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Julie Weatherbee
Arbor Update
Ann Arbor, MI

Ann Arbor, MI 48104

"We'll put something out and people really can respond and can say how they feel about it and if they like it or don't like it. I think that really is something valuable for our community and I don't think there is another site where people feel they can do that. And somehow it has all seemed to work out."

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Media Giraffe Researcher Sara Majka, July 2008.

A few years ago, Julie Weatherbee was involved in what she describes as a local building fiasco. She was the neighborhood representative of a group trying to stop a building project. One day she stumbled onto a blog that criticized their opposition. She emailed some of the people on the blog, they got into a conversation, and eventually reached a consensus in the middle.

That blog turned out to be ArborUpdate, a local online news site for Ann Arbor, Michigan. It was launched in June of 2004 by Rob Goodspeed and a select group of writers. At the time it mostly served the University of Michigan community, but has since spread out to Ann Arbor as a whole.

She started watching the site, commenting on posts until one day someone emailed her asking if she would join. "And that's basically how we've pulled in some other people," she says. "Mostly because they comment and then we start to like their style and like what they have to say and so we'll send them an email and say, hey, do you want to post."

On the site, she goes by Julie W. and is one of the most prolific writers. None of the original members remain and right now there are about 4-5 active people. It's an unusual model in the sense that there's no centralized element: no office, no editor, no oversight. The writers haven't gotten together in years and many don't know each other. There is a general ArborUpdate email address that gets answered on a first come, first serve basis. "Usually," she says, "the first person who answers it, answers it."

"Interestingly," she wrote one day by email, "it all seems to work and we have created a single identity, but it is not a typical organization model by any means."

The writers will email each other if something comes up, "a site restriction or a problem with spam," and there are a couple of people involved on the technology side. As for finances, there's a benefactor who has supported the site since its inception. Weatherbee laughs when she can't remember the person's name. "I knew you were going to ask that," she says, before adding, "We're really very decentralized." The costs are low, amounting to what it costs to keep the address and any server costs. Some of this is offset by a PayPal link on the site.

She admits it can be hard finding people who will commit. People have their own blogs, families, and jobs. Students can commit more time, but then they move on. During what she describes as the heyday, there were new posts everyday, now they are down to about three a week. When asked if given the decentralized element and the turnover, it's possible that one day the site will stop running, she admits it's a possibility, but says she hopes not, "people are dissatisfied with the local paper and this is a chance for them to get involved."