Center for Michigan seeks your ideas to bolster coverage of state

When I broke into the newspaper business back in 1965, there were maybe a couple busloads of reporters working in Lansing. Today, you can count them on your fingers. 

Of course, this is the result of the decades-long deterioration of “mainstream media,” mostly newspapers. Information and advertising, especially, have migrated to the Web. Although newspapers are trying to beef up their online coverage, the e-revenue stream isn’t near enough to replace what’s been lost. 

Result: Some newspapers have gone out of business. Others, previously published daily, are now distributed in print only two or three days a week – witness the Detroit Free Press, the Detroit News and the old Booth Newspapers around the state. 

Another result: A public far less informed than it used to be. Sure, there is a torrent of stuff available on the Web – opinion masquerading as fact, rant disguised as thoughtful commentary, outright errors of fact confected so that every ideology gets to promulgate its own particular “facts.”

With all my heart, I believe an informed public is the iron core of a functioning democracy. And these days, there’s plenty of rust on the iron. 

Which is why I’m so pleased to report on an attempt to fill the information vacuum. Bridge Magazine,, which publishes new editions twice a week, is a project of the Center for Michigan. It celebrated its first birthday last Thursday.

Bridge now has nearly 16,000 subscribers and more than 350,000 unique visitors, the latter figure is a way of measuring how many different people have taken a look at Bridge so far this year. And people are using Bridge, extensively. Page views for Bridge and the Michigan Truth Squad ( another project of the Center for Michigan) will exceed 1 million sometime this fall.

We started Bridge to provide people who care about their state with the kind of fact-based, thoughtful, detailed, probing explanatory journalism the newspapers used to do, but can’t provide any longer. Based on the extraordinary response we’re earned from the marketplace, we seem to be filling a niche. 

By “we”, I mean Editor Derek Melot, staffers Ron French and Nancy Derringer, our current journalism fellow Taylor Trammell and the several dozen freelance writers, photographers and graphic artists who contribute their work to the publication. If you add in Center for Michigan President and former journalist John Bebow and me, you’ve got a couple hundred years’ experience being brought to bear on public issues in Michigan.

But here’s the important point, one that goes well beyond our chest thumping: We’re growing, which is great. But there’s a lot more we want to do. And that’s where you, the reading public, come in. 

If you think about it for a moment, what makes a news publication great is not some abstract notion about “excellence in journalism.” It has to do with the relationship between the medium and its readers. I tried to get at that in the days when I published newspapers. I put on the wall of every newsroom in my company this question: “What does it mean to the reader?” 

The only way journalists can get a clear idea of what our stuff means to readers is for you to contact us, to react, to gripe, to praise, to suggest, to demand. Some of the very best reporting we’ve done over the past year has come directly from news tips suggested by our readers. At the end of the day, what drives the direction and focus of our journalism comes from you, our readers.

And, given what has happened with technology over the past few years, getting in touch with us is easy as touching one key on your computer keyboard. What kind of stories do you want covered?  What are we missing in our attempt to illuminate the many corners of our wonderful state?
Weigh in, please. They only we can get better is to hear from you.  Here’s how to get in touch with us:

            Senior Editor Derek Melot:
            Senior Writer Ron French:
            Staff Writer Nancy Derringer:
            CFM President John Bebow:

A birthday is a nice marking point for a year past. But it also is the beginning of another year of the future. Help us make a better future … for you, for Michigan.

Editor’s note: Former newspaper publisher and University of Michigan Regent Phil Power is a longtime observer of Michigan politics and economics. He is also the founder and chairman of the Center for Michigan, a nonprofit, bipartisan centrist think–and–do tank, designed to cure Michigan’s dysfunctional political culture; the Center also publishes Bridge Magazine. The opinions expressed here are Power’s own and do not represent the official views of the Center. He welcomes your comments via email.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

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Tue, 09/11/2012 - 8:46am
I love Bridge and have shared it with many of my education colleagues as well as my out-of-state children.
Tue, 09/11/2012 - 9:23pm
Mr. Power, “Weigh in, please.” I would direct my comments to one of those you suggest, but I simply don’t know which role might care, a title/a name don’t say much about what they are interested in. I appreciate the Bridge and its opportunity for comment. A change that the news media doesn’t seem to fully grasp over the recent decades is the readers/populace has changed. Where in the past the newspaper was a starting point of conversation by being the primary point of information, now the variety of access to information has grown while the community places where for discussion have shrunk. The first thought I would offer for the Bridge and local newspapers to consider is becoming a place for that discussion, become a place where people can share ideas, be questioned even challenged on what they say. Not only provide the news but become a place where people can come to react to the news the Bridge offers. The second thought I would offer is to hear what the readers are saying not what you are listening for. There are many ways to do that one is to acknowledge when a readers offers an idea that you can act on or explain why a reader idea will not be applied (the quickest way to shutdown a reader is to make them feel ignored). This extends in reporting and editorials give the why/how positions are taken, help people see how the Bridge collective mind works so they can learn. The reality is that readers have changed since you began and are much more confident in their decisions and much less trusting of those in the tell mode. The third thought I would offer is acknowledging the bias of your closely knit staff. This is beyond the stand media bias (which seems to be present) to include the natural bias of any group that works together. You use the phrase “What does it mean to the reader?” that shows a bias of knowing what the reader thinks. Better to think the read knows what it means to them and be more concerned with giving the best information available. Test this by simply picking a few people outside your network and have them give you their perspective on what was written and why they think that way. I would encourage you to seek out a few that you truly do not like their perspective, that is how you will learn your weaknesses. The fourth thought I would offer is to use the Bridge’s access to information and create a place for reader to create alternative solutions to issues of the day. Frame an issue, give the readers 10 days to comment, the Bridge should have a support person to facilitate and offer facts where and when appropriate and summarize the results. Let the Bridge become a two way conduit, a place where people ask the Bridge readers for ideas (the Bridge would screen what issues would be brought to the readers) and in turn let the readers know what is done with their comments. Over the past 50 years our society has changed from a top down to a bottom up society, individuals have more responsibilities and more information to make choices than any time in history. The media needs to adjust to that and become the channel for that two way communications.
Mike R
Thu, 09/13/2012 - 4:13pm
My congratulations to Duane. Usually, my blood pressure goes up in response to anything he writes; it did so only slightly this time, so it appears one or both of us are making progress. I agree with his overall thesis, which appears to be that more dialogue between writers/reporters and readers would enhance the discussion, but I disagree with his underlying assumption that the Bridge writers are ignoring an institutional or group bias. It is the ethical obligation of any legitimate journalist (Limbaugh, Beck, O'Reilly and the like are merely entertainers) to seek objectivity and to strive to avoid biases creeping into his or her reporting, and I believe the writers at The Bridge strive exceptionally hard. I think it would be impractical to have someone on staff whose sole function is to play devil's advocate, and undesirable to have every article or editorial vetted by a panel comprised of "the other side". Given that The Bridge's mission is to stake out the middle ground and attract to it as many as possible from all sides, I'm not even sure what "the other side" would be: extremists at either or both ends of the spectrum? Their excesses are the Bridge's reason to exist. Nevertheless, the idea of more two way communication and feedback beyond these postings is a positive one.
Thu, 09/13/2012 - 9:59pm
Mike, Thank yo for the compliment. I have been this way for too many years to suggest that I have changed, family, former co-workers, and many others even friends would say I haven;t changed. Could it be this is the first time a question has been asked rather then a statement made or position taken? You seem to see bias only as political, I see it as a point of perspective. I have seen too many times good ideas ignored simply because the speaker is tyoed at the start of a conversation or the supposed listener has already decided on what they want to hear. "Given that The Bridge’s mission is to stake out the middle ground and attract to it as many as possible from all sides" is an example of a bias, for the middle ground implies that there has to be a side. Why can't the Bridge be about providing information, offering different perspectives on a topic. Why does the bridge from Canada only have to be about Snyder and Morouns. I have never heard what they cost involved in the building and operation of a bridge are, I have never heard why after 80 years the Canadians never tried to make the Ambassadar Bridge more accessible, why the emminate domain is to be used in the US and has been avoided in Canada? I wonder what other questions would the public benefit from hearing the answered to. I wonder why the Bridge hasn't asked those questions, I wonder if readers of the Bridge have the knowledge to help the Bridge identify good questions to ask. I have found that reporters have a breathe of knowledge but usually lack the depth of knowledge to ask the most important questions. I wonder why the Bridge hasn't tried to bring the readers into the conversation to help them learn what some important questions might be. A former employer of mine created a culture where noone was to be so knowledgeable that they should need to ask for others input, it taught me to never expect to have the answer alone and to always get others input. We always asked. Back to my questions and comments and my lessons. I learn best when you listen to the questions and the comments and ask why or how not when you presume or assume what is meant. I get better ideas when I get diverse prespectives and work with those perspectives rather than discounting them. "my blood pressure goes up in response to anything he writes;" elevating the blood pressre suggests that the heart has started pumping a little more and maybe that is good.