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, www.bridgemi.com, 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 (www.michigantruthsquad.com 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: firstname.lastname@example.org
Senior Writer Ron French: email@example.com
Staff Writer Nancy Derringer: firstname.lastname@example.org
CFM President John Bebow: email@example.com
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.