Mitch Albom and guest Charles Eisendrath, director of Michigan’s Knight-Wallace Fellows, discussed the Ann Arbor News situation on WJR.  Audio from earlier this week:

Eisendrath: “I think we’re going into the Final Four.   The big ones will be The New York Times, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post probably.”

Interesting, Eisendrath is “wildy optimistic” about the future of local journalism.

After Eisendrath hangs up Albom admits (go to about 10 minutes in) he doesn’t agree with “90%” of what Eisendrath said.   I agree that it’s a stretch to project that the future of online news will be pay-subscriber based.  But then host starts to lose me.

First, Mitch gives zero credit to you, the reader:

“You can’t tell me that the average person, who already has got the attention span of a gnat, can distinguish between whether they’re reading a blogger or [an accredited journalist].”

Sure, it’s the wild west out there but give some credit to the consumer.  It’s natural selection.  How many times can a blogger write garbage or cry wolf on a bogus rumor before you don’t go back?  And it’s not like word/reputation doesn’t travel quickly on the internet.

Then he argues that a newspaper is more portable than online media and that readers don’t want to go to “14 different places to try to find news on the internet.  People don’t have time.”    No, I don’t like to go to 14 places.  I like to go to 140 places.   Umm, that’s how I found this podcast and was able to consume this interesting discussion (since I don’t listen to WJR on the regular).

I love holding a newspaper but Mitch has been spending too much time atop his giant pile of money.   Someone needs show him an iPhone and give him a demo of Google Reader or Bloglines.


  1. Greg, I love your blog but I have to disagree with you on this one…

    “You can’t tell me that the average person, who already has got the attention span of a gnat, can distinguish between whether they’re reading a blogger or [an accredited journalist].”

    Mitch is right on. The average American is an idiot. If people could discern between an accredited journalist and a blogger, Ann Coulter and James Carville, for example, wouldn’t have a job.

  2. Chris, thanks. I give the average person a little more credit but either way, I think Mitch demonstrates once again that he’s lost touch.

  3. You really go to 140 places? A day? Wow. I do think there’s a lot of news in the local paper that I really should/need to know as a member of the local community and that I otherwise wouldn’t seek out on the Internet. And that’s what I’m most sorry to “lose.” Suff like WCC’s potential acquisition of Washtenaw Country Club, the Clifton Lee story, local real estate development projects and business news, obituaries. Sports are a hobby and something I’m excited to sit down at the computer and seek out so I’m not as worried about losing that aspect (although coverage of local high school sports, and seeing the neighbor kid’s name in the paper, and coverage of UM sports beyond the big 3, even EMU sports, I do feel like I’m “losing”). Sitting down at the computer just takes more effort – maybe not much more, but more, and it’s a less convenient medium for getting me to look at that kind of “should/need to know” local community information. I can pick up my paper and glance at a headline and flip through it in a few minutes, read it anyplace I want to in the house, whenever I want to. Sure, I could go to this site and glance at headlines too, but if I didn’t have a laptop and wireless router (and I’d bet most Americans don’t) I’d have to make the effort to go sit down in that one room in the house where my computer is, and I don’t think I’m as inclined to do that for the more mundane “should/need to know” local community news. Maybe I’m overestimating my laziness, and maybe will have site like MyYahoo where it’s nice and organized and just headlines, but even still, I won’t just be able to read it anytime, anyplace like with my local paper. I think we’re losing a big part of the local community here.

  4. Lew – Good takes. If you think the nirvana of online convenience is myyahoo you should get started with a pure feed engine like google reader/bloglines. You can easily manage the headlines from 140+ sites, browse just headlines, organize them any way you want. You can tie them off of the source (mvictors) or by categories within a source (mlive, local news) or troll every available news site for certain search terms/phrases (“fielding yost” or even “wcc golf” if you are wild about it).

    Do I read every story on every site? Of course not. Just like occasionally my AA News goes straight to the bin unopened. But if you want news, it’s there. I’m not saying I’d rather look at my lapper vs. the paper. I’d rather have all this on paper or something close. I’d rather read an actual book than that Kindle thing, but the technology is moving that way. I have all my feeds on my blackberry and it’s very easy to read and browse, I’m guessing it’s even cleaner on the iPhone. It’ll continue to get better.

    Now, will the depth of local coverage suffer b/c of the News closing? I don’t know. You can see the Eisendrath doesn’t think so. If wants to create a reason to visit the site (or pick up its feed) it better find a niche, and duh, it better be local Ann Arbor area coverage. So we’ll see.

    If you’re saying the only reasonable way you’ll consume that local news is if it arrives on your doorstep, I’m not sure what to tell you. I’m sure some folks preferred things when we used to get news exclusively from Walter Cronkite.

  5. Excellent points, Greg. I’m sure I will adapt, and maybe I’ll even set up a google reader/blogline. I’m all for efficient use of resources and letting the market sort itself out, and that’s great for a lot of things. But the internet is a much more competitive place for (relatively) mundane, local news that should be an essential part of every community and I do think local news coverage will suffer because of it. Hopefully I’m wrong in the long-term. (Maybe I’m in the minority that people benefit from keeping abreast of their local news. And sure, there are some days where my paper goes straight to the bin unopened too. But I guess I agree with part of what Mitch said in that most people probably don’t want to seek out their local news on the internet.) As for Walter Cronkite, I’d disagree that we ever got news exclusively from him. Maybe national/world news, but we’ve had the local fish wrap for the local news, well before Mr. Cronkite hit the airways. I can’t think of a good comparison for losing the local paper.

  6. Coverage of local news is definitely a question. I brought up Cronkite to illustrate that national news was once exclusively delivered through one form a media and within a fixed window. Now it’s 24/7 and everywhere. But that has incredible resources and a huge audience. We’ll see what happens with local news – I found Eisendrath’s optimism surprising so let’s see where it goes. Even if it picks up in Ann Arbor who knows what will happen in say, Flint. It’ll be interesting to watch play out.

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