The Ann Arbor city council met, most recently, on October 15. Why didn’t the Ann Arbor Chronicle’s story on the meeting land until October 24? It took a while for Dave Askins to compile his typically epic 15000-word blog post. It’s an astonishingly detailed record of the meeting — more and better coverage, perhaps, than is available in any city.
The Chronicle describes itself thusly:
Launched in September 2008, the Ann Arbor Chronicle is an online newspaper that focuses on civic affairs and local government coverage. Although we’d likely be classified by most folks as “new media,” in many ways we embrace an ethos that runs contrary to current trends: Longer, in-depth articles; an emphasis on factual accuracy and thoroughness, not speed; and an assumption that our readers are thoughtful, intelligent and engaged in this community.
Who will read 15,000 words on a city council meeting? That depends partly on when the reading occurs. Because while the Chronicle is a newspaper, it is also a living history of the town’s public affairs. There’s no paywall. Every story is, and remains, fully available. That means the Chronicle isn’t just on the web, it is a web. What was said and decided about transportation in October 2012 can be reviewed in 2013 or 2014. The Chronicle is a community memory. In the short term it delivers news. Over the long run it assembles context.
Consider the list of links, below, that I extracted from the October 24 report. Of the 53 links, 23 point to prior Chronicle stories. Paywalled journalism can’t do that, and it’s a crippling limitation. If those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it, mainstream journalism’s online amnesia won’t help move us forward. What happened today is only the tip of the iceberg. We need to know how we got to today. That can’t happen in print. It can only happen online. But tragically it almost never does, so context suffers.
If you scan that list of links you’ll notice something else that mainstream online journalism seldom allows: external links. The majority of the links in the Chronicle’s report point to other sources. Some are the websites of local organizations or local government. Others are documents that weren’t online but have been placed into the public record by the Chronicle. Paywalled journalism rarely does this. Once you’re in it wants to keep you in to rack up pageviews. This is another context killer.
Who will pay for all this luxurious context? Well, there’s me. I don’t live in Ann Arbor. But I went to school there, my daughter does now, I have another connection to the town, and I’m a huge fan of Dave Askins’ and Mary Morgan’s bold venture. So I’m a voluntary subscriber. And I hope I’ll get the chance to support something like the Chronicle in the town where I do live.
As a refugee from the pageview mills I can tell you that model leads nowhere good. I’m ready, willing, and able to back alternatives that use the web as it was meant to be used.
Links extracted from the Ann Arbor Chronicle’s report on the city council meeting of October 15, 2012.