day 9 of notes on my new job at annarbor.com
A new newspaper showed up on my sidewalk yesterday afternoon; I'm not going to name it by name, but let's just call it the A2 Gerbil. It was a happy little paper, full of happy little stories about quaint things happening in some leafy town somewhere near here. It took me a couple of minutes to leaf through it and a few more minutes to hunt down the web site for it and appreciate some of its finer points.
I'd pick on the newspaper itself, but you can't see it unless you live here. Like its namesake, it leaves droppings on sidewalks, and if you walk through my neighborhood you'll notice in a few blocks half a dozen houses that didn't bother to pick it up, and if you walk down Packard you'll notice that most houses didn't manage to pick it up. Unsolicited free drop media of all kinds generates litter – in student neighborhoods you perpetually step over rotting copies of the Wall Street Journal delivered but unread.
There were the usual collection of small town newspaper typoes – spelling mistakes in the body copy, and one I noticed in a headline. People make mistakes, but if you're going to the trouble of printing them, you'd hope there were enough people in the production process and enough spell checking tools to catch them.
The web site is a charming example of what newspaper web sites looked before RSS feeds made it possible to syndicate news and read it (minus the ads) in a feed reader. I don't know if that's a deliberate, calculated design decision, or an omission. The one indication that you have that a story is new is a blinking NEW! icon. (really)
Some of the headlines on the web site could use some work. "Construction under way"; that's not helpful. "Ann Arbor's many distinctions"; that could run every week. "Neighbors get their way"; a hint of controversy, I suppose, but again that looks like an every issue column and not really a headline.
It's tough being a photo editor, but really, when you print pictures of people in a parade, it would be really nice to get their names, so that you could say who they were so that someone could clip and send the photo to them. It just looks weird to see a caption like "Someone is walking in a parade" with no idea who it is.
I hate to poke at someone's new enterprise, in part because I'm involved in a new enterprise, and it might have some aspects of it in the first issue that aren't 100% glorious. I'm sure that the Gerbil, and its owners at the esteemed Gerbil-Hamster Corporation, is the product of a lot of hard work. Alas, it doesn't say anything about the town I live in – it's like a picture-perfect mirror to some sleepy parallel universe town where everything is kind of nice in a boring kind of way.