Benny and his friend Griffin at Ocean Beach in San Francisco.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009 Managing Expectations

(Image of gluten-free acorn muffins from the Book of Yum.)

So what if I came to you one morning and said:

“I’ve got a great homemade muffin for you. I’m not going to tell you what’s in it or how big it is or whether it comes in a little paper muffin cup, but you’re gonna love it. Just love it. It’s like no muffin you’ve seen before. We’re throwing out the book on muffins. The old muffin paradigm is dead. What’s more, this muffin is going to be about you, you and the ingredients you care about, you and the ingredients your entire community cares about. Everyone, just everyone, will love this muffin.”

Well. I imagine your first response would be “Who are you and what have you done with Christine?” because I never talk that much in the morning, not until I’ve had two Snapples and three cereal bars.

But besides that, you’ll be drooling, right? You can’t wait. On the Morning of the Muffin, you skip breakfast and show up with your special Muffin plate, ready to be amazed. The result, of course, is predictable. The Muffin will never be as good as the glittering Muffin of Your Mind. You stalk off, disgusted, and eat a 6-month-old granola bar out of your desk. has a Muffin problem. Touted as a “local news service and social networking site,” it replaces the daily Ann Arbor News, which closed in July. Now in the interest of full disclosure, I’m familiar with the Ann Arbor News. My husband was involved in launching business weeklies with this bunch and we know many of the players. So we’ve taken a lively interest in from out here in California.

Bless their hearts, they haven’t changed a bit. They still think you can generate excitement through breathless announcements: “We are pleased/proud/thrilled/practically hysterical to announce our fresh/revolutionary/molecule-changing way to present news/dialogue/rambling blog posts ...”

Look at us, they say. We promote ourselves relentlessly in the name of “transparency,” posting long, laudatory biographies of the lucky Ann Arbor News alumni we decided to hire at (presumably) fire-sale prices. We bury the city in an explosion of paper flyers. We draw kicky graphics on sidewalks. We are nothing you’ve ever seen before!

Maybe you can generate excitement that way if you’re the Cartoon Network. (Remember their little ad gizmos in Boston that looked like bombs on bridges?) But you can’t with something as vital as local news which depends on credibility above all else. It’s like going on a first date and raving the whole time how great you are. Actually, it’s like calling your date every day beforehand and raving about how great the evening will be. If your date has any judgment, he or she will run like blazes.

So there you go. hyped itself up to the nines leading up to its July 20 launch date. Then postponed the launch date. Then it launched July 24 and the whining began. Admittedly much of the whining was from the readers, who couldn’t give the site a full 20-minute read before blasting it about layout and comment moderation. But there were some serious concerns, prompting much whiny self-defensiveness from staffers.

Oh, you thought that was a real launch? asked. No, no, it’s just a beta launch. Wait a few weeks, let the reporters really know their beats, then you’ll really see something. Then the site went down.

I could list’s journalistic weaknesses all day (hey, why don’t you shorten the headlines and actually edit these stories?) but what’s the point. is trying to create something brand-new with the same tired old crowd they had before and that can’t be easy. They have to appeal to a readership still reeling from the loss of their daily newspaper and they had only four months to put the whole thing together. So why not admit it from the beginning?

So what if I came to you one morning and said:

“I’ve got a homemade muffin for you. It’s just a practice muffin before I make the good ones for Benny’s preschool. It’s a pumpkin-and-chocolate-chip muffin, but there aren’t many chocolate chips because I ate half the bag while mixing the other ingredients. My oven doesn’t heat evenly, so the muffin’s kind of lopsided as if it was trying to escape its pan. Oh, and I burned it a little too.”

With all those caveats in mind you might like the muffin. You might have some suggestions for a better muffin. You sure as hell will trust me to give you the straight dope about my baking prowess.

I wish we could say the same for

1 comment:

Jim of L-Town said...

Wonderful and I'm putting it up on my blog in just a few minutes.


Native Californian and resident of Redwood City until 1977.