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Posted on Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 7:14 a.m.

Column: returns to publishing a weekly editorial

By Paula Gardner

Two of five wards in Ann Arbor face city council elections in August, and plans to endorse a candidate in each race.

While that may sound like “standard operating procedure” for many newsrooms, I wanted to let readers know that this is happening for two reasons: One, we published for many months without a local editorial voice; and two, it represents a change in how we generate our opinions.

Our return to publishing a weekly editorial began in May, as I asked three colleagues at to join me as our editorial board.

Joining me as makes editorial decisions: Bob Needham and Cindy Heflin, both news producers; and Kyle Mattson, our community engagement specialist.

I worked with both Bob and Cindy at the Ann Arbor News in the 1990s. We all were in editing roles there, and Bob supervised the opinion page at the News in 2008-09. The three of us live within the Ann Arbor Public Schools boundaries, and two of us - Bob and I - reside within the city limits.

Kyle gives us a slightly different perspective: He resides outside of the city, giving an objective perspective to many issues. His experience with our commenting system - and interactions with our commenters as they raise questions, add value to stories or require deletion - all give him unique insight here at

We’re still fine-tuning how our process works. Right now, we’re meeting monthly to share ideas and determine which topics will be the focus of an editorial. It’s a collaborative effort, and the reason the editorials are published online under an “ Staff” byline.

When launched in 2009, our editorials were influenced by an editorial board that included community leaders. They volunteered to meet monthly, discussed key issues in the community, and formed a collective opinion with our top managers. That ended in summer 2012 as I was promoted to editor and decided to restructure the format.

What we’re doing now is similar, but minus the outside voices. I believe this group understands the community well and has seen it function for many years, and is prepared to offer a concise, weekly institutional opinion that, at least in most cases, our readership will find credible and informed.

It’s my hope that we can eventually establish an opinion page that both represents this institutional voice of and conveys additional leadership from the same kinds of influential community members that previously joined our editorial board. I have some vision for how that will look

But in the meantime, we’ll continue to write weekly editorials. You’ll see our candidate endorsements by the end of July. And I’d like to hear your feedback on the process.

Paula Gardner is editor of You can reach her by email or follow her on Twitter.



Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 7:57 p.m.

How about a "Paula Unplugged" column?

Paula Gardner

Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 5:08 p.m.

@ M. Haney, we strive for a mix of news, and don't plan to stop reporting accidents or police blotter items. (Just an aside: Ann Arbor News editors used to consider Police Blotter one of the best-read parts of the newspaper; online data confirms that) Email me if you'd like to send me some example of the 'feel good' stories that you don't like to read.


Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 4:30 p.m.

It would be difficult to take any political endorsement seriously until you can report daily news accurately and timely. The current AA.Com staff should spent more time on newsworthy local articles, not feel-good news, "new story" press releases which are actually advertisements, accident or traffic reports from local police agencies with no substance or facts and countless press releases from the UM Athletic Dept. Give me just the facts please.


Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 2:33 p.m.

Just what we don't need


Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 12:40 p.m.

Please stay out of our election. Half of your "board" doesn't even live in the city - do you really feel it appropriate to have them involved in potentially affecting the outcome of our election? Concentrate on thorough, neutral coverage - like a journalist would do.

Paula Gardner

Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 8 p.m.

And they comment!


Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 6:43 p.m.

And they proofread.

Paula Gardner

Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 12:46 p.m.

Journalists also write editorials.

Steve Bean

Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 12:22 p.m.

My one personal experience with the previous editorial board as a mayoral candidate in 2010 doesn't give me reason to welcome this new one. Mayor Hieftje and I spent approximately an hour (if I remember correctly) at the office responding to questions. The mayor, being somewhat more long-winded than me, probably got more words in during that time. I also believe that he was asked more (follow-up) questions. The subsequent endorsement editorial mentioned none of my responses, and devoted a single sentence (or was it two? – maybe someone can find it to check) to my existence on the ballot. How an endorsement of a long-time incumbent with next to no insight into the alternative candidate would be helpful to voters is a mystery. Maybe you folks will provide a more valuable service.

Paula Gardner

Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 11:30 a.m.

Thanks to everyone who weighed in here. And here's a shout-out to Basic Bob, who very well summed up how I view editorials, too. I expect them to be supplemental reading for many voters, but also know that some readers view them skeptically (or even as conspiracy). That's not unique to this community. And as DonBee wrote, most readers can expect to agree with some of them - and disagree with some. All have a chance to give an opinion in the comments section (as long as they're not personal attacks, DJBudSonic, or otherwise violate our guidelines about being civil).

Paula Gardner

Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 12:44 p.m.

He (or she) is saying his (or her) comments are removed because we don't agree with them. That's not true. The ones that stay up follow our guidelines.


Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 12:14 p.m.

So are you saying the DJBudSonic isn't permitted to comment, or are you publicly chastising him for a "personal attack"?

Alan Goldsmith

Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 10:01 a.m.

So does this mean the dot com will retroactively endorse someone for the 2008 presidential election now, something the A2 News was too timid to do? Who was working on the editorial 'team. then? Just curious. With the equally timid local political reporting, we can safely guess who the dot com will 'endorse'.


Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 12:25 a.m.

I am afraid I agree with many on this comment section by saying this sounds like the standard Major Heiftje cohort getting together. If you were presenting information on positions, etc. that might be useful, but you clearly say you will be "endorsing" candidates and we all know what that means.; You will be in the pocket of DDA, The Major and all his cronies,(Grand, et al). I am willing to take bets that I'm right.

Basic Bob

Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 10:21 p.m.

Why I like editorials: They draw a conclusion or make an endorsement, but more importantly, they explain why they support a particular position. As an informed voter, I am free to vote in favor or contrary to the endorsement of the editorial board, and their explanation of their position will help guide my decision. I am sure that I will both agree and disagree with many of their positions, and I am comfortable with that. For straight ticket voters, please disregard this reasoning and just continue to check your one box.


Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 12:16 a.m.

Well said Bob.

Kai Petainen

Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 9:27 p.m.

"It's a group that forms a collective opinion that becomes the "institutional voice" of the newspaper. " It would be interesting to know the 'strength' of the opinion. That is... did all 4 voice the same opinion, or did 3 out of the 4 voice the same... 2 out of the 4. You wouldn't have to list names, but it would be interesting to know the 'strength' of the opinion.

Paula Gardner

Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 9:51 p.m.

That's an interesting idea. We'l keep that in mind as this goes forward. Thank you!


Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 8:49 p.m.

I am pleased to see an editorial voice return to the paper. With the commenting system it will give everyone a place to weigh in one way or the other on the topic. I am sure I will disagree with some of the editorials, I suspect I will let that be known too. I wish AA.COM good luck with their restart of the editorials.


Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 8:38 p.m.

Ms Gardner: 1) How much revenue was collected by from the city of a2 in 2012? 2) How much revenue was collected by from the city of a2 in 2013 ytd? 3) How much revenue is scheduled for collection by from the city of a2 in 2013, total? Please divulge this info. Your revenue collection status should also be stated at the end of every political endorsement editorial. We would like to know the extent of your possible bias, and whether or not we are witnessing just another status quo infomercial, bought and paid for by the incumbent status quo, for the furtherance of the status quo.


Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 10:31 p.m.

Since you got this non-answer, I would say go with your status quo assumption; as if that could not already be seen in the political reporting, and the fact that these boards are poured over by staff who remove comments they don't find to their liking, and staff and writers who actively participate in the boards, defending the subjects of their reporting and occasionally challenging those who assert contrary opinions. is not some sort of giant New York Times-like organization with hundreds of reporters and editors in a newsroom far removed from the financial operations. Stop by their offices and see for yourself how they are set up. Hint: it ain't what it used to be, and even then it wasn't that much.

Paula Gardner

Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 9:50 p.m.

I don't know those answers. I've never worked in a place where I considered it appropriate for the newsroom to have revenue details for this very reason.


Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 7:05 p.m.

It would be nice to see an editorial addressing the foolishness of having the contested elections at the August primary as forced by the current system of partisan elections.

Bob Needham

Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 7:21 p.m.

Thanks for the idea. That's certainly a great topic to consider.

Steve Bean

Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 4:05 p.m.

"He resides outside of the city, giving an objective perspective to many issues." Those who live outside the city can reasonably be said to have a different perspective, but not uniquely objective, as this wording implies.

Vivienne Armentrout

Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 7:26 p.m.

So, Kyle, does this mean that the other members of the editorial board (especially those who do live in the city) are not able to be objective? I'm trying to imagine how I would handle a situation in which I was obliged to make judgments on what was best for Scio Township, for example. Would that enhance my objectivity or give me less basis for making a decision?

Kyle Mattson

Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 7:07 p.m.

Brad- Just to note, my involvement is not based on the fact that it is to give representation to comments.

Kyle Mattson

Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 7:05 p.m.

Valid argument from both of you, it probably could have been phrased a bit better. It provides a completely different perspective to many issues that we cover on a regular basis. At the same time, for many voting issues it can be helpful to have a bit of a middle ground be it editorially or here in the comments as Brad mentioned. I'd point to the example of this past fall with the new downtown library vote. That was a very two-sided debate with many holding strong opinions on one side or the other. Being that I would not be voting on the issue, I was able to follow the reporting by our staff, speak with residents from both sides in conversation, read/moderate the comments here on AAcom, etc without having a personal vested interest in either side. I would emphasize that this does not devalue my concern for these matters for the city and county as a whole, as every decision be it as isolated of an issue as the future of middle school pools to ones like the future of mass transit does impact every resident in some way and must be weighed accordingly.


Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 4:54 p.m.

Not sure that I'm crazy about having the head of comment moderation on the board, either.


Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 4:47 p.m.

I find that whole statement to be a bit of a non-sequitur.

Usual Suspect

Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 3:39 p.m.

I really don't see why anybody would be interested in what candidate or issue is endorsed by a local news blog (or newspaper, for those places that still have one). To me, it has always rang of thinking too much of one's self. Just provide information and people will decide.

Usual Suspect

Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 12:11 a.m.

Veracity, then what those people need is information. Opinion is not information.

Usual Suspect

Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 12:10 a.m.

Yes, I've always felt that way.


Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 6:38 p.m.

Unfortunately, many voters do not want to do the work necessary to familiarize themselves with each candidate so they depend on which candidates their news sources favor. When I canvassed 400 neighborhood homes on behalf of a City Council candidate in last year's election I was disappointed to learn that more than 95% could not name their incumbent City Council member and were equally ignorant on the major issues facing the city.

Paula Gardner

Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 4:28 p.m.

Did you always feel that way? Curious if your viewpoint has changed over time.


Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 3:36 p.m.

it's all about the yard signs...with such a highly educated population,[isn't Ann Arbor ranked high in that category?] one can trust the analytical,problemsolving and ability to draw conclusions reflected by the actual people amongst us......a way to judge the pulse and help with decision making for those who can't make up their mind or haven't been paying attention. Better even, is the fact that each family unit can monitor their own yard sign for tampering/removal/or the like, unlike comments/editorials on a web page, which may reflect more obscure motivations in their entry and moderation by others.

Steve Bean

Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 12:34 p.m.

That's an interesting perspective that seems to appeal to a herd mentality (or is satirical – I can't tell which). When I was a candidate I chose to not print and distribute yard signs on the basis that they convey little information about the candidate other than the name and the fact that the resident favors that candidate for *some* reason, and I would prefer that voters base their vote on more than that minimal information.


Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 3:12 p.m.

Ryan Stanton has written more articles at on politics than any of the four staff who are forming an editorial board. Why has he been excluded?

Paula Gardner

Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 7:03 p.m.

@veracity: No on Ryan. And you're missing the point of the editorial board: it's not about personal opinion. It's a group that forms a collective opinion that becomes the "institutional voice" of the newspaper. That's been an accepted practice in journalism for many years, and I think it's still a valid structure for expressing opinion.


Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 5:34 p.m.

Paula, Are you asserting that Ryan Stanton includes bias in his reports? I read his articles particularly because he is detailed, comprehensive and unbiased. So the obviously the most politically knowledgeable staff member can not be part of the editorial board who can post their own political preferences based on less knowledge? Why is this arrangement desirable?

Paula Gardner

Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 4:21 p.m.

The person covering a beat wouldn't generally write an editorial expressing an opinion on it.

Steve Bean

Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 3:44 p.m.

HIs role as a reporter/journalist is to remain unbiased.


Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 3:17 p.m.

He's too old

David Cahill

Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 3:05 p.m.

It's great that will be doing endorsements again, Paula! This is a logical step after the resumption of editorials. The more information the voters have, the better.


Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 2:50 p.m.

Paula, I for one think you are going in the right direction. Many news organizations endorse candidates and have been doing so for years. Those who don't agree with this should remember that they are free to disagree and and vote for whomever they please. I worked for GM and was a UAW member. The union endorsed candidates and many a time I disagreed and voted the way I wanted to. I still listen to them and others then make up my own mind. I believe that how it's supposed to work.


Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 3:37 p.m.

That's my point. The UAW didn't care what the candidate was for or against on anything except labor issues. Everyone should get as much information from as many sources as possible and not just blindly follow endorsements. I have friends who will vote a certain way just because some celebrity says to.


Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 3:20 p.m.

Remember that editorial staffs provide preferences in order to influence voters. Frequently, the editorial opinions can be effected by the views of owners of the news outlets. The best way to minimize bias towards candidates is to pose sensitive questions on issues to the candidates and report verbatim their responses. The electorate can dissect the responses and base their voting decisions on the views and positions of the candidates.


Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 2:35 p.m.

Unfortunately, the four of you do not provide age diversity and are not cohort to older Ann Arbor citizens who form a large constituency and are responsible for most taxes collected. You can not view politics from a retiree's point of view, with desires and needs that may differ from younger residents. You may unduly, and unintentionally, influence the less informed voter with what must be a slanted view of Ann Arbor politics. Furthermore, if the editorial staff shares Mayor Hiefjte's wish for high density downtown development, a new railroad station and an unfettered DDA then Grand and Westphal will receive their support rather than Kunselman and Eaton. It is that simple.


Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 4:12 p.m.

How about instead of age you all list your voting record in the previous major local and national elections? Even if you don't do it by name, I bet there's a not a lot of "diversity" there.

Bob Needham

Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 7:27 p.m.

Veracity, we'll always try to take into account the concerns of various demographic groups, even if we personally don't belong to them. (And I do hope to be a retiree someday!)

Kyle Mattson

Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 6:44 p.m.

I would actually counter with the fact that we do have a decent age range represented between the four of us; however, no matter how many effort we make to 'balance' the demographics of an editorial group there will be some group of the population underrepresented. Personally, despite my younger age than the others in the group I have had the opportunity to directly work with the retiree population of Washtenaw County in past positions as well as independently with involvement with various non profit groups which has given me insight into the perspective and issues facing this growing segment of our population.


Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 5:27 p.m.

ERRATA: Instead of "Grand and Westphal" I should have posted "Grand, Westphal and Higgins" and instead of "Kunselman and Eaton" I should have posted "Kunselman, Eaton and Lumm."


Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 2:34 p.m.

With so many negative opinions (cough) of Ann Arbor's "Movers and Shakers", some form of counterbalance will be a welcomed respite. After the movers have finished loading up the vans and after the construction crews have poured the last of the concrete, our new slate of endorsed leadership will return Ann Arbor to its former Tree town glory. Ha ha ha ha...


Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 2:07 p.m.

Why do you feel the need to endorse anybody? Why not just report unbiased facts and information and help educate the electorate so that they can make informed decisions?

Alan Goldsmith

Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 10:02 a.m.

"I think it's quite typical for newspapers to endorse someone..." Just like the 2008 Presidential election? Lol.


Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 2:20 a.m.

Of course it's typical. That doesn't make it meaningful. Endorsements fly in the face of the watchdog aspect intended for the media by the Fist Amendment

Kai Petainen

Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 9:24 p.m.

I think it's quite typical for newspapers to endorse someone...

Joseph Welch's Ghost

Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 1:39 p.m.

This is a positive change. Readers don't always have the time or inclination to learn all the facts and talk with all the players before forming an opinion one way or the other. Editorial boards do. If follows this practice, then we'll have an additional, informed voice in our community.

Usual Suspect

Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 4:13 a.m.

Kyle, that has nothing to do with endorsing anybody. So you can follow things more closely - so report the information you find. Making an endorsement is pure opinion.

Kyle Mattson

Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 6:33 p.m.

US- We do encourage voters to do their own research before heading to the polls, but as JWG mentioned we do have the benefit of following certain aspects of various topics in the community in more details which can help provide at least a starting point or supplement one's own knowledge into a topic. As individual voters everyone typically has specific areas where they are more knowledgeable. For example, the parent with a student in AAPS will typically be more informed about the issues surrounding a new millage for education purposes than say a retiree would, then again that same individual may not follow the issues surrounding a millage to support senior transportation in the community.

Usual Suspect

Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 3:41 p.m.

Anybody who's basing their voting decisions on an Internet blog should not be voting at all.


Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 12:07 p.m.

Thank you for explaining this evolved process. You'll still get grief because everyone has an opinion, but it is appropriate for a news-reporting entity to express their informed judgements. Presumably, you will still occasionally publish guest columns and letters to the Editor.

Paula Gardner

Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 12:11 p.m.

Absolutely on guest columns and letters to the editor - we'd actually like to have more of both!


Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 12:02 p.m.

I think the staff byline is misleading. You will be publishing the opinion of 3 people, not a consensus of the staff. So just name the 3 people.


Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 2:36 a.m.

" I've never worked at a paper where staff has been asked to vote for the direction of an editorial." So? Be a trend-setter. Poll the staff. Let the opinion of the paper be just that, and not that of four people who attained their rank by toeing the party line. You want to deny the analysis of people familiar with the topics of opinion pieces under the guise of neutrality? Really? That sounds a lot more like wanting to bury the opinions of those whose knowledge might counter that of those charged with espousing the company line of major advertisers.

Kyle Mattson

Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 5:19 p.m.

I follow you Steve. We'll take that into consideration.

Steve Bean

Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 3:41 p.m.

Paula, you didn't address CLX's recommendation (a word you used in an earlier comment, by the way) to name the people. Another alternative that would also be more accurate is "editorial board" rather than "staff".

Paula Gardner

Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 12:17 p.m.

It's four of us, representing I've never worked at a paper where staff has been asked to vote for the direction of an editorial. We have to balance asking reporters to stay neutral versus pulling in their analysis when they're familiar with topics of opinion pieces.


Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 11:51 a.m.

So, by limiting input to just, you will presenting a biased consensus!


Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 11:50 a.m.

I wish I could vote this column up higher. Providing opinions based on research and fact would be very helpful. To the effect of the latter, Ann Arbor is a highly educated community with voices other than "influential community members" that would be worth listening to. You may want to consider allowing your readership involvement by creating a voluntary sign-up where they could list their expertise and background in a certain area. This resource could then be tapped as needed for editorials and other pieces by the reporters/journalists.


Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 11:48 a.m.

Ah yes! An election is coming up in a month and Heiftje is rallying all of his minions to spew the party line. Save your type Paula, we already know what you are going to push for the election of Grand instead of Kunselman.


Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 3:34 p.m.

As long as the last sentence of your "editorial" reads: I'm Hizzoner John Heiftje, and I approved this message.

Steve Bean

Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 12:41 p.m.

Thinking of an opinion as a recommendation is likely to shift the opinion toward recommendation and possibly beyond.


Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 2:14 a.m.

",,,rather than "push" I'd prefer to think of what we write as recommendations." A distinction without a difference. You're going to recommend the defeat of anyone who calls Hieftje to task for ignoring the rest of the city to promote downtown.

Kai Petainen

Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 9:21 p.m.

Paula... I like your response to this comment.... good stuff.

Paula Gardner

Sun, Jul 14, 2013 : 12:24 p.m.

I know the process always invites skepticism, especially during an election. However, rather than "push" I'd prefer to think of what we write as recommendations. People will either agree or disagree, and in both cases it's up to the community to make a decision. We just will express an opinion based on what we learn and see.