Ann Arbor’s Algonquin Round Table

I had dreams once. When I realized the Harper Lee thing probably wasn’t going to work out so well, I started casting about for something else. At some point I stumbled onto Dorothy Parker, who seems to always be described as a “legendary wit.” Why, yes, thought I. Let’s do that!

Quickly I realized that that bish was kinda cray and also really, really mean. While I can be very nasty, I try not to. Being the crank and pointing out the flaws of others doesn’t really work for me. And come on! That ho be rich! Why she so mad?!??!?!??!

Anyway, I did discover something very cool and that was the Algonquin Round Table. See, apparently once long, long ago one could make a living by writing (I know. I was shocked, too) and that’s what most of these people did. They had plenty of time in their day and thus were able to eat lunch together every day. Wut?!?! What a marvelous idea, thought I.

Since my friends and I have to work for a living, the every day lunch thing was not in the cards. I sort of put the whole Algonquin thing on hold.

I met my friend Jess. It happened as things often do–I posted something on one of my Twitter accounts about hosting a Salon. Someone asked if she could come but alas, I didn’t check that particular account until after the Salon happened. I felt awful and suggested we meet up for coffee (or maybe she suggested it, I don’t know, but I did feel bad). During the course of our conversation I happened to mention my idea about reviving the ol’ Algonquin Table. To my delight, Jess’ face lit up and she said she had also had that idea!

Since we live in the greatest place on earth, we were able to make it happen. We had our first Ann Arbor Algonquin Roundtable yesterday!

Yeah okay whatever. It worked.

Our attendees were me, Jess Letaw, Ben Connor Barrie (founded of Damn Arbor), Kassy Frost, Jim McBee (of The Ann), Scott Trudeau, Jeff Gaynor, Jack Jennings. Our friends Linh and Dug Song were at the next table with actual, real print media because….

Our topic was Local Media, particularly the loss of local print media. We started by discussing where we got our local news from and overwhelming we used our friends on social media. Jess uses what I called the “two friend authentication” wherein she will read something if two friends post it. Several of us are enjoying the new daily news aggregate put out by The Ann.

This was the “smile!” picture

Question 1: Is there a silver lining to the demise of local media/print media?

One thing we agreed upon was that more diverse voices are getting heard. For instance, Ben helped to start Damn Arbor in response to the lack of local coverage of student issues. We aren’t as beholden to advertisers as in days past (for example, when you had to cover the buddy of the publisher even though the buddy was a dick). Also, there are different ways of telling the stories these days (videos, pictures, etc). Media is also moving in the direction of the rest of the economy in that it supports the “gig” economy and offers flexibility. (But also pays less and asks its artists to do things “for exposure”)

But for better or worse, there is no barrier to entry these days. As I am fond of saying, any crank can put a little “press” card in their hipster dudebro hat, eat crayons, and then vomit words onto the screen. So one has to be very careful where one gets her news.

Years from now, people will reenact this very photo and ask, “Why is that woman so angry??? WHY IS SHE SO MAD?”

Question 2: What did we lose when we lost local media?

Jack pointed out that we don’t have media icons any more. We don’t have people we implicitly trust, columnists we know we can rely on. As we noted above,  the bar for entry into the media pool is quite low and fake news is everywhere. How is “fake news” even a thing?!?!

Question 3: How do we pay for local media? How do we support the common good? Can we?

We discussed whether we can pay for this common good in a capitalist society.  Do we use a subscriber base? Ben guessed it would take at least $300,000 to even get something started. Jess suggested a model where someone said okay if we raise $X, we can do this. If we raise $X + 5,000, we can do this and so on. Scott suggested a millage, which led into discussion of government-run presses. Kassy opined that we should fine the fake news sources and use that revenue, which got us talking about the First Amendment and led into a slander/libel talk.

Question 4: How do we support local media?

I am going to update Arbor Wiki. In the entire discussion, we overlooked the local wiki and it needs some attention and love. Jack was going to sign up for the daily Ann. Jeff said he would subscribe to the local Pulp blog. Scott will keep donating to the places he supports. Jim (who puts out the daily Ann aggregate) wants to expand the base and increasing marketing opportunities. Kassy wanted to look more into the fake news avenue.

Yeah, we’re way cooler. #sorrynotsorry

We made this happen, my friends and I. We didn’t solve the problem, but that wasn’t the intent. We sat in person together and discussed an issue that is important to us all. We agreed upon concrete steps we can take in the future. And we will do this again.

And we did it all without being mean and nasty!

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