Bridge Magazine turns 5 with pride

Most parents have a pretty good idea of what their child is like by the time she or he is five.

As the founder and now chair of the nonprofit “think and do tank” Center for Michigan, I feel very much like a parent of our online news magazine, Bridge, which celebrates its fifth birthday this week and which is now drawing some 800,000 readers each year.

We started Bridge in order to help correct the information imbalance that started developing at least a decade ago, when the economics of mainstream print media – particularly newspapers – started rapidly deteriorating, in large part as a result of the extraordinary growth of the Internet as a distribution platform.

When I was the owner and publisher of a bunch of community newspapers, for example, something like half of our total sales came from “classified advertising,” those little ads selling used golf clubs, dishwashers, cars and the like. In the old days, I used to run something like 20 pages of classified in each edition.

That never happens any longer.

Those ads went to free sites on the Internet. And as the economics of newspapers changed radically, publishers discovered they no longer had the income to hire as many reporters or to run as many column inches of news as they used to. Not surprisingly, they cut editorial expenses drastically in a desperate attempt to survive.

When I started out in the business in the mid-1960’s, there were a couple busloads of reporters covering Lansing. I was up in the capitol a little while ago, and I found I could count the number of full time reporters on the fingers of one hand.

The consequence was the creation of an “information vacuum” between those who govern us – officeholders, senior policy officials, political insiders – and the governed. And as someone who believes passionately that the iron core of a functioning democracy is an informed public, an information vacuum was a very serious matter.

In place of the traditional, professional, fact-based news media there has arisen instead a cacophony of social media outlets – blogs, opinionated screeds, personal statements, and ideological tales of conspiracy. Anybody who has a computer can now be a publisher, which I suppose is fine. Only problem is that while everybody’s a publisher, nobody’s an editor. And the net result is a fractured media environment jam-packed with contending, ever-higher-pitched voices, each struggling for a piece of the public’s attention.

The traditional journalistic functions that lay behind the credibility of mainstream media had to do with maintaining news values of accuracy, fairness, attention to detail, suppression of unattributed rumors and relentless fact-checking.

This is how serious editors and professional journalists traditionally made their living, and the consequence was a media environment that was widely trusted by most people, excepting those who had an ideological knife to grind and who concluded that the “lamestream media” (Sarah Palin’s phrase) was the enemy.

Bridge Magazine is our attempt to remedy this situation by publishing serious, nonpartisan, thoughtful, fact-driven, trustworthy journalism to readers in Michigan. We’ve won a slew of state and national awards, including Newspaper of the Year from the Michigan Press Association. More to the point, I believe, we’ve grown rapidly in readership. We now have 800,000 readers and a total of 1.8 million unique visitors to our web site because Michigan citizens have found it important to have a journalism they can trust.

Journalism that provides insight into the events of the day and that helps provide a sense of community togetherness for us all.

Even the name – “Bridge” – suggests an intention of bridging the gaps among Michiganders, from north to south and east to west, between labor and management, Democrats and Republicans, urban dwellers and suburbanites and rural dwellers. Without an explicit attempt to bridge our differences by a trustworthy and accurate journalism, our common civic enterprise is made very, very difficult.

Our editor, David Zeman, shared in a Pulitzer Prize (journalism’s highest honor) for his work as an editor with the Detroit Free Press. Our team of reporters – Chastity Pratt Dawsey, Nancy Derringer, Ron French, Bill McGraw, Lindsay Van Hulle and Mike Wilkerson -- has more than 150 years of collective and varied experience.

I was a traditional newspaper publisher for nearly half a century. But nothing in my career has given me more pleasure than to have been associated with and to have helped give birth to this endeavor to revitalize serious journalism and help make Michigan a better state.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

If you learned something from the story you're reading please consider supporting our work. Your donation allows us to keep our Michigan-focused reporting and analysis free and accessible to all. All donations are voluntary, but for as little as $1 you can become a member of Bridge Club and support freedom of the press in Michigan during a crucial election year.

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Tue, 10/04/2016 - 4:08pm
Bridge might be good, except that it is not non-partisan. Sure you may have one or two writers from the other side, but most articles are against the current makeup of State government. And from the reader comments, it is read, or at least commented on, by one political leaning.
Tue, 10/04/2016 - 7:59pm
Rich, I find the stories in Bridge to be factual and interesting. Since state government is so out of balance with one party, it only makes sense the articles would reference the other perspective. I am assuming the state government side is your side, so it must be uncomfortable to hear the truth. We no longer have a representative government in Lansing. These rich, corporate players have had their needs met at the expense of everyone else, and the structural problems in this state have only gotten worse. True leadership (making the tough decisions) has not been seen in Michigan for a very long time.
Wed, 10/05/2016 - 9:53pm
Bernadette, An informed public isn't about the media being a balancing wheel for those out of power, it is about presenting the information and the impact designed and unintended, it is about seeking and sharing all information not selectively to balance those in power. It isn't about going after the rich corporate player, but reporting on the action and impact of those actions. It is about asking the right questions and providing the answers to the public. When an informational article starts by naming a Political Party and describing its actions or practices and the other Party with equivalent reporting is not mentioned the article is by design or de facto depriving the reader of making their own choices. Editorials are different they are designed to promote a point of view and the read properly alert to what is an editorial is make aware of a bias to the editorial. The disservice is when an editorial [biased] article is allowed to be presented as an informational article, it building on a trust in who is presenting the article. An article that is designed to be a counter balance to who is in power is an editorial hiding in the cloak of informational reporting.
Sun, 10/09/2016 - 11:52am
Duane, I so appreciate you taking time to "explain" things to me. You may want to broaden your horizons by reading a book by Rebecca Solnit called Men Explain Things To Me September 1, 2015.
Neil Sikora
Tue, 10/04/2016 - 7:40pm
Keep up the great work, Bridge Magazine!
Mike Middlesworth
Tue, 10/04/2016 - 10:59pm
Phil--I spent most of the 1960s working for papers in Port Huron, Utica, Flint and Saginaw, and I remember you well from those days. It's gratifying to see that you haven't lost the "fire in the belly" and are still at it. I'm now retired in Hawaii, so I say Aloha!
Wed, 10/05/2016 - 10:35am
Congratulations, I'm sure you are amongst a very tiny percentage of similar publications(?) that manage to last this long! I ... often .. enjoy reading Bridge even though I think it consistently comes from a very center left, pro-big- government monopolistic perspective. And for this reason it beats a pretty consistent (yes, sometimes tedious) drum beat for more money for every conceived ill that some similarly inclined interest groups can point out. I enjoy most when you seek out other solutions and reforms to make our state and local governments better rather than being a mouthpiece for entrenched interest groups. Thank you!
Wed, 10/05/2016 - 10:17pm
Congratulation to Bridge and all the staff for the five years. I have been reading and commenting on Bridge for these many years. You have all create a format/platform that provided people to offer such a wide range of perspectives on topics raised in the articles readers to raise the value of the article and Bridge well beyond what they would be alone. I agree and disagree with the previous commentor [Matt]. I encourage Bridge to grow/expand the platform to regularly present a problem and ask readers to offer innovative ways to address it. Engage the readers to use their minds to fix/prevent/mitigate issues rather then just comment on them. I truly appreciate Bridge for it has given me reason to stop and think and to think some more about how to articulate my thinking. There are fine writers on staff, they have a valid perspective, but way Bridge has opened this process to readers and the comments they offer has so expanded the range of perspectives, and the quality of comments that I must say thank you to Bridge et al. To continue to grow and excellent you might want to create a reader review team to offer the non-professional journalism perspective to help Bridge look from the outside in and hear about new approaches. [That approach has work for highly technical companies drawing lay people.]
Fri, 10/07/2016 - 10:12pm
Congratulations to Bridge!!! I tend to be a person who gets fired up by a lot about things I'm passionate about. So I read a lot of investigative reporting stuff...articles, books, listen to or view investigative journalists speak about what they've uncovered. There's a lot of good stuff being reported about that helps to unravel and expose the facts which much of the mainstream media ignores. It's often difficult not to get mad about what I'm learning. Bridge has done some good investigative reporting (Flint water crisis, etc.). But what I mainly like about reading through bridge is that my inner wild man can calm down for a time while I read about interesting local issues (many of which I didn't know about) at a more in-depth level. You help to calm my nerves. And keep me informed about my native state. I miss the old Sunday newspapers that could take you all day to get through. But those days are gone. You're doing a good job of reminding me what they felt like. But if you only had a sports section where I could peruse the standings and the box scores that would really be a treat. Keep up the good work!
Sun, 10/09/2016 - 3:13pm
Happy birthday - and immense gratitude to you Phil and your staff for your work and dedication to our state and country. It is particularly refreshing to give me the facts, without telling me what to think about them.