Three years in, Bridge delivers the goods on public policy

An informed public is the iron core of our democratic system. Sad to say, these days the iron is getting pretty rusty.

The old media that served the country well for decades – national network TV news shows like Walter Cronkite’s and various daily and weekly newspapers – are in decline. When I started my publishing company in the mid-1960’s, there were a couple busloads of newspaper reporters regularly working in Lansing; today, you can count them on your fingers.

What’s risen instead is a cacophony of narrowcasting: Politicized talk radio (Rush Limbaugh) and cable TV (Fox News, MSNBC), blogs, Facebook postings, tweets – all expressing separate (sometimes hyperventilated) points of view and many without the careful fact checking, fairness or ethics we used to see in the old media. A sad result: A fragmented, increasingly partisan electorate – fertile ground for the kind of gridlock that we see so clearly in Washington and Lansing.

That’s why in 2011 the Center for Michigan launched our online news magazine, Bridge.

An anniversary

It’s our third anniversary this week, and frankly we’re delighted at how our work is measuring up to our original intent. Bridge is designed to provide fact-based, trustworthy, nonpartisan news and thoughtful analysis of the people’s business. As its name implies, its purpose is to bridge the differences in our state: East and West, North and South, Republican and Democrat, urban cores and suburbs, labor and management, poor and wealthy, minority and majority. And we have tried to help fill the information vacuum left by deteriorating mainstream Michigan news media.

Publishing Tuesdays and Thursdays, together with a weekend edition, Bridge has expressed our guiding philosophy:

Our journalism nonpartisan, fair-minded, probing, thoughtful. We respect the good sense and civic interests of our readers.

Our reporting is fact-based. This means that we try our damnedest to get our stories correct – on the grounds that everybody is entitled to their own opinions but not their own facts.

We’re interested in helping readers make choices and understand the consequences of those choices. That’s the only way citizens can work their way through the process of forming public opinion in an informed way.

We try to present information and insight not available from traditional news media, and we hope this service has helped inform our citizens and our leaders and assist them in developing sensible and competent public policy.

“Gotcha journalism” isn’t on our map. Bridge is not interested in sensationalism or the gotcha moments that have come to dominate “conflict for its own sake” media.

At Bridge, we’ve assembled an all-star team of deeply experienced journalists:

Editor David Zeman, a Pulitzer Prize winning editor when at the Detroit Free Press. Senior writer Ron French, formerly at the Detroit News and quite possibly the best explanatory journalist in Michigan. Urban affairs expert Chastity Pratt Dawsey and numbers and data guru Mike Wilkinson, together with always readable Nancy Nall Derringer. And we’ve assembled a growing crew of bright, imaginative freelance reporters and experts. Taken together, we provide our readers with hundreds of years of reporting and editing experience.

Making an impact

And our journalism has impact, sometimes considerable. Take, for example, our 2012 series on the state’s early childhood education program, the Great Start Readiness Program. Our stories documented how 30,000 poor and vulnerable four year olds who were eligible for GSRP couldn’t get in because the state didn’t fund enough slots. As a result of our reporting, over the past two years the legislature has more than doubled state support, making Michigan a national leader in pre-K education.

Bridge’s popular Michigan Truth Squad posts have called foul, no foul, or flagrant foul on misleading and outright distorted political advertising. There’s evidence some campaigns have pulled TV ads for fear of what the Truth Squad might say.

Our work is widely recognized as among the very best journalism in the state. We detailed how two adjacent but profoundly different school districts merged operations and how high auto insurance rates have driven new Detroit residents into hiding.

There’s strong evidence this kind of journalism is striking a chord with Michigan residents. Bridge now has more than 20,000 subscribers who regularly receive the magazine, a 73% increase from the first issue, with well over a half million unique visitors to our website over the past year. Bridge continues to show steady traffic growth month after month.

Our overriding purpose is to help burnish the iron core of Michigan’s political system and policy apparatus. If you agree and are interested in getting some of the best journalism in the state, we hope you’ll sign up to get your free, thrice-weekly issues of Bridge by clicking the button on the Center for Michigan’s homepage.

There is nothing as powerful as an informed and engaged public. It’s Bridge’s mission to make that possible.

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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Thu, 09/04/2014 - 10:04am
Phil, Don't hurt your shoulder by patting yourself on the back. The third paragraph of your love letter tells it all. No mention of the horribly biased "news" organizations on the left, CNN, MSNBC, etc. Just the "evil" right-wingers. Sadly, the current state of affairs is indicative of the majority of news media and entertainment industry pushing an agenda. I don't see Bridge magazine as much different from most other progressive tools that try to present themselves as moderate. When I see you critical of leftist cable personalities and networks, I'll know that your self-praise is deserved.
Thu, 09/04/2014 - 10:38am
John, Good try but, contrary to your whole premise, MSNBC IS listed in Phil's article as one of the "narrowcasting" organizations. Sorry you overlooked that - unfortunately it disproves your whole point. "Lover Letter" ? Hmmmm.....another good try. Phil, keep up the great work in attempting to Honestly keep Bridge as un-biased as we humans can be and let informed readers make up their own minds on the issues you present.
Thu, 09/04/2014 - 10:51am
Read it again, there is mention of msnbc
Joann Neuroth
Thu, 09/04/2014 - 10:51am
Read it again, John. I see MSNBC.
Gregg Smith
Thu, 09/04/2014 - 10:15am
Your analysis of Bridge's impact on objective state news coverage and informed opinion over the past three years, though hardly objective, is spot on. Over a long career of community journalism, a fling at politics, and public activism----this just may be your finest achievement. And at a time when most at your station in life would be enjoying the rewards of a life well lived. Thank you!
Thu, 09/04/2014 - 10:32am
Re: the rise of "narrowcasting" Prior generations of the media ignored the legitimate interest in having a Constitutionally limited government. The media presented left leaning (and worse) positions as centrist and rational and therefore the only positions worthy of consideration. Rush Limbaugh (and others) rose to prominence by filling a void that the major media elected to ignore. The current condition of the media exists due to the obvious biases in reporting from decades ago.
Fri, 09/05/2014 - 1:17am
Dann, What is surprising is how little interest people seem to have in trying to understand the 'void' dynamics of the the reading/listening public. It seems too many want the 'old days' of early TV and have little interest in trying to learn how the 'news' world audience has changed. The example of Limbaugh, the media types seem only see his commentary and ignore how he engages the public, it maybe few, by giving them time to have their say. He even allows those who disagree with him to have time and he even responds. This is something that seldom happens with the news media, even on Bridge. The days of the 60s and before when the readers were accepting even differing to the reporters and editors was the culture of the time, we (the readers) have changed and are more confident in our own questions and thinking. I suspect the readers get more respect for their knowledge and thinking at work then the news media has ever provided. Another of my indicators is how the media looks to Lansing for answers and seldom looks to the public, the elect officials seem to follow that lead.
Le Roy G. Barnett
Thu, 09/04/2014 - 10:49am
Dear Sir: 1. Have you ever noticed how people who post conservative comments refuse to fully identify themselves? Given the degree to which their opinions deviate from reality, I can understand why. 2. In your editorial, you mention gridlock in Lansing. There is no gridlock in Lansing from my perspective. The Republicans control all three branches of government and do whatever they please in state affairs.
John C. Stewart
Thu, 09/04/2014 - 10:50am
Phil, Thank you, so much, for Bridge Magazine! Thoughtful and substantive reporting and analysis. Your columns are some of the best!
Joann Neuroth
Thu, 09/04/2014 - 10:53am
Thanks for Bridge, Phil! It's a thoughtful oasis that I almost always click open, expecting to come away wiser.
Sheldon Markel
Thu, 09/04/2014 - 1:23pm
John, I do not understand how you managed to accuse Phil of bias in his letter. He mentioned three specifically named sources (Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, MSNBC). The first two are surely conservative and the third has a liberal bias. Three sources hardly fit a statistically sound sample, and if it did, 2:1 is as good a balance achievable. You might consider whether you are blinded by bias on your part and that we see what we expect to see.
Charles P Tommasulo
Thu, 09/04/2014 - 2:40pm
Thank you Phil Power the Bridge is a must read after the NYTs. The most balanced reporting and generally good writing in Michigan. Enjoying it more than most daily publications.
Thu, 09/04/2014 - 2:55pm
Phil, thank you for all that you, personally, and the Center for Michigan do to analyze and elevate the discussion of public policy in Michigan. I learn something valuable from every issue of Bridge, and have lost count of the number of links to your content that I have sent to friends, family, and colleagues throughout the state. I have found your articles to be generally untainted by partisan influence, outside of the clearly labeled opinion pieces that you publish. As a centrist, I find that I always learn from the reader comments too, because they allow me to better understand how each side of the political spectrum tends to frame specific issues. That's useful to know as well. I read widely and Bridge has become one of my "must read" resources each week. Thank you again.
John Nash
Fri, 09/05/2014 - 8:27am
Phil, I heard you say a long time ago that you love Michigan and started the Center for Michigan because you sincerely wanted to help Michigan. You have proved many times over you love Michigan and are willing regardless of your lack of financial need or retirement age to help our State in the way you know best the media. I very much respect the fact that your organization has gone out State wide and asks the people about very important issues. I always read The Bridge articles regarding campaign adds. I like the Bridge articles regarding general State issues. Thanks a for all the Center for Michigan and Bridge does - I very much appreciate all your efforts.
Fri, 09/05/2014 - 9:47pm
Mr. Power, THank you for Bridge and congratulations to you and the staff on three years of success. I wonder if you have investigated this success and can describe how it has been achieved. If not I encourage you to do that so success is not lost to the daily distractions of operating and the activities in Lansing. Once you have captured the hows and whys of the success then trying new and innovative things will not risk a loss of the success. It is building on success nor competing with it that creates a sustainable organization and activities and allows for meeting the every changing readership. Congratulation on three years and heres cheering for another and another three years of success.
Sheila Foster
Sat, 09/06/2014 - 12:07pm
I have only had Bridge for a few months. I must say I like what I have been reading. It gives us both sides of the picture. My main problem with both parties that there is so much money coming in from big business and they, both parties have to give them what they want. But what about us little guys who seem to be paying more and more in taxes while our schools and roads and small counties are all struggling. No one seems to care about the Middle class any more. Why?
Sun, 09/07/2014 - 9:06am
Happy Birthday Bridge, Thank you Phil. I find your columns to be informative and refreshingly objective. I appreciate not having to sift through the chaff. Keep up the great work.
Ron Thayer
Sun, 09/07/2014 - 11:52am
Phil - I enjoy and respect your balanced and non-partisan approach to the issues. I get tired of reading quotes in the daily Detroit papers from the Mackinac Center in Midland, as is they were an unbiased source of information. I wonder why the Freep and News don't quote you or the Bridge, but maybe they do and I just haven't noticed it. Keep up the good work.
Ron Thayer
Sun, 09/07/2014 - 11:57am
I just noticed a typo in my recent post, the second sentence should read: ... the Mackinac Center in Midland, as IF they were an unbiased ...
Sun, 09/07/2014 - 3:31pm
Whenever I read some of the comments about any particular issue, I am reminded of the poem "The Blindmen and the Elephant" by John Godfrey Saxe. Each blind man, touching the elephant in a different place, come to a different description---from a wall to a fan to a rope, etc. Unfortunately, many of us hear only one view, make up our minds, never to be changed by the facts. And, you know what, sometimes there is new information that should be taken into our thinking. Thinking? Sometimes I feel that we have forgotten how. It is much easier to be critical and nasty to someone we disagree with than to give some thought to what was said and make a well reasoned argument against it. Phil, keep up the good work.
Lyle Tyler
Tue, 09/09/2014 - 9:02am
Phil. Thanks to you and the Bridge Team for providing balanced reporting on a variety of issues in our State! Keep up the good work. Lyle Tyler Milford