By Emma Kerr, Daily Staff Reporter
Published August 10, 2014
Minutes after co-editors Dave Askins and Mary Morgan announced their decision to end the Ann Arbor Chronicle’s local coverage Friday morning on the Chronicle's website, messages of sadness and loss began pouring in, expressions from a community that has grown to depend on the Chronicle for thorough, reliable reporting on local government.
Sept. 2 will be the last official day of the Ann Arbor Chronicle, a homegrown news sources known for its detailed coverage of city proceedings. The closure comes two months before the city sees its first new mayor in 14 years.
The decision was a personal one for Askins and Morgan, who said they would like to pursue other objectives, and was not based on financial reasons.
The timing of the Chronicle’s ending was a calculated decision. After 25 years of marriage for Chronicle editors Askins and Morgan, Sept. 2 marks their anniversary. Their announcement also came shortly after Ann Arbor’s primary election had concluded.
“We didn’t announce during the middle of the campaigning because we thought that might be a detriment to our ability to cover the primary election,” Askins said. “After that had happened and the dust had settled, it gave us around a month. A month is a good time to announce that essentially you are quitting your job that the community has hired you to do.”
Askins said the termination, after dedicating every waking moment for the past half a dozen years to the Chronicle, feels right at this time.
The Chronicle’s vision, which emphasized a detailed, almost transcript-like form reporting, first launched in 2008, developing its style over time. Askins said over the first few months, they learned what worked best for them and what felt like the most honest and clear way to act as a service for Ann Arbor residents who could not attend every city meeting.
“It is not a transcript, but it is at a similar level of detail,” he said. “The stuff that might seem minor or inconsequential or not really worthy of a story gets included in our coverage in a way that traditional media just doesn’t attend to."
Askins said the Chronicle originated following a dead-end in Morgan’s journalistic career. After moving up the ladder as a journalist at the old iteration of the Ann Arbor News, Morgan found herself in an employment situation where she felt she could no longer move up short of becoming editor-in-chief.
“There was nothing else she wanted to do there, and she basically wanted to craft her own publication and be in a position to realize her own vision of what a local news publication could be,” Askins said.
It was a convention in 2007 that planted the seed in Morgan’s mind to launch an online publication, one that she believed could be fiscally profitable. Meanwhile, Askins was gaining insight and what would later become the template for the Chronicle’s format through his own website.
“At that point I had been operating an interview website called Teeter-Talk,” he said. “It involved inviting people over to my backyard for a teeter-totter ride on the teeter totter I built, and I would interview them and essentially post the transcripts of the interviews along with a photograph of the person on the teeter totter,”
That experience, Askins said, gave him the basis necessary for building an online publication.
“It taught me a lot about what people’s expectations for reading material on the internet were, and it also gave me a fair amount of background on the technical side," he said.
With that combination of Morgan’s interest in realizing her own vision and Askin’s background and expertise, the two set out on a mission to launch an entirely new publication, one that would cover local events in the way they believed they ought to be covered.
However, Askins was never particularly engaged with politics — in fact, he said it was something he avoided up until 2007.
“To me local government was something where those are those folks who ran for student council in high school, I don’t want to hang out with them,” Askins said.
That was until an ordinance brought to the Ann Arbor City Council would have inhibited a potential hobby of Askins’: raising chickens. The ordinance required individuals applying for a chicken permit to include written permission from the residents of adjacent homes for the resident to be able to keep chickens.
“I got it in my head I wanted to keep backyard chickens,” he said, “My neighbors would not give me permission, so it was in my interest to not have the ordinance to include that requirement, so I thought, I will lobby city council the way citizens do.”
When council refused his suggestions, he told them he would attend every meeting until they enacted the version of the ordinance he wanted.
“I figured well, as long as I have to attend these stupid caucus meetings, I thought (of) founding the Chronicle as a way to kill two birds with one stone,” Askins said.
Whether by chickens, by accident, or by grand vision, the Chronicle was launched shortly thereafter, and has since covered countless city council meetings, commission meetings, elections, and provided arguably more detailed insight into the political climate in Ann Arbor than any other local publication.
For Askins and Morgans, though they don’t seem to be retiring permanently, their future is as of yet undermined.
“One thing I learned from covering municipal entities is that there always is a reserve policy, typically defined in terms of percentage or in time,” Askins said. “We’ve got essentially about a three-month cash reserve. So we’ve got three months to figure out the next plan to earn a livelihood.”
The Chronicle’s archives will continue to be available online for the foreseeable future. Morgan is expected make further final remarks upon the Chronicle’s Sept. 2 closing.