March 25, 2009 evolving, product leaders tell Michigan bloggers, journalists

The details on what are fuzzy, but it is clear that the Newhouse organization believes it has found the perfect community and time to create new products for a media organization.

"We're starting from zero, and we're going to do what we should do," Tony Dearing who heads up the content development for the new product, told employees of the Ann Arbor News on the day the Michigan workers learned of the newspaper's end. "... Because it doesn't exist, it's hard to explain what it is, or what's it going to be"

But Tony and president Matt Kraner spent much of Monday trying to describe it - the, an online community information center that also will birth a new print product twice weekly, - to Michigan audiences. They also expanded the product's reach with a Facebook page and Twitter account, where one Tweet suggested an "information ecosystem" is more of what we hope to grow.

Dearing and Kraner talked with newspaper employees. Dearing also called two former Ann Arbor News employees who head up their own online ventures. (I had to postpone my update from my former boss.)

Jim Carty, sports writer turned law student and blogger frequently posting on his former newspaper, posted part one of his hour-plus interview with Tony early Tuesday and promised two more Q&A installments.

Also posted on Paper Tiger is a transcript of Dearing and Kraner addressing the Ann Arbor News staff Monday afternoon at a local hotel. Carty said the source was an A2 News employee who taped it for personal use.

Tony also talked to Mary Morgan, who is the publisher of The Ann Arbor Chronicle, an online local news publication started in September 2008. He told Carty that the Chronicle's mews feed was one of about 20 that he reads daily. Tony also praised the Chronicle in several interviews, including:
"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."
Morgan, who worked a number of jobs such as business and opinion editor during her 12 years at the News, saw that coverge was updated through out the day on her site and also wrote a column on Why we grieve the Ann Arbor News" while dealing with her mother's death.

In Paper Tiger's first part of the Dearing interview you'll find a brief outline of staffing for, some philosophy and some of the challenges expected. There seems to be a startup thinking, including outsourcing tasks that others can do better. It also seems like the project will try borrowing from innovators, heavy into linking, and trying to blend journalistic ways with people's growing interest in connecting online.

The Ann Arbor area was picked to go with this new venture because of its demographics, including a younger population that is more likely to rent then own their living quarters, and the network of better Internet connections & usage that is higher other Michigan markets.

I don't have any inside information - that is just what I have gleaned online and over the years working with Tony and some of the others working on the project.

Tony is a long time print journalist who has worked at becoming comfortable online. (Ask him about Idol Chatter and Lakisha Jones). Those efforts included his own blog while at The Flint Journal and encouraging others to develop online skills. A few years ago, he also organized an AP Michigan editors panel on new media that I was on.

By the way, Detroit's Crain's interviewed Steve Newhouse, chairman of after the Newhouse family made public its decision to close the Ann Arbor News and reduce publication days, jobs and benefits at its other Michigan newspapers. Booth Newspapers is a subsidiary of New York City-based Advance Publications Inc. that’s owned by the Newhouses.

Jeff Jarvis, who has been involved with Advance Internet for many years and helped in the planning of the latest online project, also blogged about the Ann Arbor project. But he said little beyond
"They are holding community meetings starting in April to do that. I’ll talk more about the project as its proceeds. "

I expect to keep talking about the project and other changes in the world around me even as I make my daughter's battle against breast cancer my number one priority.

As someone who first got online when you needed a university or science connection, these are exciting times. As someone who has worked for six newspapers and with another eight, these are painful times. Eleven months into my own buyout-funded sabatical, I have more questions then answers.


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