For the Ann Arbor News, the expiration date has arrived - after 174 years the newspaper put out its final edition today. Editor Ed Petykiewicz's farewell letter reads like the obituary of an old friend suffering from a long illness, though one that hung on as best it could until the very end. It is clear readers and News staff alike feel a bit lost without the town's only daily newspaper.
Over at AnnArbor.com, the completely new venture set to replace the News with daily online coverage and a twice-weekly print edition, the official launch of the site has been pushed back to Friday, from last Monday, to take care of some technical issues. A preview of the site's design has elicited a fair amount of criticism from Ann Arbor residents.
In his letter, Petykiewicz admits problems at the News mirrored those at many other publications around the country: not enough money coming in and too much money going out. He laments there is nothing the paper's devoted readers could have done, since readers were never made aware just how bad the situation was. At the same time, Petykiewicz warns readers not to let newspapers disappear completely, since "They're the only ones who separate the self-serving spin by public officials from what is really happening."
In contrast, the mood at AnnArbor.com remains upbeat despite the launch delay - and despite a plethora of negative comments on the new site and its print counterpart. Visitors have complained about everything from the simplicity of the site's design to the size of the logo to the lack of opinion pages in the Thursday paper. If these are the News readers AnnArbor.com hopes to win over, the changeover may not go terribly smoothly.
Content manager Tony Dearing tries to drum up excitement by announcing articles that will go live with the site tomorrow. In keeping with the focus on local reporting, these include stories on the impact of the retirements of nearly 25 senior police officers and previews of University of Michigan sports coverage. A number of community bloggers have also signed on to write about topics like parenting and recipes.
The site makes an early appeal to U of M students - a strong potential readership base - with a request for input from the new campus reporter. AnnArbor.com plans to have 30 to 35 newsroom staff, in comparison with the News' 60 at its end, although only 23 full-time employees have been hired so far and the rest will likely work part-time.
Sadly, the News is but the latest in a series of closures for local and regional newspapers. The cost of losing these publications has yet to be seen. Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian, recently voiced his concern about the decreased coverage of local institutions and what it means for government accountability. Petykiewicz expressed similar fears in his address to readers. Will AnnArbor.com be up to the task, and more importantly, can it make money doing so?