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July 24, 2009, 5:45 p.m.

AnnArbor.com: A new look for local news

Picking up the pieces a day after the 174-year-old daily Ann Arbor News published its final edition, its online successor AnnArbor.com was launched today. To the credit of its editors and designers, it’s a brand new approach to online daily news, featuring a blog-style chronological presentation of news items that can be accessed via a variety of topical and neighborhood headings.

Interspersed with the news are “deals”: labeled, differentiated posts by advertisers that lead to advertiser pages on the site spelling out the deals and providing links, directions and contact information. There’s a good measure of social functionality: stories as well as ads allow “votes;” staff credits have social network-style photo icons (as do registered users); staff is jumping into some of the comment threads; content is richly tagged; registered users can start “conversations” and share content via a variety of social platforms.  The site has a clean, up-to-date design.  At first glance, photos are a bit sparse, but where you find them, both photos and videos have a nice large format.

There’s a  tutorial video that seems at points to almost assume the user needs an introduction to how Web sites works, but does point out the kinds of things that make the site different.

On Thursdays and Sundays, AnnArbor.com will deliver “the AnnArbor.com newspaper,” into which, presumably, are distilled the remaining print advertising and preprints from the former daily, packaged with news repurposed from the Web site. This is a formula I’ve espoused regularly. Many publishers, looking at the expense weight of seven-day print publishing and distribution, realize it may well be a more sustainable and viable model for the long term — but it’s also a big downsizing from the seven-day model and won’t deliver the kind of profit volume or margin they’ve enjoyed in the past. But then, business as usual is not likely to bring back the profits of yore, either. The Ann Arbor experiment will be watched carefully to see if it offers a way for newspapers to move more decisively toward becoming truly digital enterprises.

Footnote: oddly, [as of Friday, July 24] the former site of the Ann Arbor News carries extensive coverage of the closing of the daily, topped by a May 14 date. Less-than-obvious links to AnnArbor.com are way down the page. UPDATE, 7/26: As noted by Mary Ann Chick Whiteside (blog) in the first comment below, mlive.com has caught up with the closing and now offers a feed from AnnArbor.com under its Ann Arbor tab.  Follow her link to the Ann Arbor News’s coverage of its own demise.

POSTED     July 24, 2009, 5:45 p.m.
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