other things you can be doing as well. I like what she brings to the table as well, and I'd like to see some of both of those.

CARTY: Already moving in on her franchise (laughing)?

DEARING: Well, I talked to the staff about this today - online and the world we're going into, it's not traditional competition. It's an information ecostructure. If you look at why Google has been so successful while every other industry and every other company is struggling, it's because they understand that online it's about expanding that network out, not trying to control it, or bring it in. Everything that's already out there online, we want to reach out to. If there's a blogger out there, we want to work with that blogger. We want that blogger to be successful. We want to send our audience to that blogger, and have that blogger send his audience to us. We want to send advertising revenue to that blogger, and share that as well. If that blogger can sell advertising and make more money, we want to help. We want to be about creating a content ecosystem in Ann Arbor, and we'll be reaching out with everybody we can reach out to to partner with, although I think we - and maybe a few other sources like the Chronicle, will still be the sources for credible journalism, although there are a lot more (sites) than that that we want to work with.

COMING TOMORROW: Staffing, the MLive relationship and more.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

My uncle George & Veterans Day

My uncle George - not actually my uncle, more of a great uncle - was a short, slight, puttering mattress salesman. Bald and soft-spoken, you would have thought him a little wimpy and there was never a moment of question that my Aunt Winnie ran the show.

He never said a word about serving in the South Pacific during the second world war, but he marched with the VFW every 4th of July parade until he got too old to do so.

I think my dad mentioned George's service off-hand, once or twice, but didn't make a big deal out of it.

George and my aunt had no children. They lived in our town growing up and were kind enough to take an interest and became like second grandparents to me. Winnie - a former teacher - tutored me in fractions for months when I didn't initially understand them. The Hunters were the kind of smart, advice-giving, self-made people that every kid should have in their lives, and our friendship evolved and blossomed as I grew into an adult and they grew older. I got to help them the way they helped me. So it wasn't surprising when, a few months after George died, Winnie asked me over to do a few little chores for her. It was surprising, however, when she presented me with a small box. Some things of George, she said, and she didn't know what to do with them.

Inside were a variety of personal items - a driver's license, his membership cards and pins from VFWs in New Jersey and Florida, and pictures, some of them clearly from the second world war. There was George in his uniform in the South Pacific, George with his army buddies, George looking really happy at times and really worn at others.

Then Winnie told me he saw some bad fighting. Six islands, she thought, but he never liked to talk about it, so she didn't know which ones. Also Burma and what's now Pakistan.

Again, it was off-hand, matter-of-fact. No big deal.

Veterans day never meant much to me before that, and - to be honest - it still gets by me sometimes. Most years, though, I try to take a moment to think of my uncle George and the men like him who were, at least for a few years, forced to become something they never would have otherwise become, and in doing so helped keep a lot of people free. We take it for granted, but it's really an amazing thing when you think about it - young American men dropping their lives of the moment and spreading out across the globe to push back invaders who threatened not our land, but other people's lands.

So today I'll think about my Uncle George (jeez, I'm tearing up a little now writing this, like I said, he was a very nice man) and regret that I never got the chance to ask him about his service and thank him for it.

Instead, I'll thank any veterans who take the time to read this, and hope you'll take the time to thank one yourself if there's one in your life.

(And if you want to take a minute to share a story or two of your own veterans here, feel free)

Monday, October 6, 2008

Farewell column

Here, if you're interested.

That's about 200 bylines a year (too many for some, not enough for those who worship at the temple of Michigan ice hockey).