Detroit Free Press Trip

Walking up to the building, music could be hear from hidden speakers in the courtyard. Our class filed in through glass doors into a modern waiting room before take the elevator up to the Detroit Free Press’ office level. The office was open and there was a dull mummer of voices chatting to one another quickly about tasks to be completed, the soft click-clack of keyboard typing adding to the ambiance like a light rain fall. Our class got to observe the news room of the Detroit Free Press in all its glory: a typical day in the room.

This was my favorite field trip so far. Though I do not want to work in journalism, seeing the commotion of a news room infected for a slight moment with a desire to get in on the action. So much was going on, so much you could feel needing to be done, and yet, people were still, not calm, but composed about their business. One could not ask for anything more intimate from the Free Press than sitting on one of their news meetings, which we were allowed to do. Every one of the editors had a unique personality which seemed to fit their position quite well: the communication director had a peppy and excited air to her, the overseer of breaking news, clearly a veteran of the news industry, had a gruff look about him, the sports editor looked like someone who could be on ESPN.

What I think could be improved about the Detroit Free Press is how it generates its revenue. Currently they offer a subscription service to a digital news print and their traditional print paper, but I believe that they could run the same model as Wikipedia: voluntary subscriptions from loyal and loving patrons. I know I have donated not only to Wikipedia’s fundraiser in the past, but I support two of my favorite YouTube video makers with $5 a month for each. I am sure the core base of the Detroit Free Press’ readership would be willing to donate the same amount monthly if not more. And with 700,000 unique visitors daily, I would guess that their total readership would be close to 2 million individuals. If just one tenth of these individuals pledged $5 a month, and I would say that is a low-ball estimate, the company would be working with a million dollar monthly allowance. I believe that this model works best with the mission of the Free Press, because so long as its revenue comes from advertisement, the Free Press will be shackled to making sure it has at least some content that it generating large amounts of traffic, instead of focusing on the quality of the content along with its, as all the editors put it, watchdog purpose.


About jythree

Environmental Science Student at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

One Response to “Detroit Free Press Trip”

  1. Nice descriptive writing, John. The clicking of keyboards does sound like a soft rain, and I’d never thought of it that way.
    I think you’re on the right track with the idea that professional news will have to be supported by donations. An obstacle is that the Detroit Free Press is owned by a for-profit company. Nevertheless, I think it should be possible to set up a nonprofit supporting the most expensive and difficult-to-fund aspects of traditional, for-profit journalism — especially given the fact that traditional journalism is not making much money these days.
    After we returned from our field trip Friday, my Facebook feed was full of journalists commenting on this story from Crane’s Detroit Business about the rough road ahead for the Detroit News, as it faces another sale.
    The details are kind of hard to follow for people who aren’t familiar with all the players in the news industry and the legal history of an unusual maneuver called a Joint Operating Agreement. But the essence is: the Detroit News may soon be closed.
    Why should people care about that? Well, some of the professional journalists who know a lot about how to do watchdog stories will we out of a job. Likely some of them will start or go work for journalism nonprofits, as other laid-off journalists have done around the country. Here’s a video that my friend Neal Rubin narrated last fall about the history of the Detroit News, as it left its home building and moved into new office space in the building we visited Friday.

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