Some shocking news coming out of the Star Tribune:
Capitalists Own The Paper
Capitalists Don’t Care if They Sell Newspapers, Underwear or, Some of Them, Their Grandmothers (see Enron)
Capitalists Have Learned to Say They Care About Customers and the Community, Even When Their Priorities Numbers One through Fourteen are Accumulating More Dough
Employees of Capitalists Have All the Security of Arctic Glaciers Under the Bush Presidency — And Even Unions Don’t Help Much
It’s sad watching the Star Tribune shrink away, with good people leaving, some of those who still have jobs feeling shell shock and survivor guilt, and editors working hard to believe they can still put out a good paper. Across the river, the Pioneer Press has been bleeding people and quality for years. But there shouldn’t be much surprise in these two newsrooms. The days when owners cared about their communities and felt a public trust are long gone.
In truth, most newspaper owners in the good old days had a greater allegiance to their community than to quality journalism. A healthy newspaper helped a community grow and stay healthy, so the owner of the hardware store and the owner of the paper could make money. The newspaper owner was more interested in boosterism than in hard-hitting investigative reporting. I once worked for an independent owner who owned the Owatonna and Mankato papers. He cared about the community first (and how its health could keep him wealthy), seemed to me, and good journalism second. But he cared.
He sold the papers decades ago to Dow Jones, which owns The Wall Street Journal. The papers have since been sold again, and the non-local priorities of the distant owners don’t rank the communities nearly as high as the profit margins.
The Star Tribune has been bought by corporate speculators. Sure, they’ve got a good journalist who sits near the front door of the speculators’ office to make people feel better when they walk in, but their priorities are the same as the people who sell us deodorant.
The culprit here is unrestrained, Gilded Age capitalism. It has only one god and there shall be no other gods before this: MORE MONEY. For capitalists. Employees and the community, the two other major stakeholders in corporations, sit way at the back of the bus.
Yes, the Star Tribune has been slow to adapt to a changing media landscape. It’s tried some smart things and some dumb things — too often it seems leaders there have been rearranging the deck chairs of design and nomenclature rather than putting out more damn good journalism that matters to local readers. I worked at this paper, and one of its predecessors, The Minneapolis Star, and I’ve seen a lot of change in the papers, some brilliant, some idiotic. But the biggest and most damaging change is when ownership moves out of town and capital trumps community.
What the editors are trying to do now sounds a little like what we tried to do at the old Star before it was killed — while still profitable — in 1982. We tried to make the paper a daily magazine, putting out lively stories about how things that matter in Minnesotans’ lives were happening and changing. We almost got laughed out of town by our colleagues down the hall and across the river — and we made some mistakes, getting too detached from the streets and too far into our own heads, or other parts of our anatomies. But it was a good idea, and what goes around might come around.
The people at the Strib can still put out a good paper. More of it’s going to have to be online, more of it’s going to have to be fast-paced and useful, and it’s going to have to have more attitude and hit us where we live more. I heard one scary thing recently — John Reinan’s stories about trends and change that affect our lives were thought “too trendy” and too light by some of his colleagues. Yikes. There are some folks at the paper who’ve been there too long and aren’t keeping up — I thought Reinan’s stories illuminated life and they made me think and smile. (Reinan left the paper before this most recent bloodletting to join Fast Horse, a consumer marketing firm started by my buddy Jorg Pierach.) The paper needs more young, eager Reinans and just enough old farts like me to keep a sense of Minnesota culture and history in the mix — something to mark change against.
I’ve got a lot of friends at the paper, and I wish them well. And for those of us who left — let’s start an online paper and do it right. Start an electronic paper that cares about community, kicks some ass, covers this town like a pretty snowfall and doesn’t just serve the golden calf.
— Bruce Benidt