AnnArbor.com offers progress report to the community
To our readers:
Today we want to offer you a progress report, and an explanation for the reorganization and layoffs we’ve just gone through at AnnArbor.com.
It’s an explanation we should have given you sooner. As a news organization, we report on other businesses when they experience what we just did, and we should have reported on ourselves. We regret that we didn’t, and we’re addressing it now.
Let us begin with a look at the health and long-term viability of AnnArbor.com. Since our launch, we have seen strong, steady growth in readership and revenue. Comparing the first two months of this year to the same period last year, here’s the traffic growth we’ve seen: Average daily unique visitors: 62,662, up from 41,453, a 51.2 percent increase. Page views: 11.7 million, up from 7.6 million, a 53.9 percent increase.
By any industry measure, these are impressive numbers, and they have been fueled largely by the appetite of our readers for traditional, hard-news coverage.
As our audience continues to grow, so does our revenue. As a privately held company, we do not release earnings. But we can say that we are financially sound and meeting our budget. For January and February, we’ve added 100 new online advertisers. Last month alone, we saw our online revenue increase by 75 percent over the previous year.
There was a day last week when 70,000 people showed up on our site, and we didn’t have to wonder why. Local people were protesting Gov. Snyder’s budget cuts. The Michigan basketball team had just made the NCAA tournament. And we covered both extensively.
That kind of serious reporting on local news, business and U-M sports has helped us build a large and loyal audience over the past year and a half, and more than ever, this is where we’ll be putting our energy and our efforts going forward.
While we are encouraged by our growth, we remain a young company climbing uphill against a tough economy and a changing industry. We’ve reached an important juncture, and we’ve had to take stock of where we are, and what we need to do in order to continue to grow.
This much we know: our future is as a local news organization tightly focused on covering the stories that matter to people. Over the last year and a half, our readers have told us that serious news coverage is what they want from us, particularly in the areas of local government, education, crime, health, business and U-M sports.
From our launch, we have had a newsroom filled with trained, professional journalists. But we also said that we would be of, by and for the community, and in order to encompass the community, we do a lot of things that traditional news organizations don’t. We welcome community contributors in a variety of lifestyle topics. We invite people to post directly on the Community Wall. We offer people a variety of ways to engage with us, from voting in polls to sharing our stories on Facebook.
As a new company, it was not a mistake to try new things. We have to innovate. But we also have to step back periodically, assess what we’re doing, and refocus ourselves around what’s working.
That’s what we have just done. While our news coverage is driving our success, other things we’ve tried aren’t being embraced by our readers to the same degree. So we made a very difficult decision to cut back in those areas, and as a result, we laid off six full-time and six part-time employees, primarily in the areas of entertainment coverage, high school sports and lifestyle topics.
We have not eliminated coverage in these areas. You’ll still see our reporters at high school football games or girls’ basketball games, and we’ll still offer the previews and reviews of concerts and plays that you’ve come to expect. We continue to have community contributors writing on a variety of topics, and they add an important voice to our site that is mostly missing in traditional media.
But our focus will be more squarely than ever on local news, business and college sports, which account for about 95 percent of our page views and 99 percent of our revenue.
From the beginning, we have said that we’d be shaped by what the community wants. The community has spoken, and we have listened and responded.
We are a new company that is blessed with talented, dedicated employees who are working hard every day to find a different way to do business in an industry that is struggling. We don’t pretend we have all the answers. But we’re making good progress, and we’ll continue to evolve. One priority right now is to improve the layout and navigation of our site to make it as easy as possible for you to find the content you’re looking for. We’re doing usability testing this week, and that will guide the design of the site going forward.
We thank the community for all the support and direction you have given us, and we will continue to report our progress to you in the future.
Matt Kraner, President and CEO
Laurel Champion, Executive Vice President
Tony Dearing, Chief Content Officer